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Political leaders, social scientists, leaders of the Hindu community and researchers are more or less in consensus that outward migration is the main reason of the decrease in Hindu population. There is a historical trend behind this exodus.

Professor Abul Barakat of Dhaka University's department of economics has been researching for over three decades on the economic, social and political reasons behind the minorities leaving the country. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, "No one wants to leave their own motherland, their own hearth and home, to go to another country. It is because of persecution that the Hindus are leaving Bangladesh and that their numbers are fast decreasing. Many of them have lost everything due to the Enemy (Vested) Property Act and have left the country. This has mostly happened among the weaker Hindus in the villages. There are more reasons."

In the latest spate of events, many Hindu puja mandaps and temples were destroyed, and Hindu homes and business establishments were set on fire after the incident of the Holy Quran being desecrated during Durga Puja this year. Several deaths occurred too.

What could the number of Hindus have been?

According to the first population census in 1974, the total population of the country was 76,598,000. The number of Hindus totalled 10,313,000, that is, 13.5 per cent of the total population. And 85.4 per cent were Muslims.

If the population rate of Hindus was as it had been 50 years ago, how many Hindus would be living in Bangladesh now? In the last population census carried out in 2011, the population of the country was 14,977,2000. If the rates of 50 years ago remained the same (13.5 per cent), then the number of Hindus would now be 20,219,000.

However, according to the last population census, 8.5 per cent of the population was Hindus. That means the number of Hindus stand at just over 12,700,000, indicating after 50 years, there is around 7.5 million (75 lakh) less Hindus in the country than could have been.

Population experts refer to this as the 'missing Hindu population'. Every 10 years, the number of Hindus in the country is decreasing by over 1.5 million (15 lakh). Alongside outward migration, the other reasons behind this are a drop in reproductive rates and higher mortality.

Historic trends

The trend of Hindus decreasing in number is historic. In 1947 when the Indian subcontinent was divided on the basis of the two-nation theory, Pakistan (East and West) was considered to be for Muslims and India for Hindus. According to the population census of 1942 in British India, before partition, Hindus constituted 28 per cent of the population in East Bengal (presently Bangladesh). Ten years later, this number stood at 22 per cent in the first population census carried out in Pakistan in 1951. A large number of Hindus had migrated to India due to the 1947 partition. And many Muslims came to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from India. This changed the population ratio to an extent.

Even before that, there had been a trend of the Hindu population decreasing in Bangladesh. In the 1901 population census, Hindus made up 33 per cent of the population in Bangladesh. This number showed a downward trend in the censuses carried out every 10 years. So this trend is over 100 years old.

The analytical report in the 2001 census said that the partition of 1947, the Indo-Pak war of 1965 and the independence war of 1971 are reasons behind the fall of numbers among the Hindu population in the country.

The Vested Property Act is one of the main reasons behind the outward migration. The Pakistan government had enacted this law during the 1965 war. Though the war ended in 17 days, the law remains in force down till today

Non-communal Bangladesh

In independent Bangladesh, born out of a non-communal spirit in 1971, equal rights were recognised for Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and people of all religion. Secularism featured importantly in the 1972 constitution as one of the main pillars of the state. However, the discriminatory Vested Property Act, which had been enacted during the Pakistan rule, remained intact.

The first blow at a state level was dealt in 1977 when the Fifth Amendment dropped the word 'secularism' from the constitution. Then 11 years later, in June 1988, Islam was declared to be the state religion. Various political parties and civic organisations protested. Though these two changes were made under military rule, none of the subsequent democratic governments retrieved the non-communal stance as the ideology of the state.

Many among the general Hindu people feel that the Vested Property Act is one of the main reasons behind the outward migration. The Pakistan government had enacted this law during the 1965 war. Though the war ended in 17 days, the law remains in force down till today. Due to this law, thousands of Hindu families in the country have lost their lands and have been evicted from their homes.

General secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad, lawyer Rana Dasgupta, told Prothom Alo that Hindus are being forced to leave the country. After 1975, constitutional changes divided the united Bengali nation in the name of religion. Hindus were made the religious minority. During Pakistan times, Hindus did not get equal citizenship and in independent Bangladesh they are victims of the same. Hindus and Muslims did not fight for state religion in 1971. This problem today is a national problem created due to political reasons.

What does research reveal?

