Bangladesh is well known for communal harmony among the global community despite some conspiracies and rise of fundamentalists on different times. There was no period when the minorities were continuously targeted for oppression. Particularly during the last decade, it will not be wrong to say that minorities especially the religious minorities are enjoying noteworthy preferences in all aspects. There is no incident of brutal prolonged religious unrest anywhere of the country. Though Bangladesh is constitutionally an Islamic state, everyone acknowledged the country to be an example of religious and communal harmony.
Despite this context, Priya Saha, a Bangladeshi NGO official told the US president that 37 million Hindus, Buddhists and Christians had disappeared from the country and the minority communities in her country were subjected to persecution. This statement of her not only disturbed the Bangladesh government but also all the citizens of Bangladesh as this must be one of the greatest lie relating Bangladesh since its inception.
Priya Saha spoke to the US president during the Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held in Washington. 27 participants from over 16 countries including Nobel laureate Yazidi activist Nadia Murad from Iraq, Jewher Tohti – the daughter of jailed Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti from Northwest China, Mohib Ullah representing Rohingyas from Myanmar, Mariam Ibraheem from Sudan, Reverend Samson representing Kachin Christian community of Myanmar and others met and talked to President Trump. They were all victims of religious persecution in their countries. Priya Saha was also there representing religiously persecuted minority groups in Bangladesh!
When it was Saha’s turn, she told Trump that 37 million Hindus, Buddhists and Christians had disappeared from Bangladesh. She also told the US president that her land had been grabbed by Muslim fundamentalists and sought his help so that members of minority communities could live in Bangladesh. She stated that there are still 18 million minority people who want to stay in their own country. She also said that her home was lost and burnt and land was taken away but no judgment took place.
She tried to portray an oppressed picture of the minorities in Bangladesh just like it was with the Rohingyas of the Rakhine state in Myanmar. The difference is she mentioned a much higher number of tortured and migrated minority group in the case of Bangladesh. But it was a blatant lie.
During 1947, the Indo-Pak subcontinent was divided by the British based upon religion in two parts–India and Pakistan. While the Hindus were majority in India, the Muslims were the majority in Pakistan. During the partition many Muslim families migrated to Pakistan from India and many Hindu families migrated from Pakistan to India. But both side had considerable number of people from the minority religious groups, especially the Muslims in India and the Hindus in both part Pakistan. Pakistan was divided by distance in two parts – East and West Pakistan. The minority Hindu population, chiefly Bengali, was mostly located in the East Pakistan.
East Pakistani Muslims always stood by their Hindu brothers and sisters though the Pakistani military junta tried to oppress them especially during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh, previously East Pakistan, appeared on the world map as a secular country as from its inception, Bangladesh was a country for all religious groups – Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians.
Though fundamental parties like Jamaat-e-Islam holding non-secular principles had been part of the government for sometimes, rights of the minority groups were violated but were not significant considering attacks on the minority groups in many other countries of the world. Additionally there were few instances when few religious terrorist groups tried to create unrest in the country and conducted few attacks but those attacks were not on the minority groups rather it was against the Muslims who are not following the principles of Islam properly according to them. But the Awami League government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared ‘zero tolerance’ to terrorism and successfully uprooted and contained terrorist activities.
We were praised all around the world for success in containing terrorists groups’ activities on our soil. Moreover, during the last two term of the government, minority groups especially the Hindus were ensured equal rights in all aspects as we will find them in many important roles of the public and private services, judiciary, law enforcement, technical fields and everywhere else. From all these contexts, the statement of Priya Saha in front of the US President came as a great shock and provides us a sense of conspiracy.
As Priya Saha mentioned that 37 million minority citizens have disappeared from the country meaning they mostly migrated, we should look into the actual context of Bangladesh. Before independence, many minority families had migrated especially to India due to the oppression of the West Pakistani junta. But after independence, the scenario shuffled and almost no minority family left Bangladesh for religious persecution. Rather many minority families returned to their homeland. But truly many minority families left this country to bring fortune and these are actually lifestyle migration. It is not only the case with the Hindus, Buddhist or the Christians rather it is mostly with the Muslims.
It is perceived that about 10 million Bangladeshis are living abroad of which about 2.4 million Bangladeshis are living abroad permanently either as citizens or with other valid documents. Every year around half a million migrates to foreign countries for better job opportunity, higher education, improved standard of living or some other reasons. But it is very hard to find anyone leaving the country to save his family from religious tortures. This lifestyle migration is very much acceptable considering the economy and demography of a developing country like Bangladesh. Remittance from these migrated citizens is important to our economy. Hence these migrated citizens are continuously contributing for the welfare of their homeland which shows their love for the country, not hatred.
Many Hindu families have their relatives in neighboring country India, which is a Hindu-majority country but these families not even think about migrating to India for oppression as no such scenario exist here rather the brotherhood among the people of different religions in Bangladesh is exemplary to the whole world. In light of this scenario, Priya Saha’s statement cannot be related to actual scenario at all and even her statistics do not match.
Though many has termed Priya Saha’s statement as her intelligent move to gain US citizenship, which will be another lifestyle migration as her daughters are still studying in the US, we feel this is a great conspiracy.
Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has already set itself as the role model of development. With many large projects, the infrastructural development is going to be significant. Within a few years, experts believe, Bangladesh is going to be among the top 25 economies of the world. Other than US, Bangladesh maintains good relationship with superpowers like India, Russia and China.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken herself to such a height that she is considered to be one of the most influential leaders of the world. She has been very upright during her many speeches at UN General Assembly. She has been vocal on forums like OIC. Many, who are acting against the Muslims for a long time, do not appreciate her growth being a leader of an Islamic country. This is a matter of global politics. Priya Saha cannot reach the US President without any support while the organization she belonged to denied her inclusion in the organization’s visitor list. It must be planned that Priya Saha would meet Trump and will utter those sentences.
Though Donald Trump during his presidential campaign was not very tolerant to other religions especially Islam as he made negative remarks on people of other religions on several instances and refused to shelter the Syrian refugees after elected President, his move to meet and support minority groups from around the world is praiseworthy. If it is not his move to establish US’s grasp over different regions of the world, then we must thank him for this step but misleading information from sources like Priya Saha can damage the good intent of such program unless it is part of global politics.
Few days ago, a US senator suggested that Bangladesh should capture the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Being a senator, his remarks cannot be taken casually and it was really provocative. But we have come out of state of impulsive politics. Without helping us in repatriation of the Rohingyas, suggesting us to capture Rakhine is an expression of ill-intent and Priya Saha was no different.
We should remember that, we have many silent enemies who do not appreciate our construction of Padma Bridge with our own fund and in total cannot tolerate our progress. Many have different intentions which are even hard to predict. Hence, we need to be very careful.
Though Priya Saha has already started to justify her remarks while trying to flatter PM Hasina and demeaning Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), she cannot hide her intentions of destroying the image of Bangladesh in front of the world which even if she unaware of might bring negative consequences to the country. We should acknowledge that many Priya Sahas will come into our ways to halt our national progress due to regional and global politics involved. Like Sheikh Hasina, we should not act impulsive as many ministers and other leaders did initially.
We must ensure protection of all our brothers and sisters from minority groups as not all of them are Priya Saha and almost all of them love this country. If we fail to protect them, Priya Saha will eventually succeed. We should let her return without any fear so that she can answer to the nation on her comments. We hope we can act mature and follow the footsteps of Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina as that will definitely take our beloved Bangladesh to new heights.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)