Assessment for Hindus in Bangladesh
|Publisher||Minorities at Risk Project|
|Publication Date||31 December 2000|
|Cite as||Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Hindus in Bangladesh, 31 December 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a591e.html [accessed 6 March 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The Hindus in Bangladesh have a history of persistent but low-level protest. There are two factors which increases the likelihood of future protest: the limited time that has elapsed since Bangladesh returned to democratic rule and recent repression against the group. There were widespread reports of violence against Hindus during the 2001 elections. The growing influence of radical Islamists on the Bangladesh government might result in increasing attacks on the minority community. A state commitment to maintaining law and order will be essential for preventing deterioration of Hindus' situation.
The Hindus are widely dispersed across Bangladesh (GROUPCON = 0). They have migrated among regions within the country, most often due to threats of or actual attacks by other communal groups.
Religion is the major factor differentiating the Bangladeshi Hindus from the majority Muslim population (CULDIFX4 = 2). The two groups share the same culture and language and have close ties with their Bengali kin who live in neighboring India.
The Hindus have resided in present-day Bangladesh since prior to the 1800s. When the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 to create India and Pakistan, the Hindus formed around 31% of East Pakistan. However, just four years later, the Hindu population in East Pakistan had declined to 24%. Many upper class and wealthy Hindus chose to move to India's West Bengal province. Further migrations occurred in 1971 when West Pakistan sought to militarily suppress the East Pakistani independence movement. Some 10 million East Pakistanis fled to India, most of whom were Hindus who were subject to persecution by West Pakistani military personnel.
The founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, enshrined secularism in the country's first constitution. But in 1977, the country's military ruler, Ziaur Rahman, removed this principle as Bangladesh turned toward the Middle East for political, economic, and cultural reasons. A decade later Islam was declared as the state religion by General Ershad. Concurrently, Islamic forces within the country began to gain political clout.
In the mid-1990s, Bangladesh returned to democratic rule. The Hindus are considered at risk as they are subject to current discrimination; they are disadvantaged due to past discrimination, and they support political organizations that advocate greater group rights. The minority group has also been the target of attacks during elections and religious festivals.
In 2001, there were widespread reports of violence against Hindus before and during the elections (INTERCON03 = 1). While the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) denied involvement in the attacks, the opposition Awami League alleged that BNP and its allies were responsible. As a result of the attacks, there was a reported exodus of Hindus from Bangladesh to India (DMEMPO03 = 1). This appears to have abated in 2002-2003. In 2001-2003, amidst growing national and international concern, the BNP took steps to heighten security during the main Bengali Hindu festival, Durga Puja. While sporadic attacks on temples continue, the situations has improved greatly since the election violence. The US State Department's 2002 International Religious Freedom Reports says that Bangladeshis are generally free to practice the religion of their choice and that the rise in crime during the elections increased public perceptions of the vulnerability of minorities.
The Hindus face demographic stress due to dispossession from their land which is the result of the 1974 Vested and Non-Resident Property (Administration) Ordinance. This law allowed the government to confiscate the property of residents who have left the country. It has also been used to takeover the land of Hindus who still reside in the country. In 2001, the Bangladesh government passed a bill to enable it to return some of the confiscated property, Serious doubts remain on the actual implementation of this, particularly because there is no deadline in effect for the return of the land.
Political and economic discrimination against the Hindus is largely the result of prevailing social practice (POLDIS03 = 3, ECDIS03 = 3); there have been few official efforts to redress the situation. Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh are disadvantaged in terms of access to government jobs and political office as selection boards often lack minority group representation.
Most Hindus are concerned about obtaining political rights such equal civil rights and a share of political power. While the Hindus are a dispersed group, the majority are represented by broad-based conventional political parties such as the Awami League (GOJPA03 = 2). In 2000, the Servajanin Puja Udjapar Committee Conference, which appears to be a new Hindu organization, demanded various changes including the repeal of the Vested Property Act, the rebuilding of temples destroyed during the violence in 1971, and the restoration of a secular constitution. In 2001 and 2002, low-level protest activity was organized by Hindu leaders (PROT01 = 2, PROT02 = 1). The group has not engaged in violence.
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