Document - Bangladesh: Attacks on members of the Hindu minority
Attacks on members of the
Amnesty International has
been concerned about the situation of members of the Hindu
community in Bangladesh over the past several months. Following the
general elections on 1 October which were won by a coalition led by
Bangladesh Nationalist Party(BNP) with a large majority, BNP
supporters reportedly attacked Hindus because of their perceived
support for the rival Awami League party during elections. Hundreds
of Hindu families were reportedly driven off their land by groups
affiliated to the BNP-led coalition who, in some cases, allegedly
burnt their homes and raped Hindu women. Several Hindus were
reportedly killed. Amnesty International is calling on the
Government of Bangladesh to bring to justice perpetrators of these
attacks regardless of their position in society or in any political
Amnesty International is also
calling for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoner of
conscience Shahriar Kabir, a journalist who has sought to publicise
abuses against Hindus.
Hindus in Bangladesh have
tended to vote for and support parties such as the Awami League.
They have therefore been the target of a political backlash by
supporters of parties opposing the Awami League.
As a minority community in
Bangladesh sharing a language and religion with the Indian
populations of West Bengal, Hindus have been subjected to
discriminatory practices or attacks by Muslim groups in Bangladesh.
None of the governments in Bangladesh since its independence has
taken any decisive steps to protect Hindus in the face of potential
threats, including the current attacks.
While both Hindu men and
women have been subjected to attacks and intimidation, Hindu women
have been also subjected to sexual violence. As a state party to
the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of
Discrimination against Women, the Bangladesh Government is required
to take steps without delay to eliminate discrimination against all
women in Bangladesh. The Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination against Women has identified gender-based violence
which includes rape, as a form of discrimination (General
Recommendation 19 of 1992).
The current wave of attacks
against the Hindu community in Bangladesh began before the general
elections of 1 October 2001 when Hindus were reportedly threatened
by members of the BNP-led alliance not to vote, since it was
perceived their vote would be cast for the Awami League. The
backlash after the elections was systematic and severe. Reports
indicate that the worst affected areas have been in Barisal, Bhola,
parts of Pirojpur, Khulna, Satkhira, Gopalganj, Bagerhat, Jessore,
Commilla and Norsingdi. Attackers have reportedly entered Hindu
homes, beaten members of the family, looted their property and in
some cases, raped Hindu women.
One of the affected villages
was Ziodhara. Fear of backlash created a severe atmosphere of
tension in the village. Several hundred Hindu villagers left for
fear of being attacked and Hindu children would not attend
In another village, Deuatala
Bazaar, gangs of young men wielding sharp weapons reportedly went
from door to door telling Hindus to ''go away''. Hundreds of Hindu
villagers reportedly left the village.
In the village of Daspara in
Mithanala union, Mirersarai Upazila, a gang of about 25 youths
reportedly attacked homes of Hindus around midnight on 5 November.
One person, Sunil Das Sandhu, 28, was reportedly hacked to death
and 16 others were injured, some seriously. They ransacked houses,
looted them, dragged family members out of their homes and beat
them. Police reportedly arrested 12 persons in connection with this
attack, but it is not known if they have been charged.
Hundreds of Hindu families
have fled across the border into India because they have been
attacked or threatened. They have been trickling into India
reportedly either by paying bribes or crossing along the remote
unmanned border areas. According
France-Presseof 29 October 2001 they
have either ended up in camps or gone to their distant relatives.
Hindus interviewed by journalists have said they have been targeted
because they were thought to have been supporters of the defeated
Some Hindu places of worship
have also been attacked, including one in Chandaikona Bazaar in
Royganj area in Sirajganj on 22 October by a group of youths who
damaged Hindu statutes and looted the place.
Following a petition filed by
a Bangladeshi legal aid organization, Ain-o-Salish Kendra, the High
Court ordered the government on 26 November to explain why it has
not done more to protect the country's Hindu religious minority.
The court gave the government one month to respond.
Human rights organizations in
Bangladesh believe over 100 women may have been subjected to rape.
Reports persistently allege that the perpetrators have been mainly
members of the BNP or its coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami. Rape
victims are frequently reluctant to disclose their ordeal. What
follows is a sample of the available information.
