The Perils of Declining Population in the Nation of Sheikh Hasina
Despite Mahatma Gandhi’s intervention, more than 5,000 Hindus were massacred, thousands of Hindu women were raped and an equal number of people were forcibly converted to Islam in Noakhali district (in present-day Bangladesh) in 1946. Frustrated, Gandhi asked the Hindus to “Leave Noakhali or die”. The Hindu population of Noakhali saw a steady decline. Atrocities against them continued even after they had become a tiny minority in the In 1940, the Hindu population was 28% while it fell to 8.96% in 2011.
The major decline in Hindu demographics occurred first during partition and then during the Bangladesh War of 1971. Radicalized Pakistani army men massacred thousands of Hindus. These declining numbers are a stark indicator of the deeply hostile anti-Hindu environment prevailing in this country.
Various experts and social scientists have warned that the Hindu population in Bangladesh is about to decline rapidly. No Hindu will remain in Bangladesh in 30 years if the current rate of “exodus” continues, as an average of 632 people from the minority community leave the Muslim-majority country every day, according to Dr Abul Barkat, a professor at the University from Dhaka. “The rate of exodus over the past 49 years points in that direction.” In his book, The Political Economy of Agricultural Reform: Terrestrial Water Bodies in Bangladesh, he writes that “there will be no more Hindus in Bangladesh within 30 years…The rate of exodus over the past 49 years points in this direction”. According to his research, around 11.3 million Hindus were forced to flee Bangladesh due to religious persecution from 1964 to 2013.
From 1964 to 2013, around 11.3 million Hindus left Bangladesh due to religious persecution and discrimination, which means an average of 632 Hindus left the country every day and 230,612 per year. Dr Barkat said he discovered that the exodus mainly took place under military governments after independence in 1971. Before the war of liberation, the daily rate of migration was 705 while it was 512 in 1971-1981 and 438 in 1981-1991. The number rose to 767 people per day between 1991 and 2001, while around 774 people left the country between 2001 and 2012, the book says.
AU Professor Ajoy Roy said that the government seized properties from Hindus under Pakistani rule, describing them as enemy property and that the same properties were taken over by the government after independence as property acquired, according to the report. According to the book, these two measures made 60% of Hindus landless.
Priya Saha, a Hindu activist for children’s rights, who participated in the Second Ministerial Meeting to Advance Religious Freedom held at the US State Department in Washington, DC, July 16-18, 2019, said to President Trump at the time: “Sir, I am from Bangladesh…37 million Hindus, Buddhists and Christians are missing. Please help us – for Bangladeshi minorities. We want to stay in our country. Instead of curbing violence against minorities, the Government of Bangladesh has targeted it. David Bergman, a Bangladesh-based investigative journalist, in an op-ed (The Politics of Bangladesh’s Genocide Debate, April 5, 2016, New York Times) also refers to the Hindu genocide: “There is no doubt that there was numerous atrocities, including rapes, deportations and massacres of civilians, perpetrated by the Pakistani military, sometimes aided by pro-Pakistani militias. Some of them included members of the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party that remains a powerful force in Bangladesh today. There is an academic consensus that this campaign of violence, especially against the Hindu population, was genocide.
Massive protest by Hindus
To protest the violence against Hindus, various Hindu organizations recently staged a massive demonstration in Chittagong. “Demonstrations by various Hindu organizations in Shahbagh and across the country have also been held peacefully to protest against the radical jihadist barbaric attack on Hindus in Narail Sahapara,” Hindu Sangbad, a Bangladeshi news outlet.
The Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also ordered the Ministry of Home Affairs to investigate the attacks and determine whether there was negligence in their prevention. In addition, the NHRC said violence in a “secular country” is never acceptable.
Hindus and other minorities are treated as second-class citizens in Bangladesh. Although Sheikh Mujibur Rehman included secularism as one of the four fundamental guiding principles in Bangladesh’s first constitution in 1972, the army that overthrew the government established an “Islamic state”. General Ziaur Rahman’s government has removed the word “secularism”. Then General Ershad made Islam the state religion by introducing Article 2A, which stated that “the state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and in harmony in the Republic” (8th Amendment, 1988).
“There will be no more Hindus in Bangladesh in 30 years… The rate of exodus over the past 49 years points in this direction” — Dr Aboul BarkatProfessor, University of Dhaka
In 2011, Sheikh Hasina reinstated “secularism” in the Constitution, but maintained Islam as the state religion and made no changes to the preamble, retaining its religious invocation (15th Amendment). There are hostile laws that discriminate against Hindus. Banks are advised to regulate loans to Hindus.
In 1965, after the Indo-Pakistani War, Pakistan enacted the Enemy Property Act (EPA) which gave the government unlimited powers to appropriate properties from Hindus. The new Republic of Bangladesh retained the EPA under a new name, the Acquired Property Act (1974), by which the Government of Bangladesh vested “enemy” properties previously seized since the 1965 war and continued to use the discriminatory law to confiscate Hindu lands.
In 2001, the Awami League attempted to restore Hindu property to its rightful owners through the Acquired Property Restoration Act 2001; but it was nothing more than an eyewash. The requirements were too onerous and did not translate into any advantage at ground level. As a result of these measures, the Hindus lost over 2 million acres of land.