Allegations about mistreatment of millions of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in Bangladesh has triggered a backlash from minority leaders as well as members of the Muslim majority.
Priya Saha, one of the organizing secretaries of the Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, the country’s largest minority organization, was suspended on disciplinary grounds, a press conference was told in the capital, Dhaka, on July 22.
The same day, the Bangladesh Hindu Religious Welfare Trust, the Bangladesh Buddhist Religious Welfare Trust and the Bangladeshi Christian Religious Welfare Trust — arranged a joint press conference to condemn Priya Saha for making “false and fabricated” comments about minorities in the country.
Priya Saha was a member of a Bangladeshi delegation that participated in a second ‘Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom’ held at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C., July 16-18.
The meeting drew delegates from 106 countries, including 40 foreign ministers at the invitation of U.S. secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
During the meeting, a video clip went viral on social media that showed Priya Saha pleading for U.S. President Donald Trump to save 18 million members of minority groups in Bangladesh from persecution.
She alleged that 37 million Hindus, Buddhists and Christians had disappeared from the country and that fundamentalist Muslim groups persecute minorities with political backing.
“My request is, please help us, we don’t want to leave our country, just help us stay. I have lost my home, they’ve burned my home, they (have) taken away my land, but no judgment (is) yet taken please, please,” she told Trump.
However, Nirmol Rozario, a Catholic and president of the Bangladesh Christian Association who also attended the U.S. meeting, told ucanews.com: “Priya Saha has made personal remarks and it does not reflect the reality in Bangladesh.”
While it was true that many minority people emigrated from Bangladesh, Rozario said Saha had used exaggerated figures when addressing the president of a foreign country.
The video triggered stern condemnation from Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League as well as from minority groups.
However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she did not approve of any legal action, such as sedition charges, being taken against Priya Saha.
Eight sedition charges were filed against her in recent days, only to be dismissed because they were not backed by the nation’s Home Ministry.
In a YouTube video, Priya Saha defended her remarks, citing research of prominent economist Professor Abul Barkat she characterized as showing that 634 Hindus had left the country each day between 1964 and 2013.
But in a media statement, Barkat alleged Priya Saha had distorted his findings.
“In my count, in about five decades, from 1964 to 2013, an estimated 11.3 million Hindus have gone missing. Nowhere have I said 37 million Hindus-Buddhists-Christians were missing,” Barkat said.
Kajal Debnath, a Hindu leader said Hindus have left the country since the 1947 British partition of India and Pakistan and Priya Saha had made a grave mistake by not mentioning the wider context.
“Her remarks to President Trump were illogical and purposeful,” Debnath told ucanews.com.
However, Debnath added that over-reacting to her comments would not benefit the country’s religious minorities.
Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes said the government and other groups needed to show restraint over the row.
“Priya Saha’s personal remarks were emotionally driven because she has been a victim of persecution,” Father Gomes said.
“It is true Bangladesh is largely a land of harmony, but some minorities leave the country and the reasons need a remedial process.”