Attacks on Non-Muslims Must Stop
Asian Human Rights Commission
The property of the minority
Hindu community in Bangladesh was
destroyed after the country’s Jan. 5 election because many
chose to vote. (Photo from www.jihadwatch.org)
Shame shadows Bangladesh again. Numerous attacks
have been waged on the Hindu community across Bangladesh in the wake
of the Jan. 5 general election. Houses and business establishments
owned by Hindus have been targeted. Other ethnic and non-Muslim
communities have also been attacked. Temples and religious sites
have not been spared. A few hundred Hindu families have lost their
property and savings in acts of vandalism, looting and arson.
Numerous women and children from minority communities have fled
their homes and are in hiding in fear of further attacks. Their
homes destroyed, some sleep under the open sky in the cold air of
winter nights. Neither the State nor humanitarian organizations have
responded with adequate food and shelter for the victims.
Thousands of joint forces troops, comprising the police, Rapid
Action Battalion (RAB) and Border Guards, have remained deployed to
tighten “election period” security. The Bangladesh army has also
been on the street to “aid” the government since December 2013. All
these swarming forces have failed to prevent the attacks and protect
the minority population.
This time, of course, is not the first such series of attacks; it is
only the latest instance in a litany of shameful attacks on the
dwindling minority population of Bangladesh. Attacking minorities
has become an election tradition in the country. Whether real or
fake, rigged or boycotted, no election appears to be complete
without the literal minority bashing. It is time Bangla literature
updates its historical reference to only six seasons in the land.
The election period is now akin to a separate season in itself, one
in which vandalism, looting, arson and attacks on minority
establishments is a key feature.
How long can the non-Muslim communities sustain such barbarity?
Targeting of non-Muslims for political gains is done by both parties
that win and parties that lose elections. Many Muslims, of course,
also fall victim to the seasonal violence of elections, for at least
five lives have been lost in postelection violence this year, not to
mention more than 100 killed prior to the election. Apart from
political gains, such attacks, orchestrated by powerful people
linked to the ruling as well as opposition parties, are often
undertaken for grabbing land and assets. The attacks on Hindus in
particular also open undue opportunities to politicians beyond the
country’s borders to earn “extra benefits” at the cost of the
dignity and interests of the people of Bangladesh.
Following this latest round of attacks on minorities, the government
has hurled accusations on the opposition political parties. The
pro-government media and civil society have echoed the story line of
the government that the attacks are the work of the opposition. The
police, virtually across the country, have registered complaints
maintaining the position of the pro-ruling party, i.e., holding the
opposition responsible. The chief opposition party, the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP), and its ally, the Bangladesh
Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI), have, in turn, blamed the ruling party, the
Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), for the attacks.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has had the opportunity to
inquire about the well-being of victims in the village of Chapatala,
Avoynagar, in Jessore District. The victims’ version of events
contradicts the government’s account.
Residents of Chapatala, for example, explain that Ranjit Kumar Roy,
a ruling party candidate, a Hindu, won the election. Cadres of the
defeated candidate, Abdul Wahab, who was a leader of the BAL until
he was denied a ticket by the party this election, led the attacks.
Supporters of a few other political parties—those with links to the
attack leaders and local “petty criminals,” thieves and
muggers—jointly committed the crimes. About 70 lower caste Hindu
families lost most of their assets as a result. Their houses and
shops were looted, and their belongings were burnt.
It must be noted that Abdul Wahab also happens to be a whip in the
yet-to-be-dissolved Ninth Parliament. On Dec. 28, 2013, Wahab held
an election campaign meeting at the Sundali primary school grounds
adjacent to Chapatala. In that meeting, Wahab allegedly threatened
Hindu families with dire consequences if he were to lose the
election to his Hindu counterpart. The Hindu inhabitants of
Chapatala did not imagine that the victory of Ranjit Kumar Roy would
cause them so much misery. The case of Chapatala makes it clear that
politicians of all hues are behind such dastardly violence.
The AHRC has learned that local administrations in some districts
have provided relief and remuneration to some victims. While
adequate relief is essential, and must cover all of the affected
people, what is really required is justice for the victims. To
ensure justice, the institution of a judicial probe commission is
required to investigate and prosecute perpetrators regardless of
their political or religious identity. However, if history is any
indicator, the AHRC is well aware that, even if such a commission
were to be instituted—something highly unlikely—the incumbent regime
would only go so far as to abuse it. Criminal investigations
surrounding communal attacks will only likely end up as another tool
for those in power to further corner the political opposition.
The AHRC notes the statement of Subrata Chowdhury, president of the
Bangladesh Hindu Buddha Christian Oikkya Parishad and a Supreme
Court lawyer, who told the BBC Bangla news service: “Now it has been
accused that Jamaat-Shibir [Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing
Shibir] committed the attacks. It is made to be a slogan. In
reality, it has been seen that it is not the Jamaat-Shibir who have
attacked in all the cases. We have found that in many places the
Awami Leaguers are involved too. If Jamaat-Shibir have committed
these, then why is the government not bringing them to book, and why
are actions not being taken against the public officials for failing
to prevent such incidents?”
The realities are truly unfortunate as Bangladesh has a long and
commendable history of communal harmony, unlike neighboring nations.
The people, regardless of their religious background, fought for the
country’s independence in 1971. Together, they sacrificed their
lives on the battlefield. If any roadside tea stall plays a song
such as "Mora
Ekti Fulkey Bachabo Boley Juddho Kori" ["We Struggle to Protect
Each and Every Flower"], any Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and
ethnic community member will sing along during the chorus. The
ordinary citizens of Bangladesh have deep bonds beyond their
communal identities. It is, however, the shamelessly dirty politics
atop the nation and the unforgivable failure of the civil and police
administration to prevent attacks on non-Muslims that has butchered
the people’s history.
The people must unite again to prevent the politics of communal
violence. It is not merely a loss for the minorities in terms of
their homes, businesses and valuables. Trust and respect in society,
which money cannot buy, is lost in such attacks; the social fabric
of Bangladesh is rent asunder. The country’s image and, in
particular, that of the Muslim majoritarian community is besmirched
internationally. The historic fraternity of the people must
resurface—stronger—to sideline those paralyzed by greed. The parties
that fail to end such bloody politics must be relegated to the dust
bin of history. Communal violence must be stopped now and forever.
* The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a regional
non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights
issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. More
information is available on AHRC’s web site at <http://www.humanrights.asia>.