Queens, Thinking Of Bangladesh
the six, unassuming Bangladeshi men sitting around a dinner table
recently in a Sunnyside restaurant were telling stories and laughing
at each other, the executive committee members of the Queens-based
North American Chapter of the Bangladeshi Hindu Buddhist Christian
Unity Council (BHBCUC) are serious about religious persecution in
their home country, and are working to help the people in their native
of a Queens based group are trying to help oppressed Christians,
Buddhists and Hindus in Bangladesh.
Tribune Photo By Jonathan Kivell
Bangladesh now, Islamic fundamentalist organizations are undertaking
the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities,” says Sitangshu Guha,
who has compiled a list of nearly 400 media-reported incidents of
abuses done to non-Muslims in Bangladesh from January to June 2002.
1947, the percentage of Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians in
Bangladesh has dropped from 35 percent of the population to less than
are being raped, murdered, and tortured every day.”
York is the membership hub for BHBCUC members outside of their home
country, and all members have full-time jobs, working for the council
in their spare time.
North American chapter holds full meetings once every six months with
about 300 members in attendance, while the members of the 51-person
executive committee meet biweekly.
pay for everything out of our own pocket,” says Rup Kumar Bhowmick,
who has served as the council’s president for four years.
“It’s hard to be so far away from home and want to see
its many trips to Washington D.C., the executive committee has met
with members of the United States Department of State, as well as
members of Congress and Senators.
recent meeting with Queens Congressman Gary Ackerman, who sits on the
House Foreign Relations Committee, allowed board members to discuss
the human rights violations taking place in their country.
Ackerman was receptive, Bhowmick says, his effort to bring issues of
Bangladesh to the full Congress were unsuccessful.
members also met the Prime Minister of India at a speech held in New
York, urging him to consider Bangladesh in its foreign policy, aiding
Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian people in any way possible.
are trying to convince the State Department to change its policy,”
says Ratan Barua, former president of the council, who has helped
spearhead letter-writing campaigns to the World Bank, International
Monetary Fund, and European Union, urging the organizations to aid
United States government helped religious minorities have voting power
It has the same power to bring about change in Bangladesh.”
of the executive committee relate the issues of Islamic fundamentalism
in Bangladesh to terrorist acts in the United States, Israel, and
elsewhere, with a growing Muslim population that is trying to
eliminate all non-Muslims.
one council member, “We’re afraid that in two or three years, our
country will become another Afghanistan. The council relates the
current situation in Bangladesh to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and East
raising our voice,” says one council member, “to show people that
Islamic fundamentalism is a problem in Bangladesh and many other
places in the world. We’re saying what President Bush is saying
because Muslims are now trying to make Bangladesh a strictly Islamic
our meetings with the State Department, we repeatedly ask, ‘How many
people need to die to show that people are dying?’”
more information on the group or the cause, call Bhowmick at 824-0833.
Teaches Members How To Vote
of Bangladeshi Americans went to the polls this Election Day with a
new knowledge of how to participate in the American voting system
thanks to the efforts of an Elmhurst-based non-profit organization
that aims to bring Bangladesh people into the American mainstream.
organization, Bangladesh Society Incorporated, was founded at Columbia
University in 1975, but shortly afterwards moved to Queens, where it
has been ever since. After years of leasing space all over the borough
– which has the most Bangladeshi people in the City – the
organization finally bought its own building in Elmhurst in August for
$500,000, and member Nasir Ali Khan said, “We finally have a home .
. . We have many, many members from Queens. Many of our most active
members are from there.”
who is from Jamaica Hills and said there are vibrant Bangladeshi
communities in Astoria, Jamaica, and Ozone Park, is chairman of the
organization’s Election Commission, and explained that during the
Society’s membership elections on Oct. 27, a change was made to help
teach Bangladeshi Americans how to vote in “American elections.”
organization has 10,000 people,” he said, “Of that, about 50
percent are American citizens who can vote in American elections . . .
Our belief is when you are in Rome, do as the Romans do. We used to
use paper ballots, but this year, we rented six voting machines from a
company in Woodside. We taught people how to pull the levers, this way
when American Election Day comes, they can participate.”
Society held elections to fill its 19 executive positions on Oct. 27
in Long Island City, and Kahn said more than 2,000 of the group’s
10,000 members came, voted, and learned the process of American
voting. He added that there was a voting station in Brooklyn as well,
and said, “In addition to the machines, we placed ads on Bangladesh
television stations and in nine Bangladeshi papers explaining to
people how to pull the lever . . . We want to join the mainstream.
We’re moving closer, and events like this will help.”
said he saw “an excitement” in people’s eyes when they voted on
Oct. 27, and said, “I was talking to police there, and they said
they’ve never seen people vote like this. We were so enthusiastic,
and candidates were asking for people’s votes, and there were color
posters . . . At one in the morning about 1,000 people were still
there to hear the results. . . Imagine if we went out like that on
American Election Day. We have nearly 200,000 people in the Tri-State
area, and we could really get something done.”
with a connection to the Bangladeshi heritage is welcome to join the
Society, which has branches in several other states, is mostly based
in the Tri State area, Khan said. Although the Society is currently
setting up its new office in Elmhurst, those interested in the group
can call Khan at 523-2278.