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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Hindu minor girl jailed for alleged blasphemy, bail rejected 4 times: Bangladesh

17-year-old Dipti Rani Das has been in a juvenile correction centre in Bangladesh for a year now. She was detained under the Digital Security Act 2018 for allegedly making a ‘derogatory’ post about the Quran on Facebook and hurting religious sentiment

A complaint was filed against the minor Hindu girl by Parbatipur police. The first information report (FIR) states, “the crime of deteriorating the law and order situation by hurting religious sentiment using electronic means”. In the past year, Dipti’s bail has been denied four times, the fourth denial being in a decision by the highest court of Bangladesh. 

Dipti was on the verge of getting out of jail once when the High Court had granted her interim bail on May 11, 2021. This was shortly after her bail was denied by the court in Dinajpur. But eight days after the granting of the interim bail, the Deputy Commissioner of the district made an appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the bail order.

“The interim order of bail granted by the High Court Division in a pending plea displays non-application of judicial thoughts and have failed to acknowledge that the FIR against the accused has strong prima-facie specifics of committing a heinous crime under section 25, section 28, section 31 of the DSA,” read the appeal made by the DC. 

According to the FIR, the “heinous crime” that the Hindu minor has been jailed for was sharing an image of the Quran kept on a woman’s thighs, that supposedly hurt the ‘Muslim religious sentiments’. 

While section 25 criminalizes publishing information that is “aggressive or frightening”, section 28 criminalizes speech that “injures religious feelings”. These provisions do little to provide individuals with sufficiently clear, accessible and predictable information to properly regulate their conduct, and section 31 would authorize the imposition of a prison sentence of up to 10 years for speech that “ruins communal harmony” or “creates instability”. 

All three are non-bailable sections that apply for the 17-year-old as well.  

The appeal further read that the case was still under investigation, and an interim order of bail will ‘negate the objective’ of the prosecution’s case and could ‘create obstacles’ in the way of a free and fair investigation.

Her father Dilip Das who is a hardware trader informed that it takes him two hours to travel and meet his daughter, and that he last met her 2 months ago. He also said that his daughter had told him that her Facebook profile had been hacked when the objectionable posts were made. 

The locals had reached his house to complain of the act; he had reprimanded his daughter and sincerely apologized to the locals. Enraged Muslims had tried to vandalize his store also, but were stopped by other traders who calmed down the mob saying Dilip Das was a respectful person who had never done anything hurtful towards the Muslim sentiment. 

Born in Parbatipur, Dilip Das had lived his entire life in this area alongside Muslims but had to send his daughter away after accusations of blasphemy broke out.  “I felt my daughter could be harmed in some way, so I sent her to her aunt’s place through the evening train but some men noticed her on the train. They stopped the train, dragged my daughter out and took her to police,” says Das. 

This is how Dipti’s ordeal began. She had just passed out from class 10th and taken admission for further studies, but as she has been put in the correction centre, her studies have come to a halt.  

“There is no schooling in the detention centre. Her health has deteriorated as the meals are very substandard. We sometimes send her money to buy snacks,” said the father.

Dipti’s lawyer Shahinuzzaman informed that the High Court, while granting her interim bail, also issued an order questioning why she must not be granted regular bail. Though her interim bail was stayed by the SC, the HC will hold a hearing to debate whether or not she should be granted regular bail, and they are waiting for a hearing date.

Dipti’s mother Anima tears up while talking about her. “She wished to go to university and become a software engineer. But now, even if she gets bail, I will have to marry her off because she cannot survive in this community anymore,” she said. The mother also shared that Muslim customers have already started to avoid her husband’s shop which is hampering their business.

Usual tactic to target minorities

Blasphemy allegations over social media posts are a common tactic used by Islamists to launch violent attacks against Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh, in order to grab their land and force them to flee. Even though the allegations are found to be fake or fabricated by hacking user accounts, police fails to punish the perpetrators while cases drag on, say rights activists.

Hindus – including a class X student and poor, illiterate men – were accused of such ‘blasphemous’ posts to launch anti-Hindu pogroms in Pabna (2013), Cumilla (2014) Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar (2016), Rangpur (2017), Bhola (2019), Cumilla’s Muradnagar (2020), Sunamganj’s Shalla (2021). This article lists several other cases where Bangladeshi Hindus, including educated college students, have been held under draconian laws for alleged blasphemous comments.

The latest variant of this blasphemy ruse was seen in Durga Puja when a Muslim man placed a Quran at the feet of a Sri Hanuman murti in a puja pandal in Cumilla, which was used to launch a vicious, week-long pogrom against Hindus. This time around, there was a wave of protests by Hindus across the world, led by ISKCON, which forced the Bangladesh government to take greater cognizance than usual.

But while the Bangladesh police has arrested the man who placed the Quran and several other individuals, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen brushed aside the horrific violence and even accused the media of “cooking up stories” to embarrass the government. He claimed only 2 Hindus died, one of whom had a “normal death” and the other died because “he jumped into a pond”. He further claimed that “not a single mandir was destroyed” and “about 20 houses were burnt down.”

This is a gross under-reporting of the scale and depth of the violence. 6 Hindus had been reported dead by reliable human rights activists by just the third day of the week-long violence. 70 Hindu homes were vandalized and 25 burnt down in just one attack on a village in Pirganj, Rangpur district. The violence spread to at least 14 districts of Bangladesh, so clearly the violence was far greater than what minister Momen is claiming.

But Bangladeshi authorities are exerting pressure on media to censor or under-report and information is being blacked out. What is feared is far worse. As per data collated by one activist, 10 Hindus were murdered and 23 Hindu women and girls raped. One case of gang-rape is especially heinous – 3 women of the same family (spanning 3 generations) were gang-raped, with a 10-year-old minor girl dying of the trauma, in Hajiganj, Chandpur district claimed secular Muslim bloggers and activists. 315 temples and 1500 homes/shops were vandalized in almost 30 districts of Bangladesh.

As per a conversation Hindu American Foundation had with an activist in Bangladesh (who remained anonymous out of fear of reprisals) on how the current violence affected just temples alone, 335 Hindu temples were vandalized across 33 districts in Bangladesh and 7 priests were killed.

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