Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from Mihir K Sarkar, Campaign for the Protection of Religious Minorities of Bangladesh (CPRMB)
Violence against minorities in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, violence against minorities is not unusual. The recent violence is reminding the Hindus of the barbaric atrocities against them in 1971 and 2001. On 28 February 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the Vice President of the Jamaat-e-Islami, to death for the war crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Following the sentence, activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir unleashed lethal waves of attacks on Hindus in different parts of the country. Hindu properties were looted, Hindu houses were burnt into ashes and Hindu temples were desecrated and set on fire. While the government has held the Jamaat-e-Islami responsible for the attacks on the minorities, it has hopelessly failed to protect the lives and properties of the Hindu community.
2. Evidence of atrocities
The violence was widely reported in the local and international Medias. National and International human rights organisations clearly mentioned the deliberate mob attacks on Hindus by Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir.
On 7th of March 2013 Amnesty International reported a wave of violence on Hindu properties and temples. The attacks were happening all over the country. It was mentioned that more than 40 temples had been destroyed. BBC reported on the following day that a mob attack destroyed the houses and all the belongings of Hindus. In the report it was mentioned that Jamaat-e-Islami was accused of committing the atrocities. A national news paper published in Bengali reported on 23rd of March 2013 that in the past 24 days, 319 Hindu Temples, houses etc have been ransacked in 32 districts of Bangladesh. The blame was put on Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir According to Hindu Buddhist and Christian Unity Council, a human rights activist group, since 28th February 2013 four people from a minority community have been killed and 34 have been injured. 110 temples and 182 houses belonging to minority communities have been destroyed along with 206 business establishments.
3. National and international condemnation
The national and international condemnation put the blame on Jamaat and Shibir. The leaders of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council and the Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad condemned the atrocities on minorities and they held Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir responsible. They mentioned that Jamaat and Shibir once again engaged in extermination of the minorities from Bangladesh as they did in 1971. On 3 March, the Bangladesh High Court directed the Government to ensure security of the Hindus and repair the temples and houses destroyed in the attacks.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird condemned in the strongest terms the senseless attacks on civilians, most notably those on minorities in their homes and places of worship.
The British High Commissioner in Dhaka, Mr. Robert Gibson expressed his deep concern and resentment on the attacks upon the religious places and the recent attacks in a press conference on Sunday 3 March 2013 held in Dhaka. On 4 March, the United States Department of State expressed concerns over the attacks on Hindu temples and homes in Bangladesh, Dan Mozena US Ambassador to Bangladesh expressed concern about the attack of Jamaat on Bengali Hindu community.
Amnesty International has called upon the Bangladesh government to give better protection to the minority Hindus in the country in the report issued on 6 March 2013. The report titled “Bangladesh: Wave of Violent Attacks Against Hindu Minority”, Amnesty said as many as 40 Hindu temples were vandalised in attacks by supporters of an Islamic party. It also said several hundred were rendered homeless as shops and houses belonging to the Hindu community were burnt down over the past week.
At the House of Lords in the British Parliament, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi condemned the attacks on minorities and their places of worship in Bangladesh. She stated that 24 places of worship, 112 homes and about a dozen business establishment belonging to the minority Hindus came under attack. According to Lord Avebury, the recent attacks are a recurrence of the 2001 attack on the Hindus.
Lord Dholakia mentioned in the House of Lords that fundamentalist organisations such as Jamaat-e-Islami and the fanatical student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir are the people who are perpetrating a substantial amount of crime against temples and the religious minorities. He urged the Minister to have a meeting with organisations representing minorities communities in the UK. That meeting never took place.
Lord Trimble asked the questions in the same debate “looking forward to the elections, will there be fair opportunities for minority groups to participate?”
4. Hindu Migration from Bangaldesh
The fundamentalist Islamic forces have a clear agenda to force out Hindus from Bangladesh. They have been very successful and after the latest violence Hindus will migrate to India at an ever increasing number. There will be no Hindu citizen left in Bangladesh after 20 years. “Because we did whatever is needed to force them [Hindus] out of the country and we have always failed to do what was needed to protect them,” according to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman. The percentage of Hindu population has come down from 13% in 1974 to a single digit figure according to the latest census in Bangladesh.
