New Internationalist

Stop persecution in Bangladesh and Pakistan

The 1947 Partition riots in India and Pakistan resulted in killings and atrocities on a scale never witnessed before. I grew up in Kolkata and understood the anguish of Bengali Hindus who’d had to leave what was then East Pakistan, penniless, and run for their lives to India. I was a child in the early Sixties when two Hindu-Muslim riots hit Kolkata. I remember the screams of men being tortured and killed in a Hindu lane adjoining our Kolkata home. A few times, my mother ran outside and begged the mob, our neighbours, to spare the lives of victims. I recall blood-curdling cries from both Hindus and Muslims. A night-long, incessant, chilling war chant while slums went up in flames. From our roof top we could see billowing smoke and hear the sound of fire-engine sirens.

The 1971 pogrom in East Pakistan led to a few million refugees pouring into West Bengal. I’ve never understood how Kolkata and West Bengal received these people with open arms. Because I always sensed the simmering anger against the neighbouring country whose very existence denied a space to non-Muslims. The early wave of Bengali Hindu refugees had been tortured, raped, killed, had properties confiscated and then been turned out of East Pakistan totally destitute, many by the same people who were now seeking sanctuary in West Bengal.

It’s a tribute to the West Bengal government that since the mid-Sixties, there has never been another riot in the bubbling cauldron of communal tensions that exist in the region. Yet Bangladeshis have continued to pour into India, creating serious problems in Assam and neighbouring areas, regions already resource-stretched. There is anger everywhere about the takeover of different parts of Kolkata by Bangladeshi groups.

Very little noise is being made nationally or internationally about what’s currently going on in Bangladesh or Pakistan. Minorities have lived a precarious existence there, ever since the creation of these two states in 1947. In Pakistan, many Hindus and Christians have converted to Islam to escape the extreme harassment meted out to minorities here. There are regular attacks, kidnapping of Hindu girls, forcible conversion, and minorities living in perpetual insecurity and fear for their safety. Five people were killed, at least 47 temples and 1,500 houses belonging to Hindus were vandalized or set on fire during the recent attacks in 37 districts, according to the group Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad.

But Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad insists the extent of damages is under-reported and that actual figures are far higher. The Parishad quotes, ‘99 temples were attacked, 48 of them were looted, vandalized and burned down.’ The general secretary Rana Dasgupta says ‘almost 2,000 houses belonging to Bangladeshi Hindus were burned down’.

Dasgupta quotes Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics figures that Hindu, Christian and other minority populations in Bangladesh have drastically decreased to 9.7 per cent in 2012 from 21 per cent in 1971. ‘The main reason for attacking minority houses and temples is to take away their property. The culture began in 1947,’ he explains.

International pressure to stop the killing and persecution of Hindus, Christians and other minorities is imperative. Between 2002 and 2010, Pakistan received approximately $18 billion in military and economic aid from the US. In February 2010, the administration of US President Barack Obama requested an additional $3 billion in aid, for a total of $20.7 billion.

As long as Pakistan remains a strategic ally, it can, apparently, enjoy total impunity. The irony of the country which provided a safe haven to Bin Laden being an ally in the ‘war on terror’ is incomprehensible to most people. The question Bangladeshi and Pakistani minorities ask is ‘who will fight for our rights?’ Not a lot of people. Unfortunately for them, they are not strategically important to anyone.

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  1. #1 Nathan 18 Mar 13

    You can't pick and choose which minorities you fight for. Why don't you discuss the treatment of muslims in India and how they are behind in all measurable quality of living standards. I can point you to the treatment of muslims in Gujarat in 2002. I can point you to the treatment of the Sikhs and the fact to this day the Indian constitution does not recognise Sikhism as an independent religion, rather a subset as hindusm. They are a community which has suffered discrimination for a long while now. I can mention the treatment of burning of Christians churches in Orissa. I haven't even touched on the oppression arisisng out of the caste system. It's fine to point fingers at what other countries should do, but you should maybe take a look in your own backyard first. Ridiculous.

  2. #2 Trueman 19 Mar 13

    I am a Bangladeshi Muslim.
    I don't know what is happening in Pakistan. In Bangladesh minorities are under attack by Extremists as to divert their war-crime-issues of 1971. Bangladeshi youths, Muslims & Hindus, are protesting together against those Islamist. Bangladeshis are and always will be on the side of our Hindu/Buddhists & Christians brothers & sisters.
    All I understand, this Article is not helping anyone from any direction. This sort article will only spread hatred among general people in the Subcontinent. Each of our countries should address their own fundamentalists. External pressure will only make everything worse. I would appreciate if the author could create awareness regarding the issue by sending the message of love & peace.

