Bangladesh and Hindus: Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts
By Dr. Richard L. Benkin
Address to Jagriti Panel
“Status of Hindus in Indian Sub-Continent”
November 16, 2014
Namaste. Thank you Jagriti and thanks to all of you here today, ready to take action on these critical issues.
Recently, a member of the United States Congress asked me to join her at a private meeting with some Yazidis—that Middle Eastern group threatened with extermination by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Yezidism is one of the only non-Abrahamic faiths left in that part of the world, and it is right in ISIS’s path of conquest. They described the humanitarian crisis they face, its strategic implications, and the human rights atrocities ISIS is inflicting upon them. After the meeting, I told the Congresswoman that everything happening to the Yazidi—the murders, religious desecration, land seizures, and the criminal treatment of Yazidi women—is happening to Hindus in Bangladesh, except it is happening to the Yazidi all at once. For Bangladeshi Hindus, it has been a less dramatic but no less genocidal process taking place over decades. That makes it easier for the Bangladeshis to deny, and easier for the rest of the world to ignore.
Bangladesh’s population should have about 50 million Hindus more than it does, and the remaining 12-15 million Bangladeshi Hindus are in danger. They were almost a third in 1951 according to the East Pakistan census, still almost a fifth when East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, just under a tenth in 2001, and perhaps as few as one in 15 today.
Yet, no one seemed to think that was a problem. Innocent people were being brutalized and none of those who claim the mantle of human rights cared: not Amnesty International, which has never even mentioned their plight; not Human Rights Watch, which never treated it as more than an occasional footnote squeezed between its praise for the Awami League; not the UN, US, UK, EU or any other country that loves wagging its fingers at Israel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; not the left wing media, the right wing media, or any other mainstream media. No one grasped the concept that Bangladesh is not a “moderate” country. Pakistan, of course, but Bangladesh as a moderate country remains a cherished myth among international elites. Someone had to do something.
So I became “that guy” who goes on and on about Bangladesh any chance he gets. Can you think of a topic fewer people would want to hear about? I know I have been places where others saw me and thought, ‘Uh-oh, if he spots me he’s going to corner me for a half hour about Bangladesh.’ And no one wants that. But none of that matters because things are starting to change, and that is what really matters.
Let’s first not forget that some things are not changing. The Awami League government is no less complicit in this quiet case of ethnic cleansing than its rival BNP. Throughout its terms in office, I have been in and out of Bangladesh, tapping my network of informants in between visits, and confirmed major and specifically anti-Hindu atrocities that the Bangladeshi government did not prosecute and in some cases participated in at the rate of one to one and a half per week. Moreover, they included efforts to cleanse the Hindu gene pool, an unmistakable mark of genocidal intent. Young women of childbearing years frequently are abducted, never to be seen by their families; turned into forced converts and made to service multiple men or become part of a cut rate harem. Hindu children are targeted disproportionally, too; about half of those rape, murder, and abduction victims were kids. This is not unusual for jihadis. Statistics on Arab suicide bombers in Israel show the same; and the only thing that stopped them was a concerted and unflinching Israeli effort.
When I suggested to one of the people responsible for it that they must stop the terrorists before they reach the border, he winked and said, “We stop most of them in their beds.”
That is what the Bangladeshi Hindus need but what they are not getting. So the atrocities have not stopped. I am not here to talk about what we all know—the government supported, non-stop murders, gang rapes, land seizures, religious desecration. The evidence is in my book, which is available here. But I will talk about one.
In 2012, local thugs and Bangladeshi officials in Bagerhat kidnapped 22-year-old Eti Biswas after the family refused demands to leave their home. No legal reason given, none needed. Their crime was being Hindu. The family met me in Dhaka in February 2013 to see if I could help recover their child; that same day I had a heated and semi-public meeting with the Bangladeshi Home Minister. He pretended to know nothing about the anti-Hindu jihad in his country, but I challenged him again and again, nailed him for changing his story, until—still semi-public—he promised to investigate anything I sent him. So I sent him the material about Eti Biswas, which he ignored; and because he and the rest of his Awami League gang did, Eti Biswas remains missing after two years. I wish her case was unique, but it is not.
So when I say that things are changing, it is not because the Bangladeshis suddenly got religion and decided to do the right thing; and it is not because those international bodies finally saw the light. Things are changing because we are forcing the change. We have the power—if we use it. If not, we can kiss Hindus good bye in Bangladesh. And that’s the only reason why it makes sense for me to be here today.
