I am the co-founder and President of the pressure group, called the Secular Bangladesh Movement UK (SBMUK). I am also the 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 Hindus and other minority community. I subsequently produced a report that provided a detailed description of my tour, providing an insight of the difficult situation faced by the minority religious community, which was published on CWB alongside Secular Bangladesh Movement UK website.
This report is based on my follow up trip to Bangladesh in December 2016. 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. During the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, Hindus were one of the main targets of the killings and rape by the Pakistani military and their local militias. After independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the number of Hindus continued to dwindle due to persecution and oppression by the majority community. The Hindu community has faced large scale brutal attacks, including murder, rape, land grabbing and the destruction of temples by Islamist fanatics in 1991-1992, 2001-2002.
In recent years, with the rise of Islamism, atrocities against the Hindu minority community have increased to an ever more alarming rate. It is noteworthy that with the re-election of secular alliance government led by Awami League, which came to power in 2008, and the formation of International War Crimes Tribunal in 2010, attacks on Hindu minority has increased. Amnesty International in its 2013 report noted, “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 (Amnesty International Report, 2013)”.
Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher at the time said that “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 Report, 2013).
Human Rights Watch in its “World Report 2015: Bangladesh” noted: “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), the attackers also vandalized homes and shops owned by members of Bangladesh’s Hindu and Christian communities”.
This trend seems to be continuing and increasingly worsening in 2016 and 2017. Bob Blackman MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on British Hindus, noted correctly in a debate at the House of Commons on 8 Sept 2016 that “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 (Bangladesh) and in this country” (UK). As a minority human rights campaigner from Bangladesh in Britain, I went to Bangladesh initially for 3 weeks on 26t March and stayed till 18 April in 2016 to see the situation myself. My follow up visit was on 10 December in 2016 and I returned from Bangladesh on 15 January in 2017. For my visit to Bangladesh, the charity funds raised by two organisations, namely the CPRMB and SBMUK, have provided support enabling me to visit different places and affected communities in several regions. Also during my visit in Bangladesh, I received invaluable support and resources from Ekattorer Ghatal-Dalal Nirmal Committee.
I visited some places including Gopalganj where a priest was hacked to death allegedly by a youth at Basuria village, Tungipara Upazila, Gopalganj in April 2016. Doyal Roy, son of deceased Poramando Roy, said that when his father was returning home from market, Shariful Sheikh, a resident of Gingadanga village, hacked his father indiscriminately on Saturday night. He was taken to Khulna Medical College Hospital and then was moved to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where he died later that night. The widowed spouse of Poramando Roy has lost all sense of reality.
Doyal Roy said that his father was a priest at Bai Ros Ram temple. Police have already arrested Shariful, but reason behind the killing could not be known immediately. Officer-in-Charge of Tungipara police station told the Dhaka Tribune that local people were saying that the youth was mentally ill and they were investigating the matter. A case on the murder incident was filed by Police in April 2006. The question is, does this filing of a case ensure justice for the widowed spouse and the son of Poramando Roy? The answer is unknown.
I also visited Dinajpur where rape of a five-year-old was committed in October 2016. The five-year old girl, Puja, was found in a crop field not far from her home after going missing from home for over 10 hours. She bore stab marks all over her body. Physicians at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) where she was admitted in a critical condition told the Dhaka Tribune that the traumatised minor had developed infections in her genitalia.
The little girl had gone missing on 17 October. When her family members were frantically searching for Puja, one Saiful, the alleged rapist, told them that the girl was taken by a spirit. This made the family suspicious and the girl’s father filed a complaint with the police station that evening. They later found Puja in the crop field, and happened to know by asking Puja that Saiful had raped her. Puja called him uncle and knew him as a senior relative in the village. Saiful was capable of raping a little girl who trusted him as her uncle. He is indeed the rapist.
The DMCH Deputy Director, Khaja Gafur, said that the hospital would carry the expenses of the Puja’s treatment and, if needed, send her abroad. He also said that there were assurances from the prime minister herself that the government would provide all expenses for the girl’s treatment. The victim was first taken to a local health complex from where she was moved to Rangpur and underwent treatment there for a week.
The accused Saiful, has been arrested from Dinajpur town and sent to court seeking remand. A court has fixed for the remand hearing. I have handed over our collective donation as a financial support as well as moral strength to the family of Puja. The meeting with Puja’s family and relatives was heart-rending. I cannot disclose details here for confidentiality.
I continued my journey from the far North to Southeast Bangladesh, where organised attacks against Hindu minorities were committed last year. The lessons learnt from the short visit to the affected communities were as illuminating as heart-breaking. It is hard to describe in a short blog. A full report of my travel was published on Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK website and is currently available to all for open access.
To conclude this brief reflection, I should note the ongoing atrocities against religious minorities and indigenous people in Bangladesh that have been committed by identifiable perpetrators are outrageous. Mere condemnation is not sufficient to prevent the widespread and systematic attacks on Santal and religious minorities in Bangladesh. The government should take actions to protect the religious minorities and to bring violence against innocent people to an end.