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BANGLADESH: Tension rising in the country ahead of major Hindu festival

The ruling Awami League is no longer a secular party that protects minorities, Hindu leaders allege

By Emran Hossain

UCA News (16.10.2023) – Tension ran high in Muslim-majority Bangladesh following hate speeches and violence targeting minority Hindus led to a confrontation between community leaders and the ruling Awami League government ahead of Durga Puja, the biggest annual Hindu religious festival.

On Oct. 15, a Hindu leader filed a case against 400-500 unidentified people for an attack on a protest rally of Hindus in Cumilla district in southeast Bangladesh.

Tapan Baksi, Cumilla unit secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), the country’s largest minority forum, filed a case alleging that three Hindus were hurt in the attack.

The Hindus were reportedly protesting against what they say was a “defamatory” remark by AKM Bahauddin Bahar, a Muslim lawmaker from the ruling party, during a public program on Oct. 4.

Bahar allegedly urged Hindus to hold “an alcohol-free Durga Puja,” which enraged the community.

Baksi’s statement claimed the perpetrators of the violence were members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and Bangladesh Jubo League (BCL), the student front and youth wing respectively of the Awami League.

The attackers allegedly carried banners asking Hindus to celebrate the festival in a “chaste manner” frustrating Hindus further.

During the rally, the protesters also expressed their anger over another comment made by a Muslim politician in late September.  Mohammad Faisal Biplob, mayor of Munshiganj, a central district, called the local lawmaker, Mrinal Kanti Das, a “malaun” – a slang term for Hindus.

On Oct. 15, separate Hindu groups threatened to enforce tougher movements over hate speeches and attacks on Hindus. They also accused the government of trying to incite violence during Durga Puja.

Hindu leaders say they are frustrated with the ruling party which failed to protect them by keeping pre-election pledges amid political tension and a sense of insecurity among minorities ahead of the upcoming national election.

“The minority people have now realized that AL, the party that boasts about its secular stance, often branding its opponents Islamists, is not their protector but attacker,” Bikash Saha alleged.

On Oct. 15, the BHBCUC leaders threatened to toughen the movement if the attackers were not punished.

Cumilla Kotwali police station’s officer-in-charge Ahammad Sanjur Morshed confirmed the filing of the case and the arrest of two men linked to the ruling party’s front organizations.

Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad, an apex Hindu religious body that oversees nationwide Puja celebrations, expressed its fear during a media briefing of a repeat of the anti-Hindu violence in 2021 when about 100 Puja venues were vandalized over rumors of Quran desecration.

Hindus have made preparations to celebrate the festival at 32,168 venues during the five-day Durga Puja beginning on Oct. 20, it stated.

In a written statement, the group said the celebration honors goddess Durga, who descended on earth to eliminate evil, but they are now “surrounded by evil” referring to the spread of communalism.

The group claimed that between October 2022 to this September, a total of 35 attacks on Hindu temples and properties were reported in the media. At least six were killed in the attacks.

Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Kalyan Front, another minority group, in a press conference held in capital Dhaka on Oct. 15 alleged that the ruling party might incite violence against Hindus during Durga Puja to frame its opponents ahead of the national election to be held by next January.

About 91 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 169 million people are Muslims, according to the 2022 national census. About 8 percent are Hindus and the rest belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.

Photo: Durga Puja Festival (Wikimedia)

Further reading about FORB in Bangladesh on HRWF website

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BANGLADESH: The 1971 Bangladesh Genocide, an issue for the EU

The Bangladesh Genocide, an issue for the EU Member States

On 3 July, MEP Fulvio Martusciello (Christian Democrat) hosted a conference about the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide with a number of experts. I was invited as a guest speaker and presented an introductory paper urging the Members of the European Parliament to examine the claims of Bangladeshis to recognize the genocide perpetrated by Pakistan 52 years ago.

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers (https://hrwf.eu)

HRWF (15.07.2023) – On 25 March 1971, Pakistan army began its fateful Operation Searchlight with the intention to eliminate all Bengali opposition in Bangladesh.

Ten million people were displaced, more than 1.5 million people were murdered, and some 300,000 women were raped. The international community knew about these crimes and this genocide but ignored them.

How did it start?

On 14 August 1947, the Dominion of Pakistan was created. East Bengal, with Dhaka as its capital, was then the most populous province of the 1947 Pakistani Federation which was then led by General Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He promised freedom of religion and secular democracy in the new state.

