What it’s Like to be a Hindu in Bangladesh After 50 Years of Independence

The Hindu minority continues to face an existential crisis.

My ancestors, from both sides, are from Bangladesh. They migrated to India during the partition when my grandfathers’ generation was in its teens. It was decided that Komillah, Khulna, Noakhali would now be provinces of the Muslim nation, Pakistan. India, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, had decided to stay secular. It would be the only and obvious natural home for the Hindus on both sides of Pakistan, as staying surrounded by the Muslim population in an Islamist state would not be wise, as the Noakhali riots  demonstrated.

Aided by Muslim middlemen who made money by rowing Hindus across the river Padma to India, many Hindu Bengali families made it to this side of the border. I hear from my grandfather that his aunt Padma had just delivered a baby. The infant kept crying as the family crossed the river in the dead of the night. The Muslim rower warned the family, but the one-month-old refused to obey. He plucked the baby from its 16-year-old-mother’s arms and tossed it into the river. The mother covered her mouth, lest she let out a shriek. She knew they must silently cross the river and not send out any signals. From the lap of one Padma to another, the baby gradually calmed down and was silenced.

Bangladesh will be celebrating 50 years of independence this month. But is the Hindu in Bangladesh at all independent?

The Hindu Bengalis bore a disproportionate brunt of the Pakistani Army’s assault during the War of Liberation in 1971. There were genocidal rapes of Hindu women, slaughter of men, and destruction of Hindu-owned businesses. The historically significant Ramna Kali Temple was burned down.

One would hope things would have become fairer for the Hindus after the Indian Army freed Bangladesh from Pakistan’s claws. The constitution of newly-formed Bangladesh pronounced the country a secular country promising equality to all citizens. However, despite his sweeping promises made to the millions of Bangladeshi Hindus stationed in Indian refugee camps, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman refused to return to Hindus the premises of Ramna Kali Temple. Hindu properties were seized by the government under the Enemy Property Act. These consecutive betrayals marked the beginning of the ill-fate of Hindus in the soon-to-be Islamic country.

In 1988, Bangladesh, under the Presidency of Hussein Mohammed Ershad, declared itself an Islamic state. Islamists were now free to exercise discrimination, bigotry and vitriol towards the few Hindus remaining. Muslim political leaders found easy and quick popularity by Hindu-bashing.

In 1992, the Babri demolition in India gave Bangladeshi Islamists an excuse for absolute impunity in unleashing unspeakable atrocities on the religious minorities. Over 14 Hindu temples, including the prominent Dhakeshwari temple and Bholanath Giri Ashram, were plundered and taken down. Hindu homes were set ablaze, businesses burgled. Rapes, murders, abductions and displacements were rampant.

It has been 30 years since then, and the Hindu minority continues to face an existential crisis in Bangladesh. There has been a sudden surge in violence against minorities in recent times, though the ruling regime claims to be as secular as a government in Bangladesh can get.

Between January and February 2021, five Hindu temples were vandalized by unidentified hooligans. Miscreants molested Hindu women, battered locals and burned down houses, after tearing down the Manasa Devi Temple in the Comilla district in January 2021. 50 jihadis under the leadership of Muslim leader Ikramul Amin charged upon numerous Hindu houses in Bangladesh’s Brahmanbaria District during the same time.

Hindus and other religious minorities are now encountering a newer form of violence, popularly known as land jihad, on the Indian subcontinent. Land Jihad is the practice of forcibly taking over or institutionally encroaching upon land owned by non-Muslims by the Muslim demography. A resident of Barguna district, Gobinda Shil, had sold a portion of his land to a Muslim named GM Khalil. But Khalil wanted to occupy Gobinda’s entire land. When met with resistance from Gobinda and his wife, Khalil and his accomplices launched an attack on the Hindu couple, leaving them fatally injured.

On the other hand, officials of the Army Welfare Trust, together with the giant business entity, the Sikder Group, are eyeing a stretch of 800 to 1000 acres of land owned by the Mro community. Some villagers were forced to leave after being robbed of their farms, villages, fruit orchids and cremation grounds.

In the name of development, around 150 Hindu houses, temples and crematoriums have been ordered to be demolished to make way for a bypass that has been deemed unnecessary by the locals. Locals have staged protest rallies, but chances of these rallies yielding any results are slim, if not non-existent.

The National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh has been unsuccessful in tackling the unabated attacks launched by the Islamists, as the Hindus’ religious path doesn’t conform with their ideology. It’s frustrating that no United Nations or International Humanitarian entities step in to aid the Hindus enslaved and oppressed in Bangladesh as the country nears 50 years of independence.

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