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The missing population

  • Published at 12:01 am July 28th, 2019
Hindu minority in Bangladesh
A lack of security MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Have minority populations actually gone down?

Secularist Shahriar Kabir, Muntassir Mamoon, Prof Syed Anwar Hossain, Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, Prof Ameena Mohsin, Prof CR Abrar, Robaet Ferdous, and many others often contest the concept of “minority” as used by politicians, law-makers, bureaucrats, and policymakers.

They ask -- who is a “minority” in Bangladesh?

Imtiaz Ahmed and Amena Mohsin argued that the rule of “majoritarian” is in three segments. First, Bangalis are the majority in Bangladesh; second, they are Muslim in the majority, and third, they are by default bonded with Bangali nationalism.

The triple majority gives them a culturally homogenous population.

In this formulation, the political elites chose the dominant/majority community as a model of the nation, while the minority/weaker communities were expected to assimilate themselves with the “mainstream,” ie the dominant majority community, writes Prof Amena Mohsin.

Apparently, Bengal spearheaded racial politics, which ultimately led to the birth of Pakistan. All-India Muslim League was born in 1906 in Dhaka, and leaders from Bengal proposed the controversial two-nations theory, separate homeland for Indian Muslims.

The two-nation theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah tore the Bangali community apart amongst Hindu and Muslim in 1947. The rest is history.

In the year 1946, 1947, 1992, and 2001, there was widespread racial violence which resulted in countless deaths and also triggered forced migration from both India and then East Pakistan.

Days after Khaleda Zia’s dramatic return to power after the general elections on October 1, the untold persecution of Hindu voters, as well as armed attacks on Awami League voters, raged throughout the country.

Filmmaker and journalist Shahriar Kabir had documented the persecution in several volumes and produced documentary films on the reign of terror unleashed by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) henchmen and its alliance of Islamist parties.

Similarly, the AL government after a judicial inquiry into the violence during post-October 1 elections also published volumes of narratives of persecution -- mostly Hindus and AL’s local leaders and voters.

Abul Barakat, a renowned economist and professor of Dhaka University, predicts that in the next 30 years, there will be no Hindus living in this country. 

To establish his research, he claims that an average of 632 Hindus left the country each day and 230,612 annually.

Afsan Chowdhury, a liberation war historian and an academic explains “low-intensity violence” against religious and ethnic minorities caused forced migration.

In an article, “Disasters: Issues and Responses, in Philip Gain (ed) Bangladesh Environment: Facing the 21st Century,” published in 1988 by Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), that the independence of Bangladesh has not brought much peace for Hindus who numbered about 10 million in Bangladesh.

Lack of socio-economic opportunities, low-intensity hostility at all socio-economic levels including the state, and greater opportunities across the border are the push-pull factors which have led to Hindus crossing through the porous border every day, writes Afsan Chowdhury.

The researcher further states that the Hindus are passing through a disaster situation as their life, property, and peace have all been made to feel insecure by the lack of security, and existing state policies and public action, which are forcing them to escape to another land, another society.

The declaration of Islam as the state religion may not have many institutional or formal ramifications, but it has made the minorities in Bangladesh distant from the core of the state. 

This illustrates how low-intensity violence against minorities can push millions into a state of silent disaster.

Mohiuddin Ahmad, a writer, and researcher in an article in Weekly Holiday published on January 7, 1994, writes that the first census (1974) of independent Bangladesh registered the population of Hindus to be 13.5% of the total population. 

This proportion dropped down to 12.1% in 1981 and 10.5% in 1991, while the proportion of Buddhists and Christians remained stable. The Muslim population, however, increased from 85.4% in 1974 to 88.3% in 1991.

He argues that the Hindu population cannot wither away. In demographic terms, the situation has to be addressed using relevant parameters of fertility, morality, growth rate, and migration.

Nearly 78 years ago in 1941, 28.3% of the total population was comprised of minorities.

The population of Hindus was 11.88 million. Despite the population growth, the present Hindu population stands at around 12 million.

If the normal increase rate prevailed, the number of the Hindu community in this country would have been 32.5 million, but the Hindu population in Bangladesh stood at 12.5 million in the 1991 census. Therefore, the missing population is 20 million or more by now. 

Saleem Samad is an Ashoka Fellow, recipient of Hellman-Hammett Award, a freelance journalist, and media rights defender.

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