Non-Muslims in Bangladesh – What Choices Do They Have?

Published on Sunday, April 21, 2013

In one of the more remarkable recent attacks on non-Muslims in Bangladesh, a 200 years old Hindu temple was burned down by Muslim criminals. According to a Daily Star report on April 20, 2013, the month of March, 2013, saw 94 attacks on Hindu temples in various districts of Bangladesh.

What are the excuses for these barbaric atrocities on this nonviolent population group? Even the perpetrating criminals did not utter any excuse as far as the Hindus are concerned; there was not even a lame allegation against the Hindus or their temples. So, why did the Hindus have to suffer these indignities and material losses in Bangladesh?

The atrocities on the Hindus had nothing to do with the Hindus. It was the madness of the criminal Muslims which needed some soft targets for cooling off; and the Hindus being the largest group among non-Muslims, and weak and nonviolent, made the desirable targets. Why did those Muslims get berserk? Three of their religious leaders got convicted for crimes against humanity that they committed in 1971; the latest conviction being of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Vice President, Jamat-e-Islami, on February 28, 2013. Sayeedi was sentenced to death by the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh.

Among the many incidents of atrocities on non-Muslims in recent times in Bangladesh are those that happened on September 30, 2012, in the sub-district of Ramu. In that spate of violence, Muslim mobs destroyed 12 temples and 50 homes belonging to the Buddhist community. What was the excuse there? An image of the Islamic book of Koran, treated disrespectfully, was apparently posted on the Facebook page of a Buddhist young man. There are some disputes on who posted it and for what purpose; but there is no dispute about the innocence of the Buddhist community and their temples. Even the criminals did not accuse the community in general of any disrespect against the Islamic holy book.

After the atrocities in Ramu, the Home Minister of Bangladesh made his statement of blaming fundamentalists and the opposition political party, BNP. There was no statement of calling the atrocities what they actually were, a national disgrace, if Bangladesh were to be assumed to be a civilized nation. There was no statement from the Prime Minister. No high level figures from the governing or opposition political party felt the urgency of visiting the affected community. Over the next months there were some arrests, but no significant court action. Historically, the criminals of this nature have no record of getting punished in Bangladesh.

In the history of Bangladesh was the state of Pakistan that was created in 1947 when the British colonial rulers left the Indian subcontinent. The eastern and western parts of the subcontinent constituted Pakistan. In the middle was what is today's India. The illogical arrangement of Pakistan was due to Muslim majorities at the two distant parts of the subcontinent. That absurdity of Pakistan came to an end in 1971; the eastern part becoming Bangladesh, due to hatred, discrimination, and heinous crimes against humanity there, committed by the rulers from the western part and by their local collaborators.

In the entire history of mankind, 1947 probably saw the largest migration of people; Muslims from what would become today's India, Hindus from what would become today's Pakistan and Bangladesh. There were too many cases of otherwise innocent people of one religion killing otherwise innocent people of the other religion, all due to their dispossession from their beloved places of birth under real and perceived fear of the future. There were numerous cases of heart wrenching stories of separation of loved ones in that saga of injustice against humanity.

After the turbulent times of 1947, India took the path of a secular democratic system, where non-Hindus would be treated with respect. On the other hand, Pakistan took the path of Islamic fanaticism, where non-Muslims would have their birthrights curtailed by the state, and where Muslim criminals would commit heinous atrocities on the non-Muslims with impunity. The creation of Bangladesh in 1971 was a hope for a civilized state in the eastern part of the subcontinent. Unfortunately, in spite of the official proclamation of a secular democracy at the beginning, the Islamic fanatic forces within the country as well as from outside have continued to play the principal political power game of Bangladesh.

The results are obvious. No significant migration of Muslims from India to Pakistan or Bangladesh took place after 1947. The percentage of Muslims in India has increased. On the other hand, Hindus continued to migrate from Pakistan and Bangladesh to India at variable rates, depending on the phases, acute or chronic, of Islamic fanaticism in the two Muslim-majority countries. Today, Pakistan is a failed state that has forced most of the Hindus out of the country, and has totally marginalized the remaining non-Muslim population there. The non-Muslim population of the land that is Bangladesh today was about 40% in 1947, and is about 10% now.

Today, the non-Muslims of Bangladesh are in an extremely precarious situation in their homeland of centuries. While in 1947 India was willing to accept any victimized non-Muslim from Pakistan, that path is practically closed now. Over the 42 years of the total lifetime of Bangladesh, India has taken in, quite unwillingly, at least 10 million non-Muslims from that country. Today, most of those people are actually stateless in India. Because of a corrupt system there, they could stay there illegally; however, because of an irresponsible system there, they had to remain stateless, as opposed to becoming Indian citizens, even after decades of residence there. Now, for the non-Muslims of Bangladesh, migration to India is not a viable option.

What options do the non-Muslims of Bangladesh have today?

If they are to survive, they have to fight for their birthrights; being nonviolent in the face of a monstrous force of religious hatred would not do. They probably have no future with their dependence on the so-called moderate Muslims. The moderate Muslims are either too few and far between or too insincere about respecting and preserving the birthrights of the non-Muslims.

Hindus and other non-Muslims must maintain a vigorous campaign in the world at large for the world community to exert their influence on Bangladesh to reverse the trend of injustice that has been going on in the country. The civilized world needs to be convinced that the hatred that has been causing the sufferings of the non-Muslims of Bangladesh would certainly spread beyond the territory of that country. Countries like the USA need to see, for example, that had they maintained a principled position of defending the innocent statues of the great teacher of nonviolence, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, in Afghanistan in 1997 to early 2001, they could have possibly avoided the 9/11 tragedy.

In the information age, the task of having the world conscience against injustice and brutality on innocent humanity has become much easier today. The non-Muslims of Bangladesh must take full advantage of disseminating information to the civilized world.

================================== About the Writer: Sukhamaya Bain is a US citizen who was born in a place that is a part of today's Bangladesh. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1987, and currently works for the US federal government, evaluating chemistry. While being a scientist by profession, he believes that societal justice is vital for the well-being of mankind. Thus, he occasionally writes on sociopolitical issues.

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