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.