In  March 1948, a few months before he died, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, considered as the father of modern Pakistan, visited East Bengal and proclaimed Urdu the sole national language of the country.

However, the inhabitants wanted the Bengali language to be acknowledged as one of Pakistan’s national languages. There were protests.

In 1952 the Bengali Language Movement was the first serious sign of friction between the country’s geographically separated wings.

In 1956, Pakistan adopted a new constitution. Three Bengalis were its Prime Minister until 1957 but none of the three completed their terms and resigned from office. In 1958, the Pakistan Army imposed military rule.

Ethnic and linguistic discrimination was common in Pakistan’s civil and military services, in which Bengalis were under-represented. Cultural discrimination also prevailed, making East Pakistan forge a distinct political identity. Authorities banned Bengali literature and music in state media.

After the December 1970 elections, calls for the independence of East Bengal became louder; the Bengali-nationalist Awami League won 167 of 169 East Pakistani seats in the National Assembly. The League claimed the right to form a government and develop a new constitution but was strongly opposed by the Pakistani military.

On 25 March 1971, Pakistan army began its fateful Operation Searchlight with the intention to eliminate all Bengali opposition in Bangladesh.

Recognition of the genocide

The issue whether Bangladesh’s independence was accompanied by genocide is hardly controversial. Three renowned institutes come to that conclusion: Genocide Watch, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

Those three institutes call on the international community, and by extension to the UN, to recognize the genocide of Bangladesh in 1971. The Dutch House of Representatives, and other Parliaments in the world are requested to join this plea and formally declare that there was genocide in Bangladesh.

On 21 May of this year, The Netherlands envisaged to recognize the role of Pakistan in Bangladesh Genocide. Notably, a Dutch politician and former Member of the Parliament, Harry van Bommel, stated that the role of the Pakistani Army in committing in 1971 Bangladesh Genocide was obvious and would get global recognition.

It would be to the credit of the Netherlands to strengthen its early involvement in the fate of the Bangladeshis with recognition of the genocide.

The Netherlands would not be the first Western country to pay political attention to the genocide of Bangladesh. In October 2022, U.S. Congressmen Steve Chabot (Republican) and Ro Khanna (Democrat) submitted proposals for recognition of genocide. Earlier that year, it was proposed in the British Parliament to come to recognition.

It would be to the credit of the European Union and its member states to recognize this forgotten genocide and to transmit its souvenir to the over 400 million European citizens.



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BANGLADESH: The 1971 Genocide still unacknowledged

The 1971 Genocide in Bangladesh: still unacknowledged, says a new documentary

3,000,000 people killed, 400,000 women raped, tens of thousands abducted, 43,000 who were girls at the time still missing. Global Human Rights Defence’s movie calls for justice.

By Marco Respinti


Bitter Winter (13.07.2023) – ts 50th anniversary in 2021 brought renewed attention on the genocide perpetrated in Bangladesh by the Pakistani Armed Forces and its allied Islamist local militias in 1971. “Bitter Winter” dedicated a series of eight articles to a tragedy that after more than a half century is still bleeding. Nirmal Rojario (also spelled Rozario and Rosario), a leader of the Bangladeshi Christian community and the acting president of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, explains why. “We are still asking for justice,” he says. “A genocide happened, yet there has not been any trial. So, we want a trial and justice and the attention of the international community.” For this reason, the brand-new documentary released on the subject by Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD), an NGO chaired in The Hague, The Netherlands, by Sradhanand Sital and directed by Lina Borchardt, is timely and important.


Rojario’s and other testimonials, intertwined to evocative as well as distressing credited footage from the archives of the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, are aptly caught on camera by directors Margaux Solinas and Martin Bertrand, resulting in the effective 41 minutes of “What Happened? The Liberation of Bangladesh.” The documentary premiered at the second edition of GHRD’s Human Rights Film Festival on June 30, 2023, in The Hague. Readers may easily understand why it was presented in an international event specifically dedicated to the discrimination and persecution of women in the world. The documentary was also the key feature of “The Forgotten Genocide: Bangladesh 1971,” an event hosted by the European People’s Party in the European Parliament in Brussels on July 3.


