- - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hindus in Bangladesh have been intensely persecuted in recent years. As Americans, we should stand in solidarity with them and to support them in obtaining minority rights within the land of their birth.

Americans always pride themselves on having a society that supports freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and minority rights. In the United States, Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of numerous other faiths live side by side in peace and harmony. Unfortunately, not all members of minority groups are lucky enough to enjoy these basic human rights. We have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with minority groups who are persecuted across the globe because it is an American value to support religious freedom. This is why I call upon Americans to support the Hindu community in Bangladesh.

In recent years within Bangladesh, radical Islam has been on the ascent and the Hindu community within the country has borne the brunt of this horrific reality. Hindus make up around 9.5 percent of the Bangladeshi population, but some analysts fear that if the present situation continues, in about 20 years there will be almost no Hindus left. There are many cases of Hindu women being raped, kidnapped and being forced to convert to Islam. Hindu temples are being demolished and Hindu gods are routinely desecrated.

Lands and assets belonging to Hindus are being seized. According to various reports, as of January 2015, at least 431,000 people continue to be displaced as a result of past conflicts and the ongoing violence within the country. Many of these internally displaced Bangladeshis are either Hindus or Buddhists. According to the International Displacement Monitoring Center, Bangladesh‘s ethnic and religious minority groups are disproportionally affected by the country’s displacement crisis. A significant portion of displaced Bangladeshis live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, an area that contains millions of Hindus and Buddhists who chose not to migrate to India during the 1947 partition. About 280,000 people have been displaced by intercommunal violence alone in this region since 1973.

But what is worse is that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government encourages this wanton and brutal violence against the minorities within Bangladesh. “Bangladesh‘s religious minorities have been facing attacks since the 2014 national election,” the Christian Conference of Asia reported. “During the elections, minority-dominated villages were the worst attacked places, where individuals and groups looted and burned properties and residences owned by members of the Hindu, Christian and Buddhist religions in different parts of the country.” During that period of time, armed gangs displaced 5,000 families and left hundreds dead. None of the perpetrators were punished.

Since 2014, the violence has not stopped. “Different forms of violence are reported against the minority communities in Bangladesh in several national newspapers,” Shipan Kumer Basu, head of the Hindu Struggle Committee, noted. “It is important to stress that many more incidents occur that go unreported especially in the rural areas. Additionally, violence against women is generally not made public due to cultural and social taboos. My appeal to the international community is that both of the major parties of Bangladesh have maligned and pressured the minorities, the BNP a bit less than the present ruling Awami League. The voting rights of the minorities has been systematically diminished. Therefore, they don’t have a say in the government. Unless the minorities are empowered, the torture and subduing of minority groups won’t stop.”

Given this brutal reality for the Hindus and other minority communities within Bangladesh, the U.S. government should do more to apply pressure upon the Bangladeshi regime to improve its human rights record and to encourage fresh elections to be held under international supervision. This is the only way to improve the plight of the minorities within the country. As Americans, we should not sit idly by and ignore these atrocities against the minority communities because the lack of religious freedom and human rights in one location in the world is likely to spread to other places.

As Elie Wiesel proclaimed, “Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place at that moment must become the center of the universe. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” The visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel represents a further strengthening of the ties between the Hindu and the Jewish people. These two ancient peoples have increased bonds with one another due to their shared history of persecution in Muslim lands, their joint struggle against radical Islam and their strong commitment to intellectual achievements, democracy and human rights. Given this, it also fitting for the world’s oldest democracy to join in an alliance with the only democracy in the Middle East and the world’s largest democracy in order to support Hindu rights within Bangladesh.

• Rachel Avraham is a media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent at the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”

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