Come Durga Puja, the most revered festival of Bengali Hindus the desecration of the Durga idol and Mandap is a common occurrence in Bangladesh where the population of the Hindus have been reduced from about 25 per cent in 1947 at the time of Partition to about 8 percent in 2014. Every year on Bijoya Dashami, Ma Durga is immersed. Her mortal children cheer expectantly ‘Ashchhe bochhor abar hobe’ (It will happen again next year) — a call of hope and annual return.
In the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, another set of annual events centred on idols of Ma Durga (Mother Duga) start somewhat earlier than the Puja itself. This is the widespread desecration and destruction of Ma Durga’s idols, always done by ‘unidentifiable group of miscreants’. Ms. Garga Chatterjee writes in the DNA, a Mumbai newspaper that at least 21 incidents of the pre-Puja idol-breaking campaign have been reported this year.
Chatterjee writes, “When parts of Mata Sati’s dead body fell on earth, each of those sites became a Shakti-peeth — a space of divine significance. Of the 51 Shakti-peeths on earth, Bengal is blessed with 16, of which Bangladesh has 5 — Bhabanipur, Iswaripur, Chandranath hill near Sitakunda, Joinpur and Shikarpur. The sacred geography extends to Dhaka where Ma Dhakeshwari has been offering protective cover over the city for centuries. She has been attacked regularly in the last 60 years. When large-scale planned destruction of religious structures is accompanied by a concomitant catastrophic fall in the proportion of religious minorities like in Bangladesh, it’s clear that both gods and their devotees are fair game.” Interestingly, Puja celebrations in ‘Opar Bengal, epar Bengal’ are held by both Hindus and Muslims alike. These have become a part of the Bangla culture.
However, the fact remains that Pakistan and Bangladesh have shown tremendous intolerance for Hindus, Sikhs and other religious denominations. The last attacks on Bangladeshi Hindus on a grand scale by the extremists of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), an Islamist party allied to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was one of thousands of violent incidents in the run-up to the last elections in January this year. It occurred the day after the execution of Abdul Quader Mollah, a JI leader convicted of war crimes.
Earlier, in February 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal had sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the Vice President of the Jamaat-e-Islami to death for the war crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Following the sentence, activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir attacked the Hindus in different parts of the country. Hindu properties were looted, Hindu houses were burnt into ashes and Hindu temples were desecrated and set on fire. According to community leaders, more than 50 Hindu temples and 1,500 Hindu homes were destroyed.
Local Hindus had nothing to do with these executions. But in Bangladesh members of the Hindu minority are particular targets of JI because of their religion and because they almost all support the Awami League, the nominally secular party which has run Muslim-dominated Bangladesh for the past five years and which won the election after the main opposition party BNP’s boycott. In terms of population, Bangladesh is still the third largest Hindu state in the world after India and Nepal.
The historic region of Bengal has a history of bloody communalism. A worried Hindu in Bangladesh said, “For last half a century, our community is living the life of a malaun (slang for non Muslims), not human. Unfortunately when something happens to a Muslim, it is interpreted as a war against Muslims. But when the victim is a Hindu, it is regarded as a vandalism conducted by some miscreants.
Sadly, de-population of non-Muslims in Muslim lands is almost a universal phenomenon. The Muslims themselves, on the other hand, have proliferated in non-Muslim countries and are quick to kick up a row at the slightest real or imagined threat to them. Alas, one seldom comes across any credible and effective measures for the security of minorities in Muslim lands. Their numbers keep declining. While, non-Muslims seem destined to gradually disappear from Muslim countries, some non-Muslim lands are on course to become Muslim.
The Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 resulted in one of the largest genocides of the 20th century. While the estimate of the number of casualties was around 3,000,000, it is reasonably certain that Hindus bore a disproportionate brunt of the Pakistan Army’s onslaught against the Bengali population of what was East Pakistan.
