Bangladeshi Hindus Victims Of Islamist Backlash

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Although the campaign against terrorism has prompted allegations in some quarters of a Christian struggle against Islam, in Bangladesh it is Hindus who are paying a price for their perceived association with the West.

Attacks against minority Hindus in Muslim Bangladesh have increased since the U.S.-led war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden began, according to a Hindu movement affiliated to India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

R.S. Vaidya, a senior official of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organization, said Muslim fundamentalists in Bangladesh, unhappy that their government is supporting the anti-terrorism drive, have increased harassment of Hindus in their country, prompting thousands of refugees to pour across the border into the Indian state of West Bengal.

Hindus comprise about 11 percent of Bangladesh's 130 million people. They are widely seen as sympathetic toward neighboring India - which is turn is regarded as a U.S. ally and hostile to Islam because of the long and bloody struggle in Kashmir.

Bangladesh's recently-installed prime minister, Khaleda Zia, was accused during her election campaign of being anti-India and anti-Hindu. On October 1 she won the election, defeating former Prime Minister Hasina Wajed's Awami League.

Wajed has accused the Zia government of "unleashing an unprecedented reign of terror on Awami League supporters and the country's Hindu community."

In a recent meeting with Zia, India's national security adviser Brajesh Mishra voiced concerns about the Hindus' plight in her country.

Indian officials say that a large number of Bangladeshi Hindus are crossing into West Bengal to escape alleged persecution at the hands of Islamic radicals, whom they claim have become aggressive since the war in Afghanistan began.

Indian Information Minister Sushma Swaraj called the situation "shameful," and called on the West Bengal state authorities to treat the new arrivals as refugees, not as infiltrators.

Angered by the reports of violence against their co-religionists, Hindus have protested outside Bangladeshi diplomatic missions in India.

Two RSS leaders, Taranidhi Nepal and Ashok Singh, have written a letter of protest to the Bangladesh High Commission (embassy) in New Delhi, urging Zia to arrest and punish those responsible for the harassment and attacks on Hindus.

They claimed Muslims had destroyed several Hindu temples and idols in recent weeks.

The Bangladesh government meanwhile has appointed a high-powered committee to investigate allegations of nation-wide attacks on minorities. Zia's ruling party maintains that troublemakers have been active, but claims the scale of the problem has been exaggerated by the media.

A Bangladeshi diplomat in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Mohammad Touhid Hossain, has admitted that "some Hindu families have crossed over to India in the wake of the atrocities and threats to them."

He attributed the problem to rowdy behavior tied in to the political transition period.

Bangladeshi diplomats have dismissed any link between the problems and the war in Afghanistan, calling it "coincidence."

They accused Hindus crossing the porous, 4,000-km border of using claims of persecution to seek jobs and a better life in India.

In the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, the state-run BSS news agency said border guards had arrested 175 people in recent days trying to cross the border into India illegally.