Good Afternoon, Sisters & Brothers:
It is my privilege to address you in the city of Chicago, where, almost 125 years ago, Swami Vivekananda spoke in the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I will be addressing what I consider to be one of the most important issues of our lifetime – on the existential threat that the Hindus are facing in Bangladesh.
Over the past 47 years, facing numerous adversaries including human and religious rights violations, the Bangladeshi Hindus, are undergoing a rapid decline. To this day, violence against the Hindus and other religious and ethnic minorities is continuing unabated. The vision of a pluralistic Bangladesh was dashed, especially after 1988, when Islam was declared the state religion.
The current Hindu population of about 17 million, is far short of the number one should expect based on population growth rates. And the rate of minority population decrease has accelerated in recent years. Soft and hard intimidation, extortion, threats to family structures, rape-gang rape, illegal & forceful occupation of property, threat of forced religious conversion, looting and burning of households and temples are sufficient to send this population across the border to India. After 1971, at no time the existential threat to the Hindu community was as great as it is now. The on-going systematic campaign of persecution are aimed at cleansing the country of its Hindu population.
The rise of Islamist militancy in recent years, evidenced by the brutal killings of the intellectuals, bloggers, foreigners, Hindu priests and non-traditional Islamic communities by such terrorist organizations as Ansarullah Bangla Team and satellites of Al Qaeda and ISIS, is harbinger of a theocratic state that Bangladesh may become. However, it is not only the Islamists; influential members of all political parties, whether they are in power or in opposition, are using scare tactics to dislodge the Hindu population. Furthermore, over the past ten years, there is a marked rise in the desecration and destruction of Hindu places of worship. Many rural Hindus are forced to leave their ancestral homes, finding themselves destitute. They either seek shelter in the large cities, cross the border into India or go through religious conversion. Administration often sides with the Muslim perpetrators. Let me give an example, in last 47 years thousands of Temples & Deities were destroyed in Bangladesh, but not a single perpetrator was brought to justice. Is destruction of deities possible without a religious vendetta?
In recent years, to appease the religious sentiment of the Muslim population, the government has made special budget allocations for building mosques and training Islamic clergy. Under pressure from Hefazat-i-Islam and Awami League’s Islamic wing (Olema League), the authority is systematically removing texts by renowned non-Muslim authors from the school curriculum.
Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the guru of Swami Vivekananda, famously said that there are many paths to spiritualism. Swami Vivekananda reiterated this sentiment in his Chicago speech. Unfortunately, the current direction in Bangladesh is to get rid of the last vestiges of multiculturalism. Nobel Laureate Poet Rabindranath Thakur’s ‘Golden Bengal’ is gradually transforming itself into a mirror image of Saudi Arabia with direct encouragement of the Government. It is also becoming a haven for the Islamic terrorists that is the result of misdirected government policies that are fostering ultra-religiosity among the population.
India has helped Bangladesh to free itself from the clutches of Pakistan. Unfortunately, the free and diverse Bangladesh that India envisioned did not come to fruition. With the extinction of its Hindu population, Bangladesh is soon to become another Pakistan. It is quickly becoming part of the larger Muslim Ummah. A Muslim persecuted in any country gets international attention, unfortunately, there is no such mechanism for a Hindu – in any country of the world. Bangladeshi Hindus cannot find any solidarity in the international arena.
Sisters and Brothers, Hindus are vulnerable in Bangladesh, politically, socially, and economically. Their very existence cannot be saved without Bharat’s help; without your help. Hindu politicians and religious organizations around the globe need to act and raise their voices. World Hindu Congress can come forward and Delhi government can play a vital role. I call upon you, after 125 years of Swami Vivekananda’s address here in Chicago, please come forward in solidarity with the Hindus in Bangladesh, save them from being extinction.
Thank you very much for listening. Namaskar.
Sitangshu Guha is a human rights activist and analyst based in the USA. This was his address at the World Hindu Congress where he spoke at length on the minority crisis in Bangladesh.