शुक्रवार, 7 नवंबर 2008

Systematic Persecution of Religious Minorities in Bangladesh

Persecution of Religious Minorities in Bangladesh


There may be scepticism whether minorities (Hindus) in Bangladesh are really persecuted in their homeland. The post election situation would unfold the truth. In addition, if we scan the history of the partition of India and the independence of Bangladesh we will get a vivid picture of the reality. The partition of India cost one million lives and displaced fifteen million people. After the partition, India was named as Republic of India whereas Pakistan as Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The birth of Pakistan began with anti-minority stance as is evident from the constitution. In the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan the post of the president was specially reserved for a Muslim with a belief that if a non-Muslim is elected as a president Islam will be endangered.
“A person shall not be qualified for election unless he is a Muslim” [Article 32(2)]

The division between Muslims and non-Muslims was clearly specified in the constitution,

“WHEREIN the Muslims of Pakistan should be enabled individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam, as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah; WHEREIN adequate provision should be made for the minorities freely to profess and practice for religion and develop their culture”

On the contrary the Indian constitution provides a different message

“WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC,
and to see are all its citizens;
JUSTICE, Social, economical and political, LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of states and opportunity; and to promote among the all; FRETERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation”.

The following sections would reveal the mechanisms used to persecute the minorities systematically.

Communal violence

Communal riots in 1950s are established facts and the plight of the affected Hindus are also well known. The Pakistani authority deployed army and paramilitary forces to protect the Hindus. Instead of protecting the Hindus the law enforcement authority carried out large-scale oppression against them particularly against women which is evident from the resignation letter from the then Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Jogendra Mondol: “The military not only oppressed the people and took away food stuffs forcibly from Hindu houses, but forced Hindus to send their womenfolk at night to the camp to satisfy the carnal desire of the military”. The riots of 1950s caused mass exodus of Hindus from their homeland, which is current Bangladesh. Two and half million Hindus left their homeland during the period of 1950-51. No political party played any role to protect the minorities or to prevent the exodus.

Use of Judiciary for oppression

The Pakistani government promulgated ‘East Bengal Emergency Requisition of Property Act 13 (1948); East Bengal Evacuees Administration of Immovable Property Act 24 (1951); East Bengal Prevention of Transfer of Property and Removal of Documents and Records Act (1952). In order to increase the oppression another law was instituted, Pakistan Administration of Evacuees Property Act 12 (1957). After the dissolution of the United Front Government Martial Law was declared in 1958. The mass movement against the Martial Law was culminated in 1962. In order to divert the mass movement the government sponsored the horrendous communal riot in 1964. Then ‘East Pakistan Disturbed Persons (Rehabilitation) ordinance 1, 1964 was enacted. Although this law was aimed to rehabilitate the Hindu victims, but in practice it was used to persecute the minorities.

During the Indo-Pak war, 1965 (6 September), ‘Defence of Pakistan Ordinance No. 23’, 6 September 1965 was instituted. Under this ordinance the historical BLACK LAW ‘Enemy Property Custody and Registration Order, 1965’ commonly known as ‘Enemy Property Act’ was promulgated.

The unflinching love of the minorities to their motherland and their patriotism inspired them to take part in the liberation war of Bangladesh. The minorities cherished hopes for fair treatment and equal right in an independent Bangladesh as her constitution guarantees. On 10 April 1971, Bangladesh Government at Mujibnagar declared that all irrelevant Pakistani Acts would be annulled. On 26 March 1972 Bangladesh Vesting of Property and estates, Presidential Ordinance No. 29 was enforced. Though ‘Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provisions (Repeal) Act 45’ was enforced in 1974, ‘Vested and Non-resident Property (Administration) Act 46, 1974 was enacted. In essence, ‘Enemy Property Act’ was abrogated through Act 45 and reinstituted through Act 46. The expectation of the minorities was a mere illusion.

In 1976 Ziaur Rahman abrogated the ‘Vested and Non-resident Property (Administration) Act 46’ and instituted No. 92 Ordinance. Alongside Act 45 ‘Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provisions) Repeal Act’ was amended and the preventive ‘Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency) Provisions Repeal (Amendment) Ordinance (No. 93) 196’ was enforced retrospectively from 23 March 1974.Through this Ordinance (No. 93) Government took the sole authority to control and sell the so called vested property. This shows Ziaur Rahman moved one step ahead to oppress the Hindus by violating Hindu Law in terms of ownership of the property. It is necessary to mention that it was Ziaur Rhaman who changed the four basic principles of the constitution of Bangladesh on 23 April 1977 which was subsequently instituted as 5th amendment. He was the architect of installing Pakistani tradition in the state machinery of an independent Bangladesh by depriving her citizens from their fundamental rights. Furthermore, Ziaur Rahman ordered the administration to find out more enemy property through a circular dated 23 May 1977. This circular intensified harassment and oppression on Hindus.

