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With the 7th January elections approaching, should Hindus in Bangladesh prepare for far worse persecution? BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and challenge for Hasina

Hindus cannot align with the ultra-Islamist and pro-Pakistan BNP or its jihadist cohorts Jamaat-e-Islami, Hefazat-e-Islam etc. On the other hand, though they cannot have confidence in the Awami League, still they remain in the frying pan instead of jumping into the fire. Politicians continue to shed crocodile tears in favour of Hindus, despite the fact, that a large number of them are directly or indirectly responsible for Hindu persecution in Bangladesh.

After 9-month’s bloody war, where three million Bengalis were butchered and 400,000 girls and women raped by the Pakistani occupation forces, on December 16, 1971, Bangladesh was born with the firm determination of being a secular country. Unfortunately, during the last 52 years, Bangladesh has been gradually slipping towards the identity of an ultra-Islamist country while there is growing fear of this South Asian nation becoming a neo-Taliban state. It may be mentioned here that, during the war of independence, Bengali Hindus were the worst-ever victims, as Pakistani occupation forces considered them as Kafir or infidels.

As the January 7, 2024 election approaches, there is growing fear within the Hindu populace in Bangladesh, as BNP, Jamaat and Islamist-jihadist forces in the country accuse Hindus of being supportive of Awami League and being its key driving force. Unfortunately, Awami League, which is supposed and expected to be protecting the Hindus in Bangladesh has also been accused of allowing persecution of Hindus, while according to several media outlets in India, Hindus in Bangladesh are “facing genocide” while the notorious Digital Security Act (now named as Cyber Security Act) has been used to “trap and jail many innocent Hindus”.

While the terminology “genocide” may be overstated – there is no argument about continuous persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh – irrespective of whichever party or force be in power. To understand the gravity of such continuous cruelty on Hindus in Bangladesh and how the country has been gradually heading towards ultra-Islamism, and antisemitism thus destroying its secularist fabric, it is important to understand the exact scenario that deserves the attention of the international media in particular.

A gruesome and horrible picture of Hindu repression is presented to the members of the media by a rights group in Bangladesh. The information said the members of the Hindu religious community have been subjected to various forms of torture and cruel persecution. This time, the ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and their ideological partner and ally – Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat) and pro-Islamist and jihadist forces including Hefazat-e-Islami (Hei) are trying to prevent the election and unseat Awami League government from power with visible blessings of Biden Administration. Since these ultra-Islamist and Hindu-hating forces cannot stop the elections, it is anticipated that they will start vandalism and terrorist acts targeting Hindus as had done in the past.

The statistics said, only in 2022, 154 members of the Hindu communities were killed, 849 have received life threats, and 424 have been attempted to murder while 360 have been seriously injured and 39 girls and women were raped in Bangladesh. At least 89,990 acres of land belonging to minority communities – mainly Hindus have been encroached on in the last year while 572 families were evicted from their homes and 445 families were forced to migrate to India.

Apart from this, a total financial loss of BDT 220 crore 89 lakh has been done to the minority community throughout the year.

Islamists have extorted BDT 27 crore 46 lakh and 33 thousand takas from Hindus. During this time, the minorities have suffered a total loss of BDT 22 crores and 89 lakhs of taka.

In 2022 alone, 319 Hindu families and temples were looted, 891 attacks on homes, 519 cases of arson and 173 attacks and vandalism on Hindu businesses took place. Around 57 Hindu houses, 50 business establishments and 51 temple lands were also encroached.

Despite Bangladesh’s one of the fundamental principles is secularism, the country has been inclining towards Islamism, Hindu-hatred and anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ideological ally Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and other Islamist forces in Bangladesh have chosen to boycott the upcoming election and resorted to destructive acts including blockades and terrorist attacks to destabilize the country’s law and order situation with the desire of toppling Sheikh Hasina and capturing power through undemocratic process.

