Stop Shaking Your Fists and do Something!
Address to Telugu Association of North America (TANA)
Rosemont, IL (Suburban Chicago), July 4, 2009
I was asked to come here today to talk about the ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus: by Islamists—who drive it—“average” Bangladeshi Muslims—who carry it out—and the Bangladesh government—that has encouraged it almost since the day of its birth. That is why I am here. But I grow weary of attending conference after conference where I see the same people shaking the same ineffective fists at the same enemies. What do they think they are accomplishing?
To those who never tire of complimenting themselves for their years of work on the victims’ behalf; to Bangladeshi politicians who cynically claim to be the Hindus’ great hope; and to those international organizations that pretend to carry the mantle of human rights; I ask:
With all of your “heroic” action, have things gotten any better for the Bangladeshi Hindus? Are they any safer today than they were when you started your activity? Has Bangladesh repealed the openly anti-Hindu Vested Property Act that provides the legal framework for ethnic cleansing and rewards the victimizers with the victims’ land?
With all of your “heroic” action, why have Hindus fallen from 30 percent of the population at the time of Partition (1947) to nine percent today?
My God! Have we learned nothing from the Nazi Holocaust? Do we really have to wonder what the end of these sterile actions will be; not for us, but for the Bangladeshi Hindus? Look at Pakistan’s Hindus, who were once one fifth of the population but are only one percent today. Even that remnant is streaming into Indian Punjab ahead of the advancing Taliban; and I saw that for myself in March.
The comparison with the Nazis is not strained; for Islamists want the same thing for Hindus that Nazis wanted for the Jews. And Islamists today, like Nazis in the 1930s, find no shortage of world leaders and diplomats who recommend we overlook their sins as some sort of cultural expression or justified anger; who urge us to cooperate with those murdering innocents. You’ve heard the expression, “If you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” Well, if we do as they suggest, we will have the smell of the charnel house upon us; which is the stench emanating from Bangladesh today.
Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We—no, the Bangladeshi Hindus—cannot afford for us to do the same thing we have been doing for years expecting that somehow things will change. We must understand that making polite protests, putting our trust in Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, and waiting for the UN, Amnesty International, or the rest of the misnomered human rights industry to act will achieve nothing except more of the same. And what is that? Try this.
On March 23 this year, I was in North Bengal, near Bangladesh’s northern border, taking testimony from refugees. That is not easy because many are reluctant to speak, especially about things happening now. Indian state and national governments refuse to recognize their presence as legitimate. They are “illegal aliens” and so are afraid. They have no rights, no status; and at any time can be told to leave their makeshift encampments and find somewhere else to live because someone wants the land on which they are huddling. I observed this myself in 2008, arriving at one camp just moments after the order came and the refugees were packing up their few meager belongings to find another deserted cluster of huts somewhere down the road. These refugees from Islamist terror are afraid that telling the truth about their situation will anger the local CPIM leader or police (both of whom likely take bribes to allow Islamist infiltration), and be sent back to Bangladesh to meet with any one of several atrocities, possibly death.
Sometimes, they describe what happened then say it occurred a safe number of years ago; I have to figure out which ones really did happen recently. Occasionally, though some brave Hindus speak up regardless of potential consequences, convinced as they are that there is nothing about their current state that makes them happy or promises anything better for their children and grandchildren; and this is what I encountered that day in March. A local teacher and a political activist said they knew of a Hindu family that had crossed into India only 22 days earlier and were willing to talk. They asked if we were interested in meeting with them, and of course, we jumped at the chance. We followed them along the main road until they ordered us to stop and get out of the car. They directed me onto the back of a motorcycle and took me along a narrow, winding path through farmland, then an area covered by banana palms and other growth; and finally to a clearing with a few ramshackle huts where the family awaited to tell their all too familiar story. I’m sure you all have heard it. They were at home on their little farm in Bangladesh when a gang of Muslims broke in and ordered them off their land. When the father protested, they beat him severely and took possession of the family home. Other, extended family reported other incidents, the murder of an uncle and more land grabs; and that the Bangladeshi police refused to help when they went to them. I’ve heard that a lot from refugees in rural India and have experienced it as well after attacks on dissidents in Dhaka. The police frequently refuse to accept their complaints and voice support for the attackers. In fact, in many cases, the police instead act on counter claims by the attackers. Many refugees have told me point blank that the police tell them that they need to do was to get out of Bangladesh.
