Dr. Richard L. Benkin




This is the second installment of a four-part series about the ongoing persecution and ethnic cleansing of the millions-strong Bangladeshi Hindus.  Most of the direct attacks come from Islamist radicals who are assuming an every prominent role in Bangladeshi society, government, and police.  But their ability to continue their systematic destruction of the Hindu community is possible only through the government’s inaction (at best) or tacit approval.  Part One explored the historical roots of this genocide-in-waiting.  This second part reviews current actions by radicals and governments.


The ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus has intensified in recent years.  Although no human rights NGO or the UN Human Rights Commission has taken up this matter; several individual South Asians, some authors and journalists, and a few ersatz organizations have attempted to do something to bring this matter to light.  Some Muslims, Shoaib Choudhury in particular and fundamentalist leader Kazi Azizul Huq, are raising the issue as well.  In February 2007, I received a fax from a Hindu living outside of

Kolkata, India.  His parents had been forced out of Bangladesh, and his family had fled to the Indian state of West Bengal.  His story is not very different from what I have heard from many Bangladeshi Hindus, except that Bikash Halder decided that he could not let his own two children or those of his co-religionists grow up in a world no different from the one he knew.  He had heard of me from my human rights work in Bangladesh and located a Hindu attorney in Dhaka, whom Shoaib Choudhury and I work with and whom I had met when I was in Dhaka the previous month.  His message was that Bangladeshi Hindus were suffering, and they needed my help.  I had received a number of reports to the effect but had not been involved beyond some protests to the Bangladeshis about their treatment of minorities and some speeches I had made while in the country.


It is difficult to get exact figures on the number of Bangladeshi Hindus and their descendants living in India since so much of the movement takes place under the legal radar.  Complicating matters further is the fact that there has been extensive movement of economic refugees across the border, as well as deliberate “infiltration” (to use the term current in

India) of Bangladeshi Muslims into West Bengal.  Even so, after more contact with Halder and others, the full and frightening extent of their condition became clear.  So, at the request of several individuals and groups working for the refugees, I traveled to West Bengal and elsewhere in India where I spent the better part of February 2008.  I visited over a dozen refugee camps (some semi-legal, most illegal); spoke with dozens of refugees; held private and clandestine meetings with informants; and addressed public forums on the plight of the refugees and what we could do working together.


Numerous refugees testified about “atrocities” committed by Islamist radicals inside Bangladesh.  These included beatings, murders, mutilations, ritualized gang rapes, and forced eviction from their lands.  In camp after camp, informants told of one or another relative or neighbor being murdered by the radicals as a warning (often repeated explicitly) to abandon their property and leave the area.  Most of the camps I visited were in the northern part of West Bengal, and so the vast majority of refugees had fled from areas in

Bangladesh’s northwestern or western districts.  Another common incident the refugees related involved the random abduction of young Hindu women and girls.  These unfortunate females were raped and held by one of their captors then forcibly married to him.  Now, to be sure, the women were left with little choice, even without the physical restraint and intimidation that was applied to them.  In these traditional villages, rape victims are considered to have shamed their families and so are not welcomed back or defended.  Regardless of how heinous we find such attitudes, they play right into the radicals’ calculations.  For the process insures that all offspring will then be raised as Muslims in an all-Muslim environment, and a potential source of Hindu offspring will be prevented from fulfilling that role.  The logic is not out of keeping with how radicals target Christians in certain areas of the Middle East and in other traditional societies.  It also parallels the practice of Palestinian terrorists.  During periods of frequent suicide bombings, they would deliberately target Israeli venues that are populated heavily by women of childbearing age, teenagers, and other young people.  There is extensive statistical evidence to support this, and to believe this documented pattern is a coincidence and not a deliberate and genocidal plan would be naďve.


One informant told me of an incident—and he said this sort of thing was very common in Bangladesh—whereby a chicken of his roamed into the yard of a Muslim neighbor.  The neighbor seized the chicken and ate it.  When the owner of the bird confronted him about this, the neighbor replied that he did it because he was Muslim and could.  In fact, despite Bangladeshi assurances to the contrary, Hindus and other religious minorities do not enjoy equal rights in that country.  When government representatives point to formalistic laws that guarantee equal rights, I tend to respond by likening them to one of the most beautifully-written documents I ever read; to wit, the Stalinist constitution of the Soviet Union.  While it went on about freedom and equality, the circumstances on the ground were anything but free and equal.  Thus, the refugees also reported an almost universal pattern whereby they would go to the local Bangladeshi authorities for help and protection after an attack or threat.  Yet, not one person reported receiving any help; in fact, the common response they reported from the officials was for them to abandon their property and quit

Bangladesh.  Others who have faced religious or political persecution in Bangladesh report identical experiences with the authorities.  My own experiences with them are identical.  Further, there is a good deal of anecdotal evidence from victims of numerous incidents in which not only Islamists but also members of the local government actually participated in the attacks.


Kazi Azizul Huq of the Khalefat Andolin Bangladesh said that I needed to take care in accepting stories of Islamist attacks.  No doubt, he said, they do occur, but he asserted that many of the Hindus have left voluntarily even abandoning or selling their lands.  Huq is a fundamentalist Muslim and a good man who supports action to protect Bangladeshi minorities and other similar action.  And no doubt, some of the refugees really did leave

Bangladesh of their own volition for economic reasons.  But it is also clear that most “voluntary” transactions by Hindus are often less than voluntarily; some not voluntary at all.  If one lacks basic rights and protections that all citizens of society can expect, then they are not in control of their destinies.  If they have seen others attacked and the authorities refuse to protect them; or heard those same authorities tell them to leave the country; the decision to emigrate is undertaken independent of any truly free will.  Let us remember that countless German Jews voluntarily transferred their properties in the 1930s.


These anti-minority actions have been taking place for decades with impunity.  The rest of the world has turned a deaf ear to their cries, a blind eye to their suffering.  Refugees told me about attacks going back to a time when

Bangladesh was still East Pakistan.   More frightening, except for the few years after Bangladeshi independence, the attacks have proceeded rather almost non-stop.  My own informants are by no means the only source of evidence for the persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh.  Two organizations with chapters in North America, Europe, and of course South Asia—the Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council—have been documenting atrocities against Bangladeshi minorities for years.  They also have been trying valiantly to inform people of the dire situation of their Bangladeshi co-religionists; but there has been no effective response to their pleas.  As a Jewish man, I cannot help but be struck by these cries for help and draw parallels to similar cries of my own people in Europe during the 1930s.  They, too, tried to warn the world about a rising dictator and dangerous with genocidal designs on them.  Their co-religionists elsewhere tried to sound that alarm bell, too; but then, too, there was no effective response.  The consequences proved disastrous not only for Jewry but for the rest of the world, as well.



Dr. Richard L. Benkin is an independent human rights activist who first gained notoriety for his successful fight to free Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury from imprisonment and torture in 2005.  Since then, he has continued to advocate for Mr. Choudhury’s rights—are constantly under attack by the government of

Bangladesh—and for other human rights issues.  Most recently, he took a fact finding trip to West Bengal and other areas in India to confirm the ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus and the severity of their current situation even in India.



Dr. Benkin is available for talks and seminars:

Part I: The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing
Part III: Rightless and Vulnerable
Part IV: What Must be Done