Monday, August 15th, 2022 06:00:30

Affliction Perpetrated On Hindus For Land And Votes In Bangladesh

Updated: February 15, 2014 2:15 pm

The elections in Bangladesh have become a tussle between the army generals-owned political parties like BNP, Jatiya Party and their Jamaat-e-Islam-right-wing beneficiary alliance versus people’s political organisations like Awami League (champion of creation of Bangladesh in 1971) led 14 -party alliance and other group of pro-people parties. A number of missions by foreign diplomats, including one over ambitious visit by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, came to naught. India, however, sent a diplomatic mission led by Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh that met ex-President Ershad to convince him to join the elections. This gave rise to the claim that India is actively meddling with local politics and is on a collision course against people’s will for a free and fair election. In such a state of gridlock, the sufferings of the people are not making any headlines—people who are victims of violence, farmers who can’t bring in their produce to the markets, ready-made garment exporters who can’t ship their goods, daily labourers who can’t get a job. However, the Awami League is steadfast in its plans for parliamentary election to be held on January 05, 2014

Bangladesh’s Hindu community once again is under grievous assault. In the aftermath of the recent January 05, 10th general elections in Bangladesh, hundreds of Hindus have fled their homes in pre and post election of such regions as Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Rajshahi, Jessore, Nilphamari and Chittagong. Fanatics vandalised idols and torched temples in Comilla, Netrokona and Bhola, Noakhali, Nilphamari, Barisal, Khulna, Perojpur and more or less all over Bangladesh creating widespread panic among the Hindu community since February 28, 2013. On that day, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 awarded death penalty to Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee for his crimes against humanity during the country’s liberation war.

Lashing a déjà vu of 1971, Jamaat-Shibir fanatics wrecked havoc on the Hindu community across the country. They damaged temples, including one of Buddhists, and torched houses and business establishments of Hindu people in Noakhali, Gaibandha, Chittagong, Rangpur, Sylhet, Chapainawabganj and elsewhere in the country. In Rajganj of Noakhali, Jamaat-Shibir men set ablaze a temple and eight houses of the Hindu community. In the last week of December 2013, joint drives of law enforcers have stopped widespread Jamaat-Shibir violence in Satkhira for the time being and people fear the top Jamaat leaders of the district would instigate violence again as they remain at large. Even high officials who led the joint drives admit that they could not make any significant arrests as the people who allegedly instigated the violence had fled the district. Several hundred Hindus and ruling Awami League leaders of Satkhira have been fleeing their homes over the last few days in the wake of massive violence unleashed by Jamaat-Shibir men in the district. Some had even moved to India through legal or illegal means.

As many as 848 clashes took place in 2013 centring the verdicts of war crimes trials and political disputes over the upcoming parliamentary election. The clashes killed 507 people including 15 police and two BGB men and left 22,407 injured, the Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) report titled ‘Human Rights Situation in Bangladesh 2013’ said. Since the announcement of the 10th parliamentary election schedule on November 25, over 100 people died across the country during the opposition-called blockades. Of them, 75 died between November 25 and December 15 and the rest were killed in clashes over the execution of war crime convicted Jamat-e-Islam leader Quader Mollah from December 10 to 13, the report adds. The clashes took place in around 50 districts but Satkhira was identified as deadliest one, the ASK report says. The report also shows a distressing trend of communal violence in 2013. According to the published items in the local dailies, in Bangladesh 459 temples have been ransacked, 700 women were violated and thousands Hindus left Bangladesh particularly in the border areas. It is also reported that India Government will initiate Refugee Camps in the border zone, (Arthonity protidin, 19 Dec 13)

Rape used as weapon for land and votes

Bangladesh: Remembering ……, 2001 and Rape of Bhola: The morning after the night of ……., 2001 when we all died with one of the greatest shame of Bangladesh in the new millennium. And three years later we say to the minority girls and women victims of Char Fashion in Bhola, we have not forgotten you as we pay our tribute to you for your unique courage and strength to overcome the indignities and tortures unleashed on you by the hitherto unknown brand of Bangladeshi men whose atrocities have not been equaled anywhere else in the world in the twenty first century. A heinous war crime was thus perpetrated on the minority girls and women of Bangladesh by a group of zealots in the month following the election of BNP, Jamat and other hardliner parties in Bangladesh. Of the many news reports and other related stories that took up the front page of every newspaper in the country on the next day and on other days that followed, as well as a January 2002 investigative report by an HRCBM Dhaka team led by Rosaline Costa, we have chosen to reproduce below “The night of the lost nose-pins” (by Mohammad Badrul Ahsan) from the editorial page of the Daily Star of November 16, 2001because this reminds us again of the Rape of Bhola infamy. It further reminds us that the criminals are still at large and that this unforgivable crime should never be allowed to be forgotten.