Three researchers have carried out studies on the Hindu population in the country. The main researcher Md Moinduddin Haider works at icddr,b. Mizanur Rahman is a researcher at the Carolina Population Centre of North Carolina University in the US. Nahid Kamal is a researcher at a non-government organisation, PopDev Consultancy Ltd. Their research article, 'Hindu Population Growth in Bangladesh: A Demographic Puzzle' appeared in the Journal of Religion and Demography, published in 2019 from the Netherlands. The researchers in their study covering 1989 to 2016, highlighted the comparative reproductive rates, mortality and international migration of the Muslim and Hindu communities in Matlab of Chandpur district.

The researchers found that from 1989 to 2004, a total of 5000 Hindus of Matlab had left the country, 89 per cent of them going to India. From 2005 to 2016, a total 1,937 left the country, 31 per cent going to India, 45 per cent to the Middle East and the remaining 24 per cent to Europe and America. On the other hand, from 1989 to 2016, a total of 20,175 Muslims from Matlab left the country, 62 per cent going to the Middle East. The researchers pointed out that the propensity was higher among the Hindus to leave the country than among Muslims. But the study did not specify if this migration was for work of permanent.

During that span of time, the rate of population increase among the Hindu community per 1000 persons was 2 points lower than that of Muslims. Where the probability of a Muslim giving birth to a child in three years was 35 per cent, for Hindu women this was 32 per cent.

The research showed that the use of birth control contraceptives was higher among Hindus. The rate of abortion was higher among the Hindus too. And the propensity not to want more than two children was higher among Hindu women. The trend to get married at an early age was higher among Muslims. The researchers analysed a few more similar indicators, concluding that reproductive rates among Hindus were comparatively lower.

Mortality rates were a bit higher among Hindus too. The researchers said that in Matlab, among deaths per 1000, there were four more deaths among Hindus than Muslims.

In conclusion, the researchers said among the reasons of the lower rate of population growth among Muslims from the 1989 to 2016 time span, 54 per cent was due to outward migration, 41 per cent due to lower reproductive rates and the remaining 5 per cent due to higher mortality rates. They also said that reproductive rates have become more prominent reasons than migration in the recent years.

Professor Mohammad Mainul Islam of Dhaka University's population science department, commenting on the issue, told Prothom Alo, population rates increase or decrease by three demographic processes. These are birth rates, death rates and relocation. Globally Muslims have higher birth rates and this is high in Bangladesh too. However, there needs to be extensive research as to whether there is any difference in mortality rates between Muslims and Hindus.

Recent trends

While the Hindu population rate has fallen in the country, the total number of Hindus hasn't lessened. The total number continues to increase in every population census. However, in the population censuses of 2001 and 2011, it was seen that district-wise, the number of Hindus in 13 districts has decreased.

The 1961 population census said that the Hindu population was comparatively the highest in Khulna district. Khulna has now been divided into three separate districts -- Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira. The population growth of Hindus in these districts is negative, that is, the population is decreasing.

The same trend has been noted in six districts of Barishal division. In the 2001 population census, there was a population of 816,051 in Barisal, Bhola, Jhalkathi, Pirojpur, Patuakhali and Barguna. In the 2011 census, this number fell to 762,479. Similarly the population of Hindus in Dhaka division's Gopalganj, Madaripur and Kishoreganj, and Rajshahi division's Pabna district has shrunk.

A sense of insecurity prevails among the minority communities in all countries. It is the responsibility of the government and greater society to dispel that insecurity to the greatest extent possible. The government has not brought many past incidents to justice. Had this been done, perhaps some of the incidents could have been averted
Muntasir Mamun, professor of history, Dhaka University

The establishment of Kolkata as the capital of undivided Bengal in British India, the partition of Bengal in 1905, the partition of 1947 and such big events made a part of the Hindu community inclined towards India. During the 1971 Liberation War, 10 million people took shelter as refugees in India. A large percentage of them were Hindu. After the end of the war, all the refugees did not return. And among those who did return, many went back to India again.

The communal riots of 1950, the Indo-Pak war of 1965, and the Vested Property Act enacted during the war, influenced many Hindus to leave the country. As a backlash to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India in 1990, attacks were launched on Hindus in Bangladesh. Similar violence broke out is various districts during and after the 2001 national parliamentary election. In recent times there have been several incidents sparked off by social media posts. These include Buddhist temples being burnt down in an unprecedented manner in 2012 in Ramu, Ukhiya and Patia over a social media post uploaded by a young man.

Professor of history at Dhaka University, Muntasir Mamun, speaking to Prothom Alo, said people of both Hindu and Muslim communities are leaving the country. A sense of insecurity prevails among the minority communities in all countries. It is the responsibility of the government and greater society to dispel that insecurity to the greatest extent possible. The government has not brought many past incidents to justice. Had this been done, perhaps some of the incidents could have been averted.

* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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