Afghanistan, Pakistan & Bangladesh Bangladesh Documents

Survey of annual human rights reports: documentations and omissions

The impetus of this report, beyond the need to comprehensively document Hindu human

rights abuses in South Asia, is to augment the perfunctory coverage this issue receives in

the annual reports of human rights agencies with the highest profiles and extensive

resources.

In its 2003 report, Amnesty International says only the following regarding Hindus in

Bangladesh: “No information was made public about an investigation promised by the

government into widespread attacks against Hindus in 2001 that included rapes, beatings

and the burning of property. However, the authorities took action to protect Hindus

during their festivities in October.” While the 2001 report by Amnesty International

entitled, “Attacks on members of the Hindu community,” was laudable for its scope and

detail,53 three years later, there was only cursory follow-up of a worsening rights

situation.

There is no mention of Bangladesh in the 2003 report by the Human Rights Watch

(HRW) group.54

The USCIRF’s 2003 report, published in May 2004 does not contain any mention of

Bangladesh. The USCIRF held a hearing titled “Bangladesh: Protecting the Human

Rights of Thought, Conscience, and Religion” on April 30, 2004 at the City University of

New York Law School at Queens College. At the hearing Congressman Crowley posed

the first question to Justice Rahman, one of the panelists: “Mr. Justice, we have heard

numerous reports, including from several of the witnesses here today, about the violent

attacks that occurred around the time of the 2001 elections in October. Some of these

allegations are of physical attacks against women, and the attacks affected many different

groups, but we understand from the materials we have received and the testimony today

that it was the Hindu community that was most seriously affected.” The Justice replied

that it was merely a political matter and not a matter of religious persecution.55

The U.S. State Department’s 2004 report on International Religious Freedom is more

revealing about the situation in Bangladesh. It says that while citizens are generally free

to practice the religion of their choice, police are “normally ineffective in upholding law

and order and are often slow to assist members of religious minorities who have been

victims of crimes.” It also blames the attacks on Hindus to the “acute animosity between

the two mainstream political parties.” Elsewhere in the report, it is mentioned that the

government “has taken some steps to promote interfaith understanding,” and that “the

government promoted the peaceful celebration of Durga Purja (sic), a major Hindu

holiday in October 2003.”

The State Department report refers to the Enemy/Vested Property Act, and describes how

this controversial provision effectively labels Hindus as “enemies” and facilitates the

expropriation of their land by the government. The report says that “approximately 2.5

million acres of land were seized from Hindus, and almost all of the 10 million Hindus in

the country were affected.”

Acknowledging the mention of human rights abuses in Bangladesh in the State

Department report, Bangladesh human rights activists have pointed out some serious

shortcomings in the report.56 These include misstatements on the number of non-Muslim

ministers in the Bangladesh Government, the false claim that “Hindus dominate… the

high school and university levels”, and the misleading assertion that “In recent years,

emigration has been primarily motivated by economic reasons”. There were only two

non-Muslim members in the Khaleda Zia ministry instead of the six mentioned in the

report. The two non-Muslims ranked 46 and 48 in the 51 member Ministry. Regarding

the “domination” of Hindus in high school and university teaching, it is pointed out that

overall, Hindus account for less than 10% in education, and that “open discrimination

does not allow them (Hindus) to be hired, and then promoted, in large number of

(educational) institutions.” The complaint also refers to the very little minority hiring in

military, police, and border security forces. Finally, it is pointed out that the assertion

that emigration in recent years of Hindus is primarily motivated by economic reasons is

patently false and misleading. The complaint asks rhetorically, “Can one benefit

economically by leaving behind their home of many generations, land and livelihood by

becoming a pauper?”

Human rights agencies expressed some concern about Pakistan in their 2003 and 2004

reports. The 2003 report by Amnesty International on Pakistan contains no mention of

attacks against Hindus, except to say that abuses “committed against women, children

and religious minorities, including Christians and Shi’a Muslims, continued to be

ignored.”57 The HRW report on Pakistan includes the following brief references to the

fate of Hindus in Pakistan: “Religious minorities also welcomed a decision by the Sindh

high court that the constitution did not bar a non-Muslim from serving on the high court.

The court denied a petition to remove Justice Rana Bhagwandas from the bench on the

ground that he was a Hindu.” The USCIRF report criticizes Pakistan for the violation of

religious freedom of Ahmadiyas, Shias and Christians, but does not mention Hindus at

all.

In its 2004 report on Pakistan59, the State Department does extensively reference the

infringement of minority rights within that country. “There were no significant changes

in the Government’s treatment of religious minorities during the period covered by this

report. The Government fails in many respects to protect the rights of religious

minorities. This is due both to public policy and to the Government’s unwillingness to

take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice a different faith. The

accretion of discriminatory religious legislation has fostered an atmosphere of religious

intolerance, which contributes to acts of violence directed against non-Muslims and

members of minority Muslim groups.”

Regarding marriage, the report points out that, “Civil marriages do not exist; marriages

are performed and registered according to one’s religion. Upon conversion to Islam, the

marriages of Hindu or Christian men remain legal; however, upon conversion to Islam,

the marriages of Hindu or Christian women, or of other non-Muslims that were

performed under the rites of the previous religion, are considered dissolved. Children

born to Hindu or Christian women who do not separate from their husbands, yet convert

to Islam after marriage, are considered illegitimate unless their husbands also convert.

