Minority Report

Category: Americas, Featured, World Affairs Topics: Burma, South Asia Views: 2293

Minority problem is a recurrent issue in almost all parts of the world, including the more inclusive USA. On Thursday (Dec. 4) evening a 15-year-old Muslim boy of Somali descent - Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein - was struck by a SUV intentionally as he was leaving the Somali Center of Kansas City after leading a prayer service there. He was a Hafiz (one who memorized the entire Qur'an by heart). The impact of collision pinned him down and killed him. Another Muslim teenager also sustained severe but not life-threatening injuries. 

Somali Center officials have said that a man has threatened the local Muslim community for months. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the driver threatened the teen's family and other area Somali Muslims for months, even writing the anti-Islamic message "the Quran is worse than Ebola" on his own Chevrolet SUV. The driver was seen wielding a machete as he tried to flee the crash scene threatening other Somali-Americans. 

As to the motive behind the crash, Sgt. Bill Mahoney of the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) said, "There's a considerable amount of evidence that leads us to believe this was an intentional act." The FBI is working jointly with KCPD on the case and is investigating it as a potential hate crime. 

Interestingly, as usual, the popular media failed to mention that the victim was a Muslim and that he had come out of a mosque. 

Two days earlier, on December 2, in nearby St. Louis (Missouri) 32-year-old Zemir Begic, a Bosnian-American Muslim was attacked in front of his wife and killed by youths wielding hammers. His wife Mujkanovic said, "The last thing he did before he actually died was pull me out of the way and put himself in front of me, basically giving up his life for me."

St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population in the United States. They came to the Bevo Mill neighborhood in the 1990s, escaping the Bosnian war. The St. Louis area has been the center of protests since late August over the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. These turned violent in August, and again in late November after a grand jury decided not to press charges against the police officer.

The minority problem is simply much worse in many parts of South Asia and Myanmar (formerly Burma), which at one time belonged to the British Raj. To solidify its hold on the colonial territories, the Raj played its Divide and Rule policy very tactfully tearing apart indigenous societies that had not hitherto witnessed such tensions along religious and ethnic lines. In its conquered territories, while the former dominant (and hence defeated) religious and ethnic groups were shunned other local groups were preferentially treated in all aspects creating tensions between various groups. 

To fatten its coffers the Raj encouraged internal migration of cheap labor creating tensions along the ethnic lines. Similarly, to facilitate its administrative hold on its colonies, the Raj also induced migration of mammoth populations of English-educated Hindus who were more adept in the colonial system than others. Such relocations of cheap and educated labors for the economic and administrative purposes, respectively, extended all the way to the external migrations from one part of its domain to another. For instance, Indians were brought into South Africa, the Malay Peninsula and the West Indies for assisting mostly in the administrative jobs, while the Chinese were brought into Malaysia to work in its rubber plantations. 

As some of those migrants settled down in their adopted homes and were later abandoned once the Raj vacated its conquered territories they were mostly treated as remnants of the colonial past and faced discrimination under the hands of the new rulers, which came from the majority religious groups, in the post-colonial era. In South Asia and Burma, the minority problem was further exacerbated by the tit-for-tat religious riots which took place at some irregular frequency since independence of the multiple states from the belly of the so-called British India. Hindus became a majority in India and Nepal, while Muslims became a majority in Pakistan (and what is now Bangladesh) and Buddhists became a majority in Burma, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. 

The post-colonial experience of the minorities in South Asia and Burma has mostly been a sad story with little progress made in securing their human rights in the last sixty plus years. Nothing fares worse than the fate of the Muslim minorities in the Buddhist-majority Burma or Myanmar. Rightly so, this country has been depicted as the den of intolerance and hatred. 

Truly, in today's Myanmar, Muslims have no rights. Most Hindus have left this den of hatred long time ago. Her indigenous Rohingya people, rightly called by the UN the most persecuted people in our planet, who mostly live in the Arakan (now called Rakhine) state are treated as stateless or unwanted people as if they are a British era implantation from the nearby Chittagong (in today's Bangladesh). When it comes to the human rights of this unfortunate people not a single of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is honored by the Myanmar government. They are forced to a life of exodus. The incessant genocidal campaigns against them since the early 1940s have already ensured less than half the Rohingya population living in this country; the vast majority now live as unwanted refugees elsewhere. Sadly, the government of neighboring Bangladesh is also unkind to them and treats them very harshly. Even the visit of foreign NGOs to Rohingya refugee camps living in southern Cox's Bazar is not tolerated by the Bangladesh government. On November 21, 2014, three volunteers of the Netherland-based Global Rohingya Center (GRC), a humanitarian assistance branch of the Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU), an organization which is sponsored by the OIC, were detained by the government agencies for unknown reasons. They were on a fact-finding mission to assess the plight of the refugees. They have not been released yet. 

In so-called secular India, considered the largest illiberal democracy in the world, the share in government jobs for the minority Muslims who comprise roughly one-seventh of the population is only around 2 percent. They face unfathomable discrimination at every sector. In recent months, since the election win of Narendra Modi of the BJP, a Hindutvadi fundamentalist and fascist group, in the central government, the lives of minority Christians and Muslims have worsened. Many mosques and churches have been attacked and set on fire.

On November 24, 2014 the Centre for Society and Secularism (CSSS), Mumbai organized a session on the 'Rights of Minorities' in South Asia during the Peoples' SAARC Regional Convergence. The primarily objectives of this session were to understand the nature of violation of rights of minorities in South Asia and create a strong network of organizations across South Asia to consolidate existing or establish new mechanisms to address such violations. While I was not able to participate, I had the privilege of reading a report, published by the Center. 

