At present population of Bangladesh is estimated at 160 million, out of which 89% are Muslims, 9% Hindus, 1% Buddhists, and 1% are Christians. Although, Hindus form the main minority community, their population rapidly declined from over 30% in 1947 to 9% presently. However, Hinduism is the second largest religion in Bangladesh, which stands third in the world after India and Nepal.
Meanwhile, out of about 1% of Bangladeshi Buddhists, over 65% are settled in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. In comparison to other two minorities, Christian community usually enjoys better opportunities for education and a better standard of living. Notably,76 per cent of the total population lives in rural areas and 86 per cent Bangladeshis live below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest countries in the Indian cub-continent.
Bangladesh, on attaining independence from Pakistan, adopted a constitution on December 16, 1972, on the first anniversary of country’s victory over Pakistan in which secularity was declared as one of national ideals. However, in 1988, under the then military backed ruling Jatiya Party, country’s constitution adopted Islam as the State religion, which destroyed the basic secular fabric of the country provided leverage to Muslim hardliners against Hindu monitory.
Significantly, within a short span of Bangladesh’s emergence, anti-Hindu sentiments started emerging in the country due to partisan attitude of Mujib regime. Despite the public commitment(s) of ‘Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s regime (11 April 1971-15 August 1975) as President and then Prime Minister, to follow secularism and equality of all citizens irrespective of religious identity, the Mujib government miserably failed to hand over centuries old land of Ramna Kali Mandir at Dhaka to Hindus.
The temple was demolished during the liberation war by Pakistanis. Hindus claim over temple was ignored by Mujib’s regime, instead it was handed over to the Dhaka club in 1972. Likewise, Mujib’s government also failed to protect and return Hindus proprieties to them after the end of liberation war. Major chunk of Hindus properties was grabbed by ruling Awami League party functionaries by getting such properties declared as disputed once.
Thus, seeds of anti Hindu sentiments amongst Muslim majority were sowed at the very initial stage of country’s coming into being under Bangladesh’s first President, Mujibur Rehman itself. Thus, Mujib’s repeated claims of a secular Bangladesh were exposed at the very outset of his governing the country.
Islamic sentiments of Bangladesh’s majority Muslim population were exploited ingenuously by country’s post-Independence two prominent military backed regimes of Ziaur Rahman (21 April 1977 – 30 May 1981) who founded Bangladesh Nationalist Party(BNP) and Hussain Mohammad Ershad (11 December 1983 – 6 December 1990) who formed Jatiya Party (JP). Existence of these two Islamic democratic parties, along with already in existence Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami played active and dominant role in hardening pro-Islamic sentiments against Hindus and Buddhists. This further led to the intolerance and violent attitude towards minorities communities and its major burnt was borne by the Hindu population.
The tempo of anti-Hindu feeling further rose during militarily backed regimes of President Ziaur Rehman and President Hussein Mohammed Ershad and Muslim hardliners became more vocal in describing Hindus as pro-India anti anti-Islamic. During their regimes, amendments in theConstitution were made to the effect declaring the country as an ‘Islamic State’ as well as to maintain diplomatic and other relations more effectively with other Islamic States of the world.
Consolidation of two main right wing anti Hindu parities viz Jamaat-e-Islaami Bangladesh and Islamic Okiya Party and their participation in formation of the military backed governments further aggravated Hindus plights. Hindus were discriminated in religious and social spheres of life. They were physically attacked, publicly humiliated, their temples were attacked and destroyed, properties were damaged and looted and they were also discriminated in government jobs. Influential Muslim hardliners also started grabbing land belonging to Hindus mainly in northern parts of the country. Similarly, Buddhist were also subjected to physical attacks in Chittagong Hill Tracks (CHT) regions. Their religious places were attacked and demolished too.
Whenever there is a major political upheaval in Bangladesh, Hindus are made the first causality. They are targeted and subjected to inhumane treatments at the hands of majority. In this regard, the latest example is of February 2013, when International War Tribunal sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the Vice President of the Jamaat-e-Islami to death for the war crimes committed during the 1971Bangladesh Liberation War, activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibirduring their over a month long anti-government violent demonstrations also attacked Hindus.
Over 30 Hindu temples were destroyed and a number of Hindus were killed in the nationwide violent demonstration mainly in Dhaka, Chittagaon and Rangpur Divisions. This attracted international criticism and issue was also raised in India’s Parliament. Hindus have become punching bags for majority in Bangladesh even to settle score with ruling political parties.
Since emergence of Bangladesh, there is no let-up in anti-Hindu violent activities and atrocities, which, predominantly being carried out by the Islamic hardliners led by Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and anti-Hindu government functionaries. It is estimated that since last forty years, over one lakh Hindus have been killed, over one million are missing and about 2.5 million acres of land belonging to Hindus have been grabbed by the Muslims.
While attack and destruction of Hindu deities and temples have become regular at the hands of Muslims, Hindus are also facing discrimination at the hands of government agencies, especially in getting jobs and mitigating their woes. Successive governments including democratic Awami League and military backed BNP and JP deplorably went down swinging in protecting largest minority of the country, primarily to achieve their narrow political aspirations, and appease their Islamic mentors and to gain economic gains from rich Islamic countries. Despite occasional diplomatic pressure by some Western countries and international human rights organizations’, Hindus are facing atrocities at the regular intervals.
Ironically, even some prominent Bangladeshi minority associations including Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) and Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities (HRCFBM), in their national and international movements failed to garner any effective support against atrocities on Bangladeshi Hindus. One can safely conclude a gloomy picture for the Bangladeshi Hindus. They have a bleak and insecure future, would continue receiving treatment like a second hand citizen at the hands of majority population and would be facing communal carnage at the regular intervals in future too.
This would go unabated irrespective of which political party comes into power in Bangladesh. Incidentally it was witnessed by none other than President of India, Pranab Mukherjee during his three day state visit to Dhaka in March 2013 too. Since there is no panacea for Hindus and other minorities to resist wrath of majority Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh on each and every available economic, social and political sector, so minorities and their generation too have to live uncertain and unsafe life there.