Children of non-Muslim men who convert are not considered illegitimate. Under Islamic

law, a Muslim man can marry a woman of the Book (Jews or Christians) but cannot

marry a Hindu woman. Muslim women may only marry Muslim men.”

That religion plays a major role in the affairs of state can be ascertained by this following

observation in the report: “Members of minority religions volunteer for military service

in small numbers, and there are no official obstacles to their advancement. However, in

practice non-Muslims rarely, if ever, rise above the rank of colonel and are not assigned

to politically sensitive positions.”

According to the report, “Religious minorities constitute a proportionally greater

percentage of the prison population. Government officials state that although religious

minorities account for approximately 5% of the country’s population, 25% of the cases

filed under the blasphemy laws are aimed at religious minorities.” Of the 580 persons

accused of blasphemy, eight were Hindus. Minorities are also subjected to forced

conversion, and the report states, “There were reports of forced religious conversions

during the reporting period. Religious minorities state that members of their

communities, especially minors, sometimes are pressured by private groups and

individuals to convert to Islam.” Add to this, the threats by Pakistan-based terrorists,

who the report says, “have been quoted extensively as calling for Hindus to be killed.”

Attacks against women are common, and women belonging to minority communities are

especially vulnerable. The report says, “According to human rights groups, while rape is

often used against women in general to humiliate and ‘dishonor’ them, minority women

such as Hindus and Christians are especially vulnerable…. In August 2003, a Hindu girl

allegedly was raped by a local landlord of the area near Khapro. When the father of the

accused swore on the Koran that his son was not present on the date of the incident, the

accused was acquitted, and the local police refused to register the case.” 73

Government complicity, religious bigotry, and conflict between nation states have

reduced the status of Hindus in Bangledesh, Pakistan, and India’s State of Jammu and

Kashmir to that of second-class citizens. The “Indian Commission of Jurists” reported in

1960 that in 1964, in then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), “atrocities were in the form

of mass killing, plunder and arson of non-Muslim properties. Abduction, raping and

molestation of women occurred on a large scale…. Many cases of breaking or burning of

temples, of breaking idols and of sacrilegious acts have occurred. Many witnesses have

stated that they were offered the choice of embracing Islam or death” (p. 310). Forty

years later, there seems to be little change in the inter-religious dynamic in Bangladesh or

in Pakistan.

CONCLUSION

From our survey of events in 2004, we conclude that the direst threat to Hindus is in

Bangladesh. They are the only remaining Hindu population of substantial size outside

India that is suffering human rights abuses and being rapidly expelled by an Islamist

regime. The massive number of documented atrocities in this report and those of the

United States Department of State represent a small proportion of continuing attacks on

Hindus in that country. No definitive or demonstrably effective measures have been

taken by the Bangladesh government to attend to the concerns of Hindu victims and to

augment the physical and psychological security of that population. The international

community must take cognizance of the grievous conditions in Bangladesh and exert

pressure on the Bangladesh government to redress the grievous status of minorities and

curtail the dangerous growth of fundamentalist and terrorist organizations. Independent

human rights organizations must be empowered and encouraged to document violations

and rapidly address these issues.

In the case of Pakistan, access to information is more limited. Given the small number of

Hindus in Pakistan and their vulnerable minority status, documentation is rendered

difficult. This report provides a historical basis for violations against Hindus, clearly

manifested by a population of Hindus that continues to contract and has nearly been

completely erased. Human rights abuses in Pakistan are of a chronic nature that shows

no indication of amelioration. The government of Pakistan must establish democratic

institutions that will empower the at-risk minorities in the country and provide

opportunities for their community to grow and prosper. Independent human rights

organizations must be allowed to travel the country freely and monitor allegations of

human rights abuse.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from the Kashmir Valley is

almost complete, and therefore, the attacks against specific Hindu targets are thereby

reduced. The Hindus forced from the valley are settled in refugee camps throughout

Northern India and the decrepit conditions of these communities remain a tragic abuse of

fundamental rights to shelter and dignity. The fate of these nearly 350,000 people is in

limbo as the Indian government strives to end the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and

the complex geopolitical realities therein. The status of Jammu and Kashmir as a

“disputed area” will continue to affect the condition of Kashmiri Hindus. The fate of

Hindus of this region remains in abeyance – paralyzed by the inertia of a Government of

India reluctant to rehabilitate Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir, and a recalcitrant Pakistan

unwilling to stop terrorists from carrying out their mayhem in the State. The

inflammatory rhetoric of Islamist terrorists based in Pakistan only vitiates the atmosphere

further and perpetuates a dangerous terrorism that continues to claim Muslim and Hindus

lives in the region. It is incumbent upon Pakistan to immediately cease moral and

tangible support of terrorism in the valley. India must create an atmosphere in the valley

conducive to the return and safe resettlement of Hindus in their original homes

throughout Jammu and Kashmir.

In conclusion, the fate of the Hindu minority in the three areas surveyed for this report is

that of a discriminated and oppressed minority whose plight has been mostly ignored by

world bodies and international human rights agencies. Urgent and immediate attention is

required to address the ongoing violence against the decimated Hindu population in these

regions and the discriminatory laws that have forced them to flee their homelands or be

reduced to the status of “enemies” and/or second-class citizens.

 

Source : Hindu American Foundation 2005

 

 

 

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