According to one report nearly 641 thousand Hindus left Bangladesh between 2001 and 2011 following the previous wave of violence in 2001.
5. Why are Hindus leaving Bangladesh?
The answer is they have been suffering continuously time after time. They suffered disproportionately in 1971 and ever since there has been no government initiative to protect their interest in Bangladesh. Every time there is a social or political upheaval, the Hindus suffer. There is no one to protect them. People from all political parties take advantage of the venerability of Hindus. There are no proper jobs and placement in top army positions. Land grabbing has been going on since 1965 when the Enemy Property Act was introduced. It was changed to Vested Property Act in 1974 but nothing is working to return back the property back to the rightful owners.
6. Immediate Action
Hindus are living in fear; they need immediate protection from law enforcement agencies. The Government will have to take initiative to give them assurance of safety and security. They need emergency relief for food and shelter. They need financial help to rebuild their houses, businesses and temples that were damaged during recent attacks. A Judicial Enquiry needs to be set up to identify the perpetrator, and bring them to justice. If there are any political parties behind it, they need to be named. Through a quick justice process the perpetrators need to be put on trial to set an example and to deter others from committing the same crime again.
7. Long term Action
It was demanded from the minority community that a Minority Protection Act, in line with British Race Relations Act 1976, to be introduced. This is the only way to give them a legal protection. A Minority Commission should be set up in line with Equality Commission in the UK to monitor the implementation of the Minority Protection Act.
It was also demanded that the Vested Property Act be abolished all together and all the properties be returned to the lawful owners. The Minority Commission will monitor employment and placements in the army and all public sectors. Adequate resources are to be allocated for the welfare and community projects for the minorities. It was demanded that a secular form of education be introduced in the primary and secondary learning system. The infrastructure of breeding of communal minds is to be investigated and made illegal.
8. The Rise of Islamic Fanaticism in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a secular democracy. A recent survey shows that majority of the people would like to remain so. In 1971 the country was born through a bloody struggle from Pakistan when minorities suffered disproportionately. The same force that was responsible for the sufferings of the minorities in 1971, are again behind the recent atrocities inflicted on minorities. They are on trial now in International Crime Tribunal (ICT). Who they are?—The answer is Islamic Fundamentalist. Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Chhatra Shibir and the recently formed Hefazat -e-Islam.
9. Who is Hefazat?
Hefazat-e Islam is a tightly-knit coalition of a dozen or so Islamist organisations. Hefazat coalition are based at more than 25,000 madrassas (Islamic Religious Educational institutions) in Bangladesh.Junaid Babu Nagari, Secretary General of the Hifazat-e Islam is a teacher of Darul Ulum Muinul Alam Madrasa at Hathazari in Chittagong. Emran Majari is the Khatib of Lalbagh Shahi Mosque and also the Principal of Jamia Arabia Khademul Islami Madrasa, Mizanur Rahman is the Vice Principal of the madrasa and Abul Bashar is the Principal of Mirpur Jamiul Ulum Madrasa; both are convenors of Hefazat local committees.
10. What are the demands of Hefazat
They would like to make Bangladesh a Taliban ruled country. This Islamic fundamentalist group recently raised a 13 point chartered demand that includes enactment of an anti-blasphemy law with provision for the death penalty, exemplary punishment to all bloggers and others who “insult Islam”, cancellation of the country’s women development policy, a ban on erecting sculptures in public places, a ban on mixing of men and women in public, a ban on candlelit vigils, ending what they call “shameless behaviour and dresses” and declaring the reformist Ahmadiyas as to be declared “non-Muslims”.
Western counties cannot just ignore this rise of fanatics in a country with a population of 180 million and when minorities are suffering. UK has a historical link with Bangladesh and therefore, not doing anything is not an option. There is no place for minorites and women in the 13 points charter demands of Hefazat. The Bangladesh government needs to act against the 13-point charter of demands according to UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo. All the western governments can ask the Bangladesh Government to take necessary steps to protect the short term and long term interests of the minorities in Bangladesh. They can highlight the suffering of the minorities. They can also ask all the political parties to stop supporting fundamentalist parties who are inflicting sufferings on minorities. They can take steps to stop the flow of funds going to these fundamentalists to produce brain washed minds only to hate western life style and values.