Bangladesh Vedic School
The Vedic Schools function from 9 to 11 am every Friday and Saturday, which are weekly holidays in Bangladesh. Image: Twitter

RSS-linked Vedic Schools expand Hindutva footprint in Muslim-majority Bangladesh

A group of children is rote-learning 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita under an open sky in a rural setting. This scene of early initiation to the tenets of Hinduism is from a Vedic school in Dinajpur district of Muslim-majority Bangladesh, a country where the Hindu population is declining at an alarming rate.

There are 353 such informal learning centres for children called Vedic Schools across Bangladesh set up by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-linked outfit working to expand the Hindutva ideology in the neighbouring country.

Bangladesh Vedic School
A Vedic School in Bangladesh run by a Hindu outfit

The latest set of five Vedic Schools was established by the organisation, called the Bangladesh Jatio Hindu Mohajote (Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance), in Dinajpur district on April 27.

Aim is to instil Hindu pride: Pramanik

“The idea is to instil a sense of Hindu pride from an early age in order to promote and protect our religion, which is facing an existential crisis in Bangladesh,” said Gobinda Chandra Pramanik, the secretary general of the grand alliance.

Gobinda Chandra Pramanik
Gobinda Chandra Pramanik, secretary general of the Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance.

The outfit feels the need for early initiation to religion as Hindu youth are allegedly falling prey to “love jihad” and becoming “indifferent” to their religion.

Also read: Why Bangladeshi Hindus don’t view India’s CAA as a saviour

“Many Hindus are disowning their religion by marrying people from other faiths. It is very difficult to get devoted Hindus here,” Pramanik told The Federal, defending his organisation’s ‘Vedic venture’ to mould the children into staunch Hindus.

Equipping children to answer questions  

Apart from introducing children to Hindu religious texts, another important aspect of teaching in these schools is to equip them to answer the most-frequently asked questions on Hinduism by non-Hindus.

“This is important because Hindu children are often being teased and taunted by their non-Hindu friends by posing questions like ‘why do Hindus worship cows or believe in idols’,” said Pramanik, also a leader of the Bangladesh chapter of the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

The VHP is part of the larger Sangh Parivar spawned by the RSS. “Though overtly we function as an independent organisation, we are an affiliate of the VHP,” Pramanik said about the Mohajote or the BJHM.

Also read: You have the same rights as I have, Bangladesh PM Hasina tells the Hindu community on Janmashtami

The Vedic Schools function from 9 to 11 am every Friday and Saturday, which are weekly holidays in Bangladesh. The student strength in the schools varies from 25 to 50, depending on the Hindu population in the area. The teachers are mostly local volunteers.

“We neither take any fee from students nor do we pay any remuneration to teachers because, in Hindu philosophy, imparting knowledge is considered as repaying of social debt,” Pramanik added. The classes are often conducted in the premises of local temples.

Goal unite Hindus in Bangladesh

The BJHM was formed in 2006 to “unify all Hindus of Bangladesh” to be a strong socio-religious and political community.

“In India, the role of organisations in the Sangh Parivar is segregated. For instance, the VHP is a religious organisation while the BJP is a political party. But here in Bangladesh, the Mohajote does multitasking,” Pramanik claimed.

Also read: Violence against minorities in Bangladesh is a headache for India

One of the political endeavours of the BJHM is to convince the 7 per cent Hindus in Bangladesh not to consider themselves as a vote bank of the Awami League.

Hindus, Bangladesh
A Hindu gathering in Bangladesh demanding reservation of 50 seats in Parliament.

The Hindu population in Bangladesh as per the 2011 census was 8.54 per cent. It dropped to 7.95 per cent in 2022. In 1981, Bangladesh had 12.13 per cent Hindu population. It

However, the Hindu population in the region started declining even before the Partition. From 33 per cent in 1901, it slumped to 28 per cent in 1941.

To protect the Hindu population, the Mohajote is now demanding re-instatement of reserved seats in Parliament and a separate electoral system for Hindus.

Demand for reservation

In the East Pakistan Provincial Assembly, 72 seats (69 for Hindus, two for Buddhists, and one for Christians) were reserved for minorities until 1954. To elect them, separate voting used to take place exclusively for minorities.

As the Hindu population has dwindled since 1954, the Hindu outfit is now demanding that 50 of the country’s 350 parliamentary seats be reserved for the Hindus, failing which it has threatened to boycott the national elections due in December-January.

To press for its demand, it is spearheading a movement holding frequent demonstrations and mobilisation drives. The BJHM has an organisational presence in all 64 districts of Bangladesh and is further expanding its base to all the wards.

There are currently 18 Hindu MPs in Bangladesh.

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