Lawmakers Ask Bangladesh To Save Minority Rights

By Ela Dutt, Posted On : July 31, 2015 5:00 pm

Tulsi_Gabbard,_official_portrait,_113th_Congress

After years of lobbying on Capitol Hill, Hindu activists in the United States succeeded in getting some U.S. lawmakers to sponsor a resolution demanding Bangladesh address human rights violations against minorities including Hindus, who activists say have borne the brunt of recent communal violence in that country. The resolution also calls for acknowledging the victims of war crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Independence at the hands of Pakistani military and local militias.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, the only Hindu in Congress, and four others co-sponsored House Resolution 396 on July 29, “Calling on the Government of Bangladesh to protect the human rights of all its citizens, particularly vulnerable minorities, strengthen democratic institutions and rule of law, and prevent the growth of extremist groups.”

The bipartisan group of original sponsors includes Reps. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, Brad Sherman, D- California, Bob Dold, R-Illinois, and Chakka Fatah, D-Pennsylvania. The resolution, which has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, details atrocities during the 1971 war and references more recent growing trends of religious fundamentalism in that country. It noted that during the 1971 War of Independence, the “hardest hit” were the Hindus, and that 3 million people were killed, more than 10,000,000 displaced, and 200,000 women raped during that period.

The resolution said since 2013, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, BNP, with its coalition ally Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing, Islamic Chhatra Shibir (ICS), have engaged in systematic violence against Hindus and other minorities; that hundreds of Hindu homes, shops and temples had been destroyed in the November 2013 election violence. Religious extremists have increasingly targeted Christians, Buddhists, and Ahmadi Muslims in addition to publicly murdering three atheist bloggers in 2015, including American citizen Avijit Roy, it noted.

Gabbard, a member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said the influence of ISIS and other trans-national radical Islamic groups was growing in South Asia. “Bangladesh is a country in turmoil,” she said on the House floor. “I am particularly concerned over issues of religious freedom, and specifically, attacks against minority Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and others, in Bangladesh,” she added.

The advocacy organization Hindu American Foundation, which has been lobbying for years for recognizing the 1971 war crimes in Bangladesh, said that recognition of that “had been delayed but not denied.” Now for H. Res. 396 it is mobilizing its grassroots, Jay Kansara, associate director of HAF told News India Times. “Our members will really be pounding the pavement during the August (Congressional) recess to solicit the support of other lawmakers,” Kansara said. “The HAF has taken this up as a primary foreign policy concern.” In late January, Kansara and another HAF member visited Bangladesh to assess the situation, and Kansara testified in Congress on their findings.

The HAF was joined in advocating for H. Res. 396 by several other organizations including American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, Center for Inquiry, -Delaware Valley Bangladeshi Association, and Secular Coalition of America, it said in a release.

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