Twelve years ago in 2001, six families hailing of down trodden family Rishi and Cobler of Tuniaghara village of Monirampur, Jessore were uprooted after the BNP-Jamaat alliance came to power. Some Muslims of adjacent areas forced into gang-raped two housewives. Police took no action as the Rishi families could not file case with Monirampur police station. All these ill-fated families left their village selling their land within 15 days (DS, Jan 17, 2014). Masked gunmen stormed two Hindu homes at Hazrail Rishipara of Monirampur upazila in Jessore on Tuesday January 8 night and Wednesday January 9, 2014, tied up men and children and raped two housewives in front of their family members for voting in the election. The incident was just two days after the attack on Hindus at Malopara in Abhaynagar of Jessore on election day. The two women filed two cases with Monirampur Police Station. Some seven to eight masked gunmen stormed a hut of the village around 10:00pm on Tuesday. The second victim in an interview with a television channel said: “They broke into our house and tied up my husband, father and mother-in-law and children and then one of them raped me.” She said the incident happened around 2:30am on Wednesday. In the morning, the entire family of the victim had left the area in fear. Atrocities on the Hindus, however, are still going on. Meanwhile, the raped women of Jessore’s Rishipara and their families have fled their homes fearing further attacks while male members of the community in different parts of the country are spending sleepless nights, taking turns in guarding their villages. The Hindu villagers in Abhayanagar upazila of Jessore, on Election Day had to pay a price for exercising their democratic right to vote. With 130 houses vandalised and 10 houses burnt down some 600 Hindus had to flee their village by swimming across the Bhairab River as BNP-Jamaat men allegedly unleashed terror. There have been allegations that police, ruling Awami league leaders and the administration didn’t promptly respond to their calls of help. Police arrived much later after the carnage was complete.

In October 2001 election, the incidence of violence was highest. Minorities were violated in 2,685 villages across the country. Minorities were debarred from casting votes in the election. They were obstructed from casting their votes on the way to the voting centre. In this context, it may be asked why the incidents of violence on minorities were so high during the eighth parliamentary election in 2001 compared to elections immediately before that. It was probably because social control mechanisms regulating violence faltered more during this election than before. It was widely observed that the caretaker government, throughout its tenure, remained quite indifferent to the violence perpetrated by the four party alliances in the contest for winning the election. The government formed after the alliance won the election was absolutely blind to the violence that the BNP cadres were committing against their political rivals.

Today, it is with a huge degree of shame that one must recount the havoc wreaked on Hindus following the electoral triumph of the BNP-Jamaat alliance in October 2001. Supporters of the alliance went on a rampage, beating and raping and killing Hindus in no fewer than 2,685 villages in the country. No action was taken against the marauders. Our grievance is that even today, with the conclusion of the general election of January 5, 2014 Hindus all over the country cower in fear of elements which have been threatening them since before the voting. As our news reports over the past few days have made it clear, there were patent threats held out against the community in various regions of the country. Why were these threats not taken seriously by the administration? Where were the measures that should have ensured their security as citizens of Bangladesh?

February 8, 2012 onwards…

In 2012 and 2013, between February and November, at least 20 attacks were reported against the minority communities at Hathazari and Bashkhali in Chittagong, Kaliganj of Satkhira, Chirirbandar of Dinajpur, besides Ramu in Cox’s Bazar, Sathia of Pabna, and Barisal and so on. The assault started in Hathazari in 2012, when Shibir members influenced locals to attack, loot and plunder Hindu households. Eight temples, 12 shops and a number of houses were burnt down. A resident of Nondirhat, Abu Salam also alleges that Jamaat and Shibir leaders instigated the violence in Nondirhat by influencing local people. He says: “Following the deaths of two Shibir activists during clashes with activists of the pro-government students of Chhatra League at Chittagong University (CU), Shibir was waiting for an issue to pick on. They tried to destabilise the situation in the CU area.”As the Alia Madrasah was closed at the time when the agitation surfaced, locals say that the student body of Jamaat was behind the anarchy. The Hathazari incident, moreover, has a direct link to the rise of Hefajat-e-Islam. After the violence in Hathazari, police arrested the perpetrators but with the help of Hefajat leader Ahmed Shafi, they were let out on bail. According to Hefajat-e-Islam leaders, Ahmed Shafi met with the prime minister to release them from jail. And this helped Hefajat gain popularity among the Muslim community of Hathazari.The Hathazari incident was the starting point of religious terrorism of Jamaat in recent years. Soon the violence covered the whole country, most importantly in the border area of Bangladesh and India. In March and April, several Hindu and a few Muslim households (who had tried to help their Hindu neighbours) at Fatepur and Chakdaha in Satkhira, were attacked. At least 12 houses were burned down to ashes and two villages were ransacked during the two-day long vandalism in the area.Anger mounted in the Muslim community when Drishtipat, a local Jamaat-e-Islami patronised newspaper, spread a rumour that a school play in the village had made indecent remarks about the Prophet. The local newspaper reportedly circulated complimentary copies of the paper to different houses, bazaars and mosques. By March 30, the news had spread and people started protesting in different villages. The Star has obtained earlier copies of Drishtipat from 2011, which show that the newspaper had spread similar propaganda in the past to incite violence against the religious minorities living in the area.

In the same year in September, at least 22 temples and several hundred houses and shops of the pre-dominantly Buddhist communities, as well as the Hindus were attacked, vandalised, looted and burnt down by a section of Muslims.

