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Bangladesh Strife:  
Crimes against children, women, and minorities

 by Jan Lundberg  

The world is mostly unaware of an ongoing tragedy of human rights in a nation least able to withstand such unproductive and dangerous strife.  Bangladesh has endured much bloodshed and mistreatment of innocent civilians as part of the age-old conflict between rich and poor classes of people.  As if this were not enough, environmental catastrophe has been scheduled -- not just by the failed leaders of the region but by global industrial society.

Roots of the conflict 

The Muslims of Bangladesh and the original Pakistan are actually the close “countrymen and brothers” of Hindus in both Bangladesh and India, divided originally by the caste system whereby upper caste Hindus stimulated the creation of separate classes of people (who became Muslims as a last resort).   

As most people would agree from occasional world headlines on Kashmir fighting or nuclear weaponry in the region, the partition of India into a Hindu-dominated nation and a Muslim-dominated nation did not solve the tension between the two groups of Indians.  What is less known is that this class-hatred and blood-feud state of affairs involves massive ethnic cleansing in Bangladesh.  Shockingly, India does almost nothing to protect Hindus in Bangladesh for reasons we explore in this Culture Change Letter. 

The Hindus and Muslims of India and Bangladesh are far from resolving their deep differences and animosities.  There may not be a political solution possible, so the discrimination and violence may rage on just as it has since the partition between Pakistan and India occurred in 1947.   

At this moment gang rape and other atrocities by certain Muslims are common against minorities, mainly Hindus, in Bangladesh.  The dehumanizing of an entire group of people, who follow a different religion and social system, is not invented out of thin air.  The genesis and roots of today’s strife in Bangladesh have to be understood on several levels: inequality between the sexes, overpopulation, the caste system, and human nature involving vengeance and counter strikes. 

Millions of refugees have had to leave Bangladesh especially since the genocide of 1971 by then-West Pakistan, such that the minority population has plummeted from 37% to 9% since 1940.   The population growth rate has started to decrease, but this is largely because of emigration to India.  The future of minorities in Bangladesh is very bleak due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the increasing alienation of peoples along religious lines. 

Muslims have been identified as the main perpetrators of massive human-rights crimes today in the Bengal Basin, but there are deep-seated factors in people’s hearts and minds that cause “senseless” violence. 

For example, the treatment of lower-caste people and minorities by Hindus historically created the need for millions of people on the bottom of the social pyramid to embrace Islam.  “Hindus,” according to Dr. Rashbihari Ghosh, of the International Institute of Bengal Basin, “have been engaging in an undeclared jihad against their own people – even before the birth of the word “jihad.”  Dr. Ghosh goes on to explain that despite the rich culture and heritage of India, “the Hindus are born divided and may be the most disorganized people anywhere, while not being disorganized as the most systematically racist regarding caste.” “All the gods and religions joined together cannot prevent bloodshed unless we sincerely commit to establish a secular and multicultural society.  Even then it could be difficult to build a humane and pluralistic society because of chronic mistrust,” he believes.   


Given the hardened and inbred views of almost the entire population of the region and the lack of movement towards resolving the crisis, the International Institute of Bengal Basin (IIBB) has convened symposia that attempt to cut through the unproductive positions of racist institutions and weak politicians.   

India lets down its Hindu brethren in Bangladesh for two reasons: there are trade considerations between the countries, and besides, the Hindus in Bangladesh may be written off as either a matter of victims being “just poor and lower caste,” or to avoid confrontation with neighboring Muslim countries.  As the Indian media and government do not make a fuss, it may come down to the moral clout of the United States – whatever remains of it in this time of its unholy war against Iraq and perhaps Islam.  This hope seems pathetic when India could stop the atrocities in Bangladesh in one hour if it wanted to do so. 

Human rights cannot simply be assured by edicts or elections, so on-the-ground reforms are pursued that better people’s lives.  One of the main projects of the IIBB is to alleviate arsenic poisoning in the Basin which accounts for 150,000 deaths per year.   

In that instance we see the ecological basis for suffering that also extends to land management, industrial pollution, and the obvious problem of too many people drawing upon limited resources for food, shelter and general subsistence.  Ultimately, there is no social justice without economic justice.  There is no economic sustainability without wise management of people’s relationship with nature.  The indigenous knowledge of the region’s peoples, such as in the use of bamboo and other resources, must be respected in the face of development pressures flowing from the influence of outside entities such as foreign governments and corporations. 

Harvested paddy, St. Martin's Island, Bangladesh / photo by Tom Allwood

Climate change is a huge threat to all places such as low-lying Bangladesh, due to average sea level rise which has begun.  More intense storms and harder rainfall are a function of climate distortion and disturbed patterns of air and water currents.   

Although natural gas is present in commercial quantities in Bangladesh – of interest to India, for example – such a short-sighted energy source as a contribution to the greenhouse effect has to be considered for the long-term good of the region’s future generations. 

From the West must come a more compassionate and less greedy ethic for cultural survival around the world: the more that local economies and ecosystems are appreciated, the greater the hope for using the land’s resources in peace.  When resources are not stretched thin by too many people consuming the bounty of the land and waters, human rights can be assumed intact (unless there is an outside threat from an exploitative would-be invader such as the former British Empire). Today Bangladesh suffers from its reputation as the most corrupt nation in the world, worse than Haiti -- three years running.  Clearly, a fundamental and imaginative approach to solving human rights is called for, under the challenging circumstances.

As to the U.S. Empire, some individuals resist its excesses from within, and pay a price.  Archer Blood was consul general of East Pakistan in 1971 and when he saw genocide there by West Pakistan, he tried to have U.S. policy react humanely.  This was thwarted by Henry Kissinger, who was busy trying to please the Chinese for Nixon.  Blood did get the word out, however, which was detrimental to his career.  I knew him in Greece and back in the States after most of his foreign adventures.  Under Carter he was in charge of the Indian embassy, but I missed him there as he had gone off to Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded in 1979.  For a hero's obituary, see this Knight Ridder story which calls him a hero of Bangladesh.  The U.S. could make amends to the nation by involving itself in human rights for Bangladesh, if such help could be trusted.

Bangladesh must get more attention soon, rather than wait for a global-warming disaster from freak weather or sea-level rise.  The world needs efforts such as George Harrison's successful Concert for Bangladesh of over three decades ago.

“All the Nobel Peace Prize winners can agree that the objective for all people’s human rights is peace, but there must be peace through strength particularly in protecting minorities.” – Dr. R. Ghosh


January 11, 2005 – Berkeley, California

Further reading:  
IIBB website:

Peter Blood’s (Archer Blood's son's) history of Bangladesh (staff book of Library of Congress, 1988):

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