The best thing about Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI) is that it doesn’t kill Hindus simply because of their faith. To be honest, the Jamaat pales into insignificance before monstrous Hindutva outfits that regularly target Muslims in India. This is the plain truth about the much-maligned Islamic party next door. Of course, Indian and western media don’t allow facts to get in the way of a good story. In their coverage of the escalating unrest—the ongoing war crimes trials, the Shahbag Square protests, and the flaring up of tension after Jamaat leader Delwar Hossein Sayedee was sentenced to death over atrocities committed in 1971—the Jamaat is relentlessly demonised. The latest political turmoil has claimed 84 lives, mainly Jamaat cadres gunned down by security forces.
Outlook was on board the Boeing 747 President Pranab Mukherjee flew to Dhaka in even as Bangladesh literally burned. Indian high commission officials sweating it out on the tarmac were relieved once ‘Big Brother’ had arrived in a Jumbo Jet. “The size of the aircraft matters, yaar. It sends the right message to the host, it exudes power,” a first secretary remarked smugly. But the ground situation in the capital city was so scary that when artillery pieces boomed in a ceremonial welcome for the Indian president, some in the entourage mistook it for police firing and were visibly shaken.
Anti-Jamaat demonstrations at Dhaka’s Shahbag Square by secular-liberal forces and spiralling countrywide violence has turned the spotlight on the BJI, which went on the offensive after February 28, when Sayedee was handed the death sentence. It’s an electoral ally of former PM Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), labelled anti-India, unlike Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League, widely perceived as pro-India. The two parties, backed by their coalition partners, are contenders for power in elections due next year, if they can agree upon the composition of a neutral interim administration—a constitutional requirement to ensure fair elections.
Even as the Awami League government takes on the Jamaat, does it constitute a clear and present threat to India? Jamaatis are conspicuous even in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, because they sport a beard and a skull cap. But does wearing Islam on their sleeves turn them into sworn enemies of India, or Hindus, who comprise 10 per cent of Bangladesh’s population? Is the Jamaat anti-India, or anti-Hindu, or both?
Neither Indian diplomats in Dhaka nor Hindu community leaders can recall a murder of a Hindu for purely religious reasons in years. Hindus have been killed by BNP-Jamaat followers, but were essentially victims of political vendetta. They were targeted not as Hindus, but because they were perceived as adversaries owing allegiance to the Awami League. It can be compared with political violence in West Bengal, where CPI(M)-Trinamool clashes regularly claim lives of political workers—many of them Muslims, and from either party.
Bangladeshi Hindus may not live under the shadow of the sword, but life for them is not a bed of roses either. The vicious attacks they suffer are economic in nature, but wreak havoc nonetheless. Their homes, shops and cultivable land are targeted, forcing them to migrate to India so that their properties can be appropriated. Hindu temples and women are special targets. The temples are desecrated, the women abducted and married after conversion at gunpoint. Even so, the HBCUC spokesman said that pogroms like Gujarat or Kokrajhar against the minority community are inconceivable.
The Jamaat is a key constituent of the BNP-led alliance because its support is crucial in around 80 seats of the 345-strong Bangladesh parliament. And the Jamaat, despite its fundamentalist image, is hardly averse to change. At the election commission’s prodding, it amended its charter, bidding farewell to its goal of establishing the ‘rule of Allah’. And Hindutva poster girls like Sushma Swaraj, Shaina Chudasama, Nirmala Seetharaman, Smriti Irani and Meenakshi Lekhi would be delighted to know that the Jamaat has promised to reserve 33 per cent of organisational posts for women.
In September 2011, Manmohan Singh famously said that “25 per cent of Bangladeshis swear by the Jamaat, are very anti-Indian and are in the clutches of the isi”. However, a pertinent question: what has South Block done to win them over since? New Delhi refuses to have any truck with the Jamaat, and calls it a terrorist outfit in cahoots with Pakistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Indian diplomats have established formal contacts with all political parties in Bangladesh except the BJI. It’s doubtful if they even speak informally. The Jamaat remains a dark mystery for India which has no idea of what’s going on inside it.
It’s high time India plays ball with the Jamaat. America’s concern for the Jamaat is pretty evident: it has even shrugged off gratuitous Indian advice to engage only with democratic and secular forces in New Delhi’s backyard. Washington has questioned irregularities in the war crimes trials and told Dhaka that human rights violations won’t be tolerated. The US obviously sees the BJI as a key player in its plans to coronate Khaleda Zia, even as India finalises its strategy to ensure another term for Sheikh Hasina.
By S.N.M. Abdi in Dhaka
Read the report on Bangladesh and the Jamaat with interest (The Monster Breathes Air, Mar 18). If the media of Bangladesh had been impartial about the Jamaat shibir, the present unrest in Bangladesh wouldn’t have happened. As 90 per cent of journalists are anti-Jamaat, it is tough now to even contemplate national unity. The current swirl of high emotion against the Jamaat is media-created.
