Sunday, October 25, 2009

Persecution of Hindus increasing in Bangladesh

When Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladeshi Awami League (BAL) took power in Bangladesh following a landslide victory in late December, a torrent of superficial commentaries suggested that the BAL would usher in a new era; one in which minorities no longer faced systematic and government-tolerated persecution and one in which the government opposed the growing power of Islamist radicals in Bangladesh. I recall being asked to participate in a conference call with Hindu activists in the country shortly after the election during which the latter's sentiments were: give them some time and they will do the right thing. On the other hand, I cautioned that the worst thing minorities could do now was lay down and be silent, that the BAL had no intention of changing the status quo and that if minorities fail to assert their rights from the start, they never will be recognized.

Ten months later, unfortunately, my prediction it turns out was the accurate one.

Despite repeated promises to do so, the government has made no concrete move to repeal the Vested Property Act, that law which empowers the Bangladeshi government to seize the land of non-Muslims and give it to Muslims. It also provides the legal and economic basis for the continued effort to eradicate Bangladesh's Hindu community: a community that has fallen from one third of the nation at partition (1947) to one fifth at independence (1971) to nine percent today.

Dozens of government-tolerated anti-Hindu actions were reported during the BAL's first two months in office. My organization was able to confirm at least 12 (1.5 every week) involving rape, murder, assault, land grabs, forced conversion, and religious desecration. In all cases, government officials (at several levels) participated in the actions and/or prevented their prosecution. In some cases, they interfered with recovering abducted minor Hindus.

This Spring saw an anti-Hindu pogrom carried out with government support in a Dhaka neighborhood just behind a police station. There were also at least three confirmed cases of abduction of young Hindus by Muslims and their (forced) conversion to Islam. Once again, the government prevented a fair and open investigation of the matters or the safe recovery of the victims. In several cases, the police ignored blatant evidence of break ins and other crimes.

Most recently, in a nine-day period this month (October 2009), I received evidence that the pace of anti-Hindu actions is accelerating. The Bangladeshi paper, The Daily Janakantha, reported at least seven cases of Hindu girls being lured to vulnerable spots where they were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. According to human rights activist, Advocate Rabindra Ghosh and others, the police refused to investigate the matter or admit that any crimes were committed. This conforms with our previous experience that police and other government officials will not consider any conversion to Islam (forced or voluntary) anything other than an achievement worthy of their praise.

Bangladesh's Daily Samakal and the Bangladesh Minority Watch report this month that a Muslim mob attacked and destroyed a Hindu Temple to the god Shiva. They also destroyed its deities and other artifacts, and it should be noted that the Temple was recently repaired following previous attacks by Muslims. The attack took place in the Dhaka district, and police have not taken any action despite promises to do so.

Finally, in that same week, a young Hindu woman was abducted from her bed and taken to an open field where he six Muslim attackers raped her in turn. They brutalized her so badly that she is currently fighting for her life in a local hospital. (The attack took place in the Pabna District.) The woman's husband tried to stop his wife's abduction but was stabbed and beaten into unconsciousness. Formal charges have yet to be filed against any of the perpetrators.

When will the Awami League live up to its promises? We know the answer to that: never. The real question is when will the rest of the world realize that.

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