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Report on My Bangladesh visit in March 2016

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Pushpita Gupta

I am the Co-founder and President of the pressure group called the Secular Bangladesh Movement UK(SBMUK). In December 2015, I was also elected President of the Campaign for the Protection of Religious Minorities in Bangladesh (CPRMB).

In March 2016, I visited Bangladesh on a fact finding trip to see for myself the victims of the atrocities committed against Hindu minority community. During my tour of the country, I visited a number of places to better understand the recent situation of Hindu minorities and victims tortured in the name of religion. This report provides a detailed description of my tour and will give an insight about the current difficult situation faced by the Hindu community.

My trip was jointly supported by the SBMUK and CPRMB who covered the expenses of all travel and modes of transport.

 

Background, political context

Bangladesh is a country where the majority 90% of the population follow the Muslim faith. After the partition of India in 1947,the Hindu population became an endangered community in their motherland, Bangladesh. Through time and changing political situations, pressure on this community has accelerated at an increasing rate.

During the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, Hindus were one of the main targets of the killing and rape by the Pakistani military and their local militias, simply because of being a Hindu. After independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the percentage continued to dwindle with time through persecution and oppression on a mass scale. Only for the reason of religion, the community has faced large scale brutal attacks by Islamist fanatics in 1991-1992, 2001-2002. Atrocities include murder, rape of women and children, forcefully acquiring Hindu property, destruction of religious idol and temple.

Current context

In recent years, with the rise of Islamism, atrocities against Hindu minority community has increased to an ever more alarming rate. In the last 12 months alone, people have been murdered, raped and forced to leave their property and leave the country becoming refugees in neighbouring countries.

It should be mentioned with the secular government led by Awami League that came to power in 2008 and the formation of International War Crimes Tribunal in 2010 the attacks on Hindu minority has increased. Amnesty International in its 2013 report said, ‘The attacks come in the context of large scale violent protests that have been raging across Bangladesh for weeks over the country’s ongoing war crimes tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT).’

Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher at the time said, “The Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk, in particular at such a tense time in the country. It is shocking that they appear to be targeted simply for their religion. The authorities must ensure that they receive the protection they need. (Amnesty International:2013)

Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2015: Bangladesh stated, Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party threw petrol bombs to enforce strikes and economic blockades. Before and after the election (referring to 2014 election), attackers also vandalized homes and shops owned by members of Bangladesh’s Hindu and Christian communities. (HRW:2015)

This trend seems to be continuing as Bob Blackman MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on British Hindus observed in a debate at the House of Commons on 8 Sept 2016. He said the widespread and persistent violations of human rights and the persecution of minority religious groups—Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other tribal communities in Bangladesh—by the extremist armed groups are deeply worrying to all concerned within the country and in this country.

In late September and early October 2015 two foreign nationals were shot and killed. Since then and as recently as July 2016, attacks against religious minority groups including the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Shia and Ahmadiyya communities, have killed several people and injured many more. Previous methods of attack have included crude explosives, grenades, shootings and knife attacks.

 

The trip

I went to Bangladesh on 28thMarch, 2016 for a three week visit, returning to the UK on 19th April 2016. In this period, I had visited different places of Bangladesh with a high ratio of minority attacks and families, who had faced atrocity.

Whilst in Bangladesh, SBMUK and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) provided support for me to visit different places and they made arrangement for various local facilities.
 

Places Visited

 

The following table chronicles the tour:

Place Date of visit Incident
Feni  is a district located in the South-Eastern part of Bangladesh 3rd April,2016 A Rabindra Das and his family was asked to give money by the neighbouring Muslim family for permission to celebrate the Hindu festival of Lakshmi Puja. When Mr Das refused to give money, the Muslim family attacked on 29th October 2015, the day of Lakshmi Puja. At one point Mr Das’s wife Tulsi Rani Das, who was 5 months pregnant came to protect her husband and was beaten up badly. As a result she lost her unborn baby. Doctors said she might not be able to have a baby in future. After the incident Tulsi has become mentally traumatised.
Jhinaidha, a southern district of Bangladesh 4th April,2016 This is an incident of property grabbing.  One Hindu community’s fishing area has been forcefully grabbed by a powerful local Muslim family. Mr Nikhil Dutt is one of the Malos (fishermen) who is losing his traditional profession of farming and catching fish in the local water bodies of Maheshpur Kathgora Baor. The Hindu family went to court and got the verdict in their favour, but are still being restricted from fishing there. At least 30 to 40 families depend on this piece of land for their livelihood. They live under threat of losing their land and property, and even their lives are in the hands of the powerful locals who have told them to look for alternative means for surviving. Corrupt people in the local administration are also against the fisherman.
Khulna, Khulna Division  is one of the seven divisions of Bangladesh and is in the south-west of the country. 5th April, 2016 In March 2016,during the local government elections in Bangladesh, Hindu families have been widely tortured for voting their own choice of party by the opponent party. Suvash Das and his family was attacked for voting in favour of the ruling party whose candidate lost. For being in the minority they could not protect themselves. After election violence took place all over the country in 2016, and the Hindu minority community faced extensive damage to homes and businesses.
Habiganj District is in the north-eastern part of Bangladesh 12th April, 2016 On 14th January 2016, Dipali was getting ready to join the religious festival in the nearby temple. Her family members left the house earlier and she was alone at home. By taking this opportunity one of the Muslim neighbours took advantage of the opportunity and came in to the house and raped her. Dipali reported the incident to the police to file a general diary against that person. When that rapist came to know that, he came again on 16th January with few of his friends and was repeatedly raped by the gang, in front of her husband and children who were threatened with weapons.

