Hindu population has dwindled in Bangladesh primarily due to Government-tolerated murder, rape, forced conversion, land grabs, etc. Learn more about this from Benkin’s book, writes BB Kumar
Partition in August 1947 was preceded, as well as followed, by unprecedented riots in the regions covering today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh, and as a reaction in other parts of India. Almost a million people were butchered; many millions crossed the newly created international boundary and became refugees. As a result, there was sharp decline in the Hindu population of West Pakistan — from 19.687 per cent in 1941 to 1.531 per cent in 1951 (Religious Demography of India, JK Bajaj and others). After Partition, as per Richard L Benkin’s latest book, A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: The Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus, Hindus were a third of East Pakistan’s population; they remained less than a fifth in 1971 when East Pakistan became Bangladesh; and, today there are fewer than eight per cent Hindus in that country. Thus, says Benkin, the population of Hindus continuously dwindled, as they continued to face “Government-tolerated murder, rape, abduction, forced conversion, temple attacks, land grabs, and more.
It’s not that what happened in Pakistan and Bangladesh was not predicted earlier. Shaukat Hayat Khan, the then Prime Minister of undivided Punjab, foresaw that Hindus might not be allowed to stay in Pakistan. Savitri Devi — a Greek convert to Hinduism — in her book, A Warning to the Hindus, wrote about a decade earlier than Partition about the “riots worse than any of those India has seen in the past”. She predicted: “It is Hindus as a nation who are in danger of extinction, at least in certain parts of India”.
Benkin aptly details the scenario of millions killed, millions at risk, and billions silent. He goes to the roots of ethnic cleansing, describes how it is taking place, and how the Government colludes with Islamists to get the minorities eliminated. Two appendices list incidents of tolerated attacks on Bangladeshi Hindus.
The book calls for action to end this silent but decisive ethnic cleansing. It also exposes the hypocrisy of the powers that be: Whereas almost a fourth of the population of Bangladesh was thrown out, the world remained silent. The United Nations and the international community were nowhere to be seen.
Contrary to the popular perception that the condition of Hindus under the ‘secular’ Awami League Government would improve, the situation has remained practically the same. Here, it needs to be mentioned that Pakistan was once thought to be a rare phenomenon when it declared its Hindu minority enemy and had legal provision for vesting their property (Enemy Property Act). Free Bangladesh, rather than repelling the same, rechristened it as ‘Vested Property Act’ (VPA); it did not return the confiscated property to the minorities.
Benkin describes in detail vast appropriation of Hindu-owned land under the VPA, thus forcing the minorities to migrate from Bangladesh. Another shocking fact is that Hindu refugees, who came to India during the Bangladesh liberation war, found their lands and properties occupied by Muslims when they returned back to their homes in free Bangladesh.
Benkin systematically analyses various other factors, apart from VAP, responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh, such as the increased radicalisation of the Bangladeshi polity, complicity of the corrupt Government officials and rampant failure of the state to defend the victims. The Awami League Government has declined to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution, recognising Islam as the official state religion; radical Islamist parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami, are allowed to communalise the polity.
India has miserable failed to safeguard the interests of Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan. After all, this was the basis of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact and the Indira-Mujib Treaty. This is certainly a moral lapse on the part of the Government of India.
Benkin has not sacrificed hard facts for political correctness. He details the converging interests of the Islamists and the Maoists in their endeavour to break India. However, the book could have been more interesting had it dealt with Islamic negationism, creation of victimhood literature, competitive vote-bank politics and, of course, Hindus’ failure to understand Islam and its true nature. After all, one finds it difficult to differentiate between the treatment meted out to Bangladeshi Hindus and what Prophet Mohammed himself did to Beni Kainuka, Beni Koreiza and others.
The reviewer is the editor of a quarterly journal, Dialogue. He has also edited a book, Illegal Migration from Bangladesh