In Bangladesh, the peaceful co-existence between Hindus and Muslims is under threat. In recent times the attacks on Hindu, indigenous people and other minorities have increased for landgrab and other political reasons. In many of the cases, these attacks come with the disguise of actions of angry mobs, because somebody’s word or actions hurt their “religious feelings”. These are instigated by the Islamists and supported by politicians for their own agenda.
On 30th of October, at least 15 Hindu temples in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar were vandalized by a group of 150 to 200 miscreants along with hundreds of houses of the Hindu community. According to reports, a group of people staged two separate demonstrations at the Upazila headquarters on that day protesting a Facebook post a few days ago.
The allegation was that a local fisherman Roshraj Das had photoshopped an image of the Hindu lord Shiva sitting on the Muslim holy place Kaaba sharif. A little-known website named www.banglamail71.com published a provocative content on the alleged blasphemous Facebook post shared from the timeline of the illiterate Hindu youth, Rasraj Das. The content was originally posted by “Noyon Chatterje,” a Facebook profile run by Chhatra Shibir activists, that has long been instigating hatred against Hindus. The post and the news item allegedly triggered the violent attacks in Nasirnagar.
The police had already arrested Roshraj Das, who categorically denied the allegations against him saying he is illiterate to operate the Facebook accounts himself or use photoshop. He said that he was hacked: “I do not know who posted that photo from my account, but it wasn’t me. I immediately deleted it as soon as I saw it and I want to apologize to everyone for it”. But the local administration let the two protest rallies by the Islamic groups Touhidi Janata and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat happen and failed to take any security measure to protect the local temples.
The police identified around 50 people from mobile videos taken during the incident and have so far arrested 44 people. The ruling party suspended three local leaders for their alleged involvement in the incident.
The saga did not end there. Brahmanbarhia MP and the fisheries and livestock minister Muhammed Sayedul Hoque went to Nasirnagar after two days of the attacks. He did not visit the vandalized houses near to his bungalow on that day and expressed his reactions: “nothing happened here – just some Mandirs looted”. The minister, in a press conference, accused the journalists of ‘exaggerating’ the incident. When asked whether the victims will have any justice, he quipped: “Ask Allah! What a question – whether there will be any justice. Is this a question?” When local Hindu leaders went to see him he mentioned that some sons of Malauns are making mountains out of a mole. Malaun is a derogatory term and racial slur against the Hindus.
This has sparked protests demanding resignation of minister Sayedul. Some have been protesting in social media with hashtags like #IamMalaun.
In a second wave of attack, on Friday, five houses in Nasirnagar upazila of Brahmanbaria district were gutted. Residents have foiled another attempt to attack their homes on Saturday morning (November 5, 2016).
The Nasirnagar incident shows a similar pattern of attack against minorities, like the Ramu attacks in 2012. First, there is a fake Facebook post which was reported in a dodgy news site. Then there are protests and from the protests, attacks were instigated and carried on. The local administration stayed ineffective in both the incidents. The attack was certainly not for religion, it was political, using the religion. Who gets the benefit from these attacks? Why are they recurring in Bangladesh?
In the present landmass of Bangladesh, the percentage of Hindu population was 28% in 1941. The ratio dropped to 22% after the mass migration in 1947. When Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, Hindus faced a tough time as they faced discrimination and intimidation from the regime. The ratio fell down to 18.5% in 1961. During the liberation war, many Hindus faced mass genocide and millions of them fled to neighboring India as refugees. After Bangladesh was liberated most of the refugees came back – but the ratio of Hindus fell to 13.5%. In 1981 there were 12.1% Hindus in Bangladesh and only a decade later the ratio fell to 10%. It is deemed that the recent ratio has fallen below 8%. If the trend continues where will they be in 2050?
The attacks against minorities are happening for quite some time and this will not be the last. What lessons we have learned from these coordinated attacks? What lesson did the political parties or the government learn? How did we as citizens react to these incidents? Do we need new laws to tackle these kinds of violences – as there is a clear distinction between normal crime and these racially motivated crimes?