As We Say ‘Never Again,’ Bangladesh’s Hindus Are in Imminent Danger
A recent op-ed at The Algemeiner suggested that my recent article about Danish heroism during the Shoah was naïve, because no country accepted Jews fleeing the Nazis. However, there are no recorded incidents of Danes turning away Jewish refugees, and it is not equitable to fault a country a bit larger than Maryland for not being proactive in accepting Jewish refugees.
Still, the point is well-made: Jews were largely alone, so we swore “never again” would we allow something like the Holocaust to occur.
Never again also meant that no people should face atrocities while others allow it to happen. Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Biafra, and elsewhere testify to less success on that issue.
We can and must do better.
Today, Bangladeshi Hindus are alone as they face extinction. Pakistan’s 1951 census counted Hindus as almost a third of East Pakistan’s population. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were under a fifth of the population. Thirty years later, they were less than a tenth. Today’s estimates are about one in 15.
A continuous flood of verified, targeted atrocities have driven that population decline. My book, A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: The Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus, documents many of them. The Bangladeshi government is not carrying out these atrocities, but it lets them proceed with impunity. It lets the criminals escape prosecution and even profits from their crimes.
On a just-concluded trip to Bangladesh, I observed these conditions firsthand. Working with human rights attorney Rabindra Ghosh, I saw remnants of destroyed Hindu temples, Hindu properties occupied by Muslims, and heard testimony from witnesses testifying to assaults, gang rape, and murder.
In the capital of Dhaka we toured a Hindu home shortly after it was ransacked and looted. The attack lasted four and a half hours in broad daylight, with no police intervention. We confronted police and secured armed protection for the family, but the promised arrests nabbed only minor participants. The better-connected culprits got away without any sanction.
That same day, we received a call from a Hindu temple. It was under siege by angry Muslims, who claimed the land for themselves and threatened to seize it. Attempts by Hindu religious leaders to get police protection were in vain, and the police officer in charge was refusing to take their calls. We confronted him, got the armed guards, but wondered why it took our intervention.
In my fight against this oppression, I’ve interviewed hundreds of Hindu gang rape victims, families whose children were abducted and forced to convert to Islam, and survivors of attacks. I’ve seen charred remnants of homes, religious desecration, and an entire village attacked. My “baptism by fire” occurred in 2009, when I interviewed a 14-year-old girl who said that she was chased down and raped by Muslim neighbors who seized her family’s land.
With Bangladeshi elections scheduled for the end of 2018, things will get even worse for Hindus there. Targeted anti-Hindu violence always accompanies Bangladeshi elections. We know it will happen, and we have eight months to prepare — to let Bangladeshi Hindus know they are not alone.
While I believe that the Bangladeshi government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina want all citizens to practice their faith in peace and security, the reality is otherwise. Even police officials are getting frustrated. One lamented that they are dealing with the same challenges that their predecessors faced; and they know that their successors will face them, too.
If we are not to be like those who sat idly by while their Jewish neighbors were dragged away in the night, we must act. We must tell our US senators and members of Congress that lives are hanging in the balance, and the victims are looking to the United States for help.
We have leverage. Bangladesh’s economy needs us to buy its garments and fund UN Peacekeeping missions. Or perhaps those peacekeepers should be returned to Bangladesh to prevent these atrocities if the government will not.
On March 25, Rabindra Ghosh, human rights giant and president of the Bangladesh Minority Watch, became the latest victim of anti-Hindu violence. His home was broken into and looted. Police action has been anemic at best, and Mr. Ghosh and others are fearful of more attacks. Even appeals to government ministers have failed to move them to action.
Ghosh said that the attackers wanted to intimidate him into abandoning his human rights work. It is not the first time that he and his family have been attacked, and he believes that it will not be the last. Still, he told me, it will not change what he does. With anti-Hindu atrocities on the uptick, he has been true to his word.
Richard Benkin is a human rights activist who currently advocates for Bangladeshi Hindus and nationalities fighting for freedom from Pakistan. He holds a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and is on the board of StandWithUs in Chicago.