Another army President General Ershad just followed his predecessor’s foot marks. On 31 July he ordered to withhold the official circular of 23 May 1977. On the contrary, he declared Islam as the state religion through the 8th amendment, which was used as a licence to persecute the minorities. Unfortunately no repercussion was evident among the so called progressive politicians considering political gains and losses.

Khaleda Zia’s Government added momentum to the process of oppression on the Hindus through a circular (4 November 1993) in the name of validation of the list of enemy property.

During the last phase of the Awami League Government this black law was abrogated. However, practical implementation of the abrogation is a long way to go.

Hindu Population

Variation of the Hindu population with time as presented in Table 1 raises many questions.

Table 1: Hindu population at different times

Year Muslim (%) Hindu (%)

1951 76.9 23.1

1961 80.4 19.6

1974 85.4 14.6

1981 86.6 13.4

1991 87.4 12.6

During the last fifty years the average increase in population in the subcontinent is approximately three times. Taking this into account the present Hindu population in Bangladesh should be 40 million. Therefore, the statistics of population suggests that about 25 million Hindus are missing, which raises more questions than answers.

Representation of Minorities

The representation of the minorities in various sectors demonstrate how the minorities are treated in public representations, jobs and education.

Members of the Parliament

Table 2: Representation of Hindus in the parliament

Year Total Hindu

1954 309 72

1973 315 12

1979 8 0

1988 4 0

1991 11 0

1996 9 (?)

2001 3 0

Based on the percentage of Hindu population the present number of the Hindu parliamentarians should be about 40.


The representation of Hindus in defence including army, border security and police services is appalling as apparent from the following data:

Table 3: Representation of Hindus in army

Position Total Hindu (%)
Jawan 80,000 0.63

Second LT/LT 900 0.33

Captain 1,300 0.62

Major 1,000 4.0

Lt Col 450 1.7

Colonel 70 1.4

Brigadier 65 (?)

Maj General 22 4.5

Air Force and Navy

Essentially the Hindu representation in these two services is almost nil.

Border Security Personnel

The Hindu representation in Border Security Service is about 0.75% .


Table 4: Representation of Hindus in police

Position Total Hindu (%)

Ordinary 80,000 2.5%

ASP/Asst Commissioner 635 6.3

DSP/Addl SP 87 2.3

SP/AIG 123 8.1

DIG 18 5.5

Add/IG 6 0

IG 1 0

The representation of the minority is no way better in the public service.

Education and other sectors

There was only one Hindu Vice Chancellor in the history of Bangladesh. Ironically, he was removed unlawfully from his position because of the religious denomination. Apart from the Vice Chancellor, the government also appoints the Pro-Vice Chancellor of a university. Not a single Hindu was appointed in this position although there are many distinguished Hindu academics. Discrimination is prevalent in awarding scholarships and enrolment in medical institutions.

Millions of dollars are spent for the development of Madrassas and there is Islamic University. However, Sanskrit ‘Tols’ and ‘Pali Institutions’ only exist in name. Religious teachers of the minority community are discriminated in terms of salary and other benefits.

Bangladesh Government spends huge amount of money for the development of particular religious places whereas such development of Hindu and Buddhist temples and Christian churches is denied. In almost every government, semi-government, autonomous and academic institution there is mosque for prayer but the minorities are not fortunate to have their prayer house in such institutions.

In the radio and television there is regular recitation from a particular holy book while recitation from the minority religious book is quite casual. The festivals of a particular religion are observed at a national level whereas other religious festivals are observed unceremoniously.

Savar mausoleum is a symbol of respect for those who sacrificed their lives for the independence of Bangladesh. It is a hard fact that people of all religions took part in the country’s liberation war. Regrettably a mosque was built at the memorial denying the recognition of the sacrifices of the religious minorities.

In general, the currency contains the portraits or images of famous people or places. In the Bagladeshi currency there are images of various mosques but no religious places of the minorities receive any importance.


The aforementioned facts strongly suggest that there has been a slow motion ethnic cleansing in Bangladesh. The change in power on 01 October 2001 has accelerated the cleansing process.

The recent atrocities and repression on the minorities raise the question of their survival in their homeland. The extinction of religious minorities can only be prevented if the following steps are implemented:

· Separate state from the religion
· Reinstate secularism in the constitution of Bangladesh
· Establish a truly independent judiciary
· Abolish all sorts of discriminatory laws and policies.

The recent government sponsored atrocities toll the bells for exposing those elements who, by their acts of commission and omission, are pushing the nation into the dark dungeons from which there can be no retrieval.


Kankar Sinha (1997). Communalism and Minority Crisis. Dhaka: Anannya Publishers

Bhowmik N and Dhar B (1997). Anjali. Dhaka: Dhaka Mahanagar Puja Committee

Dutta C R (1993). The Disgrace

Hindus of Bangladesh

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