Regarding Bangladesh, the report prepared by Ms. Neha Dabhade read: "Outlining the situation in Bangladesh, Mr. Moinuddin stated that there are many minorities in Bangladesh based on religion, ethnicity and sexuality. Hijra community is an important community in Bangladesh. Yet minorities are facing problems. It's unfortunate that the Hindu population in Bangladesh has reduced from 27% in 1947 to 10% now. There are instances of forced migration. There are 45 ethnicities which form 1% of the population like Marma and Chakma communities. However some of these ethnicities are becoming extinct due to the threat of Islamization. This is starkly reflected in the case of Chittagong where 97% of the population was of other religions and nationality. Today the percentage stands at a reduced 50%. This is very unfortunate for democracy."

As I have noted elsewhere, in recent years, since the resurrection of the Hindutvadi forces in India, much hoopla has been made about the so-called decline of Hindu percentage in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). For an objective study on the subject, I wish Mr. Moinuddin had read some of my well-researched articles on the demography of our region (see, e.g., All those fuss about 'endangered demography', New Age, March 2, 2014; Minorities in the Indian Sub-continent, Eurasia Review, March 15, 2014; Why not claim the entire Bangladesh, Mr. Swamy? New Age, Dhaka, April 23, 2014; The Question of Minorities in India and Bangladesh, Eurasia Review, March 31, 2014). The real cause of decline in Hindu percentage in Bangladesh has very little to do with so-called forced migration or persecution. For religious and other family ties, many Hindus, esp. the well-offs, prefer to retire and die in India than in the soil of Bangladesh. In a global economy we live in today, as a more educated group than the majority Muslims, many Hindus have also found better paid jobs outside Bangladesh where they have settled down. 

Far from discrimination, the Hindus in Bangladesh are comparatively better placed than the fellow Muslims. Their share in government jobs is at least 3 times their proportionate ratio within the population in Bangladesh. [See, e.g., the partial list in the bottom of the article - All those fuss about 'endangered demography', posted in my blog for a list of top Hindu government officials.] In what can arguably be called a case of 'reverse harassment' or 'perceived persecution', in today's Bangladesh, many of the majority Muslims, especially younger ones, are genuinely afraid to keep beard fearing that they will be targets of nasty harassment from government law enforcement agencies and the ruling party cadre (see e.g., Nimai Bhattacharya's article 'Amar Naam Nimai Bhattacharya' in the BD Today).

Mr. Moinuddin's claim that ethnic minorities like the Chakma and Marma once comprised 97% of the population in Chittagong is simply ludicrous. Their major influx in Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) district, and not Chittagong district, dates back to 1784 after the nearby Arakan (an independent state then bordering Bengal) was invaded by Burman king Boddawpaya, an extremely racist and bigot king. Many of the Rohingyas of Arakan were killed in that invasion while some managed to settle in southern Chittagong, who are called Rohis by the local Chittagonians. Prof. Abid Bahar's article "Burmese Invasion of Arakan and the rise of non-Bengali settlements in Bangladesh" sheds valuable information on the ethnic minorities of CHT. 

To its credit, in spite of its many shortcomings, Bangladesh government has maintained a disproportionately high quota system allotted for the ethnic religious minorities in every government-run institutions and job sectors, which has allowed many of them to relocate to other parts of Bangladesh for higher education and/or better jobs. Some ethnic Bengalis have likewise moved to CHT for a plethora of reasons, including farming. 

Such internal migrations in a densely populated and developing country like Bangladesh are nothing new and have been going on for centuries changing the demography continually. A demographic survey of many of the major cities like Dhaka and Chittagong would suffice to reveal that original locals have now become a minority in those cities. That is, there are more non-Chittagonians living today in the port city of Chittagong than the Chittagonians (Chatgaiyas), and the same holds true for the capital city of Dhaka where non-locals form a vast majority over original Dhakaiyas (or locals of Dhaka). 

It would be simply irresponsible of anyone to claim that such changes in demography had anything to do with forced migration of one group over another, let alone Islamization. Economics has much to do with internal migration within many of the South Asian countries where millions of people are still very poor. When it comes to proselytization in Bangladesh, no restriction has ever been put on any given religion to practice and propagate its beliefs. As such, many people have changed their faiths, including Muslims converting Christianity or other faiths. 

While Bangladesh has her share of minority problems, its record on such matters is far superior to any of the South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, let alone bigotry-ridden Myanmar of South-east Asia. 

To put succinctly: Mr. Mainuddin's claims about Bangladesh are factually wrong and simply irresponsible. I wish before presenting his paper on the Rights of Minorities in South Asia in the CSSS conference, he had done the necessary homework to prepare well and shared facts and not myths. Such silly presentations belittle the very noble objectives of a conference on the minorities. 

As I have repeatedly maintained in many of my articles minorities face major problems across the globe. Many are forced to assimilate and others alienate themselves succumbing to the dominant pressure. None of these are healthy alternatives for integration within a society. What our increasingly diverse world needs is pluralism where the minorities feel welcome to maintain their way of life and live safely and securely without feeling any fear on their life and property. 

Surely, the SAARC countries have a long way to march to achieve such lofty objectives. Modi's ascension to power in India shows that the polarizing forces are winning in India. Who knows Bangladesh may show the way for the rest to follow!


Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored nine books. His book: "Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity" is available at Amazon.com.

  Category: Americas, Featured, World Affairs
  Topics: Burma, South Asia
Views: 2293

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