As BNP’s anti-election attempts are faltering and there are speculations of the party being isolated and even going extinct, top brasses of the party are expressing anger at India for supporting Sheikh Hasina and ruling Awami League in holding the upcoming general election and ensuring its straight fourth term. This frustration is leading to a reassessment of BNP’s relationship with India, with instructions to mobilize anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiments to attract support from the Muslim masses.

According to media reports, BNP has decided to reevaluate its relationship with India as the neighbouring country is openly supporting the ruling Awami League in connection to the January 7 general election. BNP’s acting chairman Tarique Rahman has already instructed party leaders to mobilize anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiment in Bangladesh, as Tarique believes, such a move would help BNP attract enhanced support from the Muslim masses in the country.

BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told reporters that “with the unilateral support of India, Awami League is heading towards holding another voter-less election in Bangladesh. Delhi has snatched away the fate of Bangladeshi citizens and played a key role in killing democracy for its interest”.

He further said, “in the name of stability, India has extended its support to dictatorship”.

Reports suggest that BNP plans to launch a massive campaign targeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), using religious and nationalist sentiments to brand them as enemies of Islam and Bangladesh.

With such a nefarious agenda of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies, Hindus in Bangladesh may face extreme cruelties following the January 7 general elections, while BNP-Islamist cohorts and propagandists in the West may further intensify their notorious activities targeting Hindus and India.

According to media reports, a pro-Islamist individual and BNP propagandist named Zulkarnain Saer Sami, alias Zulkarnain Saer, alias Zulkarnain Saer Khan Sami alias Tanvir Md. Sadat, who after being deported from Hungary landed in the United Kingdom and sought asylum has been running activities against India, Hindus and Israel and in the recent past threatened to behead a Bangladeshi Hindu rights activist and professor named Kushal Baran Chakraborty and termed Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS) as “top terrorists”. Prominent media outlet EuroNews reported that this notorious jihadist terrorist has been plotting attacks on the Israeli embassy as well as Jewish synagogues, homes and business establishments, while he also reportedly is plotting attacks on Jewish community members in Britain.

Zulkarnain Saer’s criminal activities are not confined to Bangladesh and Britain – he has also been implicated in transnational drug trafficking networks. He was expelled from Hungary due to his involvement in a series of illegal activities, which he conducted under the façade of running a restaurant business in Budapest. This establishment served as a nexus for individuals engaged in unlawful activities, including connections with the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist outfit Hamas.

According to the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), which is one of the most comprehensive compendiums of information and analysis of terrorist groups and activities in the world, jihadist Zulkarnain Saer Khan threatened to behead a Hindu rights activist and professor Kushal Baran Chakraborty in Chittagong, Bangladesh. It may be mentioned here that TRAC has listed Zulkarnain Saer as a jihadist terrorist.

Describing the notoriety of Zulkarnain Saer Khan, on June 25, 2022, Rashmi Samant, Hindu human rights activist and former president of the Oxford University student union tweeted stating: “Kushal Baran Chakraborty ji is a good friend and a well-known Bangladeshi Hindu Activist who is currently being dog-whistled by one the biggest Jihadi Pages of Bangladesh. They are posting everything from his address to his occupation to his regular routes”.

Reshmi Samant further wrote: “His crime? He has an old photo with @myogiadityanath ji and that is worthy of a death sentence in Bangladesh. One of the biggest jihadi pages of the country “Basherkella” has posted a long thread making blasphemous accusations”.

In a Facebook post dated June 27, 2022, pro-jihadist culprit Zulkarnain Saer Khan wrote:

The best thing about posting about Kushal Baran Chakraborty, a teacher at Chittagong University, about his involvement with the top cadres of the extremist organization RSS in India and its Hindutva propaganda is that it has become clear that Kushal is in fact their best friend.

Kushal is now giving “dharna” to people who are involved in RSS and Hindutva propaganda in different places and sharing various news about me published with the help of Bangladesh government and asking people to post them again.

