Hindu Rohingyas living in Bangladesh relief camps have purportedly become a soft target for those looking to enforce religious conversions in the crisis zone.
Both Hindu and Muslim Rohingya have taken shelter after fleeing from Myanmar but the difference is in the numbers, and that is the key.
Hindu Rohingya women are reporting that they are being forced to remove sindoor, break bangles and even marry Muslim men and convert religion.
Puja Mullick is among them and she recounted the trauma she has gone through for almost three weeks. Puja calls herself Rabia now: the change happened this month.
She is a Hindu Rohingya who left Myanmar in hope of a refuge. But circumstances turned her life upside down.
Puja, now Rabia, lost her husband to violence in the last week of August in Myanmar.
She says he was not killed by the army but by men clad in black with their faces hidden, who were abusing in the name of religion.
Theoman says her husband and entire family were shot in front of her but she was left alive to live as a captive.
‘They took us to the forest and said I would have to read namaz or they would release me… My sindoor was removed and my religious shakha pola bangles broken. I was told I would be allowed to live only if I changed my religion. I was made to wear burqa and stay with them to learn their traditions for almost three weeks.
‘I was made to read namaz… I had to say Allah, but my heart was beating for Bhagwan… My family started searching for me and came to know that I was living in a Muslim camp.’
The red saree is the only one she has now and her three-year-old son has no clothes at all.
Mail Today’s team met many more such women in the Hindu Rohingya camp in Kotupalong area of Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh.
If Puja became Rabia, Rica was being turned into Sadia. Twenty-eight-year-old Rica Dhar adjusted her orange saree to feed her year-old son as she narrated a similar tragic tale.
‘On Friday (August 25) they entered all the Hindu residences and attacked. First the mobile phones were taken away and then men were tied and beaten brutally. My husband worked as a goldsmith.
‘They took away all my jewellery and began beating me. All Hindus were identified and taken to a nearby hill. They were then killed in a row. Only eight women were allowed to stay among them… mostly young and beautiful.
‘They were told ”You will have to turn Muslim and marry us”… We had no option but to surrender and go with them… We were taken to the forest and left without food to weaken us mentally also… Then we were brought to a camp in Bangladesh… Once my Hindu relatives heard about it…they brought me to this place…”
Both Rica and Puja say there were six more women besides them who shared their fate.
After they could not be traced anywhere in Myanamar or Bangladesh, they were identified at the Kotupalong Rohingya camp where they were kept under close watch by those who were allegedly executing this forcible conversion.
When asked, government officials were clueless about what was going on. ‘We do not have any such information,’ said Md. Ali Hossain, deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar.
‘If it has occurred, we will take necessary action.’
Men hailing from the same Rakhine state went out in search of these women and allegedly faced torture themselves. Vijay Ram Pal says he was assaulted during his quest.
‘We are victims of Burma army and now we are being tortured here also. Eight women who were here from Myanmar….they were forcibly taken to another camp and were asked to convert to Islam.
‘Thankfully, a person here in the camp came to save them,’ he said.
Puja alias Rabia can now breathe easy. ‘I am back in the Hindu camp for the past three days after being rescued by my some women,’ she says.
Around five lakh Rohingyas have entered Bangladeshi territory and are scattered in different parts of this district.
Among them, are a significant number is of Hindus. When this reporter apprised Bangladesh’s information minister Hasanul Haq Inu about the situation, he promised action.
‘The news is very bad and astounding… we have taken all measures to put Rohingya Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist families in separate camps,’ he said.
‘We will be investigating this and we will be very tough.’