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Saturday, March 25, 2023

“Haram to vote for a Hindu candidate”: fatwa issued by Muslim candidate in B’desh municipal elections; Hindu voters threatened elsewhere

Municipal elections in Bangladesh are proving to be a tyrannizing experience for Hindus in Bangladesh, reports bhorerkagoj.com. The election for Bauphal municipality in Patuakhali district, which was held after 9 years, was completed on Monday, January 31. However, three councilors, including the Awami League-nominated mayoral candidate, were already elected unopposed. 25 other candidates contended for the remaining nine councilor posts, including seven general and two reserved for women.

Though the city of Bauphal had looked busy with voters arriving to cast their democratic rights, the fairness with which these elections were held remains open to debate. It has come to the fore that a contesting Muslim candidate has issued a religious fatwa to voters, forcing them to reconsider their electoral choice.

Previously, allegations of obstructing election campaigning were levelled, but now added claims of influencing and violating the code of conduct, including assault, have also been made. Shankar Pal, the incumbent councilor of Ward No. 1 stated, “I am being threatened to withdraw from contesting the elections.”

Pal further alleged that his opponents Harun Mallik and his supporters are going about spreading the word that ‘voting for a Hindu will be immense Haram‘; ‘if anyone votes for a Hindu, he will be barred from performing namaz and Roza’. These announcements are powerful enough to influence the largely religious and fundamentalist Muslim population of the area.

Many other wards have reported allegations of buying voters with cash and intimidating opponents with violence and threats, leading to candidates and voters expressing doubts about the fairness of the entire exercise. Upazila Assistant Returning Officer Tariqul Islam claims to have solved all such complaints. “The administration and the Election Commission are committed to holding fair, free and influence-free elections. There is no reason to be afraid,” he added.

Meanwhile, in poll-bound Dinajpur Sadar upazila of Dinajpur district, there are reports of Hindu and other minority voters being threatened. Posters were stuck to walls of temples & houses and on trees in four neighborhoods of Ward No. 1 of Chehelgazi Union, demanding that Hindus, Adivasis (tribals) and Jalias (an indigenous community) vote for a particular candidate or they will face consequences.

Again, the administration and police assured people of legal action after ‘due investigation’ and told them to remain calm and cast their vote without any fear. Sadly, Hindus and other minorities have heard Bangladeshi authorities make all the right noises but take no real action, far too often.

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