Sounds of Silence: The Decay, Paralysis, and Lost Paradise of Ethnicity in Bangladesh

 

RITUPARNA MAJUMDAR

 

 

 

 

Title: A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: The Murder of Bangladesh's Hindus
Author: Dr. Richard L. Benkin
Publisher: Akshaya Prakashan, New Delhi

Year of Publication: 2012

ISBN-13: 978-81-88643-39-4

 

 

Available at this web site.

‘A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: The Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus’ is not just a repertoire on the human rights violation of a community, it is a book that pans a world of struggle and government control and atrocity where the urge and voice of a few is unheard and unreciprocated due to their religious affinity and cultural supremacy. It strikes a major blow against the silence that has kept one of our age's worst human rights abuses off the international radar, which is the mass homicide of Bangladeshi Hindus because they were considered a threat to the dominant culture of the country. The book is an extensive experience done on the ground for why this terrible atrocity is happening, what are its roots, and how as terrible as it is. It is only a precursor to what will happen to the rest of us if we allow this thing to proceed with impunity and even our tacit approval.

Millions killed, Billions silent

While I was browsing the net to find related articles on the plight of Bangladeshi Hindus, it was quite interesting and at the same time appalling to find out a browser link which took me to a video game on ethnic cleansing, the contents of which may instigate racial segregation and conflict amongst its users. In the game the player runs through a ghetto killing black people and Latinos, before descending into a subway system to kill Jews. Finally he reaches the Jewish Control Centre, where Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel, is directing plans for world domination. The player must kill Sharon to win the game. It is disturbing where in the advancing virtual world, such discrimination and horror too exists.   

Of course every society, however small and large has been part of ethnic cleansing or ‘removal of an unwanted group from society, either by genocide or forced migration’. We have case studies of Europe, Palestine, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Germany, France...practically no country, region or state has been sans it. So who decides the status of these “unwanted groups” in a society – the people, the government, the political leaders, the religious fundamentalists or someone else. Bangladesh over the past decade has been in news for number of issues like the buzzing textile export market due to its lower wages (one of the lowest in the world), the unhealthy safety conditions in Bangladesh factories which has been responsible for many fire mishaps lately, the labour unrest, the India-Bangladesh ties and so on; however one piece of news which seldom got news space were the mass killings of Hindus in the country which form a sizeable minority (if can be used as an oxymoron). Although the issue of ethnic cleansing have garnered quite a lot of attention in academic pursuits, a book delineating the Hindus of Bangladesh (which probably is a first of its kind in academic literature) is refreshing and accurately timed.

The Critique

Human Rights activist Richard Benkin in his book highlights that Bangladesh had 30% Hindus in 1941 and less than 8% in 2001. By deliberate targeted acts of ethnic cleansing, the Islamic fanatics have aided and were abetted by their government which explains the deteriorated numbers of the Hindu population and yet there is no outcry, nationally or internationally. While in a similar case, the statistics in Pakistan of today show Hindus were 20% in 1941 and less than 2% in 2001. Such ethnic cleansing has not been noticed by anybody. Why? While according to one author Subramaniam Swamy (Hindus Under Siege: The Way Out, 2007), the Hindus lack the mindset to retaliate against atrocities against Hindus, thus terrorist attacks against India are growing because we seem today incapable of retaliating in a manner that deters future attacks. Benkin on the other hand fails to bring out the analysis of Hindu population downfall in the country and instead recounts the heart-warming cases of violations which Benkin also connects through various catalogues of atrocities all over the world in the name of ethnicity and race.

The book provides deductive reasoning taking recourse to major ethnic genocides in the past and bringing out metamorphic relation to the happenings in Bangladesh with the Hindus. The book compiles many intriguing yet sensitive voices of people affected in the region and brings about an analogy of events and issues of the impact of human rights violations in the Muslim predominant nation. It is interesting to also note that probably when Barack Obama was an elementary school kid, Indira Gandhi was the PM of India and no one had ever heard of AIDS, internet, Windows or cellular phones, the Bangladeshi Hindus were being raped, robbed and murdered. Even with the passing of decades and advancing information, communication and technology no traces of news are found in the matter. Thus this contrast brought about through the gradual technological advancement and the increasing deterioration of humanology has been portrayed as pathetic and heart-warming. Certain sections are quite heart-rending like where Benkin remarks ‘Bangladeshi police advised them to leave that country rather than pursue a case against the perpetrators’, or ‘it took one brave woman to break that wall of silence’ in the absence of any vocal feminist groups brings, to a reader a sense of remorse and anger at the same time.

Benkin is also quite courageous to unabashedly call Stalin and Mao as two great mass murderers; proudly proclaiming the adversaries afflicted by Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, or calling the process of ethnic cleansing in Bangladesh a regularised political move. This indeed deserves lot of kudos to the writer who doesn’t minces words to express the truth and in fact engages in self mockery while saying that ‘anti-American rants happen far more frequently within the United States than elsewhere’.

The book therefore rightly speaks for the unheard voices lying silent through decades, engages in first-hand research of those avenues which haven’t been searched before and very successfully brings out facts which were probably lying under the carpet for centuries and decades. As a novice in the matter of religious and minority identity, I strongly recommend this book to readers both in the expert area to get hold of a book which talks about something which is practically extinct in literature and also to those outside the area of expertise since it is not only informational and inspirational, it opens one’s mind and heart to an act which needs to be heard. The beauty of the book also lies in the fact that it doesn’t want to convince the reader in any dramatised characterisation but state things as they are.

 

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