Bangladesh's Hindu community once again is under grievous assault.
In the aftermath of the recent general elections, hundreds of Hindus have fled their homes in such regions as Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Rajshahi, Jessore and Chittagong.
Once again, there is an eerie reminder of the trauma the Bangalee nation, especially its Hindu segment, faced in the course of the War of Liberation when the occupation Pakistan army and its local collaborators went after the proponents of Bangalee nationalism.
A very large-scale exodus of Hindus took place at the time of the partition of India in August 1947, when for understandable reasons it became a question of the survival of the community in a country fashioned out of a so-called two-nation theory.
Three years later, in 1950, communal riots led to a newer group of Hindus leaving what was then East Pakistan and making their way to neighbouring West Bengal in India.
In 1964, through the instigation of the Ayub-Monem clique in Pakistan, more Hindus left East Pakistan. The crisis was contained only when a secular Bangalee political leadership, among whom was the future Bangabandhu, put up a determined resistance against communalism and succeeded in containing what might have become a conflagration.
In 1971, the Pakistan army went with a vengeance after Bangladesh's Hindus, an outrage that was to go on for nine long months. In the process, the soldiers not only killed such revered Hindu figures as Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, Govinda Chandra Dev, Dhirendranath Dutta and others but also mowed down hundreds of Hindu students who resided at Jagannath Hall of Dhaka University.
Things ought to have been different in independent Bangladesh. And yet, in post-1975 circumstances, the country's Hindu community once again became a target of assault, in many instances through the subtle and not-so-subtle encouragement of the ruling classes. Over these past four decades, many more Hindus have left Bangladesh, with most trekking off to India. The more fortunate ones, in terms of academic excellence or economic strength, have made their homes in the developed world.
Today, the country's Hindu population, which in 1971 numbered as high as 25 per cent of the total population, has declined appallingly to below 10 per cent. Hindu homes have been vandalised for close to four decades; Hindu temples have been destroyed; Hindu-owned property has been looted systematically; Hindus have been looked upon as Indian agents.
Today, it is with a huge degree of shame that one must recount the havoc wreaked on Hindus following the electoral triumph of the BNP-Jamaat alliance in October 2001. Supporters of the alliance went on a rampage, beating and raping and killing Hindus in no fewer than 2,500 villages in the country. No action was taken against the marauders.
Our grievance is that even today, with the conclusion of the general election of January 5, Hindus all over the country cower in fear of elements which have been threatening them since before the voting. As our news reports over the past few days have made it clear, there were patent threats held out against the community in various regions of the country.
Why were these threats not taken seriously by the administration? Where were the measures that should have ensured their security as citizens of Bangladesh? In the aftermath of the elections, once they came under attack from the BNP-Jamaat-Shibir cadres, frantic appeals went out to the police for help.
No response came. Neither was there any move on the part of the Awami League or its alliance partners to go to the rescue of the endangered Hindus.
We bow our heads in deep shame at what has systematically been done to our fellow citizens only because they pursue a faith different from that of the majority religious denomination. Our sense of shame sinks deeper in the knowledge that hardly any individual of repute or any organisation professing its belief in secular democracy, has come forward to condemn this brutalisation of the Hindu community and to resist the menace of communalism in the country.
It is now for the state of Bangladesh to reassure its Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and its indigenous people that this country is a secular geographical entity, that it is home to all its people, that an attack on one community is an attack on every community, that those who from now on attempt to humiliate any community will be dealt with summarily and with an iron hand.
The state must not fail again. If it does, this country will stand guilty of indulging in ethnic cleansing.