Enough is enough, and the minorities ought now to approach the United Nations, the European Union and the International Court of Justice for a permanent solution. They deserve to be treated as a separate entity with 30 per cent of the existing land area of Bangladesh… If the UN can intervene in Bosnia, it should also come forward to address the genuine grievances of the minorities in Bangladesh before it is too late ~ SUSANTA KUMAR SUR
The Islamist fringe in Bangladesh has warned minorities that they can have no say in the country&’s electoral politics. The minorities represent only 10 per cent of the population, down from the pre-partition level of 30 per cent. They have withstood persecution since 1947. Certain hard decisions are now in order. International awareness should be aroused among all donor nations and the UN Human Rights Commission. Minorities in Bangladesh were particularly threatened when Begum Khaleda Zia was in power. Enough is enough, and the minorities ought now to approach the United Nations, the European Union and the International Court of Justice for a permanent solution. They deserve to be treated as a separate entity with 30 per cent of the existing land area of Bangladesh.
On 3 November 1977, the president of the Bangladesh Minority Protection Action Committee had submitted a memorandum on their plight to the President of India. This was followed by another memorandum in December 1977 from the All-Bengal Citizens’ Council under the patronage of the famous historian, Dr RC Majumdar, to the Prime Minister, requesting him to take up the issue of creating a separate homeland for minorities with the President of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rahman, who was then on a visit to New Delhi. Subsequently, another memorandum was submitted to the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, on the eve of his visit to Bangladesh in April 1979. Thereafter, several appeals from various Bangladesh minority organizations had been sent to the Indian authorities. But, the Government of India failed to discharge its legal and moral responsibilities for the safety and security of the minorities in Bangladesh.
Prof Abul Barkat of the Economics department, Dhaka University, who has made a detailed study of vested Hindu property, would be able to certify that Hindus in pre-partition East Bengal were the lawful owners of about 80 per cent of the land titles. He has also published a list of politicians who have forcibly occupied both vested and unvested Hindu property. His survey has revealed that all political parties, including leaders of the Awami League and their supporters, are involved in this property fiddle.
The most suitable part of the country for a Hindu zone as it were are the pre-partition districts of Jessore, Khulna and the sub-division of Kushtia. This will cover 10,000 square miles. Another 1650 square miles can be carved out by adjustments in north-west Bangladesh, in particular Malda, Dinajpur, Rajshahi and Rangpur areas. In the east, the pre-partition tribal district of Chittagong Hill Tracts (where there were less than three per cent Muslims at the time of partition) should yield around 5000 square miles. Such an entity of 16,500 square miles can facilitate the rehabilitation of the existing minorities as well as those who had been compelled to migrate in the past and some of those who are now living in India as illegal migrants. This settlement should be reached under UN supervision. It should envisage an ‘autonomous’ region within Bangladesh with the option to secede to the Indian Union. There can be an exchange of population and assets between the majority community and those who belong to the minority segment.
Legally, the Bangladesh government should conclude an agreement with this entity, aimed at providing compensation. It could be a long-term deal at the current market value. It could be reached after swapping the sovereign assets of both Hindus and Muslims. Hopefully, such an arrangement will help resolve the issues that have been festering since 1947. If the UN can intervene in Bosnia, it should also come forward to address the genuine grievances of the minorities in Bangladesh before it is too late.
The minorities cannot hope to receive any support from political parties in West Bengal because they are largely engaged in vote-bank politics though some of their leaders’ families have their roots in East Bengal. Nor for that matter will the Government of India offer assistance; it has ignored the minorities in Bangladesh despite its promises before partition. For example, the Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 8 April 1950 has been historically recorded as a thoroughly ineffective instrument. It did not curb the religious persecution of millions of Hindus from East Bengal, who were compelled to enter India as penniless refugees after losing their hearth and home. Many were compelled to stay back. They had to pay with their lives during the genocide by the Pakistani army in 1971.
The spirit of nationalism had eclipsed when Bengal was virtually forced to be communally divided on 15 August 1947 despite Jinnah&’s press statement published on 9 May 1947 in The Hindu. He had pledged to allow Bengal to remain within the Indian Constituent Assembly. Nehru and Patel did not follow up Jinnah&’s suggestion on Bengal to stay united within the Indian Union. The reasons for Nehru&’s inaction are fairly explicit in the documents, published by the British Government under the title Transfer of Power: 1942-47 (volume VI). The plan to divide Bengal and Punjab on communal lines was confidentially conveyed by Nehru on 10 January 1946 to Attlee&’s messenger Major Woodrow Wyatt. Besides, Jinnah&’s public declaration for the exchange of population and assets was ridiculed and ignored by Nehru as “100 per cent nonsense”. Both Jinnah and Nehru were aware that such an attempt would not receive any public support.
On the contrary, they assumed, that Muslims from India&’s heartland states would torpedo the partition plan. Jinnah had demanded this step to avert physical partition of India; Nehru rejected this idea to protect the interests of the party&’s chief money-bags in Hindu majority West Bengal. He also wanted to remove Jinnah from the Indian political scene to assist the British process of creating Pakistan through an engineered communal flare-up, without which no communal partition of India could be executed.
Now Bangladesh is riddled with 14+18 = 32 political parties. This ensures fragmentation of the political wishes of its people. The country contends with a cruel irony ~ Bengali Islamists want to consign other denominations, born as Bengalis on the same land, to oblivion. Islamists should reflect on what they hope to achieve in the 21st century. Religious hatred and frenzy were prevalent in the medieval era.
The writer is a freelance contributor