A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: The Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus, Dr Richard L Benkin, Akshaya Prakashan, Pp 342, Rs 360.00
The book’s opening lines: “The Hindus of East Bengal are dying: they are being eliminated slowly and steadily. Of that there is no doubt; it is an objective fact supported by extensive amounts of data…With its decades-long silence, the world is complicit in the ethnic cleansing of millions of Bangladeshi Hindus,” sum up its theme. As the author points out, “After India’s Partition in 1947, Hindus were a third of East Pakistan’s population; when East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were less than a fifth; 30 years later under a tenth; and today fewer than 8 per cent.”
This dramatic decline in the Hindu population is indicative of a deliberate attempt to forcibly remove Hindus from Bangladesh. The ethnic cleansing of Hindus can best be described as “quiet and steady” and it has gone essentially unnoticed by the world. The international community’s failure to notice or stem the rot, however, in no way diminishes the sheer magnitude of the calamity.
Since its birth as an independent nation in 1971, Bangladesh has implemented a number of measures to expand the constitutional and legal role of Islam, while institutionalising bigotry against its minority Hindu population, says the author. The Hindus have faced routine acts of violence, including murders, rapes, forced conversions, temple attacks, abductions and land encroachments. Religious and motivated violence has targeted Hindu women and young girls and has been utilised as a weapon of subjugation.
Tracing developments from pre-Independence Bangladesh, Benkin, who is president and co-founder of a human rights NGO called Forcefield which is dedicated to defending the oppressed, systematically outlines the multitude of factors responsible for the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Hindus, including the increased radicalisation of the Bangladesh polity, the complicity of corrupt government officials at all levels of governance, discriminatory laws and the widespread failure to act in defence of the victims. In particular, he describes the vast appropriation of Hindu-owned land under the Vested Property Act (VRA) and demonstrates its impact on the forced migration of Hindus from Bangladesh. He further notes the significant personal benefits accrued by local politicians and the consequent unwillingness of successive governments to end the blatantly racist law.
Benkin also shows contrary to the commonly held perceptions that the plight of Hindus under the purportedly ‘secular’ Awami League government has not significantly improved compared to previous regimes. Despite general opportunities to institute reforms and take action against attacks on Hindus, the recently elected Awami League has chosen instead to maintain the status quo. From failing to rescind the remaining vestiges of the VPA, to not returning confiscated properties under the Act, the Awami League has continued the discriminatory policies of its predecessors. Additionally it has declined to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution, which recognises Islam as the official state religion, while allowing radical Islamist parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami to expand their influence.
Benkin examines the situation in Bangladesh within the broader context of the global expansion of pan-Islamism but carefully distinguishes between Islam the religion and radical Islam and international jihad as a destructive political ideology. Similarly, he identifies the dangerous convergence of Islamists and communist political parties in perpetuating the victimisation of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees living in India’s West Bengal state. He provides an insightful account into the lives of these refugees, their legal status in India and struggle to survive. He also demonstrates the ongoing danger the refugees face from Islamist attacks and the failure of corrupt West Bengal officials and police to protect them.
An interesting feature of the book is the suggestion of comprehensive strategies to address the situation.
(Akshaya Prakashan, 208, MG House, 2 Community Centre, Wazirpur Industrial Area, Delhi-110 052; www.akshayaprakashan.com)
A new history of Muslims of Kerala
Origin and Early History of the Muslims of Keralam, 700 AD-1600 AD, JBP More, Other Books, Pp 260, Rs 360.00
In this narrative of Kerala Muslims, the author sheds light on the history preceding as well as the history of more than a century succeeding Vasco da Gama’s arrival on the coast of Malabar.
He says that it was generally the people from West Asia or Middle East, who wrote about India and its people, its history and culture, since the 9th century up to the arrival of the Europeans. Prominent among these West Asians were Saulaiman al-Tajir, Masudi, Al Beruni, Amir Khusrau, Ibn Batuta and Abd-er-Razzak, but with the arrival of the Portuguese in Malabar in 1498, no attempts were made to maintain a systematic record of the history. It was only in the 1580s that Sheikh Zainuddin-al-Mabari produced the Tuhfat al-Mujahideen in Arabic. As nobody is certain of his origins and thus he is considered the first early modern historian of Keralam.
Here the author makes a very interesting observation about what Edward said, current professor at Columbia University said when he reiterated that innumerable Western orientalists during the colonial period were either paternalistic or candidly condescending towards the subject of their study, that is, the Orient and they also carried forward the binary typology of advanced and backward races, cultures and societies. He demonstrates that they presented a biased view of India to give a European form to a formless knowledge, but also to control, supervise and govern the Indians with the help of that knowledge.
The book is divided into two parts, with the first part dealing with the origin and evolution of the Muslims of Keralam until 1600 AD. Containing five chapters, this part is preceded with an introduction and is concluded with the advent of Sheikh Zainduddin. The first chapter traces the historical background of Malabar before the advent of Islam. The second and third chapters deal with the origin and evolution of Islam in Malabar from AD 700-1500. The fourth chapter explores the truth behind the legend of Cheraman Perumal. The fifth chapter is exclusively devoted to a critical study of Vasco da Gama’s arrival on the Malabar coast and its consequences and the reactions of Sheikh Zainuddin to Portuguese penetration into Malabar and the Indian Ocean region.
The second part of the book contains a reproduction of a short account of the Muslims of Keralam by Mahomed Kasim Ferishta of the Bijapur Sultanate in his Gulshan-i-Ibrahimi. Though Ferishta was a Persian, he died in India and that is why, as the author admits, he can be rightly deemed as an Indo-Persian historian and writer of Karnataka where Bijapur is presently located.
(Other Books, First Floor, New Way Building, Railway Link Road, Calicut – 673 002; www.otherbooksonline.com)
Amma answers your queries
From Amma’s Heart – Conversations with Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, Amrita Books, Pp 267, Rs 125.00
In this compilation of questions put to Amma, the spiritually enlightened guru answers to a vast range of topics ranging from the nature of birth and earth, to world relationships, war and peace, and spiritual practices and philosophy. Amma answers in her own inimitable earthy style and through the love of a mother and the understanding of a true spiritual master, the most esoteric of spiritual truths in lucid language.
Amma answers questions on various other subjects in her individual style presenting the most esoteric of spiritual truths in a manner so simple that even a child can understand.
(Amrita Books, Amrita Enterprises Pvt Ltd, Amritapuri P.O., Kollam – 690 525, Kerala; www.amritabooks.in)