I really don’t get the spirit and rationale of the report. What does its primary assertion—that the Jamaat doesn’t target Hindus for religious reasons yet targets them (their temples, women, property) for other reasons—really mean? Is it okay to kill Hindus because they’re supporters of Awami League, or for their land, or "for their women"?
Excellent and honest reporting. The Jamaat has never attacked Hindus or their property for the heck of it. The Awami League and other political opponents use Hindus to further their purpose. I have seen cases where Awami supporters have attacked Hindu property.
Md Al Jahan, Sylhet
“The Jamaat pales into insignificance before monstrous Hindutva outfits....” Really? The Jamaat opposed Bangladeshi independence, and collaborated with Pakistanis in operations against Bengali nationalists, intellectuals and minority Hindus. Many of its leaders were part of paramilitary forces like the Razakars and Al-Badr that were implicated in many war crimes—like mass murder, including of Hindus, mass rape and forced conversions.
R.H. Tiwari, Mumbai
This is a patently dishonest, unconvincing, pathetic, ridiculous and poorly argued apology for a communal demon like the Jamaat. Mr Abdi, for goodness sake, avoid such moral-relativistic stuff in the future; otherwise you’ll end up being a laughing stock.
G. Niranjan Rao, Hyderabad
“The best thing about Jamaat is that it doesn't kill Hindus....” Best thing? Even if this were remotely true, it’s perfectly fine to kill them for other reasons? Millions of Bangladeshis are rallying to ban the Jamaat, and an Indian reporter pens an apologia for these fanatics?
A. Sen, Los Angeles
Since when did atrocities against Hindus become the only yardstick to judge Islamic parties? Jamaat-e-Islami is a party which was against the very concept of Bangladesh, and is known for mass butchering of innocents. How can they be rescued from their deservedly horrid reputation?
Srivats Gopalan, Mumbai
True, there is no comparable targeting of Hindus in Bangladesh as there is of Muslims in India, as in the post-Godhra and post-Babri violence. The fake trials of “war criminals” was accompanied by rioting and the Shahbag protests—and the death of over a hundred, all Jamaat supporters, all killed by the police.
Much of what Abdi has written is right. Mostly, Bangladesh is a moderate and non-sectarian nation. Islamic political parties here have ideals that can never be compared with the Hindu radicals of India. Vast majorities of Bangladeshis believe in human rights, equality and justice. True, nations have old wounds that time is unable to heal. The Jamaat is guilty of war crimes, but one also has to censure the media and others who open these old wounds, bring up the issue of the Jamaat’s culpability, and create disquiet in the country.
Syed Bahar, Dhaka
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
In West Bengal, a few meetings have happened around Shahbag, mostly expressing support. But, shockingly, the largest was a massive rally held in Kolkata on March 30, explicitly against the Shahbag protests and in support of the war criminals already convicted. Various Muslim groups, including the All Bengal Minority Council, the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, the Madrassa Students Union, the Muslim Think Tank and the All Bengal Imam Muazzin Association, organised the rally. People arrived in buses from distant districts of Murshidabad and Nadia, as well as from neighbouring districts. Students of madrassas and the new Aliah Madrassa University were conspicuous at the gathering.
'' Anti-Hindu attacks are on the rise in Bangladesh, with supporters of the Jammate-E-Islami Bangladesh (Jammat) and the Bangladesh National party (BNP) demolishing Hindu temples and statues, and vandalizing houses and shops with Hindu owners. Usually, the vandals are known to the victims; most are their neighbors.
According to local media, in the last 24 days the Jammat and BNP has attacked at least 319 temples, houses and shops of the Hindu community. Jammat stated its attacks in response to the death verdict passed upon Senior Islamist leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi in February for crimes committed during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence.
The Jammat and BNP are now playing the minority card very tactfully, with the main goal of teaching Hindus that they are not safe in Bangladesh even Awami league holds power. And that if the Jammat-BNP takes the reins, it would be better for them to leave.
''We will kill all the Malauns (they called the Hindus as Malauns [infidel] and Bangladesh will be 'Banglastan' [Muslim only] like Pakistan,'' read a post of the website Basserkella, which is run by Jammat and their student organization Shibir.''
I have long back given up on a certain kind of opium for the masses!
Comparing our Indian genocides like Godhra genocides and post Babri genocides, there is nothing happening in Bangladesh.After the fake war crime trials and protests against fake trials , around 100 people dead.All are either opposition workers of Jamaate Islami party or police.No any Hindu or minority people killed.only one Hindu killed that is by the leftist ruling party, the Awami League.There is some attacks on Hindu community , but they are by the leftist ruling party , the Awami League.They mainly attack Hindus of opposition party BNP to make them afraid.Also to allege these attacks are done by Jamaate Islami.Please see this Facebook post.
The ruling leftist Awami League is widely attacking the minorities in Bangladesh .They do this to threaten Hindus wha are supporters of opposition BNP.Also , by attacking Hindus at the time of protests. they can allege as this is done by Jamaate Islami.
This article is a must read for all minority-right watchers.
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