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Unfinished Agenda

25. Get Out of Bangladesh

The message from Noakhali in 1946 was: Hindus get out.There were widespread killings in the district. Gandhi promptly visited the area in order to stop the rioting. Nevertheless, he could not prevent the start of an exodus of Hindus leaving their homes and pouring into West Bengal.

It would be appropriate to quote here from The Marginal Men, a scholarly work by Prafulla K.Chakrabarti, Lumiere Books, Kalyani, 1990:

The second phase of the migration began with the pogrom of February 1950 in East Pakistan. This time the migrants came down like an avalanche. The entire administrative machinery cracked under the strain. The organised killing of the Hindus and looting of their property started at Bagerhat in East Pakistar? and then it spread to other areas. The February riots started a chain reaction of organised violence in both Bengals and this time it was not a one-way traffic. For in 1950 riot only Hindus came from the East to the West, terrified Muslims also started their trek fromWest Bengal to the other side of the border. But the refugees who sought shelter in government camps represented only a small fraction of the total influx. A large number of those who crossed into West Benga, Tripura and Assam tried to fend for themselves. The Census of 1951 shows the extent a/ the influx. In 1951 there were at least 3.5 million refugees in West Bengal.

When in the wake of the riots of 1950 a two-way movement of the migrants was in progress, the Nehru-Iiaquat Ali Pact was concluded. The Pact provided for the restoration of the lands of the deserters of both countries in order to encourage them to return to their homes. It also provided for the enactment of laws by both countries for the  implementation of its provisions. Accordingly, the Government of India promulgated an ordinance without delay and subsequently an Evacuee Properties Act, Act IX of 1951 - was passed, which provided:

A migrant Muslim family from West Bengal, returning within 31 March 1951 would be entitled to reoccupy the deserted property. It would be the duty of the District Magistrate to restore their property to them. If he was unable to do that, he would inform the authorities. If restoration of property was not possible, the Government would be responsible for their rehabilitation. If the owner of the deserted property failed to return, the property would be taken care of by the Supervising Committee which would have the right of leasing it for a one-year period.

The Act laid special stress on the protection of the right of the owner of the land. Moreover, he could also sell the land or exchange it. The provisions of the Act were implemented carefully. Nehru saw to it that they were implemented, although he did not consider it his business to see that a similar enactment was implemented in East Pakistan for the restoration of the properties of the evacuee Hindus. Nehru was so anxious that justice should be done to the evacuees that he sent A.P. Jain, the Rehabilitation Minister, to find out whether the West Bengal Government was dragging its feet in regard to the implementation of the Act. In 1952 the Fact Finding Committee, set up by the Central Rehabilitation Ministry. requested the West Bengal Rehabilitation Department to compile statistics relating to the amount of property restored to the Muslim evacuees under the provisions of the Act.

The Nehru-Liaquat Ali Pact was signed in April 1950 to put a stop to the massive two-way flow of refugees in the wake of the riots of 1950. About 16 lakh Hindus migrated to India from East Pakistan and two lakh Muslims crossed into East Pakistan. The Pact provided for the return of the migrants to their homes and assured complete proprietors rights to the immovable properties they had left behind. Since the Nehru-Liaquat Ali Pact has not yet been formally abrogated, theoretically the East Pakistan refugees even today retain their titles to the immovable properties in EastPakistan. Thus the Pact kept before the East Pakistan refugees their illusory rights over properties left behind and deprived them of compensation while deluging the West Pakistan refugees with compensation for actual and supposed loss of immovable and movable properties in West Pakistan.

The story of Rehabilitation informs us that 'the concept of compensation is the offspring of idealism' and that 'The Prime Minister's compassionate concern for the millions dispossessed of their all by partition found expression in the payment of compensation'. Unfortunately this 'idealism' and 'compassionate concern'- were limited to West Pakistan refugees. Nehru used the stillborn Pact of 1950 as an excuse to deny compensation to the EastPakistan refugees. Alit Prasad Jain, the Central Rehabilitation Minister, was 'convinced that rehabilitation could not be complete without the payment of compensation. ' It would appear from the use of words like 'compassionate concem' for dispossessed millions or compensation being 'the offspring of idealism' that the Central Ministers suffered from amnesia regarding the East Pakistan refugees.

The pathos of the exodus from East Bengal, then called East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971, is best expressed in the words of Dr.Triguna Sen in his Foreword to the quoted book. Dr. Sen had been Vice Chancellor of Jadavpur University as well as Benares Hindu University and was later also the Education Minister, Government of India.

It is extraordinary how passively West Bengal accepted after partition the uprooting and the near-extermination of an entire people who participated almost to a man in the Indian struggle for freedom.True, the uprooting did not occur in East Pakistan in one swift swipe. It was like a wasting disease. But it was this slow and surer process which ensured the steady expulsion of a completely denuded Hindu population through riots sponsored by an Islamic State and social, economic and religious persecution of the Hindus by Muslims in collusive partnership with the bureaucracy, which caused anger in West Bengal but did not provoke the Hindus to retaliatory reprisal. Only in 1950, in the wake of brutal massacres in different districts of East Bengal did the Hindus retaliate and immediately a two-way exodus began which might hare brought about an unofficial transfer of population and a natural solution of the communal problem in West Bengal. But Nehru had reasons of his own to stop this natural solution of the problem and he bestirred himself immediately to stop this two-way movement by the Delhi Pact of 1950. The Pact stopped this two-way movement effectively and the Muslims who had left West Bengal returned and Nehru saw to it that their property was restored to them. But the exodus of the Hindus continued and lingers to this day. Even the Buddhist Chakmas of the Chittagong Hill Tract are now being hounded out of the recesses of their hills

The tragedy continues to unfold inexorably. On 27th May 2002, The Statesman. published from Kolkata and New Delhi, had the following to say in an editorial under the title of Sinister Design.

Another attempt on the life of a Buddhist monk in Chittagong in the wake of recent gruesome murders of two much respected religious heads -one a Buddhist and the other a HIindu - of the same area has made Bangladesh's minorities very insecure and badly tarnished the country's image. The suspicion has deepened as the police have refused to arrest the assailants when they are moving about freely with arms. What is worse is that the police have sought to explain the incidents in terms of sexual habits of the victims. Printed leaflets were distributed to this epect to coincide with the Home Minister's visit. The motive was also ascribed to possible occupation of vast properties owned by the two ashrams. But this is not the truth. It is far more sinister as the religious leaders were the mainstay of the local Buddhist and Hindu communities which looked up to them for guidance and support. In fact, Gyanjyoli ran an orphanage for which he got liberal assistance from international Buddhist bodies. His murder outraged the Japanese government so much that its embassy in Dhaka while expressing shock sent a delegation to the ashram wanting the culprits to be punished. Interestingly Begum Zia's ministers called the two murders "stray, isolated and unfortunate incidents."

Actually the killings are a legacy of Zia-ur-Rahman and H.M. Ershad's policy of communalising Bangladesh politics by banishing secularism and making Islam the state religion. Large scale persecution of minorities by Begum Zia's armed cadres, following last October's Parliamentary election, when at gun point they were told togo to India in their own interest, was also part of this legacy. Significantly, the two killings have coincided withthe sinister public campaign that the Jamat-i-Islam has launched urging minorities to opt for an electorate as in the pakistani days. The objective is to marginalise about 20 million people from Bangladesh's political mainstream.

In 1947 the percentage of the Hindu population was about 30 percent. In 1991 the proportion has come down to 10.3 percent as illustrated in table I:

Table I: Bangladesh
Percentage Distribution of major Communities

Year All Religions Muslims Hindu Other
1961 100 80.4 18.5 1.1
1974 100 80.4 13.5 1.1
1981 100 86.6 12.1 1.2
1991 100 88.3 10.3 1.2

Source: Statistical Yearbook of Bangladesh, 1980,1990 & 1999: Census of population

Ethnic cleansing has taken pkce elsewhere in the world. A comparison with what happened more recently in Cyprus, a part of Europe, is interesting.

The island country is situated about 40 miles south of Turkey and some 480 miles southeast of Greece. It was once inhabited by only 720,000 greeks. During the high noon of the Ottoman expansion in 1571, it was invaded by the Turks, many of whom settled in the northern part of the island all of which was ruled from Istanbul. In 1878, the British took Cyprus on lease. The lease ended with the end of World War I and the island officially became a British colony in March 1925. It however ceased to be a part of the empire in 1960 when it was given independence. It then became the Republic of Cyprus. About 80 percent of the people were Greek speaking, while the balance were Turks.