  3. #3 priya thomas 19 Mar 13

    who can forget the little girl in pakistan arrested for burning a religous text-for that matter 2 days ago an indian man was beaten mercilessly in the uk while around 200 people watched DUMBLY-minorities everywhere have always been persecuted-till we realise that humanity should be humane-till we realise that superiority of religion,race do not matter and is all bunkum this will go on and our politicians and some religous leaders just act as catalysts appealing to the baser side of the people-and @ nathan this writer has also spoken about the persecution of minorities in india in earlier articles

  4. #4 chandrika sen sharma 20 Mar 13

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a revival of fundamentalism in a lot of the
    Muslim majority countries - once that takes over they go back to ’an eye
    for an eye’ mentality. A thief gets his hand cut off, an adulterer get
    stoned to death! It looks like they are going back to the Middle Ages while
    the rest of the world moves forward! If they behave like this to their own
    people, Intolerance towards other faiths are to be expected!
    Great blog Mari.

    Chandrika Sen Sharma

  5. #5 suja 20 Mar 13

    thank u for telling me how much worse it is
    than i imagined
    or dismissed as bad propaganda

    i have to educate myself a lot more
    but...that is not enough ?


  6. #6 Ludwig Pesch 20 Mar 13

    Thanks for another informative contribution! It's all too tempting to agree with one of the comments seen here, namely ’Each of our countries should address their own fundamentalists. External pressure will only make everything worse.’ Yet recent history has proven otherwise: only a well informed, committed international public will keep elected representatives on track and populists at bay. And with it, random encroachments on basic human rights to which all of the worlds citizens are entitled. How can we condone the dictatorship by any majority (community, religion, ethnic or linguistic group)?
    Being brought up in Germany in the sixties I mercifully couldn't avoid learning about Nazi crimes (ended just over a decade earlier): even as a child I was confronted with images of heaps of naked, emaciated jews and other ’minorities’ trapped and killed by nazi gangsters who had usurped power in a thriving, albeit fragile democratic Germany known as the Weimar Republic. Was this knowledge bad for me? Hardly so in a Germany in the 60s and 70s again under siege from three sides: 1. former nazi collaborators (among them friendly teachers, ’respectable’ politicians and judges incl. ’my’ federal state's chief minister, most of them ’converted’ to democratic values by the US, just as in Japan); 2. the prospect of nuclear escalation; and 3. hysterical anti-communist politics (often by the aforementioned politicians) ruining job prospects for many in my generation for good. Let me assure you that being ’watched’ by other countries, the media and international organizations was reassuring during my student days. It even helped to prevent Germany from descending into chaos again. I have never forgotten that, nor the message in Swiss playwright Max Frisch's dark comedy on my school syllabus, ’The Fire Raisers’. Still worth reading and discussing - it's being enacted all over the world by desensitized bystanders and their violent leaders (see wikipedia for more). And let's never ever get deluded into becoming, in Frisch's words, accomplices in our own downfall.

  7. #7 mari 22 Mar 13

    Thank you Ludwig for the insightful and personal comment.
    Nathan, I have been accused by Hindu fundamentalists of always shouting on behalf of Gujarats Muslims and ignoring Hindu victims. I have been called all kinds of names.
    I've tried to be non partisan. I feel as strongly for the Hindus who suffer in Bangladesh and Pakistan, as I do for the Staines kids burnt alive in Orissa, the tribals killed in Chhatisgarh and the Muslims of Gujarat. And it is deeply painful to see my country ripped apart by Hindu, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists. It is excruciating to see the army rape and kill with impunity in the North east and Kashmir or in Central India in the name of terrorism and Naxalism. I dont wave the flag and pretend we're perfect But our media is alive and well, and critical, thank God. That is why with all our flaws, we're more democratic that most countries.

  8. #8 TT 22 Mar 13

    @Nathan -Mari is one of the most vocal activists fighting communalism in India - the Gujarat riots are something she has written extensively about, often at great personal risk to her self, and I'm fairly certain if you read through the blog, you will find instances of such writing - a google search will show you much more.
    I dont see anywhere a assertion that India is perfect or better in the way it treats minorities -this is merely a writer who write extensively on communalism in India choosing to focus on communalism elsewhere - why is this riduculous?

  9. #9 Parth Pawar 14 Apr 13

    We hindus have to do something about these
    And tel indian government to look into these and take some strick actions

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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