Washington: Expressing serious concern over increasing attack on religious minorities like Hindus in Bangladesh, top US lawmakers have said they are worried that the country is falling into the lap of fundamentalist groups.
During a Congressional hearing, the lawmakers urged the Bangladeshi government to take immediate steps to prevent the country from slipping into hands of fundamentalist groups.
"In Bangladesh today, if we go back to 1947. You have a total of 49 million Hindus missing from the rolls, many of them of course went to India. But recently we have got a situation where you got 1500 Hindu homes, 50 Hindu temples burnt to the ground," Congressman Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during hearing.
Not just Hindus, but people from other religious minorities including Christians are increasingly becoming victims of this attack, he alleged.
Royce said it is because a small percentage of Bangladeshi population has been radicalised and has not been given a wider broader education.
"I am particularly concerned over issues regarding religious freedom, and specifically, over attacks on the minority Hindu community remaining in Bangladesh today," said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the Acting Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
"It is up to the Government of Bangladesh to act authoritatively against those who incite and commit violence against anyone and protect the rights of all minorities," she said. "This is an essential step toward ensuring the safety and basic rights of all of Bangladesh`s citizens, regardless of their faith."
Congressman Brad Sherman expressed serious concern over the violation of human rights of Hindus in Bangladesh.
Royce alleged that fundamentalist groups in Bangladesh are indulging in forced conversions by kidnapping girls and women and by showing terror.
"We also have a situation where in the local police sometime blame the Hindu population for destruction," he said.
"Unless the State in Bangladesh is ready to come forward and close these particular Deobandi schools, Bangladesh is going down the path where the consequences of this would eventually engulf itself. You can see what is happening in Pakistan, when you do not confront it," Royce said, adding that the Government is not doing enough to protect them.
Responding to questions from lawmakers, Ali Riaz, Public Policy Scholar from Woodrow Wilson Center, conceded that the issue has not been addressed as robustly as it should be.
"Instability in Bangladesh is contributing to this kind of situation. The State has never done it should be doing (to protect minorities). Irrespective of the political parties in power, the State has failed to protect the minorities," he said.
The lawmakers said that Bangladesh was currently in a
state of political turmoil and attributed this mainly to the political stalemate between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the opposition leader Begum Khalida Zia.
"As Bangladesh approaches national elections, which are likely to take place in early January the country is in a state of political turmoil," Congressman Steve Chabot, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during the hearing.
"As the major political parties` ramp up their campaigns, operatives utilize riots, strikes and blockade to destabilize the country and call attention to their grievances," said Chabot, who had visited Bangladesh a few weeks ago during which he met both Hasina and Zia.
Insisting that the national elections should be free and fair, transparent and without violence, Chabot rued that both leaders were adamant in their positions.
"Sheikh Hasina insisted that the provisions were in place to conduct a fair election. Madam Zia held the position that a fair election could not be held without a caretaker government in place to ensure transparency. As of today, the two side remain at large and it is still uncertain whether or not the opposition BNP would boycott the election," Chabot said.
Any further violence, he cautioned would lead to strengthening of extremist groups in the country.
"The US continues to be concerned about the political deadlock between the two major political parties, in particular around the upcoming elections and the increase in violence that this deadlock creates," said Gabbard.
"Our Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal just returned from Bangladesh and reiterated the US` position that the opposing parties must come to an agreement over the elections to ensure that there is a prevention of any further violence," she said.
"We hope that both parties engage directly in a constructive dialogue in order to create this environment for free, fair, and credible elections to occur. I think that this will be a critical measure as we look at US-Bangladesh relations moving forward," Gabbard said.
Testifying before the committee, eminent experts expressed concern over the political stalemate in Bangladesh and cautioned that the country could very well head towards an uncertain phase of efforts were not made to resolve this.
Maj Gen A M N Muniruzzaman, president of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, warned that there is greater chance of post poll violence in case of an one-party election, which might spread across the border.