People often ask me why I have dedicated myself to fighting for the Hindus of Bangladesh. After all, I am not a Hindu; I am Jewish. And I am not South Asian but American. So what is a non-Hindu, non-NRI (non-resident Indian) American doing here in Kolkata today?
There are so many ways to answer this question. I could talk about my love of the Hindu people and how knowing India has made me a better person; or I could speak about the imperative for people everywhere to stop violent jihad; but I most often begin this way.
What if you found yourself in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, or more recently in Darfur?
You might have looked around and thought, ‘Something’s wrong. Something’s terribly wrong. You can see that. I’m afraid that something really bad is about to happen, and no one seems to be doing anything to stop it.’ Knowing what you know now, what would you have done? Gone about your life, pretending that you didn’t see what you saw? Or would you do everything in your power to stop the impending atrocity and save the lives of so many innocent people? Would it have mattered if you were not Jewish or African? We here today do not have to guess at what our answer should be. We have the lessons of history. Because of the Holocaust and what happened in places like Darfur, we know what will happen—and it is about to happen again.
Bangladesh’s Hindu population is dying. This is not opinion or “Islamaphobia,” or anything else people want to call it to deny reality. It’s a fact. At the time of India’s partition in 1948, Hindus made up just under a third of East Pakistan’s population. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were less than a fifth; thirty years later, less than one in ten; and many put today’s Hindu population at less than eight percent. Professor Sachi Dastidar from the State University of New York estimates that about 49 million Hindus are missing from the Bangladeshi census. Still having trouble wondering where this is going? Take a look at Pakistan where a once robust Hindu population is down to one percent or Kashmir where Hindus are almost extinct. Take a look at the future of Bangladesh’s Hindus if we do not act.
Who did it? Not al Qaeda or Jamaat; but simply Muslims who lived in the area and knew they could have their way with the family, seize their land, and get away with it. And that is chilling because history has shown that the most “successful” cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing occur when a small cadre of true believers incites average citizens to engage in heinous acts against a targeted minority; acts they otherwise would not dream of committing.
Some might argue that we should not bring religion into this, that religion should not be important in this discussion. Perhaps that is true—in theory—but let us be clear that this girl was not raped and, oh by the way, she happened to be a Hindu. She was raped because she was a Bangladeshi Hindu and therefore not subject to the usual protections of the law. And the men did not rape her and, oh by the way, they happened to be Muslim. They knew they could rape that little girl and get away with it because they were Bangladeshi Muslims. We were not the ones who injected religion into this. So if anyone’s sensibilities are offended, they need to address that with those who did.
Not surprisingly, the election of a supposedly pro-minority Awami League government in Bangladesh has done nothing to stop the atrocities; if anything, they are getting worse. In April 2009, Sheikh Hasina did a most amazing thing. A French delegation was in Dhaka to visit the new Bangladeshi Prime Minister who told them that her government would repeal all of the country’s anti-minority laws. Did she realize what she was saying? Here we have the Prime Minister of Bangladesh admitting that her nation in fact has anti-minority laws. Bangladeshi officials usually retreat behind the empty promises of religious equality in their nation’s constitution, but not that day. The Prime Minister was saying that these are not merely the crimes of a few bad actors but that discrimination against Hindus and others is enshrined in Bangladesh’s legal system!
And did she repeal those laws as she promised? No; even though she could have done so.
Instead of action, we get excuses; and the excuses have not stopped a single atrocity; neither have the current government’s empty promises. In fact, it does not matter whether the openly Islamist BNP or the more secretly complicit Awami League ruled Bangladesh. Both have been passive bystanders, failing—or refusing—to exercise their sovereign responsibility to protect the life and security of all their citizens; and both have shared in the spoils of stolen Hindu property. Thus they have sent radical Islamists and common citizens alike a clear message that these acts can be undertaken with impunity, and the victims can expect no justice.
There is an old expression, “light is the best disinfectant”; that is, we assume that if people are forced to confront the reality of these atrocities, they will do something about it. The government of Bangladesh and the forces of violent jihad benefit from the lack of “light” on their anti-Hindu assault. It allows international powers that be to ignore the matter and focus on pretty much anything else. We need to correct that. It is also clear that South Asian realties have somehow impeded area governments from taking the lead in defending the defenseless and giving voice to the voiceless.
When I speak to other Americans about the Bangladeshi Hindus, I often hear: ‘Well, if things are as dire as you say they are, why are we not hearing anything from the Hindus themselves; or from India?’ It is a pretty powerful argument. We can understand if the refugees and other victims do not feel empowered to speak out, but we also know that there are many who can. There is a large NRI (Non-Resident Indian) population making waves throughout the world, but never about this issue. There are also plenty people inside India who can raise their voices through various legal means and let the government and media know that they will not stand for the continued murder of the Bangladeshi Hindus; that if they are not listened to today, they will return tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and so on and so on and will do so until their anguished cries become too loud to ignore.
Take note, too, that the genocide in Darfur would not have grabbed the world’s attention as it did were it not for celebrity George Clooney. Why can’t that work for this issue? If we refuse to be silenced about what is happening, it could stir celebrity activists like soon to be Hindus Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, or Hindu Julia Roberts whose notoriety would shine that disinfecting light on these atrocities.
So how do you gain control of that situation? First, monitor the legislation, which I have been doing; second, make sure your contacts in Washington become aware the facts, which I also am doing; third, enough prominent people need to see how serious an issue it is. That goes back to us making a noise loud enough here to be heard in Washington and other capitals; a noise so loud that the media cannot ignore it and remain credible. In the United States, Hindus and others need to contact lawmakers and register their outrage at what is being done to innocent people in Bangladesh—something we expect will happen more in 2011.
We have a very ambitious agenda for 2011. Loud and visible outrage from Hindus here and in the US will make success more likely and that disinfecting light more powerful. It will help Bangladeshis recognize that they only have to protect all of their own citizens in order to end the opposition and benefit over 150 million people. It sounds simpler than it is, but it does give you a good idea of how to tie economics to moral behavior.
We, of course, cannot do it alone, and we need your help. Please join us through our web site, http://www.forcefieldnow.org. Join us in this fight for our lives.