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Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Vanishing Minorities of our Neighbourhoods

If we want to look into examples of genocides or ethnic cleansing, then we really need not look into distant countries with some troubled history. Our two neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh, carved out of our own India, give us great examples in this respect. While our seculars shout out hoarse over the protection of minorities in our country, our neighbours have set milestones in giving silent deaths to their minorities.

Ever since their respective formations, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have left no stone unturned in harassing their minorities, especially Hindus. A large chunk of these incidents go unreported and what is more infuriating is that the human rights people and the media of these countries don’t give much hoot to these incidents. They can shout out their lungs for the Muslims of Palestine and Kashmir, but not for the suffering minorities of their own countries.

In March 2005, in the province of Baluchistan in Pakistan, government troops killed 33 Hindus. Most of them were women and children and many more were injured. Hundreds more fled from their homes. But what is surprising is that such headlines never managed to make it to the Indian media. An independent account of those killings emerged after teams from the Pakistan Human Rights Commission (PHRC) led by human rights activist and famous lawyer Asma Jahangir visited Dera Bugti town in Baluchistan province, in January 2006, nine months after the killings there. The human rights commission published its report later in 2007 mentioning that there was rampant discrimination against all religious minorities. Asma Jahangir noted that the Hindus faced the worst form of discriminations especially from the intelligence agencies.

Among the pieces of evidence presented to the human rights team was a video that a resident had managed to take of some of the violence- and of the dead. As the Pakistani authorities were silent, Baluchi political leaders smuggled the video out of the country. This video was then circulated among political and human rights groups as an indication of the brutal face of the Pakistani military authorities. The video tape and the circumstances around its late circulation, and the sparse and delayed reporting of the killings, are a sign of the cloak of silence laid over several areas of Pakistan. This silence is shrouding the abuses and the insurgency that are leading to attacks on government targets almost every day. The killing of Hindus, and the hush-hush around, raises the issue of their wretched status in Pakistan.

Now when we turn over to Bangladesh, we find that compared to Pakistan, Bangladesh has stable regular reports of depredations on the minorities. The presence of a somewhat alert media there has still let incidents of violence against the minorities come out. But the growing number of incidents only points out that the growing Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh has created the situation highly insecure for the minorities there. Bangladesh was created as a secular nation. But these growing incidents of fundamentalist violence are only showing that secularism has turned into an ugly joke there.
Ethnic cleansing of minorities in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) started in 1947. Over half-a-century has passed with no end in sight. Minorities in Bangladesh, including women and children, were subjected to extreme brutality and torture. Hindus comprised nearly 30% of the total population in Bangladesh in 1947. After the exodus of minorities following the partition of India in 1947, the Hindu population went down to about 22% by 1951. Due to unabated persecution, intimidation, and forcible conversion to Islam, the Hindu minority population kept on dwindling and now stands at a meager 10.5% of the total population in Bangladesh (1991 census). After the National Elections in Bangladesh of October 2001, which brought the anti-Indian and highly fundamentalist Khaleda Zia regime into power, many more minority Hindu families were forced to migrate out of their "Homeland of generations" for safety sake.

In the recent past, there have been several cases of brutal killings of prominent members of minority communities in the strategic Chittagong Hill Tracts, by armed gangs of Islamic fanatics. Significantly, these tragic incidents started in the wake of Santu Larma-Khaleda Zia high-level talks at Dhaka, for establishing permanent peace in the said region. The very day the talks started, in Rangamati (CHT), an armed gang of BNP-JeI backed ‘United People’s Democratic Front’ (UPDF) attacked pro-Larma Chakma tribals resulting in the death of four Chakma Buddhists. Next day at village Hingla in Rouzan locality of Chittagong, Gyanjyoti Borooah (55), a locally popular Buddhist Monk, running an Orphanage/ Monastery was brutally killed. In the next few days, more attacks were made on the Chakma Buddhists and more monks were killed. Madan Gopal Goswami, a Hindu priest, was also gunned down in Gachhabil area of Manikchhari in Chittagong. These cases of utmost brutality generated strong resentment among local Chakmas and Hindus.

At Niamatpur under Naugaou, terrorists armed with lethal country made weapon burst into the house of one Mr. Gajendra Nath Sarkar at mid night. The miscreants went on rampage at the house kicking and punching family members first and then forcefully kidnapped Ms. Babita Rani Sarkar, holding the family at gunpoint. Next morning, the miscreants dropped off the highly tormented body of Ms. Babita who was seriously wounded but alive. Terrorist warned the local minorities with stern punishment if the incident is reported to police. This incident further instigated fear among minorities there. To escape humiliation and save their females, minorities started sending out all the young girls and women to relatives in towns. Ignoring all the warnings, oppression and torture of miscreants, Ms. Babita, a student of class ten in a local school and her family decided to file case in the local police station. The brave girl identified one Shariful among eight evildoers. Police arrested Shariful and Ahidur Rahman while writing this report. Ms. Babita took refuge at the residence of her maternal uncle at another village. Later Police Superintendent Mr. Mustafijur Rahman visited the village assuring the safety of minorities there but locals said minorities have never been safe since the 2001 Elections. Some also stated that Babita's distant sister was also gang raped earlier but administration has not done enough to endow justice.

There are numerous more cases of atrocities against the minorities in Bangladesh. And a little known fact is also that during the 1972 war, the West Pakistani army carried a massive genocide in Bangladesh to exterminate the Hindu minorities. The information on them can be obtained from websites like http://www.genocidebangladesh.com/. The presence of a somewhat alert media and the holding of some important positions in the politico-economic hierarchy by some Hindus can still retain some assurance for the Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh. And now with the coming of Sheikh Hasina’s party to power in the last Elections, we can hope for the situation to improve some bit.

But what about Pakistan? A state which is almost on the verge of collapsing. The deteriorating situation there only reminds us of the fact that the Hindus and other minorities must be subjected to unimaginable humiliations. Also, with the rise of the Taliban there, it is only to be seen when an open massacre of minorities happens there under full government scanner.

So the next time some Human Rights chap shouts out hoarse over the protection of minorities in India, I would advise him to compare the situation with our neighbours. And then India would definitely have the upper hand in treating minorities properly.
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