By Dr. Richard L. Benkin
There appears to be no better way to describe it: a complete failure of leadership. Having traveled to Bengali villages and major power centers for the past ten years, as well as advocating for their interests in Washington and elsewhere, it is clear that the institutions charged with protecting and providing for Bengal’s Hindus have failed them utterly.
To be sure, groups like Tapan Ghosh’s Hindu Samhati maintain a presence among the people and advocate tirelessly for them. There are also courageous individuals—both Hindu and otherwise—who do not shrink from this crucial human rights battle. In the decades I have spent all over Bengal’s villages and cities, I have never once seen a member of the recognized leadership anywhere near the people. Nor have they taken any action or even expressed justified outrage when people (including but not only me) presented evidence of the people’s victimization.
I wondered if that perception was my own failure until late February. In an out of the way restaurant in Kolkata, I sat with a man I am proud, calls me a brother: Rabindra Ghosh, the advocate who puts his life on the line every day to document the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh and to let the Bangladeshi government know that its complicity does not go unnoticed. Both government and Islamists have attacked him; just as many of them have openly or cravenly tried to vilify me. During our meeting, Advocate Ghosh mentioned that Hindu and Indian political leaders he addressed responded to his thick dossier of information with, ‘we will see what we can do,’ code words meaning that they will take no action. He, too, noted that in his decades of on-site investigation of anti-Hindu atrocities and other actions, he has never seen a Hindu leader or heard from any of the people that those who claim to be leaders were there or provided any help whatsoever.
In February, I spent time in Bengali villages where Hindus were attacked, their homes destroyed, and Mandirs desecrated; while governments in East and West Bengal did nothing to stop or prosecute these crimes. And not once did any of the victims tell me that help arrived from the government, their Hindu leadership, or those political parties that claim to be their protectors.
I am not a Hindu but love the Hindu community as much as anyone does. My years-long commitment to stopping the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh and elsewhere is testimony to it. Good friends, however, are supposed to be able to speak frankly to one another; and it is my sad task to tell my Hindu brothers and sisters that your leadership has failed you—utterly and completely. While a Jew is Public Enemy Number One for Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina and her advisors because of his struggle to save Hindus in Bangladesh and refusal to stop fighting; Hindu MPs sit mutely in parliament, caring more for their own creature comforts than for justice for their people. Those of us who continue the struggle have come to recognize that sadly, we cannot count on this leadership and have determined new strategies in the face of it.
As a child, I learned about the Nazi Holocaust that sent a third of my people to horrible deaths. The more I learned, however, the more I realized that the Nazis were not the real drivers of these atrocities; there were too few of them to do so much evil. It was those “good people” who remained silent in the face of evil that enabled the holocaust to happen.
I challenge Hindu leaders and Indian political leaders to ask themselves—honestly and seriously—if they are repeating history while Hindus in East and West Bengal are persecuted with impunity and face possible obliteration in the land of their ancestors. What excuses will they make if the worst happens?
Dr. Richard Benkin is an American Jewish human rights activist who is currently working on a mission to stop atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh. Twitter: @drrbenkin