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Future of Hindus in Bangladesh

Future of Hindus in Bangladesh

Author: Bhupendra Kr. Bhattacharyya
Publication: Organiser, Independence Day Special
Date: August 18, 2002

Shri Salam Azad-the 38 year old Bangladeshi writer and an eminent human rights activist predicted that there were "three options for Bangla Hindus. They can embrace Islam, leave the country or commit suicide". He made the predictions on February 9, 2002 while releasing the Hindi version of his Bengali book "Hindu Sampraday Keno Bangladesh Tyag Korcche" (why the Hindu community is leaving Bangladesh) in the last Kolkata Book Fair. His predictions came in the wake of unprecedented atrocities that were committed on the hapless Hindus by the armed cadres of BNP and its electoral allies before and after the October 1st parliamentary elections last year in Bangladesh. Since then persecution of Hindus has been continuing with occasional respite.

Salam Azad's book was first published in Kolkata towards the end of 1998. It has graphically described the reasons for the continuous exodus of Hindus from former East Pakistan now Bangladesh. He has been deeply shocked on seeing the sub-human conditions in which many well-to-do Hindu families of Bangladesh were now living in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal. Azad has also lamented that had the Hindus not been driven out, their numbers would have been 32.5 million and they would have contributed much to the progress and prosperity of Bangladesh.

The State policy of Pakistan (of which East Pakistan now Bangladesh was originally a part of it) had all along been anti-Hindu because of the very nature of its birth in August 1947. In this connection, it bears recalling here that in the wake of a communal carnage in former East Pakistan in February/March, 1950, Pandit Nehru in his letter dated March 11, 1950 to Shri Liaquat Ali Khan (then Prime Minister of Pakistan) interalia said:

"...The root of this evil was the intense communal policy which led to Pakistan and which Pakistan has followed since. There is enough of communalism' in India also today. But, at any rate, it is not the policy we pursue and we combat it. In Pakistan it is the state Policy and this nurtures the feeling of hatred, violence and religious bigotry... This conversion of the State into a citadel of communalism inevitably leads to far-reaching evil consequences. It makes the lives of all those in that State who do not accept the predominant religion, unhappy and insecure."

Many believed that the agony of the Hindus would be over and they would regain their lost honour with the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971. It was entirely a mistaken notion. By and large, the successive Governments in liberated Bangladesh have followed the same policy as was pursued and practised by Pakistan towards her Hindu and other minorities. The Hindus, however, lived in relative peace and safety during the Mujib and Hasina regimes compared to the military and BNP regimes. Nevertheless, the Hindu property was grabbed even when Mujib and Hasina ruled Bangladesh. In 1965, Pakistan Government enacted The Enemy Property Act and it operated disastrously against the Hindus. After the creation of Bangladesh, many Hindus and the liberal Muslims and intellectuals of Bangladesh thought and hoped that this black act would be repealed. Their hope was belied instead of repealing the act, it was reenacted under the new nomenclature of Vested Property Act (VPA) by the Mujibur Rahman Government in 1972. Under EPA/VPA, 1.64 million acres of land belonging to the Hindus have been grabbed-the market value of 60,000 crore (Taka) in Bangladesh currency.

A recent US State Department report on human rights in Bangladesh has put the quantum of grabbed land of the Hindus at about 2.5 million acres and it further added that this has almost affected the present Hindu population of Bangladesh.

Although the EPA/VPA was repealed by the Hasina Government in April 2001, it is yet to be implemented by the present Khaleda Zia Government by restoring the grabbed property to the owners of the Hindus. It needs to be mentioned here that a large number of the land grabbers are leaders of most of the political parties including the Awami League of Bangladesh. It is, therefore, doubtful whether the Hindus would get back their grabbed properties at all.

Bangladesh has been quite successful in achieving three objectives. Firstly, Bangladesh has been gradually denuded of its Hindu population. At the time of country's partition, the Hindu population in East Pakistan was 11.4 million or 29.17 percent of the total population. It has decreased alarmingly over the last few years and stood at 15.6 million in 2001. In other words it has come down to 12 per cent of Bangladesh's total population of 130 million. The Hindu population however, should have been 44.4 million in Bangladesh in 2001 as per the normal annual growth rate of 2.5 per cent and had been no migration of Hindus. In this connection, relevant Part is quoted here from a report titled "The Missing Population" dated January 7, 1994 from Holiday-a prestigious weekly of Dhaka:

"The Missing population was about 1.22 million during the period of 1974-81, about 1.73 million during the last inter-censal period of 1981-1991. As many as 475 Hindus are disappearing every day from the soil of Bangladesh on an average since 1974".

Further, the report on "State of Human Rights 1994 Bangladesh" edited by Father R.W. Timm said: "The Hindu population in Bangladesh stood at 1.25 crore in 1991.... The number of Hindus has been reduced by two crore in the last 50 years (till 1991). The most likely explanation is that they have left the country".

Secondly, Bangladesh has been sending lakhs and lakhs of Muslim infiltrators to India with the sinister design of carving out an Islamic state comprising of north-cast India, the bordering districts of West Bengal and three districts of Bihar viz Kishengunj, Katihar and Purnea.

The redeeming feature in an otherwise gloomy situation is that most of the major newspapers of Bangladesh have published the woeful tales of atrocities on the Hindus, have condemned the barbaric acts on them and blatantly criticised the Government for its deliberate failure to protect the helpless Hindus in Bangladesh. Likewise, the leading intellectuals and human rights activists of Bangladesh have brought the ghastly acts on the Hindus to the notice of international fora. Consequently, some of' thorn have suffered much for upholding the cause of the Hindus. The ordeal of Sahariar Kabir, the Dhaka-based celebrated film-maker, writer and human rights activist has come to my mind instantly. He was subjected to inhuman torture by the Bangladesh Government because of his exposure of "the atrocities (unprecedented since 1970-71) perpetrated against the Hindu community in Bangladesh during and after the elections held on October 1st, 2001".

Unless there is a radical change of policies on the part of the present Bangladesh Government towards its Hindu minority, their future is indeed bleak and uncertain. They will, therefore, have to opt one of the options out of the three as rightly predicted by Salam Azad in the Kolkata Book Fair in February 2002.

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