Communal conflict in Bangladesh: Solutions require trust

Published : Tuesday, 26 October, 2021 at 12:00 AM

After the alleged desecration of the Quran, the holy book of the Muslims, at a pandal in Comilla during Durga Puja festivals, several attacks were staged against the Hindu community at different places of Bangladesh. Sentiments of both the Muslims and the Hindus were hurt and politicization of the events may let the culprits find a way to get away. Though the law enforcers claim to capture the main culprit, there remains a great lack of trust and this time, it will not be easy to suppress the issue. Hence, restoring trust inside the Hindu community is going to be a great challenge.

Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Oikya Parishad staged a protest at Shahbagh demanding quick arrest and trial of those involved in communal attacks in different parts of the country including Comilla on Saturday. From the protest, they placed 8-point demands.

The demands include formation of a judicial inquiry commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, rebuilding all vandalized temples and houses, rehabilitating the homeless, compensating the affected traders, ensuring medical treatment of the injured and compensating each family who lost beloved a minimum of Tk 20 lakh or one member of each family to be given a government job. They demanded to identify and take prompt punitive actions against those people’s representatives, members of the administration and law enforcement agencies who, despite the clear instructions of the Prime Minister, were negligent in performing their duties. Identifying communal instigators who spread the religious hate speech through the social media and bringing them under the Special Powers Act to ensure exemplary punishment was another demand.

They also demanded the report containing the recommendations of the Sahabuddin Commission formed under the direction of the High Court to investigate the communal incidents organized from 2001-2006 to be made public immediately and necessary action to be taken accordingly. Their demands further included the restoration of 1972 constitution and the enactment of the Minority Protection Act, the formation of the National Minorities Commission, the enactment of the Abolition of Discrimination Act and the prompt implementation of the Restitution Act.

While recognizing the attacks on the puja mandaps this year, we must note that, the number of Durga puja mandaps have increased significantly during the last two decades. In 2005, Durga puja was held at around 22,000 mandaps, in 2010 it increased to 27,000 mandaps, the number was around 29,000 in 2015 and this year, 32,118 puja mandaps performed Durga puja rituals. With this increasing number of mandaps, it became slightly difficult to ensure protection at all remoteplaces despite the capacity of the law enforcers. Moreover, as the Durga puja celebrations took place without any incidents in previous years, they might have been a bit reluctant too.

The attacks on the Hindu community, especially during their largest religious festival, are truly unacceptable. Moreover, the hatred must not be spread so that the communal harmony gets disturbed. But many including the educated ones as well as representatives of different political parties have directly or indirectly made the situation worse which made the Hindu community member to feel unsure of the justice they are waiting for.

Additionally, we have seen reports like there will be no Hindu in Bangladesh in 30 years as the report showed lower percentage of the Hindu over decades. But the report is not true. In 1974, the Hindu population was 13.50% and the number was 9.7 million; the percentage was 9.65 and the number was 11.82 million in 2001; the percentage was 8.54 and the number was 12.73 million in 2011 and in 2021, the percentage of the Hindu population is around 8.7% and the number is around 15 million.

Truly, the percentage of the Hindu population against the total population of Bangladesh has declined from 1974 till date. But the Hindu population has increased significantly. Moreover, the decline in percentage is mostly due to lifestyle migration of the Hindu community to the Western world. The Muslims are also heavily migrating to the developed countries from Bangladesh in search of a better life. So, the predictions like there will be no Hindu in Bangladesh in 30 years is absurd and truly, the communal harmony strongly exists here.

Every ordinary Bangladeshi irrespective of their religion demands punishment of the culprits of the attacks on the religious minority. But politicization of these attacks is going to hurt this attribute of our country. The government is directly identifying the opposition, especially BNP-Jamaat activists for these attacks without proper investigation despite involvement of a Chhatra League activist behind the attacks at Pirgonj of Rangpur district. BNP, on the other hand, is pointing their fingers to the ruling party activists.

Many from the Hindu community is supporting one of these theories. The Hindu community needs to remain united to protect their rights and should not involve politics. Few are focusing on the crimes committed during 2001-2006 while few are focusing on the number of attacks after 2013. Rather than blaming the government or the opposition, they must focus on the quick identification and punishment of the criminals as different groups can use religious differences to achieve their personal interests.

There are many people who can plan and participate in religious attacks for personal interests. If the minorities leave country or their homes due to religious attacks, then some can buy the minority properties at low prices and that can also act as the reason for attacks on the minorities. Throughout history, many from the majority gained personally due to oppression of the minorities as this sort of attacks took place repeatedly even from the rule of the British. Mahatma Gandhi had to even camp in Noakhali area for four months to restore peace after Hindu-Muslim riots during October-November in 1946.

The attacks on minority or oppression of the minorities are not uncommon throughout the world. Even the Western world is having incidents against religious or ethnic minorities. Former US President Donald Trump became president with promises to suppress the minorities. India is currently having BJP, a political party which uses religion as a core foundation, in power and the Muslims are being oppressed there. Myanmar is having a military government which relies on the supremacy of the Buddhists and tortured millions of the Rohingya Muslims at their Rakhine state. Similar incidents are recorded at different countries of Europe and Africa, UK, Israel, Palestine, China etc. Attacks on the minorities are not only a problem of Bangladesh but also a global problem.

Communal harmony is existent among the people of Bangladesh for years and still, in spite of few incidents, that harmony prevails. Bangladesh is still much better from most other countries in terms of ensuring the rights of the minority groups. Moreover, state-launched attacks on the minorities never occurred here.

The greatest damage that the recent communal conflict has caused is embedding lack of trust. The victims do not trust anyone or any party due to previous history of non-punishment of the criminals. But another fact here is that, the victims in previous cases did not appear in court as witness and the justice could not be served for that too. Hence, this time, the victims need to put their full efforts to get justice and the government must provide special protection to the victims, witnesses and their families.

Due to the recent events, whatever the case is, both the ruling party and the opposition parties, all cultural and social groups are on the same page to protect communal harmony. The people are also supporting the cause. This unity is very positive and exemplary throughout the world. The government should take all necessary steps to use this unity and to deliver punishment to the culprits. Only if justice is served, then the secular characteristic of Bangladesh will remain intact.

We hope that, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will ensure an honest investigation of the recent and past attacks on the minority groups and will ensure exemplary punishment. If not, despite the huge development of Bangladesh due to her valiant effort, our country will turn into ruins as humanity will fail. We want every Muslim and Hindu to live in harmony in Bangladesh while the state will ensure freedom, rights, safety and protection of every citizen irrespective of their backgrounds. We believe, Bangladesh will really prosper then.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Chief Patron, Bangabandhu
Shishu Kishore Mela

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