The Bangladeshi Hindus and What we can do to Save Them.

Address to Jagriti by Dr. Richard L. Benkin

Cerritos, California

October 2, 2010

 

 

Bangladesh’s Hindu population is dying. This is not opinion or the ravings of an ideologue: It is a fact. At the time of India’s partition in 1948, they made up a little less than a third of East Pakistan’s population. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, Hindus were less than a fifth; thirty years later, less than one in ten; and reliable estimates put the Hindu population at less than eight percent today. Professor Sachi Dastidar of the State University of New York estimates that over 40 million Hindus are missing from the Bangladeshi census.[1]  Still having trouble wondering where this is going? Take a look at Pakistan where Hindus are down to one percent or Kashmir where they are almost gone. Take a look at the future of Bangladesh’s Hindus if we do not act.

 

Just to be clear, other Bangladeshi minorities are in distress, including the Amadiyya, Chakmas, and others, but my focus is the Bangladeshi Hindus for several reasons.  First, I am only one person and—as much as I wish I could—I am unable to take on every worthy human rights cause.  Second, Hindus are much more numerous than the other minorities, so there are many more people at risk.  Third, there are implications for India that are not there for the others, which makes this a more dangerous situation, while not more worthy of our attention.

 

That Bangladeshi Hindus are disappearing is one irrefutable fact.  Want another?  For years, we have received report after report documenting anti-Hindu incidents there; “incidents” including murder, gang rape, assault, forced conversion to Islam, child abduction, land grabs, and religious desecration. And while Bangladeshi officials might object that the perpetrators were non-state actors, government culpability rests, at the very least, on the fact that it pursues very few of these cases and punishes even fewer perpetrators. Their excuses have not stopped the killing. In fact, successive Bangladeshi governments—whether the openly Islamist BNP, the civilian or military caretaker, or the supposedly pro-minority Awami League—all have been passive bystanders, failing—or refusing—to exercise their sovereign responsibility to protect the life and security of all their citizens; and thus they have sent radical Islamists and common citizens alike a clear message that these acts can be undertaken with impunity.[2]

 

And yet, in this topsy-turvy world, it is WE who have to prove that there is something wrong. One would expect justice to demand that the BANGLADESHIS explain why they should not be charged with complicity in eliminating an entire people numbering in the tens of millions. That very presumption should tell us why we cannot rest until WE stop this atrocity—completely and forever!

 

Perhaps that is due in large part to the second irrefutable fact.  With all the documented incidents, with all the murders, rapes, and government tolerated attacks still going on, we have seen nothing about it in the mainstream media—which leads me to a question I ask a lot.  “Are my sources that much better than CNN’s?”  To be sure, many reports are exaggerated or contain inaccurate information—an occupational hazard in chasing down human rights violations.  But at the same time, my own sources on the ground often visit the scene of alleged atrocities and report back what can be verified and in some cases what cannot.  So, again, I ask “Are my resources that much better than CNN’s?”  Until CNNs of this world, or for that matter The Times of India stop their studied ignorance of this ongoing human rights travesty, governments in Bangladesh and elsewhere will deem that they can engage in these things without anyone caring. 

 

Why governments and not the radicals?  Because I have spoken with hundreds of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees living in largely illicit colonies throughout North and Northeast India. In describing the attacks that forced them to leave their ancestral homes, they made it very clear that their attackers were not necessarily radicals, but neighbors; common, everyday Muslims; not radicals or “bad” people. They also reported with near unanimity that when they went to the police and other officials for help, they were advised to drop the subject and “get out of Bangladesh.” In 2009, I interviewed a family that crossed into India only 22 days earlier. They told me about an uncle being killed, the father beaten, and their small farm invaded by a large number of “neighbors.” I also looked into the eyes of their 14-year-old daughter as she talked about being gang raped. Who did it? Not al Qaeda or even Jammat; but simply Muslims who lived in the area and knew they could have their way with the family, seize their land, and get away with it.[3]

 

And that is chilling because history has shown that the most “successful” cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing occur when a small cadre of true believers incites average citizens to engage in heinous acts against a targeted minority that they otherwise would not dream of committing. There might be no Gestapo or Janjaweed in Bangladesh, but its Hindu community is facing a similar process of destruction at the hands of the Bangladeshi majority.

 

In fact, it is even worse; because albeit too late, the civilized world eventually heard the cries coming out of Nazi Europe, Rwanda, and Darfur. As difficult as it was getting to that point, it is even more difficult getting the world to see an atrocity without concentration camps that has been going on for decades. When was the last time Amnesty International protested this; or the UN Human Rights Commission; or anyone else? What about the United States, or India? Never; and it is our responsibility to make sure they do. Because if we do not, no one else will, count on it, and we will see an end to the Bangladeshi Hindus in our lifetime!

 

So, how do we do it? First, recognize that the mere fact that our cause is just does not mean people will support us. They have not so far, and nothing lately has indicated that is changing. We have to change things ourselves. Second, understand that justice will not come because people finally “see the light,” but as the result of many small victories that make it impossible for the world to continue ignoring what we know is happening to the Hindus of Bangladesh. That means with all due respect that we do not need to hear from groups and individuals—me included—about how hard they have worked for this cause. Let us not confuse effort with results. Human lives hang in the balance! Whatever they have done, it has not stopped the murders, rapes, and expulsions; it has not stopped the progressive de-Hinduization of East Bengal and Islamization of West Bengal. We have to move forward with a new dynamic—one that is practical and action-oriented; and one that demands commitment from each of us.  As an American, I look first to my own country.

