Persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh

Hinduism is the second largest religious affiliation in Bangladesh, covering more than 9.6% of the population, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. In terms of population, Bangladesh is the third largest Hindu state in the world after India and Nepal.

In nature, Bangladeshi Hinduism closely resembles the forms and customs of Hinduism practised in the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal, with which Bangladesh (at one time known as East Bengal) was united until the partition of India in 1947.

The Goddess (Devi) – usually venerated as Durga or Kali – is widely revered, often alongside her consort Shiva. The worship of Shiva has generally found adherents among the higher castes in Bangladesh. Worship of Vishnu (typically in the form of his Avatars or incarnation Rama or Krishna) more explicitly cuts across caste lines by teaching the fundamental oneness of humankind in spirit. Vishnu worship in Bengal expresses the union of the male and female principles in a tradition of love and devotion. This form of Hindu belief and the Sufi tradition of Islam have influenced and interacted with each other in Bengal. Both were popular mystical movements emphasizing the personal relationship of religious leader and disciple instead of the dry stereotypes of the brahmins or the ulama. As in Bengali Islamic practice, worship of Vishnu frequently occurs in a small devotional society (shomaj). Both use the language of earthly love to express communion with the divine. In both traditions, the Bengali language is the vehicle of a large corpus of mystical literature of great beauty and emotional impact.

In Bangladeshi Hinduism ritual bathing, vows, and pilgrimages to sacred rivers, mountains, and shrines are common practice. An ordinary Hindu will worship at the shrines of Muslim pirs, without being concerned with the religion to which that place is supposed to be affiliated. Hindus revere many holy men and ascetics conspicuous for their bodily mortifications. Some believe that they attain spiritual benefit merely by looking at a great holy man.

The principle of ahimsa is expressed in almost universally observed rules against eating beef. By no means are all Bangladeshi Hindus vegetarians, but abstinence from all kinds of meat is regarded as a "higher" virtue. Brahmin (Bram-mon) or "Upper-caste" Bangladeshi Hindus, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in South Asia, ordinarily eat fish and chicken. This is similar to the Indian state of West Bengal, which has a similar climate to that of Bangladesh where Hindus also consume fish.


According to the 2001 census there are 11,379,000 Hindus in Bangladesh. Hindus in Bangladesh in the late 1980s were almost evenly distributed in all regions, with concentrations in Chittagong, Khulna, Jessore, Dinajpur, Faridpur, and Barisal. The contributions of Hindus in arts and literature were far in excess of their numerical strength. In politics, they had traditionally supported the liberal and secular ideology of the Awami League and other left wing parties such as Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD). However, barring the fundamentalist [1] Islamist parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami, all the major political parties have fielded Hindu candidates. In the current Jatiyo Sangshad, out of 345 members, there are only 33 Hindus: 32 are from the Awami League, and 1 from the Jatiyo Party. Hindu institutions and places of worship received assistance through the Bangladesh Hindu Kalyan Trust (Bangladesh Hindu Welfare Trust), which was sponsored by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Government sponsored Bangladesh Television and Bangladesh Betar (radio) broadcast readings and interpretations of Hindu scriptures and prayers.

Since the rise of more explicitly Islamist political formations in Bangladesh during the 1990s, many Hindus have been intimidated or attacked, and fairly substantial numbers are leaving the country to India.[2]

In present day Bangladesh, Hindus became a minority only in mid-thirteenth century of the Gregorian Calendar. In 1941 the Hindus formed about 28% of the population, which declined to 22.05% in 1951, as rich and upper caste Hindus migrated to India after Partition of India in 1947. Since then, it has dropped by about half. Through a combination of mass exodus and genocide in the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities by the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War, this represents a loss of around 20 million Bangladeshi Hindus and their direct heirs, and reflects one of the largest displacements of population based on ethnic or religious identity in recent history. A significant driver of Hindu emigration has been the Enemy Property Act, later renamed as the Vested Property Act, through which the Bangladesh Government has been able to appropriate the property of around 40% of the existing Bangladeshi Hindu population (according to Dr Abul Barkat of Dhaka University).

A significant portion of the middle-class Hindu population left the region that is now Bangladesh immediately after the partition in 1947 when East Pakistan came into existence. Many of these East Bengali refugees went on to contribute actively to Indian society after their migration. In 1971, during the Liberation War of Bangladesh from Pakistan, a similar scenario happened.