With such intelligence, it is difficult to come up with RSS propaganda. He has approached an individual who had to resign as president of the Oxford University Student Union over racist posts. The woman [Rashmi Samant] is so smart that she is sharing the news of the propaganda newspaper Blitz on her verified Twitter [account] stating I have threatened Kushal!

Mr. Kushal can meet individuals like Yogi Adityanath, RSS hoodlum Keshab Prasad, Sanatan Vidyarthi with the secret plot of spreading Hindutva propaganda in Bangladesh and writing about this causes problem?

It may be mentioned here that, Sami maintains links with several jihadist outfits including Hizbul Mujahedin, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Pakistani spy agency Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).

For the last several weeks, BNP propagandist Zulkarnain Saer Khan has been continuously publishing anti-India posts giving instigation to attacking Hindus in Bangladesh for “supporting Awami League” and serving “New Delhi’s agenda”.

Commenting on the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, Sumit Ganguly in an article in Foreign Policy magazine wrote, “Bangladesh’s Muslim majority has long had a divided identity. On the one hand, Bangladeshis are attached to the Bengali language, which is largely seen as a source of shared cultural pride. Linguistic discrimination more than any other factor led the nation into its 1971 independence war. (People in Pakistan, then West Pakistan, predominantly speak Urdu and Punjabi.) On the other hand, Islam has uniquely permeated present-day Bangladesh. It arrived in what was then the province of Bengal relatively late: around the 13th century, well after the Muslim conquests of present-day Pakistan and northwestern India. Unlike elsewhere on the subcontinent, Muslim rulers in Bengal introduced their religion slowly. The peasantry adopted their agricultural technology, their values, and eventually their faith—absent the orthodox norms common in other parts of the Islamic world.

However, Bangladesh’s moderate version of Islam began to shift in the 1980s, in part because of the growing influence of Wahhabism. Saudi funds enabled the building of madrassas (religious schools) and mosques, as well as supported radical imams. At the same time, many Bangladeshis travelled to the Persian Gulf in the wake of the 1970s oil boom, becoming exposed to a more rigid version of Islam. They returned to Bangladesh flush with their earnings and newfound religious zeal. The country’s largest Islamist political party, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, likely courted these returning expatriates.

Against this backdrop, several radical Islamist organizations emerged, particularly in the last two decades. Among the most prominent are Ansarullah Bangla Team, Hizb ut Tahrir, and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). These groups have attacked secular intellectuals, terrorized the Hindu community, and launched dramatic terrorist attacks, including in Dhaka, the capital. They have sought to intimidate those who dare to challenge their vision of Islam, including educators, journalists, and even politicians. Although the government has spoken out against Islamist extremism, its willingness and ability to crack down on these organizations has not been sufficient.

The Bangladeshi government’s track record does not offer much comfort in the wake of the recent violence. When the centre-right Bangladesh Nationalist Party ruled in an alliance with the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party from 2001 to 2006, the government was widely seen as unsympathetic to ethnic and religious minorities. Despite its secular values, the ruling Awami League party has not demonstrated any great commitment to protecting the Hindu community and other minorities. Barring a few constituencies, neither major party relies on minority electoral support.

Unfortunately, Hindus in Bangladesh do not have much choice. They cannot align with the ultra-Islamist and pro-Pakistan Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) or its jihadist cohorts Jamaat-e-Islami, Hefazat-e-Islam etcetera. On the other hand, though they cannot have confidence in the Awami League, still they remain in the frying pan instead of jumping into the fire. Politicians continue to shed crocodile tears in favour of Hindus, despite the fact, that a large number of them are directly or indirectly responsible for grabbing Hindu properties and or remained silent on ongoing Hindu persecution in Bangladesh. Still, Hindus in Bangladesh shall vote on January 7, without knowing – what fate awaits them following this election.

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research scholar, and counterterrorism specialist. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers.

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