Getting back to March 23, the family’s young daughter affected me the most. At first, she was silent then her mother stopped her from speaking; but she kept trying to talk. Eventually, she did and told me that “the Muslims… chased” her; her exact words. Her mother clearly did not want her daughter to talk about her experience and tried to take over the conversation. I realized later she just was trying to protect her. But the girl kept talking, looking down and away as she did. There was a lot more to this, so I decided to give her a break turning to some of the others before asking her, “Did the Muslims say anything when they were chasing you?” That question really made her uncomfortable, especially with my camera going, even though, by agreement, I did not show faces or give away our location; so I turned it off. It was only then that, still looking down, she said that they “caught [her and] did bad things.”
Perhaps it was her tragedy; perhaps her courage. It could have been her parents, still trying to spare her, because most of these young rape victims are shunned by their families and consigned to live with their attackers only to be victimized again and again. But I think about that girl and her family a great deal. I thought about them last month when President Obama addressed the Muslim world; and with all due respect, I had to disagree with him about something essential in his speech. The problem we face is not those he termed the “violent extremists.” It was not just extremists who brutalized that family and the many more like them. In fact, most of the attackers in these cases are average Muslim citizens who do it because they know they can. Nor was it a Taliban Afghani, Wahabi Saudi, or holocaust-denying Iranian government that let them get away with it. It was a “moderate” Bangladeshi government—the Awami League government that the West has said would move Bangladesh away from its anti-minority and pro-Islamist past. They are the ones from whom we must demand action if this is ever going to stop; and since the US, India, or the UN, will not, it is up to us, and I am prepared to address that because you will remember I believe that speeches and fist shaking are worthless unless they result in effective action. But I first want to mention another young girl I met; this time in 2008, near the North Bengal-Nepal border.
She told me she wanted to be a schoolteacher. Why? Because she was proud of being a Bengali Hindu and thought the most important thing she could do was to instill the same in other, young Bengali Hindus. Given the world in which she lives, her statement shows an incredible inner strength that any of us would be proud to have. But I wonder if she will get the chance, because the Indian and West Bengali governments are not making it easy for her people to survive, let alone spend time on education. The surrounding villages are becoming more and more hostile to Hindus. As we rode through them, my companions noted that they once had mixed Hindu-Muslim populations but are now all Muslim—and you could verify that by the absence of the small temples common wherever Hindus live in India. From time to time, too, Islamists from across the border will team up with these locals and attack the refugee camps. So, I wonder how much Hindu spirit—like that girl’s—is being snuffed out every day.
Several times every week, I receive reports of anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh. For the past two months, I have been verifying them and filling in missing data so we can convinced others that human decency demands action by people in power. Here are seven incidents from January alone—remember, there likely are many more, but these are the ones where I have found “smoking guns”:
On 1 January, 14-year-old Subarna Karmakar was on her way home from school in the Barisal district when several Muslim males grabbed the girl, forced her onto a motorcycle, and carried her off. Her whereabouts remain unknown, and police have taken no action to locate the girl or prosecute the perpetrators.
On 15 January, nine Muslim males kicked in the door of a family home in the Khulna district, and forced their way in the house. They seized eight-year-old Choyon Bairagee and when his mother Aduri begged for mercy, the kidnappers threatened to kill her. The boy’s whereabouts remain unknown, and police have taken no action to locate him or prosecute the perpetrators.
On 24 January in Khulna, five or six Muslim fundamentalists attacked Thakur Das Mondol, a member of the Hindu Union Council and Chairman of Magur Khali Union Jubo Dal. He was carried to Khulna Medical College Hospital in a “senseless condition.” Police have taken no action.
On 26 January in Faridpur, a group of local, heavily armed Muslim Fundamentalists attacked a Hindu funeral site and a nearby Kali temple, which they destroyed completely. They have seized the temple land, and police have taken no action.