Declining Hindu population in Bangladesh region
Year Percentage (%)
1941 28.0
1951 22.0
1961 18.5
1974 13.5
1981 12.13
1991 11.62
2001 9.6

Source: Census of India 1941, Census of East Pakistan, Bangladesh Government Census [3][4]

Despite their dwindling numbers, Hindus still yield considerable influence because of their geographical concentration in certain regions. They form a majority of the electorate in at least two parliamentary constituencies (Khulna-1 and Gopalganj-3) and account for more than 25% in at least another twenty. For this reason, they are often the deciding factor in parliamentary elections where victory margins can be extremely narrow. It is also frequently alleged that this is a prime reason for many Hindus being prevented from voting in elections, either through intimidating actual voters, or through exclusion in voter list revisions (e.g., see Daily Star, 4 January 2006).

Hindu population by administrative divisions

Hindu Population across Bangladesh
District Percentage (%)
Barisal 11.70
Chittagong 12.65
Dhaka 10.5
Khulna 16.45
Rajshahi 12.09
Sylhet 17.80

Banglapedia [4]

Hindu temples

Hindu temples are more or less distributed all across the country. The Kantaji Temple is an elegant example of an 18th-century temple. The most important temple in terms of prominence is the Dhakeshwari Temple, located in Dhaka. This temple along with other Hindu organizations arranges Durga Puja and Krishna Janmaashtami very prominently. The other main temple of Dhaka is the Ramakrishna Mission. The famous Ramna Kali Temple in Dhaka was destroyed by the Pakistani Army during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, and Bangladeshi Hindus have been actively petitioning successive governments since independence to rebuild the temple on the site, where a massacre of around 100 devotees also took place.

Built in early 19th century, Kal Bhairab Temple at Brahmanbaria holds the largest deity of Shiva in the country.

Many Hindu temples have suffered from implementation of the Vested Property Act through which land and moveable property has been confiscated by agents acting on behalf of successive governments. Hindu temples are also high risk areas during communal disturbances (most recently in 1990, 1992 and 2001) when it has often been necessary to call the army to protect sensitive locations.

Community issues

The Hindu community has many similar issues as the Muslim community of Bangladesh. These include women's rights, dowry, poverty and others. Issues unique to the Hindu community include maintenance of Hindu culture and temples in Bangladesh. Small sects of Islamists constantly try to politically and socially isolate the Hindus of Bangladesh . Because Hindus of Bangladesh are scattered across all areas (except in Narayanganj), they cannot unite politically. However, Hindus became sway voters in various elections. Hindus have usually voted in large mass for Bangladesh Awami League and communist parties, as these are the only parties which have a nominal commitment to secularism ; the alternatives are the increasingly pro-Islamist centrist parties such as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jatiya Party (which both incorporate Muslim identity into their version of Bangladeshi nationalism or the outright Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (an offshoot of the Pakistan-based Jamaat-e-Islami) which seeks to establish Islamic law under which there would be separate provisions for Hindus as non-Muslims.

Bangladesh Liberation and 1971 Bangladesh atrocities (1971)

Main articles: Bangladesh Liberation War, 1971 Bangladesh atrocities and Operation Searchlight

The Bangladesh Liberation War resulted in one of the largest genocides of the 20th century. While estimates of the number of casualties was 3,000,000, it is reasonably certain that Hindus bore a disproportionate brunt of the Pakistan Army's onslaught against the Bengali population of what was East Pakistan.

An article in Time magazine dated 2 August 1971, stated "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred."[5]

Senator Edward Kennedy wrote in a report that was part of United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations testimony dated 1 November 1971, "Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and in some places, painted with yellow patches marked "H". All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad". In the same report, Senator Kennedy reported that 80% of the refugees in India were Hindus and according to numerous international relief agencies such as UNESCO and World Health Organization the number of East Pakistani refugees at their peak in India was close to 10 million. Given that the Hindu population in East Pakistan was around 11 million in 1971, this suggests that up to 8 million, or more than 70% of the Hindu population had fled the country.

The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sydney Schanberg covered the start of the war and wrote extensively on the suffering of the East Bengalis, including the Hindus both during and after the conflict. In a syndicated column "The Pakistani Slaughter That Nixon Ignored", he wrote about his return to liberated Bangladesh in 1972. "Other reminders were the yellow "H"s the Pakistanis had painted on the homes of Hindus, particular targets of the Muslim army" (by "Muslim army", meaning the Pakistan Army, which had targeted Bengali Muslims as well), (Newsday, 29 April 1994).

