Why is there silence around the attacks against Hindus that had taken place after the demolition of the Babri Masjid?
In October 1993, Bangladeshi writer and atheist-feminist Taslima Nasreen was threatened. An Islamic fundamentalist group, the Council of Islamic Soldiers (Sahaba Sainik Parishad), put a price of 100,000 takas on her head.
This happened after the publishing of her novel Lajja (Shame), which was set in the 1990s in Bangladesh and describes the perspective of a Hindu family on the riots that erupted in Bangladesh soon after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India. As the novel progresses, the Hindu community again faces the worst atrocities, second only to those of the 1971 genocide, and it follows Sudhamoy and his children’s’ experiences dealing with violence, betrayal, and resentment as they cling onto the belief that their motherland would never let them down.
Nasreen’s book was banned by the government of Bangladesh for supposedly inciting “unrest” and “misunderstanding” among the communities. It was not long after that Nasreen had written to a Kolkata-based statesman that the Qur’an was “out of place and out of time” that Islamic fundamentalists, calling for her death, were right at her doorstep. She had no option but to flee.
Even after the end of Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s military dictatorship, the government remained reliant on the support of Islamist groups; they charged Nasreen with “deliberately and maliciously outraging religious feeling.” By doing so, the government revived a long-dormant colonial statute, originally designed by the British to maintain the peace between Hindus and Muslims, that effectively constituted a new blasphemy law.
Nasreen was faced with two years’ imprisonment and in her desperation, she faxed Amnesty International. Amnesty International answered her call, as did the international writers’ group PEN and the Swedish government, which offered her asylum and the £15,000 Kurt Tucholsky Prize designed to help persecuted writers continue their work in exile. This had made Nasreen’s fame soar, much like the critically acclaimed Salman Rushdie, who had gotten a fatwa for his book The Satanic Verses. **
It is ironic that after Nasreen was forced to leave her country, the plight of Hindus became clearer to a larger audience. It is also ironic, to say the least, that readers of this article have read mostly about Nasreen by now rather than the oppression of Hindus that took place after the Babri Masjid demolition. In fact, most people would likely be unaware of the fact that Babri Masjid related riots have taken place even before the Karsevaks had set to travel to reclaim back Ayodhya.
Let us go back in time and see when the Babri Masjid related attacks against the Hindu minority of Bangladesh began.
Persecution of Bangladeshi Hindus: Pre-Babri Masjid Destruction
In 1989, Ram Shila Pujan, a campaign aiming at collecting and consecrating foundation bricks for the future temple in Ayodhya, was organized. This sparked a series of genocidal attacks against Hindus a thousand kilometers away from Ayodhya. Thousands of Hindu homes and businesses were attacked and it is estimated more than 400 temples were vandalised and destroyed (Ghosh Dastidar, Sachi). On 30 October 1989, Hindu shops were set on fire, and Hindus were attacked and molested, despite a curfew.
On 10 November the same year, a Muslim mob took out a procession in Khulna district, the home place of Rabindranath Tagore. (The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms: Testimonies on Violence Against Hindus in East Bengal) Khulna used to be a Hindu majority state until 1964 when anti-Hindu riots broke out. The riots had apparently started due to a rumour that Hindus had allegedly stolen moi-e-muqaddas, a relic which is believed to be the lock of hair of Prophet Muhammad, in Srinagar, Kashmir, only to be later found that three Kashmiri Muslim men had stolen it. In this same state, less than 30 years after this shameful incident, a mob of fanatics had marched and burned Hindu temples while shouting anti-Hindu slogans. There were many such incidents in all over Bangladesh. (Debajyoti, Why Did We Become Refugees)
These attacks happened during the military dictatorship of Ershad, who in 1988, declared Islam as the state religion of Bangladesh, only exacerbating the persecution of the minorities in Bangladesh. The very next year, there was an anti-Ershad movement, which prompted the government to take advantage of communal tension in India caused by the Hindu revivalists’ desire to reclaim Ayodhya.
A pro-Ershad newspaper, The Daily Inqilab of Maulana Abdul Mannan, published fictitious news that the Babri Masjid had been demolished on 30 October 1990. This piece of fake news wasn’t the only thing that instigated the anti-Hindu riots of 1990. The pro-government mayor of Dhaka city of that time has been cited to be the ringleader of the armed hooligans who terrorised Hindus.The attacks followed the same pattern as before too: Hindu temples were attacked and set on fire, so were Hindu businesses. Hindus were hunted down based on the clothing they wore and were beaten up. Hindu priests were brutalised. Dhakeshwari temple was vandalised yet again. These attacks happened all over Bangladesh, leaving hundreds of Hindus homeless and refugees.
Persecution of Bangladeshi Hindus: Post-Babri Masjid Destruction
A series of genocidal attacks against Hindus took place immediately after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and continued well over to 1993. According to a conservative estimate, 28,000 Hindu homes, over 3,500 temples, and 2,500 businesses were severely damaged or destroyed. 700 Hindus were injured or killed. The assaults were one-sided and state-sponsored.
According to careful estimates, about 2,400 Hindu women were gang-raped. This was perhaps the most gruesome aspect of the attacks, which Taslima Nasreen’s book depicted too. The most vulnerable were the Hindu girls and women. I, as the author of this piece, can say that my own mother and cousin had to leave the country due to the wave of gang rapes during the 90s anti-Hindu riots.
Since the attacks were state-sponsored, Hindus were left utterly helpless. Thus, Hindus had no other choice but to leave. These attacks had caused an exodus, which was, again, viciously taken advantage of by some people when they occupied the lands of those Hindus who had fled. Rape and the threat of sexual violence was the most effective tool Islamists used to subjugate Hindus and keep them in fear. In fact, sexual violence was the most effective means of expelling Hindus. The police remained ineffective, and they (in fact) participated in the violence. Following the anti-Hindu riots of 1992, the government of Bangladesh did not speak of punishing the guilty or even express regret for mandating the riots as well as being completely ineffective. To this date, the government has either downplayed or utterly denied the extent of the atrocities.
Now we finally come to the real question
‘’Why is there silence around the attacks against Hindus that had taken place after the demolition of the Babri Masjid?’’
The answer may be that very few Bangladeshi newspapers had the courage to report all the incidents. Even fewer bothered to investigate or make a reportage, even after Nasreen got international fame. Even after Nasreen’s story gained worldwide sympathy, few even knew what happened for instance in Bhola in 1992, where hundreds of Hindus were left homeless after they were attacked, looted, and raped.
– Mohua from Stories of Bengali Hindus
- Religion, Power and Violence: Expression of Politics in Contemporary Times edited by Ram Puniyani
- Ghosh Dastidar, Sachi (2008). Empire’s Last Casualty: Indian Subcontinent’s vanishing Hindu and other Minorities.
- Kamra, A.J. (2000). The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms: Testimonies on Violence Against Hindus in East Bengal
- Azad, Salam (2001).Why Are The Hindus Migrating From Bangladesh (Bengali)
- India’s Foreign Relations, 1947-2007 By Jayanta Kumar Ray
- Sarkar, Bidyut (1993). Bangladesh 1992 : This is our home : Sample Document of the Plight of our Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Tribal Minorities in our Islamized Homeland : Pogroms 1987-1992. Bangladesh Minority Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, (and Tribal) Unity Council of North America
- Roy, Debajyoti (2005) [First published 2001]. Why Did We Become Refugees (Bengali)