Gabbard, Royce condemn Bangladesh violence

US lawmakers voice concern about treatment of Hindus, other minorities.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: The rise in violence against religious minorities in Bangladesh has prompted a slew of public condemnations around the world, particularly from lawmakers in the United States, who worry that the religious persecution bodes ill for the nation’s future, especially since elections are right around the corner.

During a congressional hearing on Wednesday, entitled “Bangladesh in Turmoil: A Nation on the Brink,” US lawmakers voiced their concerns about the violent treatment of Hindus, Buddhist, and Christians by fundamentalist groups throughout Bangladesh.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a practicing Hindu, released a statement Wednesday evening emphatically denouncing the actions of Islamist extremist groups in Bangladesh, saying that the actions have caused her to be apprehensive about the future of religious freedom in the country.

“All too often, crimes against [Hindu and Buddhist] communities go unpunished, and it is up to the Government of Bangladesh to act authoritatively against those who incite and commit violence to protect the rights of minorities,” said Gabbard, who is an Acting Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. “This is an essential step toward ensuring the safety and basic rights of all of Bangladesh’s citizens, regardless of their faith.”

Gabbard’s Subcommittee colleagues echoed her sentiments, with Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) lamenting over the recent destruction of 1,500 Hindu homes and 50 Hindu temples across 20 Bangladeshi districts.

Earlier today, the Hindu American Foundation disclosed the written testimony that they submitted to the panel yesterday, saying that Bangladesh was at a critical junction in its history that would come to define the country for years to come.

“[Bangladesh] can either return to the principles of secular democracy and religious equality, upon which it was founded, or continue on a path towards greater Islamization [sic] and the empowerment of religious fundamentalists.”

Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) – the sole Indian American in the US Congress – did not return a request for comment on the turmoil in Bangladesh. There is also no word yet as to what the Indian government has to say about the attacks.

The Bangladeshi Prime Ministerial election is set to occur on January 24, 2014, with incumbent Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League going against BNP candidate Khaleda Zia. The United States has been urging the Bangladeshi government to hold free, open, and non-violent elections, but the hope of that happening seems to be fading.

Bangladeshi American Professor Ali Riaz, the Chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, was present at the Congressional hearing yesterday. He said that because of Sheikh Hasina’s insistence on a non-inclusive election has left him “not very optimistic about an inclusive election at this point unless something dramatic happens.”

Increasingly, life has become dangerous for religious minorities in Bangladesh, with some of the violence being blamed on politics. The jihadist attacks against minorities are said to be funded mostly by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Hefajat-e-Islam, and Jammat-e-Islam. Hindus in the country tend to favor the Bangladeshi Awami League, which maintains friendly ties with India.

But much of the violence is still fundamentally based in religion. Earlier this month, a Facebook page supposedly containing an offensive image of the Prophet Muhammad created a stir. The page, allegedly created by a Hindu youth named Razib Saha, caused the boy’s father to be beaten mercilessly by a mob, which then vandalized Hindu homes, destroyed two Hindu places of worship, and displaced nearly 150 Hindu families.

Another episode, in which 18 Hindu-owned shops in Lalmonrihat were attacked, was said to be backed by the BNP and Jammat-e-Islam.

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