A retired secretary to the government who recently returned from a visit to Kolkata told me something that surprised me a lot. He said he had met a few of his former colleagues from the Hindu community — all retired secretaries — who were spending their retirement in the West Bengali capital, having collected retirement and other benefits from the government of Bangladesh. They had apartments there as if they had retired from some high position in West Bengal or the Indian government.
The majority of Hindus during Bangladesh’s East Pakistan days had a special attachment to India. As the retired Bangladeshi secretaries living in Kolkata underline, many Bangladesh Hindus still have that attachment. That notwithstanding, historically, Bangladesh had been the least Hindu-Muslim conflict prone area of South Asia during the British rule, and such a situation still exists in the country.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that Hindus are not secure in Bangladesh. But the Hindu insecurity in present-day Bangladesh is economic, not communal. Many Bangladeshi Muslims, in fact, a lot more, are also victims of this economic oppression. The oppression occurs because these people are underprivileged and disadvantaged, making them easy prey for the privileged and the powerful.
The Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran, in an event at Munshiganj, recently said Bangladesh was a role model in communal harmony. He has been in Bangladesh for over three years, and therefore must have spoken from a position of authority with the sort of access to intelligence that he has.
Therefore, it did not make much sense that, earlier this month, the Indian Home Ministry issued an order allowing Hindus from Bangladesh (and Pakistan) who entered India legally or illegally before December 31, 2014, the permission to stay in India legally and indefinitely. The order did not, however, specify whether these Bangladeshi (and Pakistani) Hindus and other minorities would be given Indian citizenship.
The order of the Indian Home Ministry and what the high commissioner has said on communal harmony in Bangladesh are clearly contradictory. The order also puts Bangladesh in a very embarrassing situation vis-a-vis rest of the world at a time when the issue of forced migration has been placed centre stage internationally, because of mass migration to Western Europe as a result of extreme political instability and insecurity in the Middle East, particularly in Syria.
New Delhi, it seems, has passed the order on Bangladeshi/Pakistani Hindus illegally at this time, no doubt to attract the attention of the world that it is favourably disposed to the plight of those forced to flee their motherland. Although, in Bangladesh (and in Pakistan), nothing untoward has happened recently, or even in the past, that has forced any Hindus to flee.
The order to allow Bangladeshi and Pakistani Hindus, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, to stay in India indefinitely has been motivated by political considerations, with very little based on any humanitarian considerations. New Delhi was aware that the order would embarrass both Bangladesh and Pakistan, both Muslim countries, and that this would go down well in the West.
New Delhi was also aware that the order would be politically very welcome to the constituency that the BJP represents, namely Hindu fundamentalists in India. In fact, it is a BJP commitment, one that it had made in its manifesto in last year’s election, that Hindus worldwide would be welcome in India to escape “oppression” in countries where they lived, no doubt with Bangladeshi and Pakistani Hindus in mind.
Thus, it is BJP’s commitment to Hindu fundamentalism that has encouraged the order, and not love and kindness for humanity. Unlike refugees who are fleeing to Europe, the reason Hindus have gone to India from Bangladesh are quite different. They are not in any distress different from those that many other Bangladeshis who are underprivileged like them suffer at the hands of those who are privileged. The dominance of the privileged over the underprivileged is a sad story that concerns both Hindus and Muslims in the country.
However, unlike many underprivileged Muslims who have no political support, Hindus have enough political clout at present. Historically, they have never supported any other political party other than the Awami League. Therefore, it is only natural that the AL government would not oppress them as a community, and instead, offer them protection that even Muslims who do not support them do not have.
In the last seven years of AL rule, affluent Hindus have had everything going their way. In fact, there is a great deal of resentment in the government service because of the disproportionate rate at which Hindus have had promotions and privileges. That resentment has increased after it has been revealed recently that in India, where Muslims constitute 14% of the population, they have only 3% representation in government jobs.
All these point to one very simple conclusion. Most Hindus, wherever they are in South Asia, consider India their natural homeland, as they have since “Mother India” was partitioned in 1947. BJP’s official stance to make India the homeland for Hindus world-wide, like Israel has for Jews, has only strengthened the desire, that has been in Bangladeshi and Pakistani Hindus since 1947, to migrate to India, and like the Bangladeshi Hindu secretaries, make Kolkata or some other Indian city their own. The fact that these gentlemen have retired as secretaries should underline the fact that Hindus are not discriminated against at the higher echelons of Bangladesh’s civil bureaucracy.
Therefore, there are reasons galore for Bangladesh to feel upset with the New Delhi order. For a country that depends almost exclusively on international co-operation which in turn depends on creating a positive image for the country, the Indian Home Ministry’s order is, to put it mildly, an unfriendly one.
In the last seven years, the AL government’s support for critical Indian interests like, for instance, its security concerns, has been undeniably demonstrated. Thus, when India failed to deliver the Teesta deal, a number of former Indian High Commissioners had called that failure a “betrayal.”
India has still not delivered on the Teesta deal. Now, with this anti-Bangladesh order, India has placed Bangladesh in a tricky situation at a time when it needs to improve its image, having just graduated to a lower middle-income country. That India passed this order without even the courtesy of discussing the matter with Bangladesh makes it all the more unacceptable.
Therefore, one would expect that the matter will be taken up by Bangladesh at the highest political level, although, one would also apprehend that the damage is irreversible.
In passing the order, New Delhi has made the hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi Hindus already in India illegally extremely happy. It has, however, placed the millions of Hindus in Bangladesh with a question mark hanging over their patriotism that none of them, despite their natural love for India, deserve to face.
This article first appeared at the Dhaka Tribune. Click here to go to the original.