Afghanistan, Pakistan & Bangladesh Bangladesh HRDI News India News

Attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh: Three Dimensions

The recent general elections in Bangladesh has witnessed renewed attacks on the country’s minorities, especially Hindus. The attacks range from burning houses and grabbing properties to humiliation of women. The Hindus are also forced to pay a medieval anti-Hindu tax, Jizya. This harassment has led to a mass exodus of Hindus to India . What are the factors responsible for increase in the intensity of these attacks? This issue has three dimensions – political, economic and religious.

In Bangladesh , Hindus are generally seen as supporters of the secular Awami League, which spearheaded the liberation of Bangladesh . On the other hand, minorities fear the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which professes Islamic ideology and has synthesized a coalition with fundamentalist parties. This explains why the Hindus are at the receiving end after the BNP-led Islamic alliance’s massive victory. The pattern is very clear: the intensity of attacks are more in areas where the alliance has won and on those Hindus who acted as polling agents of the Awami League. BNP men are indulging in extorting money from the Hindus “as a punishment for voting [for the] boat (election symbol of the Awami League)”.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Hindus are caught in the competition for political space between the moderates and the extremists. The Awami League is also partly responsible for the attacks. How? The Awami League is yet to accept the election results as legitimate, and has alleged large-scale rigging and malpractice during the polls. This has infuriated the BNP cadres to turn against the minority Hindus. The Awami League needs to understand that it is practically impossible for the BNP-led alliance to rig two-thirds of the constituencies whilst being in the opposition.

For the BNP-led alliance, driving out the Hindus could further reduce the Awami League’s vote bank. Bangladesh ‘s Hindu population has fallen from thirty percent at the time of Partition to less than ten percent now. According to estimates, the exodus is between 500 to 700 per day since the 1960s.

The economic aspect of the attacks is disturbing. The driving out of the Hindus is a conspiracy by the administration to take over their property. The devil lies in the Vested Property Act, formerly called the “Enemy Property Act”. It allows the lands of a person who has fled the country to be seized and redistributed. The law has neither defined the word ‘fled’, nor the circumstances in which persons flee to enable their property to be seized and redistributed. This lacuna has become convenient for the Muslims to grab the properties of the Hindus by forcing them to flee. It was not corrected by the “minority friendly” Hasina regime, which is unfortunate. The problem is that attacks on Hindus are considered an attack on the Zamindari system, since most Zamindars during the colonial period were Hindus and the peasants Muslims. But Hindu peasants also suffered under the unfair revenue system.

The victory of the present alliance was on an Islamist plank; it has strengthened the fundamentalist forces in the Republic. One of the chief constituents of the alliance, the Jamaat, had vowed in its manifesto to turn Bangladesh into an “Islamic republic”. Even the BNP had promised to have “special relations with the Islamic countries” if voted to power. Earlier, Zia ur Rahman, the founder of BNP, through the Proclamation Order No. 1 of 1977 substituted the word “secularism” of Article 8 of the Constitution with “absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah” making Bangladesh an Islamic Republic. The attacks, therefore, could be aimed at a demographic restructuring of Bangladesh into a “pure” Islamic state.

The present government should set its priorities right by keeping in mind long-term interests of the country. The exodus of Hindus is a loss of potential contributors to the country’s economy. Moreover, there could be a reduction in the investment flows from the West, which is increasingly allergic to Islamisation. Instead of satisfying the majority with minority property, the government should concentrate on the overall development of the country and its people.

There is much talk about India ’s role vis-à-vis the Bangladeshi Hindus. Some argue for accepting all these Hindus as there is no hope of their being treated fairly in Bangladesh . Some suggest repartition according to the Patil formula of “annexing 30 per cent of East Pakistan (read Bangladesh )”. But these impractical suggestions are far removed from reality. India ’s internal security is under strain due to Bangladeshi migration and accepting over ten million refugees as permanent settlers is impossible. India should raise the issue at the bilateral level with Bangladesh and New Delhi should not only get assurances of the safety of the Hindus but also make sure that they are indeed secure.



Leave a Reply