The Amsterdam-based Global Human Rights Defense is out with its annual report on human rights violations in Bangladesh. Here is the section that relates to atrocities on the hapless Hindu minority in 2008.
Until 1971 Liberation War, Hindus and Muslims worked together to liberate the country from Pakistan. During this period, an estimated two million East Pakistani citizens are believed to have been massacred, whilst an estimated ten million (mainly Hindu) fled to India.
The new President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in his first speech to the nation, recognised the suffering of the Hindu population during the war. However, the Enemy Property Act of 1965 that was passed whilst Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan, a law discriminating against non-Muslim ‘enemies of the state’ by allowing their property to be confiscated, was not repealed and indeed was renamed as the Vested Property Act 1974. It allowed the expropriation of Hindu property to continue, leaving much bitterness amongst Bangladeshi Hindus.
Members of the Hindu community have lost 26 million acres of land from 1965 to 2006, while many others were forced to leave the country from 1964 to 2001 because of the communal conflicts and deprivation caused by the Act. The Hindu population percentage has reduced dramatically in the last 60 years.
In 2008 Hindus were targeted due to inter-communal disagreements, quarrels over land or other disputes. Hindus were physically attacked, had their houses looted, temples destroyed and many women were raped.
Due to corruption, ignorance, and discriminatory attitudes, the police were often uncooperative when Hindu minorities attempt to obtain justice for crimes committed against them. In many cases, the police did not assist the victims to receive medical and/or legal assistance.
The police sometimes discouraged the victims from reporting about the crimes, or they did not investigate cases before accepting counter cases that led to the detention of the victims. Sometimes they recorded the case under a lower criminal charge than the actual crime deserved.
The ordinance No.16 of 2001 (Vested property Return Act) passed by the Awami League government was still not implemented. The Vested Property Act does not only have a legal implication, it also creates an ambience were violence against Hindus is tolerated.
CASES OF LAND GRABBING, ASSAULT AND MURDER AGAINST HINDUS
A Hindu’s land attacked by 50 armed persons
On 16 February 2008, about 50 armed people tried to commandeer the land of a Dhaka citizen. The owner and residents were severely injured and taken to a local hospital. The land in question had previously been the subject of a civil litigation that awarded ownership of the property to the assaulted victim. The owner filed a report against all 50 suspects, 24 of which have been arrested. The case is now pending trial. (GHRD 19-02-2008.)
Police inaction led to murder of a Hindu in Khulna
In Balarampur, a Hindu populated village in the Khulna district, a 50-year old Hindu man was killed for attempting to mediate a land dispute between his Muslim neighbours. On 27 April, his body was found hanging from a tree after being strangled to death. He had received many threats and reported them to the local chairman who did not take any measures.
Only after GHRD representatives investigated the situation did police authorities change the case to murder. Perpetrators have since been identified. (GHRD, 2008-27-04).
A Hindu family attacked in their home in Narayanganj
On the morning of 18 September 2008, a group of men armed with various sharp weapons attacked the home of a Hindu family in Doudpur Union, P.S. Rupganj, Narayanganj.
Gold ornaments amounting to Taka 95 000 were stolen and the family’s Goddess ‘Sawraswati’ was damaged. Most members of the family were injured, including a four year old boy and his mother, who was sexually assaulted and hit with iron rods and an axe.
After the police refused to cooperate and instead accepted a counter complaint against the family from one of the perpetrators, GHRD representatives intervened, helping to initiate an investigation (GHRD).
A man and his family intimidated by police to give up their land
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reported on a family who had been asked by the Paikgachha police to give up their land without any lawful reason, after the husband had been held in detention for 12 hours on 31 March 2008. On 29 March 2008, the police informed the father of the family that he must surrender land. His refusal to do so resulted in his arbitrary arrest on false grounds of robbery and extortion, reversed only if he cooperated in giving up possession of his land.