The main culprit is the younger brother of a local Awami League (ruling party) leader. After the first incident, therapist was caught by the villagers, but his brother came and rescued him. When Dipali went to the police, the rapist came back and raped her again and threatened her family.

District: Sylhet   is  in northeastern Bangladesh 12th April, 2016 A renowned blogger and online activist, Ananta Bijoy Das was hacked to death on his way to office by some Islamist extremists. The incident happened in the middle of the road 12thMay 2015.

I went to their house to see his family and show condolence to them. Ananta’s father is still in shock and unable to come to terms with the family’s loss.

District: Sylhet 12th April, 2016 A 14 year old school girl Poly was teased daily by a local furniture shop worker on her way to school. One day, the man forced himself on her, but fortunately she escaped. She let her family and school know about the incident as she stopped going to school. Her uncle, Biplop confronted the man and requested him to stop harassing his niece. After couple of days, the owner of the furniture shop called her uncle Biplop to see him. Biplop went to talk but the shop owner and the furniture shop worker stabbed him. Polly’s uncle Biplop later died in hospital. He was newly married.

After the death of Biplop, Poly and her family started getting threats constantly and had to flee from their home and are in hiding in a rural area.

Pabnais a district in north-western Bangladesh 15th April, 2016 In Pabna, Papri was locking up to go next door where the rest of the family where attending a religious musical programme. Papri was the last to leave and whilst she was locking up, she was attacked by three men and dragged to the nearby jungle where she was gang raped. Student of Edward’s College in Pabna, Papri has not attended class since the incident.
Bograis a northern district of Bangladesh 15th April, 2016 Suchi, a 20 year old newly married lady went to a religious festival with her husband. They were taunted by a few local Muslim men. When her husband protested and asked the men to stop, he was stabbed and killed on the spot.

With the main source of income for the family taken away, Suchi has to now support her elderly mother-in-law and her blind father-in-law.

Suchi was only married for 18 days after only knowing her husband for the past 4 years.

 

Conclusion

In all cases, the perpetrators were known and their crimes were reported to the police, yet no charges have been filed.

Community leaders and local police officers are handling the cases of rape, but assailants generally buy their way out of the charges.

As a result, the entire community has been terrorised and feels very insecure. The minority community is not seeing any active role by the political parties or the government to find solutions to these problems that the religious minority of Bangladesh are facing.

In addition, with the rise of Islamist radicalisation in Bangladeshit has caused a mass migration of Bangladeshi minority communities, including Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, who believe their lives are in danger as non-Muslims.

The global community has a stake in engaging with Bangladesh to combat religious extremism, which is a serious threat to Bangladesh as well as others in the age of globalisation.


Recommendations

I would like to remind Bangladesh Awami League of their 2014 election manifesto which stated that the religious rights of every people would be ensured and the state would treat equally with every citizen irrespective of their religion, culture, gender and social status.

With that in mind I would like suggest perpetrators of minority atrocities are brought to justice, specific laws are enacted for the protection of minorities, such as minority protection act, and for the protection of places of worship. A minority rights commission should be created to safeguard the rights of minorities.

I would also like to appeal to the UK Government to give careful consideration to minorities who are already in United Kingdom and have applied for asylum on the basis that they are seeking refugee status for their protection.

 

Sources

Blackman, B (2016) Bangladesh Religious Minorities, London, House of Commons

Faiz, A (2013) Bangladesh: Wave of violent attack against Hindu minority, London, Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch (2015) World Report 2015: Bangladesh, New York, HRW

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One thought on “Report on My Bangladesh visit in March 2016

  1. Truly inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

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