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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Where have the Hindus population gone?

A Hindu woman show an item from her family temple was damaged by militant Muslims - Photo:  Mahmud Hossain Opu
Secularist Shahriar Kabir, Muntassir Mamoon, Prof Syed Anwar Hossain, Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, Prof Ameena Mohsin, Prof CR Abrar, Robaet Ferdous, and many others often contest the concept of “minority” as used by politicians, law-makers, bureaucrats, and policymakers.
They ask -- who is a “minority” in Bangladesh?
Imtiaz Ahmed and Amena Mohsin argued that the rule of “majoritarian” is in three segments. First, Bangalis are the majority in Bangladesh; second, they are Muslim in the majority, and third, they are by default bonded with Bangali nationalism.
The triple majority gives them a culturally homogenous population.
In this formulation, the political elites chose the dominant/majority community as a model of the nation, while the minority/weaker communities were expected to assimilate themselves with the “mainstream,” ie the dominant majority community, writes Prof Amena Mohsin.
Apparently, Bengal spearheaded racial politics, which ultimately led to the birth of Pakistan. All-India Muslim League was born in 1906 in Dhaka, and leaders from Bengal proposed the controversial two-nations theory, separate homeland for Indian Muslims.
The two-nation theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah tore the Bangali community apart amongst Hindu and Muslim in 1947. The rest is history.
In the year 1946, 1947, 1992, and 2001, there was widespread racial violence which resulted in countless deaths and also triggered forced migration from both India and then East Pakistan.
Days after Khaleda Zia’s dramatic return to power after the general elections on October 1, the untold persecution of Hindu voters, as well as armed attacks on Awami League voters, raged throughout the country.
Filmmaker and journalist Shahriar Kabir had documented the persecution in several volumes and produced documentary films on the reign of terror unleashed by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) henchmen and its alliance of Islamist parties.
Similarly, the AL government after a judicial inquiry into the violence during post-October 1 elections also published volumes of narratives of persecution -- mostly Hindus and AL’s local leaders and voters.
Abul Barakat, a renowned economist and professor of Dhaka University, predicts that in the next 30 years, there will be no Hindus living in this country. 
To establish his research, he claims that an average of 632 Hindus left the country each day and 230,612 annually.
Afsan Chowdhury, a liberation war historian and an academic explains “low-intensity violence” against religious and ethnic minorities caused forced migration.
In an article, “Disasters: Issues and Responses, in Philip Gain (ed) Bangladesh Environment: Facing the 21st Century,” published in 1988 by Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), that the independence of Bangladesh has not brought much peace for Hindus who numbered about 10 million in Bangladesh.
Lack of socio-economic opportunities, low-intensity hostility at all socio-economic levels including the state, and greater opportunities across the border are the push-pull factors which have led to Hindus crossing through the porous border every day, writes Afsan Chowdhury.
The researcher further states that the Hindus are passing through a disaster situation as their life, property, and peace have all been made to feel insecure by the lack of security, and existing state policies and public action, which are forcing them to escape to another land, another society.
The declaration of Islam as the state religion may not have many institutional or formal ramifications, but it has made the minorities in Bangladesh distant from the core of the state. 
This illustrates how low-intensity violence against minorities can push millions into a state of silent disaster.
Mohiuddin Ahmad, a writer, and researcher in an article in Weekly Holiday published on January 7, 1994, writes that the first census (1974) of independent Bangladesh registered the population of Hindus to be 13.5% of the total population. 
This proportion dropped down to 12.1% in 1981 and 10.5% in 1991, while the proportion of Buddhists and Christians remained stable. The Muslim population, however, increased from 85.4% in 1974 to 88.3% in 1991.
He argues that the Hindu population cannot wither away. In demographic terms, the situation has to be addressed using relevant parameters of fertility, morality, growth rate, and migration.
Nearly 78 years ago in 1941, 28.3% of the total population was comprised of minorities.
The population of Hindus was 11.88 million. Despite the population growth, the present Hindu population stands at around 12 million.
If the normal increase rate prevailed, the number of the Hindu community in this country would have been 32.5 million, but the Hindu population in Bangladesh stood at 12.5 million in the 1991 census. Therefore, the missing population is 20 million or more by now.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 28 July 2019

Saleem Samad is an Ashoka Fellow, recipient of Hellman-Hammett Award, a freelance journalist, and media rights defender.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Who will protect the Rohingya children?