Only after intervention by the Officer-in-Charge (OC) was he released. Since the incident the SI of police has continued to intimidate the family, insisting that they follow his instructions and give up their land. He and his family live in constant fear of their lives as well as of their property. Police authorities in Bangladesh often abuse their power, affecting many families in the area. (AHRC)
Family house burned following a dispute over land
On 23 March 2008, following a dispute over land, students and teachers of a Qwami madrasa (Islamic school) attacked a family house in Raiganj upazila. After damaging the furniture and looting valuables, they set the house on fire and beat up the family living inside, causing injuries to five people. The family had been threatened of being killed before and were abducted by the perpetrators, who wanted to evict them from the land. (The Daily Star 04-04-2008.)
Hindus continuously evicted from their land
Hindus of Sonaidanga beel in the Sinajganj district are continually under threat of being evicted from their land and are harassed with false cases to expedite their evacuation. From the 56.68 acres in their possession for a long time, only 28.36 acres of that land remain in their ownership.
Victims have complained several times to the local police and administration but no step has yet been taken to stop or punish the alleged perpetrators. A team of human rights activists including (among others) local organisations and Transparency International of Bangladesh, visited the area on Sunday 4 May in order to talk with victims and evaluate the situation. (New Age, 03-05-2008.)
CASE PROFILE: THE MURDER OF ASHIT BISWAS
On 20 March 2008, the remains of Ashit Biswas were found. Ashit, (32) disappeared in 2005 while serving as accountant in Gopalganj with the NGO Joy Rahman Foundation. It was suspected at the time of his disappearance that he had been murdered by the rich and powerful owner, Joy Rahman.
Although a complaint was filed in 2005 against Rahman and his associates, no proper investigation was ever made against him. Instead, a false counter-complaint was filed against the Biswas family, who were too poor to pursue legal action.
There were many uncertainties surrounding the disappearance and murder of Ashit Biswas, including the disappearance of police reports and evidence, but the circumstances pointed in the direction of Joy Rahman Foundation.
The case achieved a lot of attention in Swedish media because the alleged murderer, who had been granted Swedish citizenship, was freed after 8 years in a Swedish prison for another murder.
DESTRUCTION OF HINDU RELIGIOUS SITES
Hindu families attacked next to the Radha Govinda Temple in the Noakhali district
On 15 February 2008, three houses belonging to Hindu families, located next to the Radha Govinda Temple in the Parusurampur village, were attacked while religious services were being conducted. Hindu worshippers, women and children were seriously injured and taken to the local hospital. The police arrested the two suspects. (GHRD)
A Hindu Goddess temple demolished and desecrated
On 20 March 2008, during a celebration, some men entered the Murthi (a Hindu goddess) of Siddeswari Temple in the Munshiganj district and asked an illegal tax (jiizia tax) from all worshippers.
As the Hindu worshippers were not able to pay such an amount, the perpetrators demolished and desecrated the Temple. On suspicion, the police arrested a member of the municipality but eventually released him. (GHRD)
Structure of 15 Vaishnava Graveyard of a Hindu orphanage destroyed in the Patuakhali district
The structure of 15 Vaishnava Graveyard of a Hindu orphanage was destroyed on 14 April 2007 in the Patuakhali district. The perpetrators have not yet been identified
(Janakantha, 16 April 2008).
No Captures for Desecration of Hindu Minority Temples Narayanpur, Barisal: two temples were looted and demolished. On the night of 03 September 2008 the Murthi of Goddess, a Hindu idol in the Roy Bahadur Kali Temple, was demolished and desecrated in Hari Narayanpur at Noakhali.
A sense of discontentment prevails in Noakhali district. High officials in the district have begun investigations with the community registering a case against possible offenders. (The Daily Bengali ‘Jai Jai Din’, September 5 2008.)
500 year old Hindu temple destroyed
On 8 August, a private Hindu temple belonging to the head teacher of Chaitanyya High School of Gaila, Agailjhara Upazila, Barisal district was demolished, looted and desecrated by unknown perpetrators. This temple was 500 years old. The local Hindu community, including non communal forces, has condemned this incident. (The Daily Samakal August 25, Jai Jai Din, September 5 2008.)