Plight of Hindus in Bangladesh: Some Recent Trends
Dr. Anirban Ganguly

All is not well with the minorities in Bangladesh, especially the Hindus. One of the major election planks of the Awami League (AL) during the last general elections of 2008 was its assurance of securing the rights of the minorities of Bangladesh and of ensuring their safety. Such an election promise offered hope to the Hindus after a long period of persecution and discrimination under the BNP-Jamaat regime and they voted en-masse for the Awami League and in certain areas even actively worked for its victory. But ever since its landslide victory of December 2008, the promises made to the minorities appear to have been ignored by the AL. At least that is what recent trends in that country appear to indicate. A recent spate of grabbing land of minorities by local politicos of the ruling party and of thefts in their temples has given rise to a serious sense of insecurity among them.

This is not to point fingers at one political formation and absolve the other of any wrongdoing, in fact when it comes to their lands the minorities in Bangladesh, it seems, can expect practically no redress from any political group. Studies of the discriminatory Vested Property Act (VPA) conducted between 1996 and 2008 have revealed that when it came to sharing the spoils under the VPA all major political parties behaved uniformly. When the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) ruled the roost it appropriated 45% of the VPA land and when its arch-rival the secular AL was in power its politicians grabbed 44% of the VPA spoils. Land grabbing under the VPA in Bangladesh continues to be the easiest way of chasing out Hindus and other minorities from the country.

Incidents of land grabbing, temple attack and theft have never really ceased to occur in Bangladesh. The anti-minority attacks during the BNP-Jamaat rule in the past received some coverage from the international media but the recent series of incidents have largely gone unreported except in a few Bangladeshi dailies. The Indian media has repeatedly ignored these. The seriousness of the minority situation was brought to the fore last year (2010) when the Bangladesh based human rights and minorities watch organisation the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council released its report on the status of minorities in Bangladesh. Though the report did not receive wide publicity it nevertheless provided an alarming status update on Hindus in Bangladesh. It talked of the religious minorities in Bangladesh being subjected to repression by the ruling quarters which appeared to be in a spree of grabbing their lands. The organisation recorded 150 incidents of repression of minority people all over the country in the first six months of 2010 itself with people being killed and large number of houses being burnt and families driven out of their homesteads. The incidents saw assailants carry out attacks, loot valuables and drive away families to take control of the lands. The report described a large number of families as being under constant threats by influential people and observed that politically powerful quarters were believed to be involved in most of the acts of repression and the administration appeared to be indifferent on this count. “We have been witnessing repression on minority communities for a long time. During the previous regime, it was a minority cleansing and now we see ruling party activists in a land grabbing spree”, lamented Rana Dasgupta, eminent human right activist and now one of the prosecutors for the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), while presenting the report. Most of the land grab incidents were reported from Natore, Pirojpur, Chittagong, Narsingdi, Bagerhat, Barisal, Manikganj, Tangail, Satkhira, Pabna, Manikganj and Munshiganj. Even land belonging to the national temple of Bangladesh – Dhakeshwari – at Dhaka has not been spared with giant corporates occupying parts of it for erecting multistoried complexes.

To the spate of land grabbing has now been added incidents of temple thefts and desecration across the country. The issue erupted nationally when ornaments of the deity and a large amount of cash money (Tk. 4.5.lakhs) was stolen from the Dhakeshwari national temple on 9th January this year. Though there were arrests made later, practically nothing could be recovered. The minorities were badly shaken. From around September 2010 reports of temple desecration and thefts across the country began appearing intermittently. Since most old temples in Bangladesh have large tracts of land attached, desecration of temples, attacks on serving priests and worshippers have become effective methods for land grabbing. On 11th September a group of youth led by a local muscleman vandalized the widely revered Hindu temple of Gosaildanga in the port city of Chittagong. The vandals destroyed the idols, beat up the helpless priest and threatened to occupy the temple premises. This was followed by a series of theft in temples situated at the national capital, first at the Barodeshwari Kali Mandir on December 11th and then at Joy Kali Mandir on December 22nd. The theft at the Dhakeshwari national temple brought out the seriousness of the situation. The administration was slow to act and its repeated assurances of action could not prevent more such incidents from taking place. On February 2nd, the Kali –O – Shib Mandir in Dhaka’s Sutrapur area was robbed and on April 2nd the Sylhet based 500 years old Laskhmi Narayan and Shiva Temple of Acharya Shribas Thakur, one of the foremost disciples of Sri Chaitanya, was attacked, vandalized and copies of the Gita snatched from the temple were defiled and burnt in the local market square. A ruling party affiliated local land shark was seen leading the group. On April 4th men belonging to the AL front organisations vandalized a temple and house belonging to a Hindu family at Manikganj in central Bangladesh. The family had been living on the land for the past eight decades. Within days of this, on April 12th a 200 years old Kali temple was vandalized at Lalmonirhat in northern Bangladesh. The trend seems to continue and most of the incidents go largely unreported.

The incidents appear to have been engineered with the motive of creating a severe dent in the minds of the Bangladeshi Hindus. The government has been projecting these as cases of simple burglaries and has refused so far to look at the deeper implications of the whole issue. It seems to ignore the fact that such attacks and thefts can have far reaching effects on the Hindu community in Bangladesh by giving rise to a feeling of insecurity among them and by making them lose faith in the administration of the day. Delay in taking visible action could in fact disturb the balance of religious co-existence in the country and could invite external forces to subtly intervene and further marginalize the minorities.

Securing the rights of minorities and ensuring their constitutional guarantees should have easily come to the AL; traditionally it is the one to have reaped the huge dividends of unstinted minority support.

India on her part must express concern over these developments in Bangladesh, after all as a republic professing secular values she must be concerned about the fate of minorities in any country, especially if they happen to be in her neighbourhood.

Sources:

  • New Age, 27th May, 2010
  • Daily Star, 14th September, 2010
  • Daily Star, 9th January, 2011
  • Daily Star, 3rd February, 2011
  • Daily Star, 6th February 2011
  • Press Statement issued by the Math, Mandir O Debottar Sampatti Raksha Committee, 79 Swamibag Road, Dhaka [date not stated]
  • Daily Star, 5th & 6th April, 2011
  • Daily Janakantha, 6th April, 2011
  • bdnews24.co, - Bangladesh’s First Online Newspaper, April 13th, 2011
  • A.Barkat, et.al, Deprivation of Hindu Minority in Bangladesh – Living with Vested Property, New Delhi, 2008

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Published Date : 30th May, 2011

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