When Pakistan (at the time West Pakistan, where the central government resided) decided to ignore the result of the 1970 elections in at-the-time East Pakistan, and militarily moved to launch “Operation Searchlight,” Muktijuddho, or the Bangladesh Liberation War, or War of Independence, exploded. The Mukti Bahini, literally “Freedom Fighters” (a designation which became famous in the following years), or the Bangladeshi patriotic armed resistance, confronted the “Pak Army” (as it is commonly referred to) and Razakars,literally “volunteers.” The term originally designated one of the several paramilitary forces active on the ground. Eventually, it came to identify all the Islamist armed groups allied to the repressive machinery of (West) Pakistan, and later local quislings in general.


“The Pakistani military began a violent crackdown on Bengali opposition with the help of radical Islamist groups,” recounts Meghna Guhathakurta (also spelled Guha Tarkuta), former professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, today Executive Director at Research Initiatives, Bangladesh. 14-15 years old at the time, she is the daughter of Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta (1920‒1971), a provost at the Jagannath Hall of the University of Dhaka, a residence hall for minority students (Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and others). She saw her father mortally injured during a sweeping operation conducted by Pakistani soldiers on the very first night of the war, March 25, 1971. He passed away on the 30th. By then, the genocide of civilians had begun, lasting for the entire period of the war, nine months. Meghna and her remaining family were secretly sheltered by Catholic nuns of the Holy Cross School, who hid them behind fake European names to conceal their Hindu identity.


In 1971, Bengali Christians were around 300,000 (they are close to one million today). “In 1971, almost 1,700 Christians took directly part in the Liberation war as freedom fighters,” says Rojario in the documentary. Two priests (one of whom was American missionary Fr. William P. Evans, 1919‒1971, of the Congregation of the Holy Cross) and a nun were killed, “because they were helping the refugees and displaced people during the war.”


The fate of minorities was in fact particularly harsh. Satek, a youth leader and an activist in Rangamati, a town in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, comments: “The freedom fighters who fought against the Pakistani military fought for equality, social justice and human dignity,” but “after 50 years […] the indigenous peoples of this country did not get these things.” It is part and parcel of the forgotten genocide.


Yet the GHRD’s documentary makes it all clear. Pakistani Islamists tried to impose their despotic rule on what was to become Bangladesh. They were supported by local Bengali Islamists. They tried to completely erase the distinctive culture of the country by hunting those who spoke the forbidden Bangla language and trying to thrust Urdu on everyone. Their enemies were all those who did not accept a fanaticized version of Islam, be they Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or of course less radical Muslims. All these people became refugees in their own land, obliged to leave their homes, which were often destroyed or set on fire (and they “took shelter in many church compounds,” Rojario adds.)


After five decades, Muntassir Mamoon, historian and journalist, appears still surprised on camera. “We didn’t think, let me tell you, frankly, that this sort of thing could happen.” He recalls seeing movies on the Jewish Holocaust, reading books, but he never thought it could happen in his own country. Yet, it did. Saleem Samad, then active in the Mukti Bahini’s intelligence and now a journalist, saw it happening: “They have gone through all the stages: in nine months they could organize events to erase the culture, the tradition… And rape was a weapon of war.”


Resounding high at GHRD’s Human Rights Film Festival, Women Edition, the words of Shireen Huq, a women rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, told all the horrors: “Nobody knows the actual figure of how many women suffered mass rape. […] And no government since independence has made a serious effort to do a census of how many people we lost.” She explains that rape was “so stigmatized” in Bangladeshi society, which blamed it on the victims, not the perpetrators, that it was deemed to bring dishonor to the victims’ families, community, and nation. For decades, this made very difficult for women to admit they had been raped. Only those who suffered severe injuries that could not be hidden, “as a result of being raped maybe multiple times,” brought their testimony to the light. Many never reported the rapes.

Through the mouth of Huq, the documentary narrates the story, which surfaced in 2011, of Jafeera Lohani of Sirajganj, a small town north of Dhaka, who died in 2021. For years she took care of twenty-one “biranganas,” with very few people knowing it. These are women who were raped by the Pakistani Army and the Razakars. “Birangana” is a title given to them as an official recognition on December 22, 1971, six days after the war had ended thanks to the intervention of the Indian Army on behalf of the Bengalis, granting them their right to their homeland and country. It means “war heroine.” The “biranganas” sacrificed themselves for their own people, not differently from freedom fighters who died in combat. Recently, the government granted them a monthly stipend, fair enough to survive, Samad adds.

