On March 25, the day before Bangladesh’s 46th Independence Day, the country commemorated Genocide Day, to remember the genocide that occurred during the 1971 Liberation War. While the figures remain uncertain, what is known is that massive brutalities were committed by the West Pakistani military against the Bengali population in East Pakistan. There were an estimated 3,000,000 deaths and 200,000 women raped, and Bengali Hindus were disproportionately targeted; in some cases, military officers were given explicit instructions to "eliminate Hindus". Reports indicate that 10 million Hindus fled to India as refugees after the genocide.
Over the past four decades, the atrocities committed during the 1971 Liberation War have been downplayed and sometimes even outrightly denied. For the first time, on March 11, 2017, the Jatiyo Sangsad, Bangladesh’s Parliament, unanimously adopted a resolution that would observe March 25 as Genocide Day, formally bringing to light the atrocity and honoring those lives impacted.
Today, Bangladeshi Hindus continue to face persecution and harassment. Last year, a Hindu priest was stabbed to death during an attack on a Bangladeshi Hindu temple. ISIS claimed responsibility. Bangladesh has seen other attacks in recent years, including those on houses of worship, namely, Hindu temples and Shiite mosques as well as upon other religious leaders including a Christian pastor and a Catholic priest. According to Amnesty International, in 2013, Bangladesh’s Hindu minority was subjected to a wave of attacks including the vandalization of 40 temples as well as the burning down of scores of businesses and homes.
In the past several years there have been numerous attacks perpetrated by violent groups claiming to act in the name of Islam. In 2016, among those killed were LGBT rights advocate Xulhaz Mannan, university professor AFM Rezaul Karim Siddique accused of promoting atheism, Hindu tailor Nikhil Joarder who was accused of insulting Islam, and Sufi Muslim leader Farhad Hossain Chowdhury. Outspokenly secular bloggers and social media activists were also targeted - many were brutally murdered.
As a justice-oriented and peace-loving organization founded on the principles of ekatva (oneness of all) and ahimsa (non-violence), we at Sadhana condemn the persecution of all minority groups in Bangladesh including our fellow Hindus. We also stand in solidarity with the government of Bangladesh honoring those whose lives were impacted by the genocide of 1971.
We underscore that, just as Hindutva fundamentalists do not represent and speak for all Hindus or the Hindu religion, those perpetrating violence and persecution in Bangladesh and around the world do not represent and speak for all Muslims or Islam. We cannot allow the vilification of entire faith groups. Doing so plants seeds of intolerance and violence rather than fostering the solidarity and love this world so desperately needs.
We must recognize the humanity within each other. In the United States that means rallying and speaking out when President Trump introduces a ban that specifically targets members of the Muslim faith. In India, that means speaking out when members of the Muslim minority and Dalits are targeted. In Bangladesh, it means speaking out when our own Hindu brothers and sisters come under attack. Being true leaders means continually speaking out courageously for the most vulnerable and continually calling for justice.
For as many religious leaders promoting hatred, division and violence, it is our prayer at Sadhana that many more religious leaders will step up and speak for peace, unity and love:
Om Saha Naavavatu
Saha Nau Bhunaktu
Saha Veeryam Karavaavahai
Tejasvi Aavadheetamastu Maa Vidvishaavahai
May the Lord protect and bless us. May he nourish us, giving us strength to work together for the good of humanity. May our learning be brilliant and purposeful. May we never turn against one another.