On 28 January, a madrassa was built on the land of a Hindu Temple to the goddess Kali in Dinajpur. Police have taken no action despite numerous appeals, including one to the Prime Minister through AFM Zahid Hasan.
On 30 January in the Chittagong district, 10-15 Islamists attacked the Swaraswait Pandal, destroying the temple and a deity. They also left at least ten worshippers seriously hurt. Police have taken no action despite numerous appeals, including one to the Prime Minister through AFM Zahid Hasan.
Also on 30 January, in the Dhaka district, Md. Hasan Habib, a local Awami League official, noting his position with the new government, forcibly occupied land belonging to Monindra Nath Mondal and threatened the victim should he report the infraction. Police have taken no acion.
In February, there were at least five more, including a murder; and March incidents included rape and a possible anti-Hindu pogrom that police allowed in Dhaka.
For us there can be only one question: What are WE going to do about it.
We need specific goals and a plan to achieve them. I have found that good people are unable to turn their backs when faced with real tragedy and real human rights horrors such as I saw in March. I defy anybody to look in the face of that brave girl and feel nothing. But I am just as firmly convinced that government, press, and even human right activists will do everything they can to avoid getting to that point. For some, it is because they do not want yet one more issue in their very busy lives. For others, an ideological or political agenda drives it. Only we can overcome that. If we wait for it to happen magically, we will witness an end to Hindus in Bangladesh and have that guilt on our heads. Recognize that there is no internal dynamic by which the Bangladeshi government will change things. That includes the Awami League. The only way to effect change is to get to it indirectly through the action of third parties like the United States. We must be ready to act.
First, Indiana Congressman Mike Pence once said that any member of Congress who gets at least ten phone calls (not emails!) from constituents on a particular issue will take notice, convene staff meetings, and likely vote their constituents’ passion. To be ready we need someone or some group to collect names and phone numbers of people in every Congressional District willing to call their Representatives. We must put them into a data base that can be activated as soon as the moment comes; for if we wait to do it until that moment, we will fail. For instance, Bangladesh is heavily dependent on the United States and other western nations for garment imports; trade is a serious issue that can be addressed. So is Bangladesh’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions—to which it provides the second largest number of soldiers. Third parties must be motivated to take action that will “convince” Bangladeshis that supporting justice and opposing ethnic cleansing is in their interests. There are some good people in Washington. Congressman Mark Kirk from here in Illinois, for instance, was also touched by the story of that young Hindu girl. He has helped me with South Asian human rights issues in the past and will support them again.
Our success in any of these things will not just help the particular bill. More importantly perhaps, it will identify us (and Hindus) as an organized and powerful political constituency that no longer can be ignored.
So, who will volunteer? [Identify people.] Meet me after the session, and I will get you started. Give me your name and contact information.
Second, many of us receive regular emails about anti-Hindu incidents. Some are accurate, some not; and even many that are accurate lack specific information needed to make them credible. At the behest of people who can do something about this, I have been reviewing and vetting incidents but the volume of information is much greater than I can handle alone. We need another group to help—existing organizations, students, or a group of individuals making that commitment today. I have developed the methods and a spreadsheet for the information.
So, who will volunteer? [Identify people.] Meet me after the session, and I will get you started. Give me your name and contact information.
And third, sometimes it takes a particular incident for people to recognize a human tragedy. Finding such an incident could be the spark that lights this fire. Throughout May, reports out of Bangladesh told of an anti-Hindu pogrom in Dhaka; a pogrom carried out by supporters and officials of the ruling Awami League; police also participated. Although further investigation shows that the number of people evicted to be fewer than the 400 first alleged, dozens remain homeless still. Worse, the social and political acceptability of and support for anti-Hindu actions in Bangladesh is undeniable. The attackers grabbed ancestral land, beat residents with the police looking on, and purposely destroyed a Shiva Mandir; one of many Hindu temples destroyed this year alone. And the government supports it. It rewarded the attackers with their victims’ land! As an American, I am incensed that my government sends millions in aid each year to such a government. Is this our issue? Is it the face of that young Hindu girl? This should outrage the entire world; but it does not. Has humanity lost any sense of justice, or is this something we can change? I suggest the latter. We can be the engine that drives that outrage, or we can be passive and let it pass. The choice is ours.