Connecting Regions of Asia.

Hindus In Bangladesh ‘Better’

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There have been a few isolated incidents of oppression, but by and large, Hindus are doing much better in Bangladesh now than before. Under the Awami League government, they are getting recompense for any abuse they may be subjected to. They can turn to the law.

These views were expressed by experts from India and Bangladesh at a recent digital dialogue. They said that over the past 10 years, the number of Hindus leaving Bangladesh to settle in India has reduced significantly. Rather than choosing an uncertain life by relocating in India, educated middle class Hindus of Bangladesh choose migration to Canada or Europe.

India’s Assam-based Bangla news portal Bartalipi Digital organized the digital dialogue on 4 October. Taking part in the discussion were Observer Research Foundation’s fellow and Bangladesh expert Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharje and Bangladesh’s eminent social worker and secretary of the Sylhet Puja Observation Council, Rajat Kanti Gupta.

The Bangladesh Hindu Mahajote leader, Advocate Gobinda Paramanik, could not join the discussion due to technical glitches. India’s young documentary filmmaker and researcher on partition, Soumitra Dastidar, dropped out of the meeting at the last minute. He said on Facebook that he decided not to make comments from India on such a sensitive and controversial issue in these difficult times. He said that if a similar opportunity arose in future, he would give his comments.

How are the Hindus faring in Bangladesh? The moderator of the programme, journalist Arijit Aditya, said: “Many people questioned me about this. How Hindus are faring in Bangladesh is very relevant to us, particularly people in northeast India.”

Many said that if Hindus were oppressed in Bangladesh, they would enter India in higher numbers. If Hindus were doing well in Bangladesh, why do they have to come to India for citizenship? He said that is why he had selected this topic for discussion.

Rajat Kanti Gupta said he too had been apprehensive about the title of the discussion. He said that the complexities over citizenship that had arisen in India recently had created controversies. That is why the discussion is relevant, he said.

Joyeeta Bhattacharje felt the same, saying that the citizenship act had become a serious issue for Bengalis in northeast India. And there was the National Register of Citizens (NRC) too. “We have to look at the state of the Hindus in Bangladesh in that light,” she said.

Will Bangladesh one-day be devoid of Hindus? In reply to this question, Joyeeta said that many in Bangladesh assume that one day Bangladesh may be devoid of Hindus. Previously 40 percent of the population there had been Hindu. But the 2011 census showed that this had fallen to 8.5 percent. “I don’t know if this has fallen further since then. But the trend of Hindus leaving the country indicates that the number of Hindus in Bangladesh has fallen. There are still instances of leaving. However, the position of the Bangladesh government is that there is no migration at all.” 

Joyeeta also raised the issue of the reproduction rate. Taking up this point, moderator Aditya quoted a Bangladesh journalist saying that many in Bangladesh believe that the number of Hindus in the country is not lessening at all. However, as the reproductive rate among Hindus is lower than that of Muslims, their percentage in the population is lessening.

Joyeeta said Hindus are holding many senior positions in Bangladesh. The Hindus there prefer to identify themselves as Bengalis and Bangladeshis. They have a propensity to identify themselves with the Bengali spirit.

At the outset of the discussion, Rajat Kanti Gupta said that he is first and foremost a full-fledged Bengali. He is proud of the Bengali nation. As for his religious identity, he is certainly a Hindu.

Referring to the position of Hindus in the context of Bangladesh’s emergence, he said people of all communities, including Hindus, took part in the liberation struggle spontaneously. But Hindus were the main target of the barbaric Pakistanis. Hindu homes were looted, and more Hindu than Muslim women were raped.

Rajat Kanti Gupta said that after 1975, Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Dal (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) and the autocratic Ershad moved away from secularism and Islam was inducted in the constitution. A state can have no religion. A state is to be neutral, he asserted. 

He said that Hindus had left the country down the ages or they were forced to leave. Many went to India for better lives. Many had gone upon their relative’s advice during the liberation war and had not returned. He said, angrily, that a large number of Hindus left the country because of oppression and repression. Migration was more when the constitution was desecrated, he added. 

Rajat Kanti Gupta went on to say that over the past ten years under the present government, the number of Hindus leaving the country had lessened significantly. He said that earlier, Hindus, even with qualifications, were not given senior posts. But now Hindus have proven their patriotism and their competence as senior civil and military officers. 

While some Hindus are in important positions, others are faring poorly. Many among the poor Hindus are oppressed and abused. In many places, Hindus are threatened and efforts are taken to grab their homes and temples. However, they are now getting justice, and have the freedom to protest and to resort to the courts. The government is taking a firm stand on protecting them.

But there are quarters which, under political patronage, continue to try to grab Hindu properties. They threaten to abuse Hindu women. But the state tries to protect the Hindus. The government is committed and sincere about ensuring their protection.

Joyeeta also felt that there is now administrative pressure against such discrimination. However, how far this is effective at the grassroots level remains a question.

She praised the government’s handling of the Ramu incident, saying it is clear from many incidents that the Hasina government is committed to protecting Hindus. But Muslims are a majority in Bangladesh, so there is political stress and strain. That led the Hindus to go for a compromise.

The moderator said that a large section of Hindus in Bangladesh feel that the Indian government stands with them when they are oppressed or when their temples are destroyed and looted. In reply, Joyeeta said, India does not say anything because of the prevailing friendship with Bangladesh. But sometimes statements are issued. She said that India believes in non-interference and sees these as internal law and order problems. 

Journalist Aditya said that many of the Hindus in Bangladesh want a Hindutva government in India so that there will be pressure on Bangladesh to conform. The Hindu Mahajote leaders are not happy with the Awami League government’s role, the moderator said. Islamic topics have been added to school textbooks. The government gives charity rather than grants to Hindu festivals, indicating its discriminatory mindset. Rajat Kanti Guta said this had changed after a protest. Now grants are given through the Hindu religious welfare trust too.

The Hindu Mahajote had demanded 60 reserved seats for Hindus in parliament and a 20 percent quota in government jobs, Rajat Kanti Gupta said. They have also demanded a Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Foundation, like the Islamic Foundation. 

Asked whether the Citizenship Act in India would spur an influx of Hindus from Bangladesh, Joyeeta replied this law was made to halt the influx. And even if Hindus entered after 2014, it would be difficult for them to prove that they had been tortured in Bangladesh. The Indian government would not welcome them if they could not prove it.

Rajat Kanti Gupta said they were apprehensive about the NRC in India, but had finally accepted it. The Hindus are no longer forced to flee under fundamentalists’ pressure or propaganda. However, it is imperative that good relations prevails between the two countries.

Courtesy – southasianmonitor.net

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