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Wanted: Some Hindu spine

By Vijay Dandapani
Last updated on: August 12, 2005 22:28 IST
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Human rights are by definition universal. Hence, in an ideal world there would be no need to write a separate report on the human rights of Hindus, or for that matter any other group.

In the real world, unfortunately, there is a gaping hole when it comes to the awareness of human rights for Hindus, mainly in Bangladesh, Pakistan and even in the Kashmir valley.

A report recently released by the Hindu American Foundation, on the status of human right of Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Kashmir begins to fill that hole, spelling out in great detail and with much documentation the pathetic condition of millions of Hindus who live as minorities amongst a Muslim population.

The 71-page report compiles media coverage and first-hand accounts of human rights violations perpetrated against Hindus because of their religious identity. The incidents are documented, often quoting from well-known international human rights organizations.

Pakistan asks Hindus to quit military area   

The Hindu American Foundation, a non-partisan American group, presented the report to the co-chairs of the US Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and Gary Ackerman, a Democrat. Both of these members of Congress endorsed it.

The report documents the long-history of anti-Hindu atrocities in Bangladesh, a topic that many Indians and Indian governments over the years have preferred not to acknowledge. Such atrocities, including targeted attacks against temples, open theft of Hindu property, and rape of young Hindu women and enticements to convert to Islam, have increased sharply in recent years after the Jamat-e-Islami joined the coalition government led by the Bangladesh National Party.

But that is only the latest chapter of a much longer pattern of persecution. Hindus comprised 30 per cent of Bangladesh's population in 1947 but are less than 10 per cent today. The estimated loss of 20 million Bangladeshi Hindus is because of an ongoing genocide and forced exodus.

Discrimination against Bangladeshi Hindus: Report   

An interesting and sad aside to that statistic is that much of the purge has occurred well after the liberation of that country thanks to Indian blood and treasure.

Hindus in what is now Pakistan have declined from 23 per cent of the total population in 1947 to less than 2 per cent today. The report rightly condemns Pakistan for systematic state-sponsored religious discrimination against Hindus through bigoted "anti-blasphemy" laws. It documents numerous reports of millions of Hindus being held as "bonded laborers" in slavery-like conditions in rural Pakistan, something repeatedly ignored by the government. Pakistan aggressively portrays its struggle against India as a Hindu-Muslim conflict, making it clear that its own Hindu minority is fair game for persecution.

'Hindus are at the end of their tether'   

Even within India, the pattern is the same. The combination of Pakistani-sponsored violence and local anti-Hindu sentiment has led to a similar "religious cleansing" of the Kashmir valley, where almost all the Hindus have fled.

Much like the Bangladeshi Hindu refugees in India, the Kashmiri Hindus are an unpalatable subject for many Indians, an ideological embarrassment for some people who feel uneasy about discussing the persecution of Hindus by Muslims. Some Indians still prefer to blame the Indian government for the flight of Kashmiri Hindus, deliberately ignoring the campaign launched by various Muslim groups to use public threats and violence, including murder, to terrify the local Hindus into leaving.

Heed the New Hindu Mood   

Some Indians may feel uncomfortable with this report because they do not want to be reminded about the problems of Hindus outside their milieu. And for some in the Indian intelligentsia, it is a badge of honour to distance themselves from these pogroms as a mark of their supposed enlightenment, oddly trashing their own ethos in the process. Many more Indians are reluctant to speak out against atrocities committed against Hindus for fear of being labeled "communal". Merely speaking about human rights for Hindus is for them a form of communalism.

These arguments are false. The people whose persecution is amply documented in this report are being persecuted because they are Hindu, not because they are poor or because of their political views. Brave human rights activists in Bangladesh and Pakistan, many of whom are not Hindus, have painstakingly documented the violations of basic human rights of Hindus in their country.

How ironic, and revealing about modern Indian culture, that so many Indians, most of whom are Hindus, are reluctant to acknowledge the problem, let alone do something about it. The sad reality of this world is that if Indians do not care about the persecution of Hindus nobody else will.

The dispossession of the Hindus   

What is to be done? The thugs and bigots attacking Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan do not care for the liberal sensibilities of human rights people in any country. They understand power and nothing else. In an inter-connected world in which India is emerging as a new power, Indians can make a difference. The matter cannot be left to the Indian government alone. It cannot act without public support.

Moreover, the government, and the scotch-sipping socialists in Delhi, typically lacks the courage to ignore Muslim vote-bank politics in India and publicly address this problem.

Indians, meaning all Indians and not just Hindus, have to speak out by themselves. It is in everybody's interest to build an India that provides equal treatment and respect to all its citizens, regardless of religion. The same principle should be demanded of Bangladesh and Pakistan.

It is not just Hindus but also Muslims, Sikhs and others in India who, if they believe in equality, should insist in public that India's neighbors show respect for the human rights of minorities.

India's own human rights record is not faultless but is remarkably good for a country of its diversity and poverty. India has a vibrant civil society, plus public institutions like the judiciary and the media, who speak out against persecution and demand that the constitution be respected. That is India's strength, and the reason its people have the right to demand similar behavior of its neighbors when it comes to human rights in their own countries.

Why Hindus are cowards   

Indian writers, intellectuals, NGOs, civic groups, media and even political parties often protest against injustice or atrocities in their own country or in other countries. It is time that they started such protests about the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Kashmir.

This report from the Hindu American Foundation has all the data and the facts, but is not tainted by the partisanship and the "secular" versus "communal" debate inside India. Unless there is popular pressure in India, the Government of India will do nothing and Bangladesh and Pakistan will do nothing.

There may soon be no Hindus left in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Neither India nor its directly culpable neighbours in the sub-continent can afford such an outcome.

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Vijay Dandapani