 

The Bangladeshis have at least four pressure points the United States can push: trade, economic cooperation, UN peacekeeping troops, and its image as a democratic and moderate Islamic nation. Let me give you two quick examples of what I mean. I was in Dhaka during the 2007 coup. Most people think it occurred because of unrest over the BNP’s rigging the elections; but that is not what happened. There was a lot of street violence when I arrived there, and every western democracy was calling for the elections to be postponed; but the military had no intention of moving until someone got the UN to weigh in and threaten to review Bangladesh’s participation in peacekeeping missions. Bangladesh contributes more UN peacekeeping troops than any other country—almost 11,000 at this moment, just a little more than Pakistan.me[4]  Besides losing the receipts vital to their economy if the program is cancelled, the very thought of 11,000 young, angry, unemployed, and armed men is enough to scare the pants off anyone—even enough to cause a coup. If anything, Bangladesh is more vulnerable now.

 

In another case, Bangladesh’s notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) abducted a colleague of mine in Dhaka—and we know that RAB’s abductees often have a habit of “disappearing.” So, I called the Bangladeshi ambassador to remind him that I helped stop several attempts at awarding Bangladesh tariff relief and would do so again, then added that if my colleague was not released unharmed and soon, “there will be a shit storm that you cannot even imagine.” But, you see, right after that I called several Capitol Hill offices that have supported this cause and within the next 45 minutes, the embassy received angry inquiries from at least six of them, including some with responsibility for trade and appropriations. Needless to say, my colleague was freed unharmed after, as he told me, “higher ups” called the RAB commander.

 

Understand; this is not about me but about a good plan and organization and what they can do. In both instances, material interest not justice convinced the Bangladeshis to act, and if it worked then, it will work now to save Bangladesh’s Hindus.

 

Our problem is we lack focus.  People come to events like this, get excited, but leave not knowing quite what to do.  Here are examples of what each of us can do:

 

Support my efforts for Congressional hold hearings on the ethnic cleansing of Bangladesh’s Hindus. We have several interested parties and at least one verbal okay; but the key will be calling our representatives and Senators after the new Congress takes office in January.  If you can help, and even better, if you can be part of a call chain, give me your contact information. 

 

Using the same methods, help us continue to block attempts to award Bangladesh tariff relief or other trade benefits until that country observes decent human rights standards—and if any of you know the Bangladeshis, this time talk is not enough.   We have been doing this successfully for over five years, but it only takes one lapse for these victims to lose one of the most important tools for putting an end to the atrocities.  The same methods can be successful in other areas like appropriations.  Congressman Mark Kirk, now running for the US Senate from Illinois, inserted conditional language that can be used at any time to turn up the heat on Bangladesh.

 

Ask candidates for Congress and the Senate if they will support these efforts and cast your vote accordingly.  This is big now, and it will be bigger in two years.

 

And engage Bangladesh. The Bangladeshis are not bad people; their actions are not ideological.  Their leaders face the same—often competing—pressures that others do.  They can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  But it will never happen if (1) we write them off as evil or (2) give them what they want from us without being tough on matters like this.

 

There is something else everyone can do. Last year, I helped found a human rights organization, Forcefield. Unlike Amnesty International and the rest, it is not “agenda-driven.” That is, we are not tied to any leftist ideology, network of supporters, or “flavor of the week” issues. And we specifically are NOT anti-Israel. We are recognized by the governments of the United States and India; and unlike the others, we are committed to stop the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh and hopefully help persecuted minorities from Kashmir, Pakistan, and elsewhere by bringing this to the world’s attention.

 

Our efforts include my human rights missions to South Asia; a documentary about the Bangladeshi Hindus that we expect to be a call for action; and an online newspaper to bring Americans and others solid information about what is happening in South Asia. We have various professionals ready to participate, victims ready to testify, and correspondents standing by in the key areas of India to bring Americans news that CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News never cover; news I never see it in my morning Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post or the New York Times; even though it is about the international jihad that threatens us all.

 

We need funds to do these things.  Donations are fully tax-deductable, and our credentials are available for inspection. There are envelopes in the back for donations, as well as forms for credit card donations. You can also help through our web site, http://www.forcefieldnow.org, and click the “Donate” button. Every penny you give will help stop the atrocities we know are happening.

 

Joseph Stalin[5] is said to have remarked, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.” That 14-year-old rape victim—that child—I met was no statistic, and God help us if we make her one!

 



[1] Population statistics taken from the census of Pakistan (1948), and Bangladesh (1974 and 2001). Also see Dastidar, Sachi G.; Empire’s Last Casualty: Indian Subcontinent’s Vanishing Hindu and other Minorities. (Kolkata: Firma KLM Private Limited, 2008.

[2] See for example, incidents in the monthly newsletter of the Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Unity Council available at http://www.bhbcuc-usa.org/index.html. The Hindu American Foundation has documented these atrocities in successive annual reports, entitled Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights [followed by a specific year]; copyright Hindu American Foundation. For instance, 2007, pages 5-21; 2008, pages 3-15. They also are available at the Hindu American Foundation web site, http://www.hafsite.org. Global Human Rights Defence investigates and reports on human rights violations against Bangladeshi Hindus at http://ghrd.org. Click “countries” and then “Bangladesh.” The first and third organizations have also worked with me in providing evidence of anti-Hindu activities in Bangladesh.

[3] This information came from recorded and unrecorded interviews I had with Bangladeshi Hindu refugees, living in mostly illegal colonies in the Indian states of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhan, from 2008-2010. The 14-year old rape victim related the story to me in an encampment in North Dinajpur near the Bangladesh border in March 2009.

[4] Figures come from the United Nations itself, Contributors to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, and the August figures can be found at http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/contributors/2010/aug10_1.pdf.

[5] Elizabeth Knowles, editor, Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 301. Attributed to Joseph Stalin.