The late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once noted that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”; that is, people get away with doing bad things because others do not notice.
· Bangladeshis can claim ignorance of atrocities because we do not see them in the media.
· Bangladeshis can claim ignorance of atrocities because no major government or human rights agency calls them on it.
· Bangladeshis can claim that Hindu-Muslim relations in their country are great because international elites must maintain the myth of Bangladesh as a moderate country, and a moderate country would never oversee the elimination of its minorities.
They have a lot at stake; enough to sacrifice millions of Hindus. So, we fight them with facts and unrelenting effort. Peoples’ lives depend on us. So:
· We have carefully investigated and verified the ongoing atrocities and the Bangladeshi government’s complicity and bombarded people in DC with an endless stream of verified evidence that they cannot ignore. It is starting to have an impact.
o Staff from two Congressmen have confronted the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) about anti-Hindu Bangladesh and continue to work with me on it.
o After a Hindu delegation met with Congressman Ed Royce, the powerful Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, committee staff began working with me on hearings that will bring that sunlight and propose specific actions.
o When Congressman Robert Dold of Illinois addressed the Bangladeshi Hindu issue from the House floor, he was the first. Since then, at least two other House Members have followed suit.
o Dold was just re-elected and has pledged his leadership in putting the United States front and center in stopping this atrocity. We expect to be in India early next year when, among other things, he will hear from Bangladeshi Hindu victims.
o After years of continuous prodding, USCIRF staff just returned from Bangladesh where they investigated the Bangladeshi Hindu issue, and I expect formal US recognition of this human rights travesty early in 2015.
o And more than one NGO is now interested in working with me on this.
· Narendra Modi’s landslide victory also opens up enormous possibilities. Prior Indian governments refused to acknowledge the problem and helped hide the truth from the people. Prime Minister Modi, however, has been a constant supporter of mine and is personally affected by what is happening to Hindus in Bangladesh. He said India would welcome Hindu refugees from persecution and made clear to Bangladesh that he is someone who will stand up for the oppressed.
Expect more initiatives. We will put their plight on the world’s agenda, and each of you can be critical. For instance, the Foreign Affairs progress above would not have happened without you. That Hindu delegation, led by Dr. Chelvapilla, after my last speech Cerritos determined they would NOT sit by idly. We worked together, and they met with Congressman Royce, shared their concerns about Bangladesh’s Hindus, sought his help, and got it. In another example of our power, Chicago area Hindus just rallied behind Bob Dold, whom they identified as a friend of the community and a leader on this issue. We identified his political needs and our ability to organize a sea change in his opponent’s calculations, told him what we could do, and did it. While no one would say we won the election for Dold, neither would anyone deny that we were not an important part of his victory.
Hindu communities can do the same all over the country. They are an increasingly important American demographic and have the same right to push their advantages as do other religious communities. The key is strategic thinking. Do what the Jewish community did in the 1970s and 80s to save persecuted Jews in the Soviet Union—and that was the mighty USSR, we are talking about Bangladesh. We now have a growing bi-partisan base of US lawmakers concerned about Hindus there. Between now and the next election how can we as a group let sitting Members of Congress and the Senate know how important this issue is to us, the voters? Remember what Indiana Governor and former Congressman Mike Pence said. Any Member of Congress who gets ten calls from constituents on any issue will sit up and take notice, call staff meetings, and do something about it. Work with me on this.
If we continue to flood the Foreign Affairs Committee with our concerns, they will hold hearings, put the Bangladeshi Hindu issue in front of everyone, and take action. Work with me on this.
Some UCIRF staff might try to water down the report on Bangladesh’s Hindus. Don’t let them. We can tip the scales by organizing people to call or fax their concerns. Work with me on this.
We can move local governments to issue proclamations. I did it with mine. Is there any reason why Cerritos and others remain silent? Work with me on this.
These and other initiatives will eventually hit Bangladesh the only place that hurts: trade sanctions and disadvantages until it gets its human rights act in order. Work with me on this, too.
Opportunities are opening like never before. If we take advantage of them, we can stop the carnage in Bangladesh, change the narrative about Kashmir, and maybe even help shift US policy toward Pakistan. The only reason to meet is to ACT, and the only reason to act is to SUCCEED.