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Sunday, June 11, 2023

1971, a forgotten tale

Atrocities against Hindus rarely make it to mainstream media even though these have always been a part of daily life in many parts of Bharat and elsewhere. Stories of partition and the bloody 1971 Bangladesh war of independence are even less known.

One such narrative came to light in 2011, some 40 years after the actual occurrence during the 1971 war. The story was told by a Hindu man Mr. Sitangshu Guha, now a senior journalist and a human rights advocate, settled in US, who was a young boy during the liberation of East Pakistan. Mr Guha’s father was posted at Chandpur while the family was living in Dhaka at the time.

Mr Sitangshu Guha in interview with ISPaD

The story, as told by Mr. Guha in a video interview to the ISPaD (Indian Subcontinent Partition Documentation) project in 2011, is about his brave and dangerous journey from Chandpur to Dhaka and back, to bring four of his family members safely out of Dhaka, where the prime motive of Pakistani army was to find religious minority Hindus and slaughter them.

During his travel from Chandpur to Dhaka by boat, he spent a night in a school building, witnessed a fruit market burnt by Pakistani army soldiers and heard about several killings of Hindus, but he was fortunate enough to reach the rented house in Dhaka where his family members used to live. His mother, two sisters and his younger brother were hiding in the upper portion of the house where the house owner used to live.

While telling this particular part of the story, he got very emotional as his mother at that time was dressed in a Muslim widow’s cloths in order to pretend to be a Muslim so as to be safe. Mr. Guha narrated this with a heavy heart and told “I looked at my mother and I was truly surprised by her appearance. My Hindu mother was forced to dress like a Muslim widow to stay alive. She had neither vermilion nor any white bangles (sankha) in her hands, rather dressed white as a widow. She looked older than her age and the fear of being detected as a Hindu mother was noticeable on her face. A Hindu mother was forced to give up her precious tradition to save herself and her family from the Pak butchers’ knife.”

My brother and sisters were very distressed from their traumatic situation and we could not speak for a while. He further said that they travelled part of the way back via a taxi in which the Muslim house-owner and another gentleman from Muslim league also escorted them till Fatulaah, and from there they took the same boatway back to Munshiganj and further back to Chandpur.

Unfortunately, Chandpur was also raided by the Pakistani army the very next day so the whole family moved to a rural area some 20 kms from Chandpur. He and the family stayed in the village Ashikathi for a couple of days before the village was also attacked. Then they moved further to a village called Ingla where they stayed for the next five to six months at a Hindu family friend’s place.

A group of 10 to 15 young Hindu boys were also taking care of guarding the houses 24×7. Later, when this house was ransacked, he and his family along with another group escaped to Agartala, Bharat. Once the dust had settled, he and his father returned back to Bangladesh after 1971. Rest of the family remained in Bharat.

When asked whether Hindus face any discrimination in Bangladesh, the man nods his head and recalls a few incidents of his student life. He remembers his Muslim teacher discriminating against Hindu pupils, particularly him. When further asked about facing any violence Mr. Guha recalls a neighboring Hindu doctor running an excellent practice whose house was ransacked one day and the household was occupied by some unfamiliar faces overnight. The doctor was never seen again. Such kind of discrimination and violence against Hindus can still be seen in Bangladesh.

Hindu activist Priya Saha from Bangladesh meeting US President Donald Trump along with other survivors of religious persecution

Another such mention of discrimination, loot, violence and religious persecution against Hindus in Bangladesh can be heard 48 years after the independence of Bangladesh at the US president Donald Trump’s meet with survivors of religious persecution in 2019. Here, a lady named Priya Saha is narrating Hindu hardship in Bangladesh and narrating how Muslim fundamentalists supported by the government loot and usurp their houses and property.

There are very few such cases that come to knowledge, but such atrocities against Hindus have been consistently going on in different parts of the world. Bangladesh is going to celebrate 50 years of independence next year but the state of minority Hindu  citizens remains the same as it was in 1971. Due to large scale displacement and mysterious disappearance of Hindu population because of lack of security & lack of socio-economic opportunities, the Hindu population in Bangladesh has reduced drastically.

Afsan Chowdhury, a liberation war historian and an academic explains “low-intensity violence” against religious and ethnic minorities caused forced migration. Abul Barakat, a renowned economist and professor of Dhaka University, predicts that in the next 30 years, there will be no Hindus remaining in  Bangladesh.

To establish his research, he says that an average of 632 Hindus left the country each day and 230,612 annually. This rapidly declining population of Hindus clearly points out that the Bangladeshi government needs to proactively take some steps to safeguard the rights of remaining Hindus.

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