The plight of the Bangladeshi Hindus originally drew me to West Bengal, and their deteriorating situation keeps me coming back to areas where I can meet with the victims in their semi-licit and semi-safe havens. Unfortunately, throughout much of India’s fourth most populous state, even Hindus native to the country cannot expect basic legal protections from police and other authorities. While some have offered various explanations for this injustice, we shall let them argue over that and not let political wrangling divert us from the heart of the matter: real people whose victimization and lack of protection trump any political justifications, theoretical arguments, and disingenuous defenses raised in an attempt to deny the reality.
Last September, there was an anti-Hindu riot not far from the West Bengal capital of Kolkata. Marauding Muslims destroyed Hindu shops and homes in Deganga and contrary to initial reports, molested several women. Their immediate aim was to force a longstanding Hindu temple off land they determined to seize for their mosque; but as West Bengal political leader Tathagata Roy noted, their real objective was “to cleanse the area of Hindus [and] totally Islamize the area.” I visited Deganga five months after the violence and observed that the rioters were achieving that goal. The remaining Hindu residents told us that many of their co-religionists had already fled, and most of them were contemplating the same course of action. Unchecked violence from Muslims was bad enough, local and state authorities’ refusal to stop it left them alienated and defenseless. At the riots’ outbreak, government forces deployed along the main road, but when the criminals reacted by attacking errant homes and villages in the interior, the troops did not follow. That allowed the Muslim rioters to savage Hindu communities with impunity. By the time of my fact-finding mission, Hindus had rebuilt most the demolished brick structures but not the sense of security they once had. They fear going to market or school, and women in particular are subjected to incessant harassment. Numerous requests to the authorities for protection have gone unanswered.
Not far from Deganga lies the less accessible village of Norit, close enough to the Kolkata for local and State authorities to protect its Hindu residents—if they want to do so. Certainly, if I could get there, they can; and I did, making my way to Norit in the late afternoon on February 17, 2011 accompanied by Tapan Ghosh and Animitra Chakraborty of Hindu Samhati, a Hindu advocacy group, and by my fellow Forcefield board members, Miriam Guttman-Jones and Amitabh Tripathi. For what seemed like hours, we heard testimony after testimony of anti-Hindu attacks and the government’s passive complicity. “It seems as if everyone has a story to tell,” I remarked. These anti-Hindu attacks have become more frequent over the last two years along with a “tremendous rise in Islamic fundamentalism” and aggressive block voting by Muslims.
Up until two years ago, villagers told us, Hindu children had been able to play soccer, cricket, and other games unmolested in a field on the village outskirts. Now, however, when they attempt to play, neighboring Muslim men converge on them and attack. This normally happens when most adult Hindu men are away working and the mothers are left to defend their children. Making no distinction for age or gender, however, the men beat, bite, and attack them with bamboo sticks or lathis. Many women who described this also showed us the consequent wounds and permanent disabilities, many of which were treated in area hospitals. Police intervened in one case but charged both communities with violence and told them to “live in peace”; drawing a false moral equivalency between attackers and defenders. Nice sentiment, but difficult to realize when one party gets to attack the others’ children with impunity.
Two elderly women in the village described being beaten while only observing the fray from well outside it. One showed us how the attackers broke her spine, kicking her repeatedly while she was on the ground. The other testified to being thrown into a pond and then beaten some more. Another woman claimed to have been dragged by her hair and beaten severely about the head. She spent over a week in the hospital and still suffers constant pain. The testimony went on for some time painting a very clear picture of a village where the residents live in fear of attack and official inaction. Several spoke about home invasions and attempted abduction of women and children. The most poignant testimony came from the mother and uncle of 21-year-old Matamata Dutta, who was abducted more than five weeks prior to our visit. It would be difficult for anyone with even a modicum of empathy to remain unmoved as her mother described the girl’s abduction. The real story, however, is how others apparently can.
Matamat’s family filed a formal complaint with the police who have refused to start a case or help the mother recover her daughter. They turned to Hindu Samhati. Tapan Ghosh personally delivered a formal report of the incident to the district administration in Howrah and also reported it to the West Bengal Human Rights Commission. Neither one responded. In fact, the family reports being threatened with serious consequences whenever in desperation they go to the local police station to plead their case. Local Muslims are now threatening to abduct “more Hindu girls,” knowing they can do so with impunity. Unfortunately, Matamata’s case is not a unique one. The abduction of Hindu girls and women of childbearing age has been common in Bangladesh for decades. That we are seeing them in West Bengal now substantiates claims that jihad has crossed the border into India. These abductions deliberately reduce the Hindu gene pool and contribute to a demographic cleansing of non-Muslim populations. At the very least, we should wonder why the authorities refuse even to investigate thus very serious matter seriously and demand that they do so, even though the miscreants now have a six week head start.