Photo credits: From the new documentary “What Happened?”

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BANGLADESH: About the recognition of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide

A cause whose time has come: Recognition of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide

On 3 July, the European Parliament hosted an event entitled ‘The Forgotten Genocide: Bangladesh 1971’ but the mood of the meeting was that the true nature of the atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army and its local collaborators 52 years ago can no longer be ignored.


By Nick Powell

EU Reporter (04.07.2023) – In 1971 the deaths of three million people, the rape of more than 200,000 women, the ten million who fled for their lives and took refuge in India, and the thirty million who were internally displaced, shocked many people around the world. The attempt by the Pakistan military to destroy the Bengalis as a people during the Bangladesh War of Independence was recognised, at least by some, for what it was. The headline in the London Sunday Times read simply ‘Genocide’.

A Pakistani commander was quoted as making the genocidal intention clear, stating that “We are determined to rid East Pakistan of the threat of cessation, once and for all, even if it means killing two million people and ruling it as a colony for 30 years”. That target for killings was surpassed but East Pakistan nevertheless achieved independence as Bangladesh, yet after more than 50 years those terrible events have still not been internationally recognised as genocide.

Global Human Rights Defence, an international human rights organisation based in The Hague, held a conference in the European Parliament aimed at convincing MEPs and wider society that the time has come for Europe and the world to recognise the genocide that was so swiftly forgotten in so many countries after 1971. 

Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Fulvio Martusciello took the initiative and hosted the event at the European Parliament though he could not be present there due to flight schedule issues. His speech was delivered by his representative Communication Expert Giuliana Francoisa. 

MEP Isabella Adinolfi focused on the brutalities faced by the Bengali women during the Bangladesh Genocide in 1971 and called for its recognition by the European Parliament. She gave a powerful message from the host MEP Fulvio Martusciello: “It’s time for the EU  to recognize what happened in Bangladesh as a crime against humanity, more than 50 years after the nation was plunged in blood and tyranny”. Another MEP Thierry Mariani was also present at the event. 

The President of Global Human Rights Defence, Sradhnanand Sital, recalled that after the Second World War Europe had said ‘never again’ but in Bangladesh there had been organised genocide, not only against the Hindu minority (who were especially targeted) but all Bengalis. Paul Manik, a human rights activist who experienced the brutality as a youth, called on the European Parliament to recognise that this was not just a large-scale massacre, it was genocide.

The Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, Willy Fautré, explained how years of persecution had culminated in genocide. Since its foundation in 1947, Pakistan had been politically and militarily dominated by West Pakistan, where Urdu was the main language. But the most populous part of the new state was Bengali-speaking East Pakistan. Within a year, Urdu was attempted to be proclaimed the sole national language.

Decades of ethnic and linguistic discrimination against Bengalis followed, with their literature and music banned from state media. The oppression was reinforced by military rule but in December 1970 an election was held. The Awami League, led by Father of the Nation of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, swept to victory, winning all but two of the parliamentary seats representing East Pakistan and a majority in the entire state’s National Assembly. 

Instead of allowing him to form a government, the Pakistan military prepared “Operation Searchlight”, to arrest and kill Bengali political leaders, intellectuals and students. It was a classic attempt to decapitate society and a major step down the road to genocide. The operation was launched on the evening of 25 March 1971, met immediate fierce resistance and led to Bangladesh’s independence being proclaimed in the early hours of the next day, 26 March 197/, by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. 

In a film shown at the conference in the European Parliament, an eyewitness recalled her father, a professor, being shot and left for dead within minutes of his arrest. She and her mother were already trying to help four other dying men before a neighbour discovered her father. By the time he received medical help, there was no hope for him. 

Willy Faubré observed that using the term genocide to refer to such events and the mass killings and rapes that followed should hardly be controversial. Renowned institutes, Genocide Watch, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and the International Association of Genocide Scholars have all come to that conclusion.

Bangladesh’s Ambassador to the European Union, Mahbub Hassan Saleh, said that the European Union is a strong advocate for human rights all over the world, so it would be a great step if the European Parliament and other EU institutions recognised the Bangladesh Genocide.

