by Ahmad U Shihab 17 May 2021
“Violating human rights is integral to the project of neoliberalism and global hegemony”—Arundhati Roy (Human Rights activits).
The Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh (CHRDB) has made several contacts with the US Congress and Biden Administration over the past few months seeking urgent help to establish democracy and human rights in this South Asian country. The Coalition believes that the matter is receiving their utmost attention.
Meanwhile, the CHRDB has been registered as a non-profit entity in the US, and its membership is growing.
The Coalition gratefully noted that on April 23, 2021 in New York, the Honorable Representative Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, publicly stated that the election system in Bangladesh was questionable. Further criticizing the continuing abuse of human rights in the country, Mr. Meeks said that without transparency and accountability in democracy and the judiciary, the development of Bangladesh would be impeded. The rights and democracy group looks forward to seeing an executive action by the US administration at its earliest to fix these chronic ills in Bangladesh. In a fresh letter, the group sought the US help against Indian hegemony and its sponsored fascism in Bangladesh.
Renewed Spate of Human Rights Violations in Bangladesh
The US Country Reports on Bangladesh continued to reflect the pitiable democratic and human rights situation in Bangladesh since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was illegally installed in January 2009. The group in its earlier letters mentioned that the present regime was “illegal” because it came through a fraudulent process. The India-supported and military-managed elections in December 2008 had serious questions of fair play. It was designed to ensure victory for the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami alliance. The subsequent elections held in 2014 and 2018 were totally farcical and non-participatory. The US and most other international authorities strongly condemned them.
With an unflinching backing from New Delhi, the Hasina regime continues its undemocratic acts and human rights violations. It faces no challenge locally or from outside. Even the authentically revealing reports of Al Jazeera in February 2021, implicating the country’s Prime Minister and the Army Chief in high level corruptions, failed to make a dent.
There is no political opposition in the country; it has been crushed to the dust. Various draconian laws, including the Digital Security Act, silenced the people from criticizing the government’s illegal and undemocratic activities, and its unchecked high-level corruptions. A few who dared, landed in torture cells of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the police, some succumbing to the inhuman treatment. The recent cases of the late Mushtaq Ahmad and Ahmed Kabir Kishore are known to the international communities, including the US. Last year, the US Congress recommended to the State Department to impose sanctions against the RAB for its serious human rights violations that included extra-judicial abductions and disappearances.
While the mainstream political opposition has been destroyed and silenced, Hefazat, composed largely of religious teachers and students, tried to oppose the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to Bangladesh. Indian protégé Sheikh Hasina invited her sponsor–the Indian leader–to attend, on March 26, 2021, the closing ceremony of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s year-long, 400-crore taka (US$ 475 million) birth centenary extravaganza. The day was also the 50th independence anniversary of Bangladesh. Muslims of Bangladesh, a 90% majority, see Modi as the butcher of innocent Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, and in Kashmir and other parts of India since 2018. Even the US had sanctioned Modi following the Gujarat massacre. During the Modi visit to Bangladesh, dozens of peaceful protestors were killed, thousands wounded and thousands landed in jails to suffer in the torture cells of the RAB and the police. The brutality continues.
The unfortunate irony is that there is no check or intervention from the international community against this fascism and abuse of power in Bangladesh. The donors and powerful foreign authorities either ignore these inhuman acts with a view to continuing their “business as usual,” or try to term them as the country’s “internal matters.” Such a notion, if there, definitely goes against the high American spirit of democracy and freedom, as well as its global responsibility. And, certainly it is against President Joe Biden’s declared external policy guidelines. Bangladesh needs an urgent closer look and remedial actions. The people cannot talk but their pathetic faces from years of suffering and haplessness tell volumes! They look to the US for an immediate move to rescue them.
President Franklin D Roosevelt said, “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” That is exactly what is the state of Bangladesh today under Sheikh Hasina.
The Biden administration is about four months old, and we have seen a sea of changes in its positive perception, strategy and plan of action to bring back the democratic values, human rights and individual freedom, both domestically as well as globally. Dictators and human rights abusers have started acknowledging and respecting what is due to the world’s most powerful nation and greatest democracy. The people of Bangladesh have great expectations from the guardian of democracy and human rights.
Indian Hegemony: The Biggest Problem for Bangladesh
The people of South Asia have a feeling that with an anti-China QUAD partnership with India, the US is inattentive to the local political situations in other countries of the region. Because of its size and strength, India exerts its unilateral authority on the smaller neighbors. Additionally, the present Hindu fundamentalist government of Narendra Modi is on record to work to establish the ancient theme of Akhand (Hindu) Bharat (unified India) in South Asia, absorbing peripheral countries in its fold. The QUAD gives it the extra clout to dominate over other countries in the neighborhood. Historically, none of the bordering capitals have friendly, or correct relationships with New Delhi.
For Bangladesh, the Indian hegemony is deeper, because the big neighbor has a special need of the country–politically, economically and strategically. It needs the Bangladeshi market for jobs and exports (Indian workers earn more than $10 billion annually, at the cost of local Bangladeshi employees. Bangladesh is flooded with low grade Indian products). New Delhi needs the country for easy access to its difficult and troublesome north eastern states. To facilitate its agenda, it helped install its protégé Sheikh Hasina in authority in January 2009, and continued to extract all the benefits it wanted, much of which went against the interest, sovereignty, even identity of Bangladesh.
India being in the upper riparian of 54 common rivers, controls the waterflow putting the lower riparian Bangladesh in dire consequences, both during dry and flood seasons. A coal-based energy project is being built at Rampal to benefit India. It is an environmental disaster for the UNESCO-protected mangrove forest, called Sundarban, and its wild animals. India uses Bangladesh’s roads, ports, rails and other infrastructures almost free to reach what is known as its “Seven Sisters” across the former East Pakistan. The Modi government pushes its bordering Muslim people to Bangladesh, a country of the size of Wisconsin, burdened with a population of more than 160 million. The country has also been forced to host some one million Rohingyas of Myanmar since 2017, bringing in social and environmental ills with the issue. Bangladeshis watch a grave warning that their country has not only become an Indian vassal state, but it is also slowly being sucked into the big neighbor, sacrificing its sovereignty, culture and even identity. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a willing collaborator in that scheme, in exchange of staying in authority.
The general public in Bangladesh perceives that under the shelter of the QUAD arrangement, India attempts to keep the US away from its sponsored fascism in Bangladesh. That seems to be the root of Bangladesh’s problem in reaching out to America. The US has more than half a trillion-dollar trade with China. The other three QUAD partners have more than the same amount of trade with that country. Would the group shun that economic advantage with Beijing to prevent its expansion outside its borders? Not likely. Why then punishing poor Bangladesh on this ground by virtually leasing it out to India? The people of Bangladesh definitely want mutually beneficial and friendly relations with its big neighbor, but on a sovereign equality. They fervently seek the US help.
“Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military.” —Simone Weil (French Philosopher). Bangladesh presents a perfect example.
(On behalf of the Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh
Writer is an activist for democracy, human rights and rule law. Writes on contemporary political and social issues of Bangladesh.