Mrs. Chitra Paul is the President of Hindu Forum Sweden (HFS), a not-for-profit organization based in Sweden which strives to see a continued existence of the Hindu religion and cultural in Sweden, Europe and other places in the world, wherever Hinduism (also called Sanatana Dharma), is being practised. Currently this organization did a conference on the rights of minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh which also saw the participation of World Sindhi Congress Chairman Dr. Lakhu Lohana.
Hindu Forum Sweden says, that it recognizes that Hinduism is a pluralistic religion with huge amount of variations in both philosophical and practical view and that it has the tolerance and respect for any ‘differences’ among the members. Here is the interview with Chitra Paul:
So what does Hindu Forum Sweden do? What are your aims?
Hindu Forum Sweden’s task is to safeguard common interests of different societies and cultures, work for greater cooperation between the various traditions, to promote our common values, friendship and peaceful coexistence. We cooperate and also work with the Hindu Forum of Europe under the umbrella of the Hindu Forum Europe (HFE.)
We assert our identity and join the global political-religious scene. Sanatana Dharma has been marginalized; we want equal right and respect as any other religions, and not be ignored.
To achieve our key objectives Hindu Forum Sweden participates in interfaith dialogue for peace, harmony and brotherhood among different religions and communities.
But how does your activities benefit your nation Sweden?
We are trying to build a strong, cohesive and integrated society in Sweden, which will definitely contribute towards the development of our Swedish society. To highlight our rich religious and cultural models, we encourage social gatherings by celebrating different Hindu festivals like Dharma festival and Holi festivals etc., where everybody is welcome.
My work is to focused on the promotion of Santana Dharma’s religious and cultural traditions and highlight our presence in the Swedish society and, of course, at the same time draw attention towards the Hindus and other minority sufferings that happen across the world.
Chitra Paul, what is the situation of Bangladeshi Hindus at present?
Today, the Hindus of Bangladesh are in severe survival crisis. As there are no equal rights for religious minorities in Bangladesh.
Can you give us a percentage of Hindus who live now in Bangladesh?
In 1971 Hindus population was almost one-third (30 percent) of the population according to official census, in 1972- 20%, and in 2014- it is just 10%.
Why is the Hindu population decreasing and why are Hindus migrating to India from Bangladesh?
Many reason. Nine million Hindus actually decreased in the last 10 years only, while people in other communities have increased and there is a clear reason for the decline of the Hindu population, which is, insecurity. The minorities of Bangladesh are continuously living under anxiety and insecurity. Their lands are grabbed, woman and minor girls are raped, frequently kidnapped and forced to convert out of their religions, temples are being demolished and idols vandalized, houses burnt, people murdered and threatened for extortions, businesses being looted or being extorted from. Due to all this the minorities are being forced to undergo an exodus.
What about the political class? Do they not see this?
There is no minority-friendly politics in Bangladesh. There are no minority representatives in the Parliament. Who will talk about the minority crisis? Majority’s mindset is playing a vital role in all this and minorities are a victim of discrimination by state.
So is that why they are coming to India?
They have nowhere else to go. India is their first choice as it is so easy to migrate but it not so easy to survive in India.
Then, what do you think about the Indian government’s approach to the situation?
Actually this is a political issue in India. Political groups in India just use these migrants for their vote bank politics instead of focusing on solving their issues which forces them to lead a very torturous life. Some of these migrants end up in the hands of human traffickers or other criminals. There should be a political solution and strong human interest here. Recently, BJP government announced that all Hindus from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh will get residence in India. I strongly oppose this idea. Why must we leave our motherland where we are born? Rather than this, I prefer that the government of India should pressurize the Bangladesh government to look after the common interests of Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh.
India also suffers a lot from illegal Bangladeshi infiltration, how do you see that?
I feel sad about this situation, but actually these illegal Bangladeshi infiltration is favoured by the Islamic fundamentalists and some political parties of India and they are taking the advantage of these illegal Bangladeshis for the vote bank purposes. Other reasons (for infiltration) are smuggling, illegal employment and political and religious violence.
What do you think of the present regime of Bangladesh? Do you believe Sheikh Hasina has done enough to protect the minority community?
Yes! We do believe her, but not her regime. It is a big shame for the present secular government. However, still the minorities of Bangladesh hope and have trust in Sheikh Hasina. She herself is also threatened by anti-secularism forces. She wants to do something for the minorities but these anti-secularism forces are not allowing her to do anything for the minorities. In fact, after the 2014 elections, situation for Hindus became dangerous. Each and every day Hindus are being targeted and killed, saints killed, destruction of Temples, setting fires to homes etc. Hasina government here has failed to protect both the minorities and the intellectuals and nobody (no criminal) got punished. However, they (minorities) still want to keep trusting Hasina.
A lot of secular and Atheist bloggers have been killed, Hindus and Christians are being killed in Bangladesh. Taslima Nasreen is already in exile. Do you think that minorities have any future in Bangladesh?
It is very sad for Bangladesh that secular forces are failing. Bloggers, Athiests, Hindus, Christians and everybody has a right to express their opinion. It is their constitutional right but unfortunately state hasn’t been able to ensure their fundamental rights. Fundamentalists are killing intellectuals and it is big loss for any secular society. If you ask Hindus and Christian minorities future in Bangladesh? Then, let me quote Dr. M. Rahman from Prothom Alo, March 29,2013, he said that “Bangladesh will be Hindu Free in next 20 years! And that the government and civil society failed to safeguard the interest of the religious minorities.”
Taslima is in exile because of her truthful writing. We have a so called secular government but even this (secular government) cannot bring her back home.
A petition was in the court challenging Islam as the state religion. How do you see that?
Present government got majority but they did not dare to take any step against the state religion. In 1975, the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was killed by the anti-liberation forces. After that Bangladesh was under rule of anti-secularism forces. They have used religion for their politics to ensure that they stay in power; it is continuing in Bangladesh politics from then on. In 1971, we all fought together for the freedom, but Hindus had one extra dream, that was to have religious freedom for everybody but we minorities never enjoyed the religious freedom.
Let me ask, finally, what do you feel minorities must do to survive in Bangladesh?
Minorities should be united to fight for equal rights and they should work with the majority, otherwise the minority has no voice.