Are The Hindus of Bangladesh on the path of annihilation?
|By Chandan Sarkar|
Nov 9, Dhaka: The Hindu community in Bangladesh is slowly but irreversibly moving towards extinction in Bangladesh and it's not me saying it, this is the inevitable truth that has been reflected by the 2011 Bangladesh census. It is a slow and silent death of a community which has no strong global forum to raise voice against the threat to their existence. Whatever may be the reasons, the fact remains, highlighted by hard figures that there is no strong voice for Bangladeshi Hindus on any forum including UN. That is why the 2011 census religion data available on Bangladesh government’s website since 2013 has gone almost unnoticed.
Hindus now remain just over 10.5 percent in Bangladesh. In every decade since 1951 the percentage of Hindus has declined. This decline is without exception in all districts of Bangladesh. Moreover in nine districts the Hindus have registered a negative growth as compared to 2001 census which indicates a drastic reduction in Hindu population in this near-contiguous cluster ( Figure shows).
Along with Hindus, a Buddhist inhabitant is also reducing in alarming manner. Buddhist people are concentrated in the Chittagong hill tract comprising of three districts Bandarban, Khagrachhari and Rangamati. In last three decades a large number of tribal Buddhist people have been displaced from the belt.
Some people have tried to attribute this ‘vanishing Hindu’ phenomenon to willing and voluntary migration of Hindus in search of better opportunities. However, considering the fact that the Muslims have also migrated in greater numbers and in almost equal proportion to Hindus this reduction in Hindu percentage cannot be explained. Census 2011 gives a vital indication in this regard.
It is obvious that there should be more reasons for the ‘Vanishing Hindus’ phenomenon. Various studies and news report indicate that atrocities, conversions and land grabbing are the main reasons behind the phenomenon.
In multiple incidents repeated over the years, Hindus have been attacked, their properties have been looted; houses burnt to ashes, temples were desecrated and set on fire. The causes have been flimsy. In 2013, the international crime tribunal sentenced Delwar Hussain, to death for war crimes of 1971. As a reaction, terrorists made wide spread loot and arson of Hindu people and their properties. In 2012, at Ramu in cox’s bazaar district, the fanatics destroyed 22 Buddhist temples and destroyed many houses as a reaction to some facebook post.
The political atmosphere of Bangladesh is taking more and more communal turn over the years. The word secularism was deleted from the constitution in 1977. Islam was declared as state religion in 1988. As a result there are only 15 Hindu members of parliament today out of 350. Generally Awami league was considered as a party accommodative of minorities. Even today, out of 15 Hindu members of parliament, 13 are from Awami league and two are independent. All other parties together have zero representation of Hindu members.
Another reason which is not so apparent is that in last for so many decades the Hindus have lost their properties due to the unfair provisions and biased implementation of the so called Enemy Property Act or Vested Property Act. Prof. Abul Barkat, an economist and professor of Dhaka University, through his in-depth studies ‘Political Economy of Vested Property Act in Rural Bangladesh’ and ‘An Inquiry into Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act’ has exposed the devastating effect of this act and its many versions over the period has on Hindus in Bangladesh.
According to his study 43% of Hindu households which comes to about 1.2 million families have been affected by the EPA or VPA. Total land acquired under this act is about two million acres which is 5% of total Bangladesh land but it is almost 45% of land owned by Hindu community.
The study has also documented other land grabbing techniques, such as—the death of one family member or migration of one family member being used as an excuse to enlist and grab the property of the entire family. There are many instances where influential parties are known to have grabbed ownership of land through violent methods like hiring local thugs to threaten the family, and forged documents. For example an investigation by ‘Jugantor’ in 2009 revealed that of the 30,000 acres of land appropriated by Chittagong administration as ‘vested property’ only 5000 acres is in government control. The rest is in possession of ‘unknown elements’.
The Daily Star published a news in 2013 on the deprived Hindu community. The unyielding use of violence and power by local elites and land administrators feature frequently in case stories of vested law. Mr.Shamaresh Nath from Shirajdikha, Munshiganj, challenged the declaration of 134 decimal of his homestead property as vested, the Union Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of the area physically harassed him, violently beating his family members with goons and the police. Even though High Court ruled in Nath's favour in 2009, the UNO continues to deny him access to his land, threatening to harm Mr. Nath and his family if they don't back off. Mr. Nath has not been able to return home even today. He says, “My father was the District Commissioner of Bangladesh. If he can't get justice, where will ordinary people go?”
Though there is a ray of hope that there are some Bangladeshi citizens who are genuinely concerned about minority issues. However, whether it is sufficient to change the fate of Hindus in the country is another matter altogether, and on this note the question looms large and real, are the Hindus of Bangladesh on the path of slow yet sure annihilation?
All Rights Reserved With The Oslo Times