In an interview to Pravasi Today, human rights activist DR. RICHARD BENKIN speaks about the state of the Hindu community in Bangladesh and much more
What are the basic human rights concerns of Hindus in Bangladesh?
I cannot comment on the concerns of Hindus in Bangladesh, but I can tell you that there must be an immediate end to continual oppression of a nature that should not be tolerated by any people. Almost every day brings incidents of murder, rape, assault and battery, arson, abduction (including child abduction), forced conversion to Islam, land grabs, and religious desecration. My book, A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: the Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus, provides detailed documentation of these constant attacks, even under the supposedly (but not actually) “pro-minority” Awami League. I verified major anti-Hindu actions in the Awami Leagues first year of rule to the tune of almost one per week. And it has not let up since. In one three-week period in 2010, there were seven confirmed major anti-Hindu attacks. So, we are talking about basic survival rather than any level of human rights concerns over and above that.
The other matter is that these actions are given a green light by whatever government is in charge in Dhaka. Unfortunately, attacks on minorities occur worldwide; the key question is what the government does when they occur. Do they prosecute them as crimes, or do they allow them to continue with impunity? The litany of incidents documented in the book, as well as others, include only crimes that the Bangladeshi government has actively allowed to occur. In many, local police or other officials participated in the carnage. Although Hindus are formally citizens of Bangladesh, normal legal protections are suspended for them in that country.
How are these different from the problems faced by Hindus in other parts of the world?
I cannot speak authoritatively about the conditions faced by Hindus worldwide, although their oppression in places like Pakistan, Malaysia, and so forth are rather well known. Culpability on the part of the Bangladesh government goes even well beyond the tacit approval of Hindu ethnic cleansing noted above. There are at least two laws that provide the ideological justification and economic engine for ethnic cleansing.
The first is the Eighth Amendment to the Bangladeshi constitution that declares Islam the official state religion. In doing so, it marginalizes all non-Muslims in the country. Imagine how Indian Muslims would react if this country declared Hinduism the official state religion. Imagine how any European Muslims would react if their nations officially declared themselves Christian nations. Yet, they (nor anyone else) see the problem of Bangladesh (and many other nations) marginalizing all non-Muslims by declaring their states officially Islamic. The Eighth Amendment declares that no law shall contravene the law or spirit of Islam; it allows for funding of madrassas and other Islamic institutions, but not those of non-Muslims. If, in fact, the very constitution pronounces non-Muslims marginal, how far are we from justifying their lack of rights, powerlessness to prevent physical attacks and plunder of their property? The clear implication of the Eighth Amendment is that non-Muslims are somehow not quite fit to be full citizens of Bangladesh.
The other is the Vested Property Act, which allows the Bangladeshi government to seize the land of non-Muslims on the flimsiest of pretexts and distribute it to Muslims of their choice. It is an exact duplicate of Pakistan’s Enemy Property Act, which was past as retaliation against Hindus for Pakistan’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of India in 1965. In my on-site research, countless refugees told of how their property was invaded by local Muslims, and when they went to the police, they were told to leave Bangladesh. Once they left, their property was declared “vested” and given to their attackers. A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: the Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus details the role of the Vested Property Act in a three day anti-Hindu pogrom that took place in Dhaka in 2009.
The Awami League, in stark and cynical contrast to what it claims to be, had opportunities to get rid of both laws but refused to do so. Just before its election, the Supreme Court issued a Rule Nisi that asked the government to show why the Vested Property Act was not in contradiction with the Bangladeshi constitution and should not be rescinded. The existing caretaker government left it to the elected government, the Awami League, which never responded, allowing the law to stand.
In April and May, 2011, the Supreme Court declared several provisions of the Constitution problematic and charged the Awami League dominated parliament to submit new ones. It did for every problematic law cited—except the Eighth Amendment. In Bangladesh, Hindus have been told to expect no justice from the government of Bangladesh, no matter which party is in power.
Share with us the history of ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus.
According to the 1951 Pakistan census, Hindus represented just under a third of the East Pakistan population. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were just under a fifth; 30 years later less than a tenth; and according to several reliable estimates under eight percent today. Anti-Hindu ethnic cleansing took its first great leap forward under the government of Sheikh Mujibar Rahman when it passed the Vested Property Act in 1974; and another shot in the arm when the Ershad regime passed the Eighth Amendment in 1988. As noted above, the anti-Hindu atrocities, documented in my book and elsewhere continued and continue unbroken.
But perhaps the worst blow for Hindus came when they looked to the new Awami League government to keep the promises they made to Hindus and stop the ethnic cleansing. As noted above, they have only re-affirmed it. It should also be noted that in April 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a visiting French naval commander that her government would “repeal all anti-minority laws in Bangladesh.” That is, she admitted that hers is a country with anti-minority laws. Why has no one said or done anything about that. What would happen if the Indian prime minister said the same thing; or the US president? And, by the way, no anti-minority laws were repealed.
How have you helped in restoring the basic rights of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees in West Bengal and other parts of India?
Until the ethnic cleansing stops, I will consider none of the small victories we won worth anything. It is not for me to restore the rights; they are the people’s rights and no one has the power to take them from or give them to the people! The day we settle for anything less than complete victory is the day we accept injustice as something that is all right.
You have termed Kashmir as South Asia’s West Bank. Explain.
The parallels are uncanny. The first is a matter of incrementalism. The ultimate focus of the forces of international jihad is not Kashmir or the West Bank (more properly, Judea and Samaria) per se. They have targeted India and Israel alike as kaffir nations that must come under Islamic rule. Strategically, they would find little support for calls that both nations be dismantled. In fact, their “negotiating” positions suggest that their goal is some sort of peaceful co-existence between the two peoples involved. But that is nothing more than a façade. With regard to Kashmir, demands for “self-determination” and disingenuous claims that they lack of it is a violation of human rights did not surface until the Hindu population of the valley was ethnically cleansed. If their concern was self-determination, they would have raised them earlier; but that is not their concern. Regarding Judea and Samaria, Arabs could have had an independent state on that territory with Jerusalem as its capital any time between 1948 and 1967. First, they rejected it when the UN offered it. Then, during the Arab occupation of those territories, first the fiction of a Palestinian people had to be created. Then, they could have petitioned the occupying powers—Jordan and Egypt—for their own state. Instead of doing that even once, their charters called only for the destruction of Israel, which was settled on territories they now claim have nothing to do with the so-called occupation. If it was a matter of their self-determination, the conflict could have been settled over 60 years ago and saved a lot of lives around the world. But that is not their concern.
The second parallel is that the international talking heads and left-leaning racketeers in the media, diplomatic corps, and academia have without regard to historical fact taken up the faux claims of Islamists without any modicum of critical thought. That has put constant pressure on both Israel and India to justify their continued national well-being, not to mention unwarranted charges of violating human rights.
What steps have been taken by the Bangladeshi government in providing right to quality to the Hindu community?
As noted above, they have taken none. Moreover, they have passed on the easy chances they had to do so. At most, all we ever have gotten from the Bangladeshi government regardless of party is empty words.
How can we even consider that the government has done anything when such atrocities continue unabated and with the government’s complicity?