“The numbers tell the story – or at least part of it. After India’s Partition, Hindus were almost a third of the East Pakistan population, according to Pakistan’s 1951 census. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were under a fifth; 30 years later less than a tenth; and according to reliable estimates, less than eight percent today.Throughout that time, there was a steady flow of reports on anti-Hindu atrocities there; atrocities that include religious desecration, land grabs, property destruction, beatings, forced conversion to Islam, child abduction, rape, and murder. Bangladeshi governments not only refused to prosecute the perpetrators, but also maintained openly discriminatory laws.”- Dr Richard L Benkin
The minorities, especially the Hindus, in Bangladesh have been subjected to categorical atrocities since the country achieved Independence in 1971. The paradigm of ethnic cleansing is well portrayed in the havoc discrimination and slaughter against the Hindus. The relentless war crime like activities by a Bangladeshi quarter has led to the exodus of Hindus from the country. Hindu masses in the country are regularly subjected to horrific incidents of violence, hidden discrimination, violation of basic rights and encroachment of property rights.
The Sheikh Hasina led Awami League government that spring-boarded to power with alleged
backing from the then Congress government (UPA) of India does nothing to protect the Hindu masses that are gradually vanishing. The Hindu population which contributed 31 per cent of the total population in 1971 now stands at a meager 8 per cent. A biased Constitution with minimal provisions for the minorities along with the government’s fathomless reluctance to address the issue have resulted in a dramatic decline in the Hindu population. Alike Pakistan, barbaric chapter of violence against Hindus was evident in Bangladesh following the infamous Babri Mosque incident. Bangladesh claims to be a secular country, but in reality it is a moderate Muslim country. However, this in no way ensures equal existence for all or eclipses the society’s hostile attitude towards Hindus.
Frequent vandalizing of Hindu shrines and temples (reportedly by Jamaat-e-Islami cadres), rampant land grabbing (by Awami League backed mafias) and harassment of Hindu women folk point to the fact that Bangladesh has failed miserably to recover from the hangover of the Pakistani influence. The country seems to overlook the fact that a Hindu-major neighbor literally single-handedly liberated it from the clutches of a tyrannical regime. These facets have largely contributed to the waning Hindu population in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s plans to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar Thursday were scrapped because officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to the country that has been accused of driving out hundreds of thousands in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The refugees “are not willing to go back now,” Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press. He said officials “can’t force them to go” but will continue to try to “motivate them so it happens.”
Some people on the government’s repatriation list disappeared into the sprawling refugee camps to avoid being sent home, while others joined a large demonstration against the plan.
UN urged a halt to repatriation
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.
The United Nations, whose human rights officials had urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process even as its refugee agency workers helped to facilitate it, welcomed Thursday’s development.
Firas Al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said it was unclear when the process might begin again.
“We want their repatriation, but it has to be voluntary, safe and smooth,” he said.
Bangladesh officials declined to say whether another attempt at repatriation would be made Friday.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka late Thursday that “there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”
Pleading with Rohingya
At the Unchiprang refugee camp, a Bangladeshi refugee official implored the Rohingya on Thursday to return to their country over a loudspeaker.
“We have arranged everything for you, we have six buses here, we have trucks, we have food. We want to offer everything to you. If you agree to go, we’ll take you to the border, to the transit camp,” he said.
“We won’t go!” hundreds of voices, including children’s, chanted in reply.
Some refugees on the repatriation lists, which authorities say were drawn up with assistance from the UNHCR, said they don’t want to go back.
‘I don’t want to go back’
At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox’s Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. She said she had never asked to return to Myanmar, and that she had sent her children to a school run by aid workers Thursday morning as usual.
“They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents,” said Setara, who only gave one name. “I don’t want to go back.”
She said that other refugees on the repatriation list had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amid the crowded lanes of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers, which on Thursday were bustling with commerce and other activity.
Plan to return 150 a day
Bangladesh had planned to send an initial group of 2,251 back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.
Myanmar officials, speaking late Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, said they were ready to receive the refugees. Despite those assurances, human rights activists said conditions were not yet safe for the Rohingya to go back.
The exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.
Refugee camps bleak
The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps has been bleak.
The refugees who’ve arrived in the last year joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s.
Access to education and employment has been far from assured.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hopes to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.
Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.
Foreign leaders, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.
But on Thursday, Pence said that U.S. officials were “encouraged to hear that” the repatriation process would begin.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would continue working with international partners including the U.N. “to ensure that the Rohingya themselves are part of any decisions on their future.” (VOA)