By Prof S.N. Singh
ON its 33rd National Day which was celebrated on March 26, 2004, the Government of Bangladesh published a four-page report in India”s national newspapers, on its progress in various fields. In it, it is stated that “Bangladesh has been termed by world leaders as a moderate, non-communal, democratic state with a Muslim majority.” This is nothing but false propaganda by the Bangladesh government. It should be noted that this statement is not true. Not only are Hindus, Buddhists and Christians attacked and their properties confiscated, but even the non-Bangla-speaking Muslims from Bihar are not safe over there.
It must be emphasised that in its celebration of the National Day, the Bangladesh government failed to mention the sacrifices made by the Indians. It was only after a civil war with undivided Pakistan and active support of India to Mukti Vahini that Bangladesh won its freedom from Pakistan on December 16, 1971 and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman became its first Prime Minister. Following his brutal assassination in August 1975, his successor, the military dictator-turned-President, Ziaur Rehman, succeeded in Islamising the State and openly declared Bangladesh as an Islamic State.
General Ziaur Rehman systematically uprooted secularism and presided over the gradual consolidation of Islamic fundamentalism. Properties of the Hindus were confiscated through the Enemy Properties Act (EPA) by the majority community. He further promulgated the Indemnity Act which worsened the plight of the minorities, their democratic and social rights and identities as independent citizens. To establish control of Islamic fundamentalists, he enacted amendment of the Constitution (5th) to delete the clause defining secularism (Article 12) and to insert as a preamble ?Bismillah-u-Rahman-u-Rahim?.
A communal government made life unsafe for minorities.
The Ershad government went a step further to give extensive patronage to the Islamic forces and amended the Constitution (8th) by passing the Bill on Islam as the State religion (rashtra dharma) in 1988. These two amendments of the Constitution provoked anti-minority feelings among the Muslim fundamentalists.
Abdul Barkat, a professor of Dhaka University, in his study entitled ?An Inquiry into Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act? has estimated the violations of Hindu right to property as follows: “Approximately a million Hindu households (40 per cent) have been deprived of over 1.64 million acres of landed property, which is 53 per cent of the land owned by Hindu households. This includes 81.7 per cent agricultural land, 10 per cent homestead land, 1.74 per cent garden land, 2.4 per cent ponds, 0.68 per cent fallow land and the rest is 3.4 per cent.
“At the time they appropriated the property, approximately 44 per cent were affiliated to the Muslim League, 20 per cent to BNP, 17 per cent to Awami League, 5 per cent to Jatiyo Party and 1 per cent to Jamaat-e-Islami. In 1995, 72 and 11 per cent of those who appropriated minority property belonged to the BNP and AL respectively, while in 1997, an equal number of 44 per cent each from AL and the right-wing parties were involved in appropriating Hindu properties.”
The Vested Property Act (VPA) acted as a gross denial of all types of freedom to the Hindu community, especially the denial of the most basic right-the freedom to make a choice to deal with one”s own life, property ownership and assets.
From 1975 onwards the Bangladesh government abandoned secular Bengali nationalism in favour of religious (Islamic) oriented Bangladeshi nationalism. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), floated by Major General Zia-ur-Rehman, defined Bangladesh nationalism as (i) one race-Bengal; (ii) one religion-Islam; (iii) War of Independence-1971; (iv) Bengali language; (v) territory; (vi) culture; and (vii) economy. It is basically the promotion of Muslim-majority identity in place of secular, pluralistic identity of the Bangladeshis. On May 30, 1981 Zia-ur-Rehman was assassinated and subsequently on March 24, 1982, Major General Ershad further Islamised the Bangladeshi nation. Now Prime Minister Khalida Zia, the BNP leader and wife of assassinated late President Rehman, is working to strengthen the Islamised nation (see Table).
In 1947 at the time of the Partition of India and Pakistan, 28 per cent of the population in East Pakistan was Hindu. During the Pakistani regime, the Hindus kept migrating to India. In 1961, the Hindus constituted only 18.5 per cent of the population in Bangladesh. In 1981 and 1991, the population further declined to 12.1 per cent and 10.5 respectively. According to the 2001 Census, Hindus constitute only about 8 per cent of the total population.
The percentage of Hindus in the population has been declining rapidly from decade to decade due to migration of Hindus to India. Therefore, the population growth of Bangladesh is just 1.47 per cent. Nevertheless, Bangladesh is doing well in the field of rural health, development, female education and family planning. It has allowed its women to indulge in all kinds of fashion and to wear the dress of their choice. It is a good lesson for the few Indian mullahs and Kashmiri militants who too should take a lesson and grant freedom of dress to their womenfolk.
(Dept. of Political Science & Public Administration, M.D.S. University, Ajmer.)