Despite Mahatma Gandhi’s intervention, more than 5,000 Hindus were massacred, thousands of Hindu women were raped and an equal number of people were forcibly converted to Islam in Noakhali district (in present-day Bangladesh) in 1946. Frustrated Gandhi asked the Hindus there to “Quit Noakhali or Die”. The Hindu population in Noakhali witnessed a steady decline. Atrocities against them continued even after they became a miniscule minority in the area. In 1940, the Hindu population was 28 per cent while it went down to 8.96 per cent in 2011.
The major decline in Hindu demography happened first during the Partition and then during the 1971 Bangladesh War. Radicalised Pakistan army men slaughtered thousands of Hindus. These dwindling numbers are a stark indicator of the deeply hostile anti-Hindu environment prevalent in that country.
Various experts and social scientists have warned that Hindu population in Bangladesh is set to decline fast. No Hindus will be left in Bangladesh 30 years from now if the current rate of “exodus” continues as on an average 632 people from the minority community leave the Muslim-majority country each day, according to Dr Abul Barkat, a Dhaka University professor. “The rate of exodus over the past 49 years points to that direction.” In his book, The Political Economy of Reforming Agriculture: Land Water Bodies in Bangladesh, he writes that “there will be no Hindus left within Bangladesh within 30 years…The rate of the exodus over the past 49 years points to that direction.” As per his research, around 11.3 million Hindus were compelled to flee Bangladesh due to religious persecution from 1964 to 2013.
From 1964 to 2013, around 11.3 million Hindus left Bangladesh due to religious persecution and discrimination which means on an average 632 Hindus left the country each day and 230,612 annually. Dr Barkat said he found that the exodus mostly took place during military governments after independence in 1971. Before the Liberation War, the daily rate of migration was 705 while it was 512 during 1971—1981 and 438 during 1981—1991. The number increased to 767 persons each day during 1991—2001 while around 774 persons left the country during 2001—2012, the book says.
DU professor Ajoy Roy said the government grabbed the properties of the Hindus during the Pakistan regime describing them as enemy property and the same properties were taken over by the government after Independence as vested property, the report said. According to the book, these two measures made 60 per cent of the Hindus landless.
Priya Saha, a Hindu minor rights activist, who participated in the Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held at the US Department of State in Washington, DC on July 16-18, 2019 told the then President Trump: “Sir, I’m from Bangladesh … 37 million Hindus, Buddhists and Christians have disappeared. Please help us – for the Bangladeshi minorities people. We want to stay in our country.” Instead of curbing violence against the minorities, the Bangladeshi Government had targeted her. David Bergman, an investigative journalist based in Bangladesh, in an op-ed column (The Politics of Bangladesh’s Genocide Debate, April 5, 2016, New York Times) also refers to the Hindu genocide: “There is no question that there were many atrocities, including rape, deportation and massacres of civilians, carried out by the Pakistani Army, aided at times by pro-Pakistani militias. Some of these included members of the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party that remains a powerful force in Bangladesh today. There is an academic consensus that this campaign of violence, particularly against the Hindu population, was a genocide.”
Massive Protest by Hindus
In protest against violence against Hindus, various Hindu organisations staged a massive protest in Chittagong recently. “Demonstrations by various Hindu organisations in Shahbagh and across the country were also held peacefully in protest against the barbaric radical Jihadi attack on Hindus in Narail Sahapara”, Hindu Sangbad, a Bangladesh media outlet.
The Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also directed the Home Ministry to investigate the attacks and determine whether negligence was involved in their prevention. In addition, the NHRC stated that violence in a “secular country” is never acceptable.
The Hindus and other minorities are treated as second class citizens in Bangladesh. Although Sheikh Mujibur Rehman did include secularism as one of the four core governing principles in the first Constitution of Bangladesh in 1972, the military which ousted the government established an “Islamic state”. The government under General Ziaur Rahman deleted the word “secularism”. Next, General Ershad deemed Islam as the state religion by introducing Article 2A, which averred that “the state religion of the Republic is Islam but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic” (8th Amendment, 1988).
“There will be no Hindus left within Bangladesh within 30 years…The rate of the exodus over the past 49 years points to that direction” — Dr Abul Barkat, Professor, Dhaka University
In 2011, Sheikh Hasina restored “secularism” to the Constitution, but maintained Islam as the state religion and made no changes to the Preamble, retaining its religious invocation (15th Amendment). There are hostile laws which discriminate Hindus. Banks are advised to regulate loans to Hindus.
In 1965 after the Indo-Pakistan War, Pakistan promulgated the Enemy Property Act (EPA) that gave the Government unbridled powers to appropriate properties of Hindus. The new Republic of Bangladesh retained the EPA under a new name the Vested Property Act (1974) whereby the Government of Bangladesh vested itself with the “enemy” properties previously seized since the 1965 War and continued to use the discriminatory law to confiscate Hindu land.
In 2001, the Awami League made an attempt to restore Hindu property to its rightful owners by the Restoration of Vested Property Act, 2001; but it was nothing more than an eyewash. The requirements were too burdensome and failed to translate into any benefit at the ground level. As a result of these measures, Hindus lost more than 2 million acres of land.