If you suddenly found yourself in Germany in the early 1930s, knew what was going to happen in a few short years, and had a chance to prevent it, would you? Even if you were not certain that you could stop it, would you at least try? Adolf Hitler and his Nazis are gone, but the questions are just as important today.
Bangladesh’s Hindu population is dying. This is a fact; not opinion; not Islamaphobia; and saying it does not make anyone “communal.” According to Pakistan’s 1951 census, Hindus were just under a third of East Pakistan’s population. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were less than a fifth; thirty years later, less than one in ten; and an estimated one in 15 today. If you still are having trouble wondering where this is going, take a look at Pakistan where Hindus are down to one percent or Kashmir where they are almost gone. Take a look at the future of Bangladesh’s Hindus if we do not act.
According to Professor Sachi Dastidar of the State University of New York, over 49 million Hindus are missing in Bangladesh. Are their lives or the millions still living there worth any less than the hundreds gassed by Syrian President Bashir Assad, who are now the reason for talk of a military strike; or the thousands of Bosnian Muslims whose plight sent NATO troops to war? No? Well, we seem to act as if they are. They number twice that of all Israelis and Palestinians put together. Compare the number of UN resolutions or major media articles and editorials about them with the number that concern Bangladeshi Hindus. That would be too many to count versus zero.
What has your government of India done to give aid to the victims? What has my USA government done? What has any government done? Nothing.
What have we heard from CNN, Reuters, the BBC, New York Times, Times of India, Times of London, the left-wing media, the right-wing media, or the other “important” media and journalists? Except for a day or two of headlines during nationwide Islamist attacks on Hindus that were too large to ignore—again, nothing.
What about the “great” human rights outfits that obsess on falsely demonizing democracies like Israel and leaders like Narendra Modi, but turn away in silence at the atrocities Bangladesh’s Hindus face daily? Amnesty International‘s human rights reports and articles leave us wondering if Bangladesh even has a significant Hindu population. Its 2013 report on Bangladesh, for instance, has sections on “Indigenous Peoples’ Rights” and “Workers’ Rights,” but nothing about the persecution of Hindus. The section labeled “Communal Violence” notes only one incident for the year, stating that “20 Buddhist temples and monasteries [and] one Hindu temple” were set ablaze. That’s it! It is the only mention of the word, Hindu, in the entire report. The last time Human Rights Watch gave Bangladesh’s Hindus even passing mention was 2006. Oxfam never has.
These same experts told us that the Awami League’s 2008 victory would bring a new Bangladesh where all citizens will live in peace and prosperity. Rubbish!
Awami League no better
In January 2009, a consortium of Hindu groups there asked me to advise them on what to do next. “The last thing you should do,” I said, “is to go back to sleep.” I urged them to act precipitously and push the Awami League to live up to its posturing as a “pro-minority” party, which is what won it the vast majority of Hindu votes. If you don’t, I said, “we will see that their words are nothing more than words.” Unfortunately, most of the Hindu leaders wanted to place their trust in the new government rather than in themselves: a bad decision that has proven deadly.
- During the Awami League’s first year in office, major anti-Hindu incidents occurred at the rate of almost one per week.
- The number and intensity of anti-Hindu atrocities did not drop the next year and included one period with anti-Hindu actions every three days.
- The Hindu American Foundation, Bangladesh Minority Watch, and others document a similar level of atrocities in the third year, 2011.
- As 2012 began, there were at least 1.25 similar incidents a week in the first quarter; as it ended, one a week during the fourth. In between, there was a nine day period in May that saw an abduction, a murder in broad daylight, and two gang rapes, one of a child on her way to a Hindu festival: four horrific crimes in nine days and no action against known perpetrators.
Human rights activist Rabindra Ghosh, my own associates, and I investigated and confirmed these incidents. They were reported in local media, yet major media ignored them. Each incident met all of the following criteria:
- They occurred under Awami League rule.
- They were confirmed by at least two independent sources.
- They were anti-Hindu and not just random.
- The government did not prosecute the crimes or help retrieve victims.
- They were major crimes: murder, rape, child abduction, forced conversion, physical attacks, land grabs, religious desecration, and so forth.
In 2009, a three-day attack on a poor Hindu community occurred right behind a Dhaka police station. In 2012, angry Muslims stormed a tiny Hindu village in a remote part of Dinajpur in northern Bangladesh, destroying homes and farms, looting possessions, and abusing women. The government did not punish criminals in either, yet participated in cover-ups and threatened human rights activists investigating the incidents. I went to both places to see for myself, met with victims, and confirmed both the attacks and government complicity.
Anti-Hinduism enshrined in Bangladeshi Law
On April 30, 2009, Sheikh Hasina told a visiting French military commander that her government would repeal Bangladesh’s “anti-minority laws,” making her perhaps the first sitting Prime Minister in history to admit that her country has anti-minority laws. She has not kept her promise and even passed on easy opportunities to be the sort of Prime Minister we were told she would be.
Toward the end of the military’s rule, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court directed the government to explain why the Vested Property Act—that law which empowers the Bangladeshi government to seize minority land and distribute it to its cronies—should not be declared null and void. One of the ruling generals told me that responding would exceed its mandate; and, besides, there would be a new, elected government soon that could respond. It left that new government with the ability to neutralize that terribly racist law with the Court taking the political fall; but the Awami League refused to take advantage of it. In 2011, the Supreme Court declared several constitutional amendments problematic and directed the Awami League controlled Parliament to propose new ones. It did—for every amendment but one: the Eighth, which made Islam Bangladesh’s official religion, provided advantages and funding for Islamic institutions, disabilities and duress for other faiths.
Things are not improving, and they will not improve without outside intervention. In May 2012, I met with Bangladesh’s US ambassador in Washington for an honest dialogue about moving forward. He categorically denied that Hindus face any difficulties in Bangladesh no matter what facts I produced, and insisted that his government did not have to take any action. When I reminded him that demographers have said that the decline of his country’s Hindu population is so severe that it cannot be attributed to birth and death rates plus voluntary emigration, he attributed the decline to the fact that “they [Bangladeshi Hindus] “cannot find suitable matches for their children, so they go to India where there are more Hindus.”
With no repercussions for their ethnic cleansing of Hindus, Bangladeshis do not even find it necessary to be credible in their denials.
In February 2013, I had the same sort of confrontation with Bangladesh’s Home Minister in Dhaka. He avoided the ambassador’s ridiculous explanation, instead denying his country’s guilt and equating the murder of Hindus with declining union membership in the United States. As I continued to press the matter, he said that if anything was happening, he would personally address it. He just needed me to send him the evidence, to which I responded: “It is rather odd that you, Bangladesh’s Home Minister sitting in Dhaka, would be dependent on some man from Chicago for evidence of human rights abuses in your own country. If that is the case, it suggests even more serious problems.”
That night, I met the family of a 23-year old Hindu woman who was abducted after they refused demands by thugs and local officials to abandon their land to them. I sent the extensive documentation and testimony to the Home Minister. To date, he has not even responded, and the young woman remains missing.
by Dr. Richard L. Benkin
Dr. Richard L. Benkin is an American human rights activist fighting to defend Hindus in Bangladesh. His book, A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: the Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus, is about to enter its second printing.