A college student was
reportedly raped in front of her mother at her home in Azimnagar,
Bhanga, Faridpur. The attackers reportedly entered her home on 6
October at about 9pm, ransacked the house, looted valuables and
raped the student before leaving the house.
A school girl was reportedly
gang-raped in Delua, Ullapara, Sirajganj on 8 October. Attackers
entered her home, ill-treated members of her family, took her
outside the house and raped her.
Two Hindu women were
reportedly raped in front of their husbands on 11 October in
Khanzapur Upazila in Gournadi, Barisal. The attackers reportedly
came at night, knocked at the door, and told the family that they
should leave the area because they had voted for the Awami League.
They then reportedly tied up the husbands and raped the
Two Hindu women were
reportedly raped in their home in Bashkandi, Chorfashon, Bhola on 6
October. Male members of the family had already gone into hiding
for fear of being attacked. The attackers entered their home and
raped the girl and her mother.
A number of Hindu girls were
reportedly abducted. It is not known whether or not they have
returned to their families. A gang of armed men reportedly abducted
three Hindu girls at the village of Nohata in Shreepur in Magura
district on 11 October 2001. The men reportedly entered their home
at midnight and took the girls away. Another girl was reportedly
abducted from her home at Razarchor, Sadar, Barisal after the
attackers were not paid a large sum of money which they had
demanded for leaving the family alone. They also molested the
girl's mother and her aunt. There are fears that all of these girls
may have been subjected to rape.
National and international
reactions to the attacks
Soon after the elections, the
Bangladeshi press covered atrocities against the Hindu communities
widely, raising awareness in Bangladesh about their situation and
urging the authorities to take action. The move was reinforced by
Bangladeshi human rights organizations some of whom sent
investigative teams to the affected areas and held public meetings
in protest against the attacks.
On 15 October, Amnesty
International issued an Urgent Action expressing concern at reports
that Hindus and other religious minorities have been attacked since
the general election, allegedly by supporters of the BNP-led
coalition. Members of Amnesty International throughout the world
wrote to the authorities in Bangladesh urging them to take
immediate action to stop any attacks on religious minorities and to
provide the victims of these attacks with adequate and durable
protection. They wrote to the Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia
asking her to set up an impartial and independent commission of
enquiry to investigate the alleged attacks, identify the attackers
and bring those responsible to justice. Amnesty International
members also wrote to the Inspector General of Police urging him to
ensure that his officers take appropriate action on complaints
against the alleged attackers.
Government reaction to
concerns about the attacks was initially one of denial. Amnesty
International was particularly disturbed by reports in the
Bangladesh media in mid-October quoting Bangladesh Home Minister,
Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, as saying the news of the attacks on
members of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh were ''baseless,
exaggerated and politically motivated''. He said during a visit to
Barisal that he had not found any evidence of such reports.
However, on 26 October, he reportedly admitted that atrocities had
taken place but provided no information about the scale of the
France-Pressereported that the
Bangladesh Government had set up a committee headed by the
principal secretary to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to investigate
alleged atrocities committed against members of the Hindu community
and their reported exodus to India. The committee does not appear
to be independent of the government, as the Home Minister
reportedly has a supervisory role. The committee was to submit a
report within a week but there has been no further news about the
progress of this committee.
To date, a number of BNP
members have reportedly been arrested in connection with the
attacks on Hindus. For example, on 15 October,
Starreported the arrest of
Abdur Rouf, President of the BNP unit at Purba Delua village,
Ullapara thana, Sirajganj. He had reportedly led some 16 BNP
activists who had attacked Anil Shill, beating him as well as his
wife Basanta Rani and their two daughters Purnima and Gita Rani in
an attempt to secure land belonging to the family. Initially, the
police had refused to register a case against the
Reports in the Bangladeshi
press continue to point to the problems faced by members of the
Hindu minority, particularly in rural areas. One such report
indicates that some 30 Hindu families in Reeshipara village of
Boraigram Upazila in Natore have allegedly been threatened by armed
men identifying themselves as members of the BNP to either provide
them with 300,000 Taka ($5,317) before the end of Ramadan or leave
the village and settle in another place.
