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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 16:23 GMT
Bangladesh Hindus 'will not go back'
Women and children
Refugees face an uncertain future in India
By Moazzem Hossain in West Bengal

Hundreds of Bangladeshi Hindu families who have crossed the border into India to escape repression at home are refusing to return to their country.

They are now living with their relatives and friends in the border districts of West Bengal and intend to stay there permanently.

In the frontier town of Bongaon in West Bengal, I found several Bangladeshi Hindu families who fled following last month's general elections.

Islamist procession
The rise of Islamists worries minorities
To escape any possible move by the Indian authorities to send them back, these families were apparently hiding in a village near the Thakurnagar railway station.

All these families have horrific stories to tell.

Dipali Adhikari, who did not give out her real name for fear of reprisals against relatives in Bangladesh, related how she and seven other members of her family had managed to cross the border.

Horrific tales

Several days after the election, a group of armed men entered their house of and looted everything they had.

They poisoned the family's fish pond, the main source of their income.

Then they turned to Dipali pointing a knife at her.

"They demanded 100,000 Taka [$1,770] as the fee if we wanted to live in that village," she said.

"Otherwise, they threatened me, we had to leave the country".

Mother and child
Some families have broken up
"It was not just me, other Hindu families in our village too were subjected to similar torture."

"We also heard stories of Hindu women being raped and murdered by armed hoodlums in neighbouring villages" Dipali said.

After this incident, Dipali's family decided to migrate to India.

They contacted a man in the border area who arranged their safe passage to India in exchange of money.

We ran through jungles and over ditches the whole night and didn't stop until we crossed the border

Mita Rani
Dipali left behind her old parents to look after their ancestral home.

Mita Rani Roy was not so lucky.

I met Mita in a village in Malda, in northern West Bengal.

Mita Rani fled her home carrying her one-year old baby with a group of Hindu families when their village came under attack at midnight.

"We ran through jungles and over ditches the whole night and didn't stop until we crossed the border", Mita said.

Her husband Anil Chandra Roy was not at home the day Mita fled the country.

"I have lost contact with my husband since then."

Refugee children don't know what to expect
"I don't know if he knows that we are in India."

Neither Dipali nor Mita Rani wants to return to Bangladesh after their horrifying experience since the government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia came to power in Bangladesh.

Political divisions

In Bangladesh, Hindus are generally perceived as supporters of the Awami League party of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Hindus believe the League holds secular ideals.

Shiekh Hasina's party experienced a humiliating defeat in the elections and she accused her opponents of rigging the polls and intimidating minority voters.

Since the elections, many reports of widespread violence against the Hindu community and destruction of their property have appeared in the Bangladeshi press.

Back in Bangladesh, I visited Dipali's village in the southern Bagerhat district, where her parents are among the few remaining inhabitants.

Border guard
Border guards told to stop migrants
The Hindu-majority village looked deserted.

Dipali's father Ganesh Boiragi told me nearly half of the 250 families in the village had left for unknown destination.

Mr Boiragi said he also intended to leave the country as Hindus were no longer safe in that area.

There are confusing reports of the number of Hindus who have left Bangladesh since the elections.

Bangladesh Refugee Welfare Council, a Calcutta- based group representing Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants in India, claims nearly 100,000 people entered India over the last month-and-a-half.

The Council's Secretary, Bimal Majumdar, says many Bangaldeshi Hindus conceal their identity fearing deportation.

However, West Bengal's Left Front government has dismissed the figures as highly exaggerated.

The Front's Chairman, Biman Bose, says the recent migration of Bangladeshi Hindus to India has not reached that alarming level.

"But whatever is the case, we have requested the government to take up the issue with Bangladesh to ensure the safety and security for minority Hindus in their country, Mr Bose told the BBC.

Mother and baby
Refugees want to stay in India
The Bangladeshi Government consistently denies any case of Hindu migration to India.

A government inquiry has found most media reports of alleged repression of Hindus as exaggerated.

A senior Bangladeshi minister, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, says there was very little truth in what the media have been reporting on the issue.

"In only a few cases have we found instances of repression of minority Hindus."

"In those cases we are taking action against officials who failed to protect the lives of the minorities."

But civil rights groups are unhappy with the way the government is dealing with the issue.

Ain O Salish Kendro, a human rights organisation in Dhaka, has filed a petition in the High Court asking for an independent inquiry of the alleged repression of Hindus.

See also:

20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Calcutta refugees protest against Dhaka
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Fears of Bangladeshi Hindus
03 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh parliament boycott
28 Sep 01 | South Asia
Campaigning ends in Bangladesh
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