Blaming Uttam Kumar Barua, a Buddhist youth, for insulting the Quran through a social networking site, religious fanatics on the night of September 29, 2012, launched attacks on a pre-dominantly Buddhist neighbourhood at Ramu in Cox’s Bazar. Amid government-claimed ‘tight security’ in the minority groups’ religious institutions, the attacks later spread to Ukhia, Teknaf and Chittagong’s Patia in the following days. Law enforcers, however, could not disperse the mobs from attacking Buddhist temples and monasteries in other areas.

Why Hindu populated areas in the northern and south-western part of Bangladesh? Why Hindu areas have been transformed into an inauspicious outpost of Islamic militancy and terrorism? It appears from the parliament constituency numbers, that the density of the Hindu population in 10 districts out of 64 districts is very high of 20per cent to 35per cent. These districts are: Gopalgonj, Moulavibazar, Khulna, Narail, Thakurgaon, Bagerhat , Magura, Satkhira, Pirojpur and Dinajpur . On the other hand, 17 districts bear the population of 10per cent to 19per cent, and the other 11 districts namely Nawabgonj, Luxmipur, Pabna, Shariatpur, Mymensingh, Kushtia, Banderban, Sherpur, Chuadanga, Jamalpur , and Meharpur bear Hindu population less than 5 per cent . If we analyze the Hindu population in the light of 300 Bangladesh parliamentary constituency: It appears that from 10.92 per cent to 35.13 per cent of the Hindu population live in the 115 parliamentary constituencies, from 16 per cent to 35 per cent of the Hindu population live in the 58 parliamentary constituencies. And from 20 per cent to the 35 per cent of the Hindu population live in the 43 parliamentary constituencies.

The Hindu community in Bangladesh has been weak owing to its lack of access to resources and hence, has never been able to mount resistance to the institutional persecutions faced. This has left Hindus with no choice but to relocate. In 2001, for example, a large number of Hindus from three districts (Barisal, Pirojpur and Bagerhat) initially moved to the neighbouring Gopalganj district (Southern Bangladesh now in 2014, it is happening in Northern and Hindu thickly populated areas of Bangladesh) in search of a safe haven. In the absence of a potential haven nearby the persecuted Hindus decided to cross the border. The porous border between Bangladesh and West Bengal, not to mention the cultural and historical ties between these two parts of Bengal, helped the intended migrants to move to the Indian state.

If we factor in these assumptions and reconsider the government statistics, the numbers change drastically. By 1991 the Hindu population should have reached 16.5 million as opposed to 11.16 million recorded in census data. The rate of the missing population has increased in the past two decades. The current Hindu population—13.47 million—is far short of the number one should expect based on population growth rates. The decline of the religious minority community is matched by the increased use of Islamic icons and symbols in political rhetoric, not to mention deletion of secularism as state principle and official designation of Islam as the state religion. (How Did We Arrive Here? Prof Ali Riaz, Forum, the Daily Star, November 2012)

The government’s failure to give adequate protection to Hindus and punish the perpetrators of the previous atrocities is the main reason of the recurrence of violence against the religious minority, speakers observed at a discussion on January 16. They demanded a special tribunal to put the attackers, regardless of their political identities, to trial immediately. Against the backdrop of arsons, vandalism, and sexual assault on Hindus across the country following the January 5 polls, Jagannath Hall Alumni Association of Dhaka University organised the programme in the capital’s Cirdap auditorium urging the state and citizenry to “stand against terrorism and violence against religious minorities”. The High Court has directed the government to immediately provide adequate security to the minority communities and other people vulnerable to post-polls attacks.

The HC directive came yesterday in the wake of attacks on Hindus and people adherent to ruling Awami League across the country surrounding the January 5 elections. The home secretary, the inspector general of police, the director general of Rapid Action Battalion and the deputy commissioners of Dhaka, Natore, Jessore, Dinajpur, Gaibandha, Satkhira, Jhalakathi, Tangail, Bogra, Pirojpur, Chandpur and Netrokona districts have been made respondents to the suo moto rule of the HC. The HC also ordered the respondents to explain why the citizens, who were already victimised or have lost life, liberty, dignity and property, should not be compensated.The HC bench of Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque and Justice ABM Altaf Hossain came up with the orders and rule following reports published on the daily Prothom Alo on January 7 and the daily Amader Shomoy on January 13 on the attacks on the minority communities and the damage done to their houses, temples and shops after the 10th parliamentary polls.Some Supreme Court lawyers led by Advocate Parimal Chandra Guha placed the newspaper reports before the judges.

Garga Chatterjee , a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, opined in The Hindu, Jan 16, 2014: “Still one cannot but hope that the People’s Republic of Bangladesh would live up to some of its original ideals. Minorities have fled the nation-state for want of security in large numbers, year after year. There is significant presence of minorities in the bureaucracy and local administration. Even during the recent spate of violence, the state has transferred police officials for failing to provide security. This reality exists too. It is this reality that partly prevents a mass exodus of Hindus beyond the levels seen at present.

For many, they have too much to lose to be able to leave. And that is a problem for a religious majoritarian nation-state.

By Rabindranath Trivedi

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