An article in Time magazine in August 1971 stated “The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred.” Senator Edward Kennedy wrote in a report that was part of United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations testimony dated 1 November 1971, “Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and in some places, painted with yellow patches marked “H”. All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad”.
In the first constitution of the newly independent country, secularism and equality of all citizens irrespective of religious identity was enshrined. On his return to liberated Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his first speech to the nation, specifically recognized the disproportionate suffering of the Hindu population during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Despite the public commitment of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his government to re-establishing secularism and rights of non-Muslim religious groups, two significant aspects of his rule remain controversial as relates to the conditions of Hindus in Bangladesh. The first was his refusal to return the premises of the Ramna Kali Mandir, historically the most important temple in Dhaka, to the religious body that owned the property. This
|Declining Hindu population in Bangladesh region|
Source: Census of India 1941, Census of East Pakistan, Bangladesh Government Census
centuries old Hindu temple was demolished by the Pakistan army during the Bangladesh Liberation War and around one hundred devotees murdered. Under the provisions of the Enemy Property Act it was determined that ownership of the property could not be established as there were no surviving members to claim inherited rights, and the land was handed over to the Dhaka Club.
Secondly, state-authorised confiscation of Hindu owned property under the provisions of the Enemy Property Act was rampant during Mujib’s rule, and as per the research conducted by Abul Barkat of Dhaka University, the Awami League party of Sheikh Mujib was the largest beneficiary of Hindu property transfer in the past 35 years of Bangladeshi independence. This caused much bitterness among Bangladeshi Hindus, particularly given the public stance of the regime’s commitment to secularism and communal harmony.
Largely because of these and other factors, such as the lack of attention to the Human Rights Violations of Hindus in the country, the Hindu population of Bangladesh started to decline through migration.
In 1988 the then President Hussein Mohammed Ershad declared Islam to be the State Religion of Bangladesh. Though the move was protested by students and left-leaning political parties and minority groups, to this date neither the regimes of the BNP or the Awami League has challenged this change and it remains in place. More than half of all land and property belonging to religious minorities was usurped and Hindus were made second-class citizen by introducing a State religion in the constitution.
Hindus were first attacked en masse on 1992 by Islamic fundamentalists. More than 200 temples were destroyed. Hindus were attacked and many were raped and killed. The events were widely seen as a repercussion against the razing of disputed structure in Ayodhya in India. Taslima Nasrin wrote her novel Lajja (The Shame) based on this persecution of Hindus by Islamic extremists. The novel centers on the suffering of the patriotic anti-Indian and pro-Communist Datta family, where the daughter is raped and killed while financially they end up losing everything.
Prominent political leaders frequently fall back on “Hindu-bashing” in an attempt to appeal to extremist sentiment and to stir up communal passions. The fundamentalists and right-wing parties such as the BNP and Jatiya Party often portray Hindus as being sympathetic to India, and transferring economic resources to India, contributing to a widespread perception that Bangladeshi Hindus are disloyal to the state. Also, the right wing parties claim the Hindus to be backing the Awami League.
On October 2006, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published a report titled ‘Policy Focus on Bangladesh’, said that since its last election, ‘Bangladesh has experienced growing violence by religious extremists, intensifying concerns expressed by the countries religious minorities’. The report further stated that Hindus are particularly vulnerable in a period of rising violence and extremism, whether motivated by religious, political or criminal factors, or some combination. The report noted that Hindus had multiple disadvantages against them in Bangladesh, such as perceptions of dual loyalty with respect to India and religious beliefs that are not tolerated by the politically dominant Islamic Fundamentalists of the BNP. Violence against Hindus has taken place “in order to encourage them to flee in order to seize their property”. The previous reports of the Hindu American Foundation were acknowledged and confirmed by this non-partisan report
In November same year, USCIRF criticised Bangladesh for continuing persecution of minority Hindus. It also urged the US administration to get Dhaka to ensure protection of religious freedom and minority rights.