by Dr. Richard Benkin
October 7, 2009
Westerners believe that forced conversion belongs to a bygone age, which is why when presenting these incidents in Washington, it is critical to provide more than horrific allegations—which, by the way, the Bangladeshis routinely deny. Verified details, separating fact from hyperbole, and demonstrating some sort of government complicity are key. In this case, bizarre and contradictory actions by the police only confirm the Bangladeshi government’s support for anti-minority violence and the ethnic cleansing of its Hindu population.
According to human rights activist Rabindra Ghosh, who investigated this case, police deny that any crime occurred and refuse to pursue a case; this despite physical evidence of a break-in, which they admit having; the family’s video taped testimony; the legal complaint lodged by the girl’s guardian; and the family’s pleas for them to help locate and recover their daughter. Police told GHRD and BDMW representatives on site, “It is not kidnapping. It is love affairs between kidnapper and victim.” Kidnapper? Victim? That hardly sounds like a love affair. Yet, police continue to insist that even while refusing to explain the basis for their conclusion, including their investigation, or why they dismiss the physical evidence that refutes their claim. Nor do they explain why it took five men—including an accused murderer currently charged with murder—to “convince” Koli to leave home.
These actions prompted my organization, Interfaith Strength, to investigate the matter under the direction of Bikash Halder, its Indian representative. Halder dispatched four men to the family home where they spoke with Koli’s uncle and guardian, Professor Beraj Goswami. He claims to have faced nothing but corruption, duplicity, and collusion in the crime from the police. When he filed a complaint immediately after the kidnapping, he expected quick action given the nature of the crime and the family’s obvious distress. Instead, he met with the police denial—but still insisted that producing Koli would clarify what happened that night. Instead, they produced suspect “affidavits and other so-called marriage of conversion documents,” dated from the time of the girl’s captivity. The only way to determine their veracity would be for Koli Goswami herself to testify in a safe environment that the documents were not force on her under duress.
Instead, Goswami’s told Halder, the following sequence of events occurred. First, the Investigating Officer agreed to help him in exchange for a 25,000 Taka bribe, which Goswami paid. He ordered him to return to the Nandail police station on 21 June and wait while the police retrieved his niece. After quite some time, they returned instead with an older woman covered in a Muslim Burkha and hence impossible to identify. She said she was Koli Goswami’s mother and that she and her daughter converted to Islam because of a love affair—something Koli’s real mother disputed numerous times. Goswami denies that the woman was his sister-in-law, but cannot fathom the attempted deception since he could learn the truth by speaking to the woman he knew to be Koli Goswami’s mother. There is a final, rather chilling element to the 21 June meeting: the local Awami League MP, Major General (Retired) Abdus Salam, was present during the episode and threatened Goswami should he proceed with the case any further or dispute the conversion.
Curiously, while the police did not produce Koli that day, they now claim that she was present at a secret hearing before a magistrate the next day, about which the family was never told until after it allegedly occurred. They cannot confirm that their daughter was there or that it even took place. Goswami “protested vehemently” and told Halder that as a result “we are afraid we may further be attacked and our adult daughters abducted.”
What is not in dispute is: there was a home invasion; a family’s daughter was taken and has not been seen since; the alleged perpetrators have been identified and at least one is a known criminal; and the police refuse to pursue a case. We also know that a magistrate and the police claim that Koli has converted to Islam, and a government official from the ruling Awami League warned the family to stop fighting it.
As noted in an earlier Pioneer article about an anti-Hindu pogrom in Dhaka, “normal legal protections are suspended for Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh.”
Abductions, rape, and forced conversion of young minority girls is up under the current Bangladeshi government; prosecutions are non-existent. This attack on the Hindu gene pool is a key element to ongoing ethnic cleansing. As such Bangladesh’s Hindu population continues to decline—down to nine percent from almost one in five Bangladeshis at the time of independence. Incidents like these proceed with a wink and a nod from the government and silence from the international community. We can only hope that it wakes up to these atrocities before Bangladesh’s Hindus suffer the same fate as Pakistan’s.