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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2521

Rape Used As Weapon For Land And Votes In Bangladesh

By Rabindranath Trivedi

The morning after the night of ......., 2001 when we all died with one of the greatest shame of Bangladesh in the new millennium. And three years later we say to the minority girls and women victims of Char Fashion in Bhola, we have not forgotten you as we pay our tribute to you for your unique courage and strength to overcome the indignities and tortures unleashed on you by the hitherto unknown brand of Bangladeshi men whose atrocities have not been equaled anywhere else in the world in the twenty first century.

Bangladesh: Remembering ......, 2001 and Rape of Bhola

A heinous war crime was thus perpetrated on the minority girls and women of Bangladesh by a group of zealots in the month following the election of BNP, Jamat and other hardliner parties in Bangladesh. Of the many news reports and other related stories that took up the front page of every newspaper in the country on the next day and on other days that followed, as well as a January 2002 investigative report by an HRCBM Dhaka team led by Rosaline Costa, we have chosen to reproduce below "The night of the lost nose-pins" (by Mohammad Badrul Ahsan) from the editorial page of the Daily Star of November 16, 2001.Because this reminds us again of the Rape of Bhola infamy. It further reminds us that the criminals are still at large and that this unforgivable crime should never be allowed to be forgotten.

Twelve years ago in 2001, six families hailing of down trodden family Rishi, Cobler, of Tuniaghara village of Monirampur, Jessore were uprooted after the BNP-Jamaat alliance came to power. Some Muslims of adjacent areas forced into gang raped two housewive.

Police took no action as the Rishi families could not file case with Monirampur Police Station. All these ill-fated families left their village selling their land within 15 days. ( DS, 17 Jan 2014) Masked gunmen stormed two Hindu homes at Hazrail Rishipara of Monirampur upazila in Jessore on Tuesday 8 January night and Wednesday9 January2014, tied up men and children and raped two housewives in front of their family members for voting in the election.

The incident was just two days after the attack on Hindus at Malopara in Abhaynagar of Jessore on election day The two women filed two cases with Monirampur Police Station.Some seven to eight masked gunmen stormed a hut of the village around 10:00pm on Tuesday.

The second victim in an interview with a television channel said, “They broke into our house and tied up my husband, father and mother in-laws and children and then one of them raped me.” She said the incident happened around 2:30am on Wednesday. In the morning, the entire family of a victim had left the area in fear. Atrocities on the Hindus, however, are still going on.

Meanwhile, the raped women of Jessore's Rishipara and their families have fled their homes fearing further attacks while male members of the community in different parts of the country are spending sleepless nights, taking turns in guarding their villages.

The Hindu villagers in Abhayanagar upazila of Jessore, on Election Day had to pay a price for exercising their democratic right to vote. With 130 houses vandalized and 10 houses burnt down some 600 Hindus had to flee their village by swimming across the Bhairab River as BNP-Jamaat men allegedly unleashed terror. There have been allegations that police, ruling Awami league leaders and the administration didn’t promptly respond to their calls of help. Police arrived much later after the carnage was complete. Lashing a déjà vu of 1971, Jamaat-Shibir fanatics wreaked havoc on the Hindu community across the country. They damaged temples, including one of Buddhists, and torched houses and business establishments of Hindu people in Noakhali, Gaibandha, Chittagong, Rangpur, Sylhet, Chapainawabganj and elsewhere in the country.It is a repetition of minority hunting policy of Pakistani regimes in 1971. And by BNP Jamaat axis has done in the pre and post October Election in 2001.

In October 2001 election, the incidence of violence was the highest. Minorities were violated in 2,685 villages in the country. Minorities were debarred from casting votes in the election. They were obstructed from casting their votes on the way to the voting center. In this context, it may be asked why the incidents of violence on minorities were so high during the eighth parliamentary election in 2001 compared to elections immediately before that. It was probably because social control mechanisms regulating violence faltered more during this election than before. It was widely observed that the caretaker government, throughout its tenure, remained quite indifferent to the violence perpetrated by the four party alliances in the contest for winning the election. The government formed after the alliance won the election was absolutely blind to the violence that the BNP cadres were committing against their political rivals. Today, it is with a huge degree of shame that one must recount the havoc wreaked on Hindus following the electoral triumph of the BNP-Jamaat alliance in October 2001.

Supporters of the alliance went on a rampage, beating and raping and killing Hindus in no fewer than 2,685 villages in the country. No action was taken against the marauders. Our grievance is that even today, with the conclusion of the general election of January 5,2014 Hindus all over the country cower in fear of elements which have been threatening them since before the voting. As our news reports over the past few days have made it clear, there were patent threats held out against the community in various regions of the country. Why were these threats not taken seriously by the administration? Where were the measures that should have ensured their security as citizens of Bangladesh?