The initial post-independence period (1972–75)

In the first constitution of the newly independent country, secularism and equality of all citizens irrespective of religious identity was enshrined. On his return to liberated Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his first speech to the nation, specifically recognized the disproportionate suffering of the Hindu population during the Bangladesh Liberation War. On a visit to Kolkata, India in February 1972, Mujib visited the refugee camps that were still hosting several million Bangladeshi Hindus and appealed to them to return to Bangladesh and to help rebuilding the country.

Despite the public commitment of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his government to re-establishing secularism and rights of non-Muslim religious groups, two significant aspects of his rule remain controversial as relates to the conditions of Hindus in Bangladesh. The first was his refusal to return the premises of the Ramna Kali Mandir, historically the most important temple in Dhaka, to the religious body that owned the property. This centuries old Hindu temple was demolished by the Pakistan army during the Bangladesh Liberation War and around one hundred devotees murdered. Under the provisions of the Enemy Property Act it was determined that ownership of the property could not be established as there were no surviving members to claim inherited rights, and the land was handed over to the Dhaka Club.

Secondly, state-authorized confiscation of Hindu owned property under the provisions of the Enemy Property Act was rampant during Mujib's rule, and as per the research conducted by Abul Barkat of Dhaka University, the Awami League party of Sheikh Mujib was the largest beneficiary of Hindu property transfer in the past 35 years of Bangladeshi independence. This was enabled considerably because of the particular turmoil and displacement suffered by Bangladeshi Hindus, who were the primary target of the Pakistan army's genocide, as well documented by international publications such as Time magazine and the New York Times, and by the declassified Hamoodur Rahman Commission report. With almost 8 million displaced Hindus and more than 200,000 Hindu victims of genocide, it was difficult to establish direct ownership of property within legally specified timeframes. This caused much bitterness among Bangladeshi Hindus, particularly given the public stance of the regime's commitment to secularism and communal harmony.

Largely because of these and other factors, such as the lack of attention to the Human Rights Violations of Hindus in the country, the Hindu population of Bangladesh started to decline through migration.[6]

The Rahman and Hussein regimes (1975–1990)

President Ziaur Rahman abandoned the constitutional provision for secularism and began to introduce Islamic symbolism in all spheres of national life (such as official seals and the constitutional preamble). Zia brought back the multi-party system thus allowing organizations such as and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (an offshoot of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan) to regroup and contest elections.

In 1988 President Hussein Mohammed Ershad declared Islam to be the State Religion of Bangladesh. Though the move was protested by students and left-leaning political parties and minority groups, to this date neither the regimes of the BNP or Awami League has challenged this change and it remains in place.[7]

In 1990, the Ershad regime was widely blamed for negligence (and some human rights analysis allege active participation) in the anti-Hindu riots following the Babri Mosque incident in India, the largest communal disturbances since Bangladesh independence, as a means of diverting attention from the rapidly increasing opposition to his rule.[8][9] Many temples and Hindu areas were attacked, including, for the first time since 1971, the Dhakeshwari temple. The atrocities were brought to the West's attention by many Bangladeshis, including Taslima Nasrin and her book Lajja which translated into English means "shame".

Return to democracy (1991–present)

Hindus were first attacked in mass on 1992 by Islamic fundamentalists. More than 200 temples were destroyed. Hindus were attacked and many were raped and killed.[10] The events were widely seen as a repercussion against the razing of the Babri Mosque in India.[11] Taslima Nasrin wrote her novel Lajja (The Shame) based on this persecution of Hindus by Islamic extremists. The novel centers on the suffering of the patriotic anti-Indian and pro-Communist Datta family, where the daughter is raped and killed while financially they end up losing everything.

Prominent political leaders frequently fall back on "Hindu bashing" in an attempt to appeal to extremist sentiment and to stir up communal passions. In one of the most notorious utterances of a mainstream Bangladeshi figure, the immediate past Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, while leader of the opposition in 1996, declared that the country was at risk of hearing "uludhhwani" (a Hindu custom involving women's ululation) from mosques, replacing the azaan (Muslim call to prayer) (e.g., see Agence-France Press report of 18 November 1996, "Bangladesh opposition leader accused of hurting religious sentiment").[12]

After the election of 2001, when a right-wing coalition including two Islamist parties (Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and Islami Oikya Jote) led by the pro-Islamic right wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) came to power, many Hindus and liberal secularist Muslims were attacked by a section of the governing regime. Thousands of Bangladeshi Hindus were believed to have fled to neighbouring India[13] to escape the violence unleashed by activists sympathetic to the new government. Many Bangladeshi Muslims played an active role in documenting atrocities against Hindus during this period.[12][14]

The new government also clamped down on attempts by the media to document alleged atrocities against non-Muslim minorities following the election. Severe pressure was put on newspapers and other media outside of government control through threats of violence and other intimidation. Most prominently, the Muslim journalist and human rights activist Shahriyar Kabir was arrested on charges of treason on his return from India where he had been interviewing Hindu refugees from Bangladesh; this was[15] by the Bangladesh High Court and he was subsequently freed.