Not uncommon to Muslims, the Turks found it difficult to coexist with the Christian Greeks. After the displacement of the Ottoman rule in 1878, Cyprus ceased to be a Darul Islam since the writ of the sharia ceased to run. But it became a land of dispute or warfare or a Darul Harb to the Turkish settlers.However unwelcome the change of rulers, they had to tolerate it due to the sheer might of imperial Britain. The situation changed as soon as the British left. Yet, the Darul Harb status could not be changed because the Turkish population was only about one/fifth of the total. The corollary of this hopelessness was separatism which however could not be spontaneously implemented by the Turkish speaking minority.

The Muslims therefore invited the Republic of Turkey to invade Cyprus in 1974. Obviously, the government of the island was too small to resist the invasion. Turkey imposed partition of the country in 1975. The people of the separated portion made an unilateral declaration of independence in 1983 and adopted the name Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Its independence was recognized by Istanbul only.

It is noteworthy that the Muslim Turks and the Christian Greeks lived across Cyprus in varying numbers. The northern part had many Greek speaking people. Remember, until the 16th century, the island was inhabited only by them; the Turks came in from 1571 onwards. What was particularly tragic was that in the wake of the invasion in July and August 1974, the Turkish invaders from the mainland carried out ruthless ethnic cleansing. As many as 200,000 Greek Cypriots were expelled from the northern area by force. They had to leave their homes and properties behind and move to the Greek majority areas in the South. They became refugees in their own country. All this happened well before partition was imposed in 1975, not to speak of the unilateral declaration of independence in 1983.

After the ethnic cleansing of 1974, some 12,000 Greek Cypriots, mostly older people, insisted on staying put in the northern area. Over the following 20 years the figure was down to 715 and is probably nil by now. The experience of Cyprus is reminiscent of what has happened not only in the western wing of Pakistan and also Bangladesh. Similar ethnic cleansing continues inexorably in Bangladesh. Rather than repeating the well known tragic tale of Bangladeshi Hindus, the story is portrayed in the following two tables:

Tables II: Bangladesh
Census of Population by Religion in Numbers

Year All Religions Muslim Hindu Others
1974 7,14,78,000 6,10,39,000 96,73,000 7,66,000
1981 8,71,20,00 7,54,87,000 1,05,70,000 10,63,000
1991 1,06,34,992 9,38,81,029 1,11,78,866 12,55,097

Source: Statistical Yearbook Of Bangladesh, 1990,1999: Census of Population

Table III
Percentage Distribution & Variation Of major Communities by Religion

Muslim Hindu Others
Year All Communities % Variation % Variation % Variation

1901 100 66.1 - 33 - 0.9 -
1911 100 67.2 10.9 31.5 4.3 1.3 49.1
1921 100 68.1 6.8 30.6 2.2 1.3 10.2
1931 100 69.5 9.2 29.4 2.8 1.1 5.0
1941 100 70.3 19.3 28.0 12.4 1.7 76.9
1951 100 76.3 9.2 22.0 21.4 1.1 37.3
1961 100 80.4 26.9 18.5 1.5 1.1 22.2
1974 100 85.4 49.3 13.5 3.1 1.1 34.4
1981 100 86.6 23.7 12.1 9.3 1.2 38.8
1991 100 88.3 24.4 10.5 5.8 1.2 18.1

Source: Stastical yearbook Of Bangladesh 1999: Census of Population, 1991

Unfinished Agenda
Prafull Goradia
1. Why Transfer Population?
10. Frontiers
11. Financial Resources
12. Armed Forces
13. Pakistan and Communal Peace
14. Redrawing Boundaries
2. Unfinished Agenda of Partition
23. Two Nation Theory
24. Ethnic Cleansing by Pakistan
25. Get Out of Bangladesh
26. Population Transfer Between Greece and Turkey
3. Betrayal
4. Hindu Muslim Gulf
5. Theological Genesis of Separatism
6. Medieval Experience
7. Subcontinental Ummah is One
8. Separate Homeland For All Muslims
9. Ambedhar on Partition

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