According to United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) 2003 report, an unknown number of Hindus and other religious minorities from Bangladesh remained internally displaced or were asylum seekers in India as a result of post-election violence that began in October 2001.Nearly 7,000 Bangladeshis sought asylum elsewhere during the year, including more than 1,100 in Austria, more than 1,000 in the Slovak Republic, and nearly 1,000 in the US. In the weeks following the Oct 1, 2001, general elections, Bangladesh witnessed an outburst of systematic attacks on the minority Hindu community across the country, in addition to attacks on activists of the freshly ousted Awami League.

By Oct 8 that year, at least 30 people had been killed and more than 1,000 others injured. Their houses were torched, ransacked and in many cases seized, women were raped, and temples were desecrated.

Among the worst hit were the Hindu-dominated areas in Barisal, Bhola, Pirojpur, Satkhira, Jessore, Khulna, Kushtia, Jhenidah, Bagerhat, Feni, Tangail, Noakhali, Natore, Bogra, Sirajganj, Munshiganj, Narayanganj, Narsingdi, Brahmanbaria, Gazipur and Chittagong. Many Hindu families reportedly fled their homes and sought refuge in areas considered 'safe.' The Bangladesh Observer, a Dhaka daily, reported that at least 10,000 people of the minority community from Barisal district had left their homes following attacks by activists of the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami party and had taken shelter in neighbouring Gopalganj district, the electorate of the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.Many others fled to the Indian states of Tripura and West Bengal. The government of Zia that took office after winning a two-thirds majority in the poll denied these incidents. Against this background, it is probably not surprising to find that the human rights abuse minorities received under Pakistan’s framework also continues in Bangladesh. The Hindu temples are damaged. Temple sites and other property are unlawfully occupied with new structures erected on them. Young girls are abducted for forcible marriages into Islam. Police authorities dismissively discourage investigation for such cases with communal undertones. Naturally, despite a constitution that guarantees all citizens equal protection of law (Article 27), minorities in Bangladesh do not live with the confidence that their human rights will be respected. The minority population has dropped (through emigration) from 23% in 1954 to 11% in 2001.

Bangladesh's Hindu community once again is under grievous assault. In the aftermath of the recent 5th January, 10th general elections in Bangladesh, hundreds of Hindus have fled their homes in pre and post election of such regions as Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Rajshahi, Jessore , Nilphamari,and Chittagong. Fanatics vandalised idols and torched temples in Comilla, Netrokona and Bhola, Noakhali , Nilphamari, Barisal, Khulna, Perojpur and more or less all over Bangladesh creating widespread panic among the Hindu community since February 28,2013.On that day, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 awarded death penalty to Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee for his crimes against humanity during the country’s Liberation War. Lashing a déjà vu of 1971, Jamaat-Shibir fanatics wrecked havoc on the Hindu community across the country.They damaged temples, including one of Buddhists, and torched houses and business establishments of Hindu people in Noakhali, Gaibandha, Chittagong, Rangpur, Sylhet, Chapainawabganj and elsewhere in the country. In Rajganj of Noakhali, Jamaat-Shibir men set ablaze a temple and eight houses of the Hindu community.In the last week of December 2013, Joint drives of law enforcers have stopped widespread Jamaat-Shibir violence in Satkhira for the time being and people fear the top Jamaat leaders of the district would instigate violence again as they remain at large .Even high officials who led the joint drives admit that they could not make any significant arrests as the people who allegedly instigated the violence had fled the district. Several hundred Hindus and ruling Awami League leaders of Satkhira have been fleeing their homes over the last few days in the wake of massive violence unleashed by Jamaat-Shibir men in the district.

Some had even moved to India through legal or illegal means.The report also shows a distressing trend of communal violence in 2013. According to the published items in the local dailies, in Bangladesh 459 temples have been ransacked, 700 women were violated and thousands Hindus left Bangladesh particularly in the border areas. It is also reported that India Government will initiate Refugee Camps in the border zone, ( Arthonity protidin, 19 Dec 13) Around three years ago, a judicial commission that probed the 2001 post-polls violence had made some recommendations to stop the recurrence of such atrocities, but the suggestions went totally unheeded.

"Had the government implemented our recommendations, the recent attacks on the minorities could have been prevented," said Mohammad Shahabuddin, chief of the three-member judicial commission who is now serving as a commissioner at the Anti-Corruption Commission.The judicial commission recommended setting up an investigation committee or commission in each district to bring to book the perpetrators who killed 355 people and committed 3,270 other offences between October 2001 and December 2002. To bring harmony in the community the report recommends setting up an investigation committee in each district to bring the criminals to book. It also suggests, among other recommendations that the government needs to form social groups in each community to protect the minority living under continuous threat of attacks.The commission's report finds that during the tenure of the four-party alliance, 409 cases had been filed in connection with the post-polls violence, out of which police submitted final reports in 145 cases. The commission had identified around 22,000 persons involved (weekly the STAR, 17 Jan 14)

Large-Scale Exodus of Hindus

It may be recalled that a very large-scale exodus of Hindus took place at the time of the partition of India in August 1947, when for understandable reasons it became a question of the survival of the community in a country fashioned out of a so-called two-nation theory. Three years later, in 1950, communal riots led to a newer group of Hindus leaving what was then East Pakistan and making their way to neighboring West Bengal in India.In 1964, through the instigation of the Ayub-Monem clique in Pakistan, more Hindus left East Pakistan.