Killing of Gopal Krishna
The killing of a prominent
member of the Hindu community appears to be connected to the
current wave of attacks on Hindus. On 16 November, Gopal Krishna
Muhuri, Principal of Nazirhat College in Chittagong was shot dead
at his home. Four gunmen posing as members of the police detective
branch came to his house, called him to come to the door and fired
two shots at his head which killed him instantly. The circumstances
surrounding his killing point to the strong possibility that he was
targeted because of his identity as a prominent Hindu with a
successful career in the educational establishment of Chittagong
city. He had banned political activity in the college, a move
popular with ordinary students but opposed by armed students'
groups affiliated to the political parties who fight for the
control of halls of residence at educational institutions. At the
same time, a two-year extension of his tenure reportedly created
mounting disquiet among the majority Muslim staff of the college.
Police reportedly arrested at least two teachers and colleagues of
Gopal Krishna Muhuri on 17 November in connection with his murder.
They were allegedly linked to Jamaat-e-Islami, a party in the
Arrest of Shahriar
The arrest of a prominent
journalist and writer, Shahriar Kabir, who was investigating the
situation of Hindus after the attacks, has sent a chilling message
to human rights defenders in Bangladesh and throughout the world.
He was arrested and taken into custody of the Special Branch of the
police on 22 November at Dhaka Zia International airport on his
return from Kolkata. He had been to India to cover the situation of
Hindus who had fled persecution in Bangladesh after the general
elections. Police seized his passport, five video cassettes, 13
audio cassettes, three CDs, several unprocessed films and his
camera. He was detained under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure, which allows the police to detain people without a
warrant of arrest for 24 hours. The police asked for his remand in
police custody and a two-day remand order was issued by the
magistrate. However, the lawyer representing Shahriar Kabir sought
a stay of this remand order for two weeks, which was granted. The
court did not grant bail to the prisoner and he was sent to Dhaka
Central Jail where he was then served with a detention order under
the Special Powers Act (SPA).
The SPA provides for
detention on the grounds of ''preventing [a person] from doing any
prejudicial act'' for example by
causing''fear or alarm to
the public or any section of the
prejudice''matters relating to
defence, foreign relations, security, community relations,
administration of law, essential supplies and services, and
economic or financial interests. Its broadly formulated provisions
allow for the detention of people in contravention of their right
to freedom of expression. It has been frequently used by
Bangladeshi governments to detain political opponents. The extent
of its abuse is such that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party - now
the largest component of the ruling coalition - declared in its
manifesto its intention to repeal the law. The government has
pledged to fulfil this
The explanation the
government has given for the detention of Shahriar Kabir is
that''it was later found
that the videos contain objectionable and misleading statements
that are detrimental to communal harmony and subversive of the
state'', and that Shahriar
Kabir''in the interest of
vested quarters was involved in tarnishing the image of Bangladesh
and of the government in the outside
At the time of writing, the
grounds given by the government for the detention of Shahriar Kabir
do not relate to any specific penal charges. On 1 December, the
Bangladesh High Court asked the government to explain within one
week why Shahriar Kabir's detention was not illegal. The ruling
followed a writ petition by defence lawyers challenging his
Shahriar Kabir's detention
appears to be solely for writing articles, giving interviews and
taking video footage of Hindus who have been the subject of attacks
in recent months. In light of this, Amnesty International believes
that Shahriar Kabir's arrest is in contravention of his rights to
freedom of expression, which includes freedom to express his views
peacefully on the plight of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh. There
is no indication whatsoever that he has used or advocated violence.
Amnesty International therefore considers Shahriar Kabir to be a
prisoner of conscience and is calling for his immediate and
Immediate and decisive action
is needed by the government to address the situation of Hindus in
the country. Amnesty International is urging the highest
authorities in Bangladesh to:
1. Publicly condemn attacks
against members of the Hindu community.
2. Take decisive action to
protect members of the Hindu community against attacks.
3. Initiate a full, impartial
and independent investigation of the attacks and make the result of
this investigation public.
04. Bring to justice all
perpetrators of the attacks regardless of their position in society
or in any political party.
5. Provide compensation to
victims of the attacks.
6. Ensure that discriminatory
laws against Hindus and other minorities are repealed.
7. Take appropriate
disciplinary or criminal action against any police personnel who
have failed to ensure the protection of members of the Hindu
8. Amnesty International is
also urging the Government of Bangladesh to release Shahriar Kabir
immediately and unconditionally since his detention is in
contravention of his right to freedom of expression.