The Persecution Narrative against the Hindu Minority in Bangladesh

False information about Bangladesh's treatment of minorities?

In the wake of the recent eruption of communal violence in Bangladesh against Hindu minorities, countless arguments and numerous criticisms have been brought to light. Something odd is happening—Bangladesh is being painted by elements as a violent state from which Hindus are being persecuted and fleeing away, into India continuously. Hindus are being tortured in Bangladesh.

Some claimed that Bangladesh has become quite a case of ethnic cleansing- subtly but forcefully pushing Hindu minorities across the border. Some even went further, claiming that Bangladesh had failed to form a state where different religious and ethnic groups can coexist based on the principle of secularism- one of the four fundamental pillars of the liberation war in 1971.

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To seek evidence for those criticisms, most of them point fingers to the continuous decline of Hindu minority population in Bangladesh- a case drawn to demonstrate Bangladesh as a prolific ground of persecution against Hindu. But an objective look at those allegations, especially through comprehensive statistical appraisal, relative systemic endeavors and the broader political landscape, makes them, in most part, lose their strength.

A country of communal harmony like Bangladesh is rare in the world. Despite being a Muslim-majority country, for thousands of years other religions have been living together in a very peaceful and harmonious environment. In the 50 years of independence, there were no communal riots like in another South Asian country.  In Bangladesh there were no incidents of killing, oppression or torture of people of different religions.

Even if there are some isolated incidents, the fuel and motivation of some anti-Bangladeshi people are behind it, only common people can understand. Those who are behind these incidents must be investigated and judicial action must be taken against them. The reason mystery for this is not difficult to understand. Domestic and foreign conspirators always remain elusive. However, the government should be alert and aware of the fact that those behind the scenes are at worl. Some vested quarters have become active and may try to destabilize the government by questioning the communal harmony in the upcoming national elections.

The Bangladesh government tries to take all measures to maintain communal harmony in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony as people of different faiths have been living on this soil in peace from time immemorial. Members of Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian communities have been living here from time immemorial in amity and peace

Minority is such a phenomenon which every country must possess, be it ethnic or linguistic or religious. But state sanctioned discriminatory policy, inherent ethnic or religious tension or historical schism mobilized for political advantage usually contribute to violence against minorities. However, in Bangladesh mostly politically cornered vested groups have played the minority card to stoke a crisis and tame the situation to their ends. Besides long cherished pluralistic sentiment in Bangladesh is, rather in times, menaced by ‘spill-over effect of politics and policies in proximate neighbors, of course by political fringe groups.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has said already the government will ensure strict action against people who disturb communal harmony in the country.

“No communal disharmony will be allowed here. Government is firm to ensure punishment for those who ransack communal harmony creating anarchy,” he said.

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Khan said this while addressing Indian media personnel in Dhaka in view of the recent attack on the Hindu community in Narail over a social media post.

He said that Bangladesh was trying to achieve a long-lasting development but a vested quarter was trying to dismantle things.

“Today’s Bangladesh is Bangabandhu Sheik Mujib’s non-communal Bangladesh. We are a united nation. No communal disharmony will be placed here and will never get the opportunity to take root here.”

“The government will take stern action against all such evils,” the Home Minister said, claiming the number of minority communities, including Hindus was increasing in Bangladesh.

According to the BBS (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics) data, the percentage of Hindu community to total population was 13.5 percent in 1974, on Bangladesh’s first population census, which, as of the latest census in 2011, stands at 8.5 percent, and again increases to 10.7 percent in 2015. Ostensibly, these statistical figures, continuous decline in percentage, seem to confer voice to predominant arguments about the decline of Hindu population. But, mere percentage estimation tells only a half truth about the broader demographic landscape of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh. If we take the increase in total number, other than mere percentage, over the years along with other factors that have contributed to decline, into account, it will substantially clarify the whole picture and weaken the predominant narratives about persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh.

Taking the total number into account, in 1974, the number of Hindus was 10.31 million which hit slightly above 12.7 million in 2011 and was 17 million in 2015. It is seen that the total number has remained increasing whereas percentage of total population has fallen , due to relatively higher growth in the Muslim population from 65.24 million in 1974 to 135.4 million in 2011. It is true that growth in numbers is a little slow among Hindu population and could hit 22 million by 2011 only if it increased linearly in terms of percentage as reported in 1974 (13.5 percent). But that is not because of any systematic persecution against the minority rather, in most part, international economic migration, relatively lower birth and high mortality rate among Hindu population, higher rate of contraceptive use and particular political reality in the history of Bangladesh.

According to the study paper prepared by researchers from ICDDR, B’s Health Systems and Population Studies Division and the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), studying the population data of 1989-2016 of Matlab Upazila in Chandpur to find out why Hindus have lower population growth than Muslims, the birth rate of Hindu populace in every thousand falls short by 3 points compared to Muslims. While the probability of having a child among the Muslim women is 35, it is 32 among Hindu women.

The study found that the tendency to late marriage and having not more than two children and relatively higher use of contraceptives also contribute to the low birth rate among Hindus. Even higher numbers of deaths, four more than that of Muslims in every 10,000, contributes to the decrease in percentage. Finally, researchers concluded that 71 percent of low growth rate may be attributed to the low rates of fertility and 23 percent to international migration by Hindus.

In the report, they also observed that, since 2006, more Hindus have been opting for countries other than India for migration. Only 36 percent of the migrating Hindus of Matlab went to India between 2005 and 2012, and a bigger portion went to states other than India for better living:  evidence against the propaganda that more Hindus have been leaving for India due to persecution.

The percentage of Hindu minority comparing with that of Muslim has declined over last 50 years. But this overlooks a subtle but solid point: a fundamental political upheaval and constitution of Bangladesh from 1975 to 1991. From 1974 to 1991, percentage of Hindu minority to total population came down from 13.5 to 10.5 in 16 years. But, after the end of anti-secularism-fueled military rule in 1991 and installation of constitutional democracy, percentage decline got a little slower- 10.5 in 1991 to 8.5 in 2011 within 20 years. In 2011, after the 15th Amendment, secularism was restored which especially which has contributed with an increase of percentage of Hindu people to total populace to 10.7 percent point in 2015. Unlike, its two bordering states, Myanmar and India, the former denying Muslim Rohingya minority citizenship since 1982 out of pathological hatred and the latter rendering Muslims stateless through anti-Muslim laws, Bangladesh has never, particularly since 1991, intended to promote any discriminatory policy, be it in practice or by laws. Praiseworthy and prompt action by the Government of Bangladesh against the menace of recent Durga Puja incident, is an example.

Minority is such a phenomenon which every country must possess, be it ethnic or linguistic or religious. But state sanctioned discriminatory policy, inherent ethnic or religious tension or historical schism mobilized for political advantage usually contribute to violence against minorities. However, in Bangladesh mostly politically cornered vested groups have played the minority card to stoke a crisis and tame the situation to their ends. Besides long cherished pluralistic sentiment in Bangladesh is, rather in times, menaced by ‘spill-over effect of politics and policies in proximate neighbors, of course by political fringe groups.

Samina Akhter
The writer is a freelance columnist

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