The crisis was contained only when a secular Bangalee political leadership, among whom was the future Bangabandhu, put up a determined resistance against communalism and succeeded in containing what might have become a conflagration. 52 lacs Hindus had migrated to India between 1947 and 24 March 1971. Why Hindu populated areas in the northern and south-western part of Bangladesh?

Why Hindu areas have been transformed into an inauspicious outpost of Islamic militancy and terrorism?

During the War of Liberation in 1971,it was an openly calculated design of the Pakistani rulers for achieving their objective of gradually making East Pakistan an entirely Muslim territory besides terrorizing non-communal political forces The policy of Hindu-hunting helped Pakistan since 1950 to take advantage also of practically one-way traffic exchange of population. They were 100% successful in 1971. The number of refugee started increasing rapidly, i.e., from the 10th April to 30th April it was 57,000 per day; 102,000 per day in May; 68,000 per day in June; 26,000 per day in July; 34,000 per day in August; 27,000 per day in September; 14,000 per day in October and 8,000 per day in November 1971.

Bangladesh was achieved through fire, A joint declaration signed by Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, which was released on February 8, 1972 announced that all remaining Indian troops would be withdrawn from Bangladesh by March 25, 1972. “The Prime Minister of Bangladesh solemnly reaffirmed his resolve to ensure by every means the return of all refugees who had taken shelter in India since March 25, 1971, and to strive by every means to safeguard their safety, human dignity and means of livelihood. The two Prime Ministers noted with satisfaction that the refugees were returning to Bangladesh, and that nearly 7,000,000 had already returned in the short space of six weeks.” (Keesing Contemporary Achieves)| Since then, Bangladesh was -a secular democratic state, a state, which makes no difference between a citizen, and a citizen, which deals fairly with all irrespective of caste, creed or community in the Constitution of Bangladesh-1972. After August 1975, subsequent military regimes in Bangladesh changed the course of the nation by adopting Fifth Amendment in 1977 and become a theocratic state by declaring ‘Islam as a state religion’ in 1988.

The Shiekh Hasina’s government's failure to give adequate protection to Hindus and punish the perpetrators of the previous atrocities is the main reason of the recurrence of violence against the religious minority, speakers observed at a discussion on January 16.They demanded a special tribunal to put the attackers, regardless of their political identities, to trial immediately.Against the backdrop of arsons, vandalism, and sexual assault on Hindus across the country following the January 5 polls, Jagannath Hall Alumni Association of Dhaka University organised the programme in thecapital's Cirdap auditorium urging the state and citizenry to "stand against terrorism and violence against religious minorities". The High Court has directed the government to immediately provide adequate security to the minority communities and other people vulnerable to post-polls attacks.

The HC directive came yesterday in the wake of attacks on Hindus and people adherent to ruling Awami League across the country surrounding the January 5 elections.The home secretary, the inspector general of police, the director general of Rapid Action Battalion and the deputy commissioners of Dhaka, Natore, Jessore, Dinajpur, Gaibandha, Satkhira, Jhalakathi, Tangail, Bogra, Pirojpur, Chandpur and Netrokona districts have been made respondents to the suomoto rule of the HC. The HC also ordered the respondents to explain why the citizens, who were already victimised or have lost life, liberty, dignity and property, should not be compensated.The HC bench of Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque and Justice ABM Altaf Hossain came up with the orders and rule following reports published on the daily Prothom Alo on January 7 and the daily Amader Shomoy on January 13 on the attacks on the minority communities and the damage done to their houses, temples and shops after the 10th parliamentary polls.Some Supreme Court lawyers led by Advocate Parimal Chandra Guha placed the newspaper reports before the judges. HRCBM- Bangladesh Chapter supported all documents to Advocate Parimal Chandra Guha.

The successive post-1975 military governments have changed the concept of nationalism from Bengali nationalism-characterized by ethno-linguistic identities and not by religious (Muslim) identity - to Bangladeshi nationalism-characterised by religious (Muslim) identity of the Bangladeshi majority- which make them distinct from the Bengali Hindus of the Indian state of West Bengal who never showed any interest in forming a separate state based on Bengali nationalism. People ousted the military regime of Gen.H M Ershad in 1990 and established parliamentary form of government in 1991 Garga Chatterjee , a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, opined, “Still one cannot but hope that the People’s Republic of Bangladesh would live up to some of its original ideals. Minorities have fled the nation-state for want of security in large numbers, year after year. There is significant presence of minorities in the bureaucracy and local administration. Even during the recent spate of violence, the state has transferred police officials for failing to provide security. This reality exists too. It is this reality that partly prevents a mass exodus of Hindus beyond the levels seen at present. For many, they have too much to lose to be able to leave. And that is a problem for a religious majoritarian nation-state. (The Hindu, 16 Jan 14)

Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired Addl. Secretary, GoB, an organizer and Freedom Fighter of Bangladesh War 1971. Secretary General, HRCBM.

- Asian Tribune -

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