He said, “… particularly sitting inside the European Parliament, I would only hope that some members of the European Parliament cutting across all political groups will propose a resolution to recognize the Bangladesh Genocide 1971 as soon as possible …”. Ambassador Saleh also said It was the primarily the responsibility of Bangladeshis to tell the world what happened over nine months in 1971. “We don’t lose heart, we have waited 52 years, so we can wait a little more, but we will definitely get international recognition of the Genocide in Bangladesh in 1971”, he added. 

He thanked the organizers for hosting the event in the European Parliament and urged all to lend their hands to strengthen the global campaign for recognition of the Genocide in Bangladesh in 1971. 

The panel of speakers included Andy Vermaut, a human rights activist and President of Postversa who spoke very passionately about the victims and their families of victims of the Bangladesh Genocide 1971.

The event was moderated by Manel Msalmi, International Affairs Advisor to MEPs, who spoke very forcefully about the importance of recognition of the Bangladesh Genocide in 1971. The event was attended by a large number of people of different nationalities including students from academic institutions in Belgium. 


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BANGLADESH: Hindus live in fear of attacks after three violent incidents

BANGLADESH: Hindus live in fear of attacks

Three incidents of violent attacks on members of the minority community last week left one dead and four injured

UCA News (12.06.2023) – Three incidents of attacks on members of Bangladesh’s minority Hindu community last week have left one dead and four injured, just days after its leaders gathered in the national capital Dhaka and expressed fears about a potential upsurge in violence against them ahead of national polls next January.

“We live in an area where the simplest of reasons could end lives. We are conscious of it every moment, trying to avoid picking up a fight with the majority Muslims,” said Prano Das, younger brother of the murdered fish farmer, Dulal Das, 50, from Rajganj in Naokhali district in southeastern Bangladesh.

Noakhali is a coastal district that has a history of Islamist fanaticism. The district witnessed deadly riots that saw Hindus attacked, massacred, raped and Hindu properties looted and set ablaze in 1946 when Bangladesh was part of British India.

Dulal’s body was found with its throat slit, while still seated in a green plastic chair under a tree keeping a night watch on his fish farm in the wee hours of June 9.

Local police arrested a suspect, Abul Hossain, within hours of the murder. He confessed to the crime after being spotted stealing fish from a neighboring pond by Dulal, police said.

The police are also searching for a drug addict who they identified as only Badsha, for assisting Hossain in committing the crime. He would frequent Dulal’s property to consume drugs there and often taunt the Hindu man and his family, police said.

“Try to imagine how it feels like living in a place where simple matters could mean death,” Prano said.

The Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council in a June 10 statement said such murders are hard to accept in a democratic country.

Monindra Kumar Nath, joint secretary of the Council, said: “Insecurity is a mild word to be used in this context and cannot explain the whole situation. These attacks happen routinely and the perpetrators of such attacks are rarely brought to justice.”

On June 7, Apu Karmaker, the Hindu owner of a gold shop, was critically injured when stabbed during a robbery in a bustling market at Lakshmipur, located 137 kilometers southeast of Dhaka.

The injured man was shifted to a Dhaka hospital and underwent surgery while his brother, Tapan Karmaker, who accompanied him, kept worrying about the safety of the women in the family back home.

In an earlier incident, Suresh Majhi from Bhagyakul in Munshiganj district in central Bangladesh had to wait for three days to file a complaint with the police after his house was stormed, vandalized, and looted on June 5 by a Muslim mob.

Majhi and his wife were not home when the attack took place but his nephew, an employee and an Indian guest who were present were beaten up.

“There was no reason behind the attack,” Majhi said, naming eight of the attackers in his complaint.

Hindus account for 8 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 165 million people, according to the 2022 national census.

When the British partitioned India in 1947 along religious lines, West Bengal with a Hindu majority joined India and East Bengal (now Bangladesh) became part of Muslim-majority Pakistan. At that time, Hindus in Pakistan accounted for about 21 percent.

Activists say the attack on Hindus, often politically motivated, is a major factor behind the migration of Hindus to India and the decline of Bangladesh’s Hindu population.

Last month, the annual United States International Religious Freedom report accused the Bangladesh government of failing to protect its minorities amidst atrocities that continued through 2022.

The report pointed out that the perpetrators of violence continued to enjoy impunity, saying that the government’s nonchalance could at times be interpreted as favors to the perpetrators of minority attacks.

Photo: Leaders and members of minority groups march in capital Dhaka on Oct. 16, 2021, to demand justice for communal attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh. (Photo supplied)

Further reading about FORB in Bangladesh on HRWF website

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