The fundamentalists and right-wing parties such as the BNP and Jatiya Party often portray Hindus as being sympathetic to India, and transferring economic resources to India, contributing to a widespread perception that Bangladeshi Hindus are disloyal to the state. Also, the right wing parties claim the Hindus to be backing the Awami League.[16]

As widely documented in international media, Bangladesh authorities have had to increase security to enable Bangladeshi Hindus to worship freely[17] following widespread attacks on places of worship and devotees.

After recent bombings in Bangladesh by the Islamic fundamentalists, the government has taken steps to strengthen the security during various minority celebrations, specially during Durga Puja.

On October 2006, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom published a report titled 'Policy Focus on Bangladesh', said that since its last election, 'Bangladesh has experienced growing violence by religious extremists, intensifying concerns expressed by the countries religious minorities'. The report further stated that Hindus are particularly vulnerable in a period of rising violence and extremism, whether motivated by religious, political or criminal factors, or some combination. The report noted that Hindus had multiple disadvantages against them in Bangladesh, such as perceptions of dual loyalty with respect to India and religious beliefs that are not tolerated by the politically dominant Islamic Fundamentalists of the [BNP. Violence against Hindus has taken place "in order to encourage them to flee in order to seize their property".The previous reports of the Hindu American Foundation were acknowledged and confirmed by this non-partisan report.[18][19]

On 2 November 2006, USCIRF criticized Bangladesh for continuing persecution of minority Hindus. It also urged the Bush administration to get Dhaka to ensure protection of religious freedom and minority rights before Bangladesh's next national elections in January 2007.[18][19]

In 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal indicted several Jamaat members for war crimes against Hindus during the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. In retaliation, violence against Hindu minorities in Bangladesh was instigated by the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami . The violence included the looting of Hindu properties and businesses, the burning of Hindu homes, rape of Hindu women and desecration and destruction of Hindu temples. [20]

Political representation

Even after the decline of Hindu population in Bangladesh from 13.5% in 1974, just after the independence, Hindus were at around 9.2% of the population in 2001 according to government estimates following the census. However, Hindus accounted for only four members of the 300 member parliament following the 2001 elections through direct election; this went up to five following a by-election victory in 2004. Significantly, of the 45 seats reserved for women that are directly nominated by the Prime Minister, not a single one was allotted to a Hindu. Several Hindu advocacy groups in Bangladesh have demanded a return to a communal electorate system as existed during the Pakistan period, to enable a more equitable representation in parliament, or a reserved quota since persecution of Hindus has continued since 1946.[21]

Prominent Bangladeshi Hindus


Former ministers

  • Phani Bhushan Mojumdar, Ministry of Law, under President Khondaker Mustaq Ahmed
  • Sunil Gupta, Ministry of Lands, under Major General Ziaur Rahman
  • Netai Roy Choudhury, Ministry of Law, under Lieutenant General Hussain Mohammad Ershad
  • Goyeshwar Chandra Roy, Ministry of Youth Development, under Khaleda Zia
  • Goutam Chakraborty, Ministry of Water Resources, under Khaleda Zia
  • Satish Chandra Roy, Ministry of Livestocks, under Sheikh Hasina

Current ministers

Current members of Jatiyo Sangshad

Former Members of Jatiyo Sangshad

Upazila Chairmen






  • Shabnam (Bengali actress)
  • Apu Biswas





Martyrs in 1971

See also

Bangladesh portal
Hinduism portal


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.

External links

  • CIA World Factbook: Bangladesh
  • United States Commission on International religious freedom
  • Bangladesh Hindus 'will not go back'
  • ‘It is a war against the Hindus in Bangladesh’
  • HAF Report Summary on Bangladeshi Hindus
  • Amnesty International
  • Human Rights Congress for Bangladeshi Minorities
  • Genocide in East Pakistan
  • Police hunt stolen Vishnu statues
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