Rohingyas crossing over to Bangladesh after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown Mahmud Hossain Opu /Dhaka Tribune
They are particularly vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
Bangladesh is often mentioned as a lighthouse of sustainable development -- women’s empowerment, primary education, child immunization, primary health care in remote villages are all achievements in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
With each year, the not-so-poor country has added one feather after another in its hat offered by UN development bodies and international development organizations.
Despite the desired achievements, the government believes that more needs to be done. New strategies are developed with the support of international development partners to enable the hard-to-reach population in remote areas, especially in hill districts and haors (wetlands).
Unicef, in its annual report released early July, argues that it encourages the government to monitor child poverty and enact social and economic policies for greater social protection.
The most challenging tasks for Unicef and the government are to ensure education, shelter, basic health care, care for newborn infants and mothers, and child development, especially for the almost million Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh.
Among the Rohingya refugees, almost 60% are children. They have brought with them stories of unspeakable violence and brutality that had forced them to flee. Rohingya children are caught up in the violence in Myanmar.
Fortunately, Unicef is on the ground, working with the government and international partners, helping to deliver life-saving supplies and services for Rohingya child refugees in Bangladesh. By April 2019, around 910,000 Rohingya had settled in Cox’s Bazar, thus making it the world’s largest refugee camp.
The Rohingya crisis has grievously affected the children. With the support of the Bangladesh government and humanitarian partners, refugees have gained access to some basic services. But they remain highly dependent on short-term aid, and are living in unspeakable conditions, particularly in nauseating camps, where living conditions are difficult and sometimes dangerous -- especially during Bangladesh’s long monsoon and cyclone seasons.
In Myanmar, most Rohingya have no legal identity or citizenship. Inside the country, Rohingya children are hemmed in by violence, forced displacement, and restrictions on freedom of movement.
In Bangladesh, Rohingya children are not being registered at birth. Lacking a legal identity, they are unable to secure refugee status, one of the first tools for protecting children’s rights and safety.
Until the conditions are in place in Myanmar that would allow Rohingya families to return home with basic rights, safety from violence, free movement, health care, and education, they are stuck in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, children are unable to follow a formal national education curriculum, being deprived of the skills they so desperately need, if they are to develop and thrive in the future.
On the other hand, older children and adolescents in refugee camps who are deprived of opportunities to learn or make a living are at real risk of becoming a “lost generation” -- ready prey to traffickers and those who would exploit them for political or other ends.
Girls and women are at particular risk of sexual and other gender-based violence in this situation, including being forced into early marriage and being left out of school, as parents keep them at home.
A strong commitment to protecting children against violence is clearly reflected in the SDGs. Children uprooted by conflict and disaster continue to face heightened risks of violence, child labour, and exploitation.
To achieve international goals -- and protect millions of children around the world -- it is imperative to speed up the pace of progress. Indeed, a sense of urgency is required if the child protection targets in the SDGs are to be reached by the 2030 deadline.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 21 July 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email

Saturday, July 20, 2019

China’s neo economic imperialism shackles small countries who can never repay

Communist China for decades used to air propaganda on its state radio that the United States, Japan, Britain, European countries are economic imperialists, warmongers and backs autocratic regimes in the third world countries.
The political economists and several think-tanks argue that China has become an economic giant and definitely a new superpower.
There are reasons to be concerned about the dramatic rise of China as a military power in the Asia-Pacific region.
A British popular tabloid newspaper The Sun claims that China is "colonizing" smaller countries by lending them massive amounts of money, which they can never repay.
Developing countries from Pakistan to Djibouti, the Maldives to Fiji, all owe huge amounts to China. Countries around the world owe huge sums to China and have fallen into debt-trap.
Some think-tanks are calling it "debt-trap diplomacy" or "debt colonialism" offering enticing loans to countries unable to repay, and then demanding concessions when they default.
Alarm bells are ringing for Pakistan’s public debt is piling up, while a new narrative taking shape in the West that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is creating a debt trap for developing economies, many are quick to link Pakistan’s ballooning debt to loans incurred under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The BRI flagship project in Pakistan fails to address the participation of the fiercely independent Baloch people, which has scaled up armed insurrections in Balochistan. Time will explain whether the full utilization of Gwadar Port built by Chinese will be feasible.
Very recently, Rhodium Group, a US-based research organization, reviewed 40 cases of China’s external debt renegotiations.
It was found that defaulters are being pressured into surrendering control of assets or allowing military bases on their land.
Sri Lanka is the best example of being riddled with debt. Owing more than $1billion in debts to China seized control of Hambantota port for use by companies owned by the Chinese government on a 99-year lease.
The Sun article alleges that the defaulters have been pressured into surrendering assets and territory or allowing military bases on their land, thus increases its military footprint in the region. There is only one other reported case of asset seizure from Tajikistan in 2011.
Meanwhile, the United States is desperate to stop the Doraleh Container Terminal in Djibouti falling into Chinese hands, particularly because it sits next to China's only overseas military base.
Incidentally, Djibouti is home to the US military’s main base in Africa, also looks likely to cede control of a port terminal to a Beijing-linked firm.
A report from The Center for Global Development, a Washington DC-based is a nonpartisan, nonprofit think-tank offers some insight into the spreading China debt.
China, the neo-economic imperialist.Researches exemplify how infrastructure project loans to Mongolia, Montenegro, and Laos have resulted in millions or even billions in debts, which often account for huge percentages of the countries' GDPs.
Well, most of the projects are linked to the BRI and undertake work on roads and ports with part-funding from China, a bold project to create trade routes through huge swathes of Eurasia, with China at the center.
China economic empire is visible in the Pacific region, prompting fears the country intends to leverage the debt to expand its military footprint into the South Pacific.
Australia expressed alarm at this move, which would effectively increase Chinese military presence on a key gateway to Australia’s east coast.
Sydney’s Lowy Institute think-tank, which has closely monitored China’s activities in the Pacific, estimates Beijing has poured nearly $ 1.74 billion into Pacific countries since 2006.
Among the projects this money funded was the largest wharf in the South Pacific - considered capable of accommodating aircraft carriers.
China approached Vanuatu about setting up a military base. The country owes $238.32 million to China.
Tonga also carries some big debts and has already admitted to struggling with repayments.
Other big debtors include Papua New Guinea, which owes roughly $621.30 million in development and aid debt, Fiji, which owes $606.23 million, and Samoa, with a debt of  $225.77 million.
China defended its lending practices, saying they were "sincere and unselfish", and insisting it only lent to countries that could repay.

First published in the Bangla Tribune news portal on 20 July 2019

Saleem Samad, is a journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award, also Bangladesh correspondent of Paris based international media rights organization, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Twitter @saleemsamad; Email: