Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing of Hindus from Bangladesh

The Hindu minority in Bangladesh, that survived the infamous genocide of 1971, is again the victim of terrorism, murder and religious cleansing. Supporters of the current Bangladeshi government led by Khaleda Zia of the conservative Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Islamic fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, unleashed the most recent cycle of violence and terror focused on Hindus following the elections of October 1, 2001. Hindus in Bangladesh have traditionally supported the secular Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina and had been threatened by the BNP-Jamaat combine even before the elections to not vote for the League. (i) Undermining the foundation of Bangladeshi democracy, communities where Hindus voted in large numbers were targeted by the victorious BNP-Jamaat militants for rape, murder and forced exodus for having exercised the right to vote without interference. Exact figures are unavailable as human rights investigators tracking Hindu disappearances have been detained, (ii) but estimates are that tens of thousands of Hindus have been gang-raped, murdered and driven from their homes.

Hindus have been a disappearing minority in Bangladesh well before the latest spate of violence in 2001. The narrative that describes the vanishing of Hindus that comprised 31% of the population in 1947 and dwindled to a meager 9% in 2002 is replete with human rights abuses, atrocities and forced ethno-religious cleansing. At the time of Partition in 1947, the Hindu population in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was about 31 percent. (iii) By 1961 Hindus were 19 percent of the population. By 1974 their numbers had further reduced to 14 percent. And in 2002 it was estimated that the Hindu population was about 9 percent of the total. (iv) Rarely mentioned as more than a footnote in the history of the late 20th century, 2.5 million Hindus were slaughtered and 10 million Hindus fled as refugees into India during a systematic genocide in 1971 by the then Muslim East Pakistan Army. (v) Reminiscent of the Jewish holocaust, Hindu homes were marked by a yellow “H” to guide the marauding army to their targets. (vi) Over the next 30 years, thousands of Hindu temples were destroyed (357 in 1992 alone), Hindus were systematically disenfranchised from holding political power, and prejudicial legislation ensured a precarious existence for Hindus until full-scale violence erupted after 2001. The Vested Property Act of 1972 that dispossessed Hindus of 1.05 million acres of land, and forced them to flee as refugees, has only been partially remedied.

International human rights organizations have been remiss in acknowledging the full extent of the genocide. While Amnesty International has procured significant factual data, the State Department-supported United States Commission on International Religious Freedom provides only limited documentation of ongoing atrocities against Hindus in Bangladesh.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) believes strongly that the perilous status of Hindus in Bangladesh must be acknowledged and categorically addressed by the government of the United States of America. As such, HAF urges the following:

1) Unequivocal condemnation of the human rights violations perpetrated by the current BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami government;

2) Recognition and understanding of the genocide and atrocities endured by the Hindu minority in Bangladesh;

3) That the Bangladesh government must take all steps to ameliorate the conditions of Hindu refugees within Bangladesh and create conditions conducive to the repatriation of refugees displaced into India;

4) That Bangladesh must complete an independent inquiry into the most recent Hindu persecutions following the October 1, 2001 elections. The Bangladesh judiciary has mandated an impartial inquiry, yet no public disclosures have been forthcoming at the termination of three years.
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