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Hindu Bengalis of east Pakistan and Bangladesh: A persecuted & forgotten community

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During early 2019, I chanced upon the news of an article entitled “No Hindu will be left after 30 years”. The article pertained to Bangladesh and was written by Dr Abul Barkat, a professor of Economics in Dhaka University in his book ‘Political economy of reforming agriculture-land-water bodies in Bangladesh’. The book was published in November 2016. The title of the article sounded dramatic to me at first. But when I read it, I was jolted from my worst geo-politico-religious slumber.

While addressing his book launching ceremony in Dhaka University Dr Barkat said, “From 1964 to 2013, around 11.3 million Hindus left Bangladesh due to religious persecution and discrimination”. It means on an average 632 Hindus left the country each day and 230,612 annually.

The Hindu Bengalis of West Bengal, including descendants of refugees from East Pakistan and Bangladesh, have all along been melting with ‘Epar Bangla, Opar Bangla’ sentiment and practicing secularism with all assertiveness. They have been shouting on Hindu-Muslim unity among Bengalis on either side of border. However, in West Bengal some such refugees, a generation back, used to lament ‘Aamago Ekta Deysh Aasilo’ (we had a village / town / district / country).

Blinded by secularism, some refugees like Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya even publicly ate beef in Kolkata during 2015 to express solidarity with Muslims of India. But at what cost they have been doing so? This collective amnesia of Hindu Bengali refugees about their trauma, loss and plight was a direct result of their initiation to Communism in West Bengal, which whitewashed their past painful memories. These refugees and their descendants even have become Muslim leaning and show classic manifestation of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.  

During January 2018, there was a massive and violent protest by Muslims of West Bengal to settle Rohingya Muslims in the state. Surprisingly, Hindu Bengalis of West Bengal during last seven decades never wanted to know about the plight of Hindu Bengalis in East Pakistan / Bangladesh and refugees from there. For them the latter did not exist. This dichotomy of behavior between Hindu Bengalis and Muslim Bengalis of West Bengal, about their respective fellow co-religionists in adjacent countries and their refugee status in India, was too obvious and vociferous to me.

Yasmin Khan, in her book “The Great Partition: The making of India and Pakistan” (published in 2008 by Yale University), has pointed out that unlike North West India, migration of Hindus from East Pakistan to India was prolong and convoluted.

She wrote that Hindus, unlike in West Pakistan, did not migrate from East Pakistan en masse during 1946-48. It happened gradually. “By 1951, there were at least three million (Hindu) refugees squeezed into every nook and cranny of Calcutta…………. The war of 1971, and secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan, exacerbated the human crisis in the region and, by 1973; West Bengal was coping with a (Hindu) refugee population of around six million……

Fears of outright persecution were strengthened by real assaults and murders of East Bengali (Hindus) in the grievous riots in Khulna, Chittagong, Barisal and Sylhet in 1950 and the ruthless requisitioning of Hindu property by a partisan and unaccountable state administration………

The riots in East Bengal (East Pakistan) 1950 proved the final straw for Mandal (Jogendra Nath Mandal) and many others. Mandal wrote to Liaqaut Ali Khan ‘News of killing of hundreds of innocent Hindus in trains, on railway lines between Dacca and Narayanganj, and Dacca and Chittagong gave me the rudest shock’……

By early 1950, some of the Congress (party members of India) regarded war as possibly the only solution that would stop the tide of refugees, push back (East) Pakistan’s borders and create a safe zone for non-Muslims (Hindus) in East Bengal (East Pakistan) which could be subsumed within Indian Territory.”     

The persecution of Hindus which started during 1947 in East Pakistan was carried out continuously by state sponsored indulgence and support in both East Pakistan / Bangladesh through decades and compelled Dr Abul Barkat to make such objective observation as late as in 2016.

I hope that the Hindu youths of West Bengal need to revisit the history of persecution of Hindu Bengalis in East Pakistan / Bangladesh and their painful migration to West Bengal (and Assam). What puzzles me most is the fact that between 1951 and 2011, proportion of Hindus had reduced in East Pakistan / Bangladesh from 22% to 9%. But, Muslim population in West Bengal has increased from 19.5% to 27% during the same period despite migration of millions of Hindus from East Pakistan and Bangladesh into the state.

This gross fallacy of population growth needs close scrutiny. And story of the plight of millions of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan and Bangladesh to West Bengal (and Assam) needs to be rekindled and recorded in right premise to shake up the Hindu Bengalis of West Bengal from their misplaced secular slumber.       

Millions of Hindu Bengalis were forced to leave East Pakistan / Bangladesh from 1947 in continuous fashion with major peaks in 1950 (Partition), 1964 (Hazarbal crisis), 1971 (Liberation war) and 1992 (Babri mosque). The worst was in 1971. Pakistani rulers inflamed the passion of Jihad during 1970 among the East Pakistani Bengali Muslims who formed Jihadi organizations like Al Badr, Al Shams and Rajakar and got engaged in ethnic cleansing of Hindu Bengalis of East Pakistan. It was estimated that out of 30 lakhs East Pakistanis killed during Bangladesh liberation, 25 lakhs were Hindus. Pakistani rulers thought that by channelizing Jihad of local East Pakistani Muslim Bengalis against East Pakistani Hindu Bengalis, the former would be able to save East Pakistan.

The writer-philosopher George Santayana is credited with the phrase: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Hindu Bengalis of West Bengal don’t remember their past ethnic cleansing in East Pakistan and Bangladesh, they are doomed to repeat it in near future in West Bengal also. This is no BJP/RSS propaganda, as I have given references from to two Muslim scholars here.

Sweeping the rude facts of persecution of Hindu Bengalis in East Pakistan and Bangladesh under the secular carpet of West Bengal will not be of any help. There is a term called “Collective Memory”, that enables those cruel stories of sufferings to come back to haunt the community, even after generations, and in absence of any conscious effort.

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