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You either buy peace or convert'

You either buy peace or convert'

Author: Aditya Ghosh, Times News Network
Publication: The Times of India - Internet Edition
Date: November 5, 2001

Attaphulia (Nadia): Money can reduce ideological and religious differences to a great extent but being poor and living among those who consider you as an enemy can be worse than death, feel the 60-odd Bangladeshi Hindus who crossed over to India this week.

"The situation is frightening. In Bangladesh, where the Hindus are a minority and poor, oppression is maximum," claimed Shyamal Sikdar, adding: "If you pay them, you can buy peace. But if you do not, then conversion is the only way out."

Sikdar left his business in Naliagram in Rajwari district and crossed over to India. This, according to him, was the only way to save his 18-member family. He is just one of the several men and women who have bundled their earthly belongings to sneak into the border districts of Malda, Uttar Dinajpur and Dakshin Dinajpur of West Bengal.

Malda district magistrate Ajit Ranjan Bardhan, however, said he was yet to get any report from police on the migration. "Unofficially, I have heard that Hindus are coming from Bangladesh and a large number of them have taken shelter in the district," he said.

There is a pattern in the stories. There is pressure on the minorities to convert. If they do not, they have to cough up large sums of money. Many of them are forced to seek safer sanctuary in West Bengal.

Sikdar claimed that he lost Rs 4 lakh since the electoral results were announced on October 2. "Leaving my family behind was the only way to stop the extortion. At least they will realise that the source of money is away and stop tormenting my family members," he said. At the same time, he feels that he cannot return to Bangladesh, till the BNP government remains in power.

People who dare to resist had been "punished" by subjecting the women to various forms of atrocities, sabotaging the business and even physically assaulting the young, Sikdar claimed.

"In my village, the Pals were quite resourceful and they refused to pay party funds. Three of their daughters were abducted and tortured throughout the night. Next day, the girls were returned. One of them committed suicide," he said.

"They have poisoned my ponds where I was hatching spawns even after I paid them two sacks of rice," he said, adding: "Even my business partner threw me out."

Shombhu Biswas (23) spent the last four years in Mukshidpur-Gopalganj, helping out his uncles in their fishery. He has been sent back to India. "My uncles advised me to return to India. On the way back, I was waylaid and asked to convert. I bought freedom by paying Rs 700," he claimed.

Amit Biswas (38) from Magura- Faridpur, a carpenter and dealer of wood, decided to escape after persistent threats that he should convert or pay. Strangely, all of them believe that the threats, torture, molestation and extortion will stop if the 'head of the family' manages to escape.

"His presence invariably calls for trouble," he explained, adding: "Otherwise, we will have to continue paying them money."

They all hope that good sense will prevail and the situation will improve. To many it was a reminder of the horrors of 1971.

"All these days, we were happy under the Awami League's regime. They would have won this time as well but for the terror attacks on New York and India's support to the US. The Muslims were united and the BNP came to power. I do not think that I can return back unless the Awami League is back," Sikdar said.

While 54 people from Bangladesh arrived here on Thursday, most of them have relatives staying in India.

The Gede, Dattaphulia, Petrapole borders remain the hope for many of those who still want to cross over.

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