Bangladesh is a secular country which takes pride of the existing communal harmony throughout centuries. Recently, Durga Puja, the largest religious festival of the Hindu community, took place. This year, Durga Puja marked one of the darkest chapters in the history of the country. Several attacks were staged against the Hindu community at several places of the country during Durga Puja festivities. The holiest festival of the Hindus got surrounded with fear. Both the sentiments of the Muslims and the Hindus were hurt and ultimately humanity failed. These tragic events are continuing even after 6 days of the first incident.
The protests and attacks began on Wednesday after images purportedly showed a copy of the Quran, the holy book of the Muslims, on the knee of an idol during Durga Puja celebrations in Comilla District, triggering incidents of vandalism at Hindu temples across other parts of the country. Attacks by religious fanatics during Durga Puja in parts of Bangladesh have left at least four people of the Hindu community dead and 70 others injured in three days, according to Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council.
The attackers vandalized, torched and looted 70 puja venues, 30 homes and 50 shops after an allegation of sacrilege spread on social media. Several incidents had occurred in Noakhali, Chandpur, Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Moulvibazar, Gazipur, Chapainawabganj, Comilla and other districts. Lastly, on Sunday night, a group of assailants have carried out arson attacks on a village in Rangpur’s Pirganj, leaving some 20 homes of the Hindus burnt over an allegedly blasphemous social media post.
Attacks on the religious minorities is not very uncommon in Bangladesh especially with the emergence of social media in the country. Mobs destroyed 19 Buddhist temples in Ramu, Cox’s Bazar and Patiya of Chittagong after a Buddhist man allegedly defamed Islam on Facebook in 2012. In 2013, Locals vandalized 26 Hindu houses in Santhiya in Pabna district for Facebook posts defaming Islam, allegedly circulated by a 10th-grader Hindu boy. In 2016, Hindus in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria district and in 2017, Hindus in Thakur Para, Rangpur district came under attack over Facebook posts allegedly made by Hindu men that defamed Islam.
Bangladesh is a country which can proudly claim to be religiously tolerant and unbiased. Many people from the minority communities are holding the top positions of both the public and private sector. There is no discrimination in placement or promotion. The general people of Bangladesh are very much respectful towards fellow countrymen hailing from different religion. But few groups have tried harming the harmony on different occasions and political patronization towards such activities was also evident especially during the period of BNP-Jamaat coalition government.
In view of the tremendous diversity in our subcontinent, only a secular state is feasible here. Secularism does not mean that one cannot practice one’s own religion. It means that religion is a private affair, unconnected with the state which has no religion. Though Islam was included in the constitution as the state religion in 1980s secular principle of the 1972 constitution was reestablished later in 2010. It states that, other religions can be practiced in harmony and gives equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their religion.
There was a saying – ‘religion is for self; festival is for all’ – which truly depicts the culture of Bangladesh. But this culture was truly hurt this time as we found even many educated and intellectual ones to stand against this theory in social media. It was never seen before as the ugly mentality of our intellect class became truly visible this time.
Not only in Bangladesh, but also in other countries of the sub-continent, the minorities suffered inhuman attacks. In India, we have observed heinous crimes against the Muslim community, especially after the BJP government came in power. Indian Muslims cannot perform their religious rituals freely now-a-days. Moreover, India’s citizenship policy and other activities also seem biased towards Hinduism. In Pakistan also, the religious minorities live in fear of atrocities of the majorities. In Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslims were victims of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar Buddhist army. Similar events at different parts of the world are also daunting the humanity.
If we consider the recent issues in Bangladesh, we need to come out of the blame game. Awami League leaders are saying that, BNP-Jamaat activists are vandalizing the temples, mondops and houses of the Hindus to create instability in the country. The BNP leaders are saying that, the government is committing those atrocities to put pressure on the opposition. Due to these blame games, the real culprits are getting out of hands. Leaders of both the parties are issuing statements from Dhaka and shockingly, almost no top central leaders of both the parties visited the place of incidents till now.
While we are playing the blame game, we need to be alert on the regional politics too. Whenever any such incidents took place, we have seen something occurred in the region as consequence. After the Ramu incident in 2012, Myanmar planned to uproot the Rohingyas, who are Muslim. After 2017 incidents, Indian government came up with NRC issues which could have pushed many Muslims of India to Bangladesh. Many other events as such can be linked if analyzed properly. Hence, we cannot offset the idea of regional conspiracy in attacks against the minorities in Bangladesh. Even other global politics can also influence such acts on Bangladeshi soil.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said the government will deliver justice in the violence of Comilla District on October 13 that was marked by mobs targeting Durga puja mondops. The assurance from PM came a day after Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the perpetrators of violence and those behind rumour mongering on social media will be dealt with strictly. The assurance by the PM was well acknowledged by different groups including our regional partners but heinous crimes against the Hindu community is still ongoing. Here we need to know if the culprits of such previous crimes were identified or not and punished or not.
Unfortunately, the culprits of previous attacks on the minority groups were not severely punished. And even if punished we do not know much about it. Our failure to serve justice and exemplary punishment to those who committed such heinous crimes in the past is allowing different groups to take part in atrocities against the minorities in Bangladesh. People should know if those criminals were identified and punished as only that will act as preventive actions against similar future incidents.
In many countries including those in the sub-continent, different groups are trying to gain power using religion. But those countries, which are run based on religious extremism, are not in good shape like; India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar etc. Bangladesh, under the farsighted leadership of PM Hasina, is chasing the goals of Vision-2021. If any group comes in power using religion, the development of Bangladesh will definitely face severe barriers.
Though Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, most of the people are religious-minded but not religious extremist. Hence, religious extremism will not prevail here and if it does, the character of the whole country will tarnish. Our people often seek a life in the Western world despite religious differences as they seek economic equality, good governance and rule of law. So, it is important that, whoever pursues to be in power in Bangladesh focus on establishing those traits.
As citizens of Bangladesh, we condemn any atrocities over any minority groups in Bangladesh as well as demand the protection of secrecy of all religions. Hence, we urge the government to act heartily to find the real conspirators behind these heinous acts. We hope Bangladesh will remain a flag bearer of communal harmony, secularism and religious equality.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Chief Patron, Bangabandhu
Shishu Kishore Mela