HAF Testifies before Congress on Plight of Bangladeshi Religious Minorities

Washington, D.C. (May 1, 2015) - Yesterday, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, on the violence often faced by religious minorities in Bangladesh. The subcommittee hearing titled, Bangladesh’s Fracture: Political and Religious Extremism, examined the conditions of the violent political impasse in Bangladesh that began in 2013 and the ongoing human rights abuses against Hindus and other religious minorities.

Asia Subcommittee Chairman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) was joined by Ranking Member Brad Sherman (D-CA) in making opening remarks. Also in attendance were Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Grace Meng (D-NY), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Scott Perry (R-PA), and William Keating (D-MA). All members of the Subcommittee expressed deep concern with the growing political instability and in fighting between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) along with its Islamist coalition partner, Jamaat-e-Islami.

Representatives Sherman and Gabbard also specifically noted concern with the expanding climate of intolerance and the plight of Hindus and other religious minorities.

Jay Kansara, HAF Director of Government Relations, conveyed details of his recent fact-finding mission to Bangladesh on behalf of the Foundation in his testimony. The trip was part of HAF’s larger human rights efforts, and its annual report, in which the particular plight of Bangladeshi Hindus and other minorities has been highlighted for well over a decade.

“During this trip, we met with dozens of civil society leaders, human rights activists, and minority groups, as well as three members of Parliament - all of whom expressed serious concern with the rising tide of religious intolerance and extremism, and a burgeoning threat of pro-ISIS activity in the country,” said Kansara. “The escalation of attacks on religious minorities, which began in 2013, was still fresh on the minds of the Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and secularists with whom we met.”

Kansara also called for the U.S. State Department to declare Jamaat-e-Islami and its student branch, Islami Chattra Shibir, as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, based on their long-standing involvement in terrorist activities that threaten American national security and economic interests in Bangladesh and the wider region. Kansara declared that these organizations have been the ideological center and recruiting base for several terrorist groups in Bangladesh and have carried out indiscriminate bombings, targeted killings, attacks on minorities, and facilitated terrorist activities outside of Bangladesh. Jamaat and similar organizations in Bangladesh receive vast funding from international networks affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, including organizations based in the United States.

Kansara also noted the serious security failings that led to the recent murders of humanist bloggers Avijit Roy and Washikur Rahman by Islamists linked with Jamaat-e-Islami, placing the responsibility on the current Awami League government and its security forces.

“We thank the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its leadership for convening this hearing at a time of critical importance to Hindus and religious minorities in Bangladesh,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF Senior Director and Human Rights Fellow. “The population of Hindus in Bangladesh dwindles daily, and those who remain do so at grave risk to their personal safety and lives. It is incumbent upon the United States and international community to act swiftly to curtail the exodus of minorities and foster a safe and harmonious environment for all religious communities to co-exist.”