A rumour about the Quran being dishonoured at a Hindu place of worship in Cumilla has ignited a series of communal attacks across the country, resulting in the deaths of six people.
Though recent incidents of communal violence have raised concern in all quarters, past data shows that attacks on Hindu households, temples and businesses are not a novel phenomenon.
The Ain o Salish Kendra, or ASK, a prominent rights group in Bangladesh, prepares annual reports on human rights violations, which includes a specific chapter on attacks on the Hindu community and other minority groups.
As many as 3,679 attacks on the Hindu community took place between January 2013 and September this year, according to the report by ASK.
The attacks included vandalism of and setting fire to 559 houses and 442 shops and businesses of the Hindu community. At least 1,678 cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Hindu temples, murtis and places of worship were also reported in the same period.
While 11 citizens from the Hindu community have died in these incidents, another 862 were injured. Two Hindu women were raped in 2014 and another four were sexually assaulted.
At least 10 Hindu families were evicted from their homes and land in 2016, 2017 and 2020.
ASK prepared its report based on the news articles published in nine print and online newspapers and its own research. The recent incidents of attack on the Hindu community in Cumilla, Feni, Noakhali and other districts are not included in the report.
Among the past nine years, the Hindu community faced the highest number of attacks in 2014, when they were targeted in the post-election violence after Jan 5, according to the ASK report.
As many as 761 Hindu homes, 193 businesses and 247 temples and places of worship were attacked that year. One person died. The lowest number of attacks were recorded last year: 11 households and 3 businesses were attacked amid the coronavirus pandemic. But temples still saw violence, with 67 facing communal attacks.
At least seven Hindu people were killed in 2016, the highest in the nine years included in the report. Many of those killings were part of a ‘militant attack’, police said.
In addition to the Hindu community, 17 houses and 4 businesses that belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect were attacked in 2019 and 2020, injuring at least 50 members of the sect.
Apart from the above-mentioned incidents, four attacks on the Buddhists community took place in the last eight years and nine months, according to the report.
Kendriya Seema Vihar or central monastery and the houses of the Buddhists community in Cox’s Bazar’s Ramu were burnt down in a severe attack on Sept 29, 2012. More than 250 rare Buddha sculptures were destroyed and looted during the attack. Another 18 monasteries and Buddhist households in Ramu and Ukhiya were attacked and targeted by arson. As these incidents occurred in 2012, they were not reflected in the ASK report.
‘THE TRUE SCOPE OF VIOLENCE BIGGER’
The ASK report is not wrong, but the ‘true scope of the violence enacted on the Hindu community is even bigger,’ said Advocate Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council. “Thousands of incidents of violence against the Hindu people have taken place over the past 13 years,” he said.
“We have been noticing these incidents since the 90s. In 1990, during the rule of General Ershad, the minorities were tortured for three days, and in 1992, when Khaleda Zia formed the government, the Hindus were tortured for 27 days. Minorities were also tortured during the entire rule of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami from 2001 to 2006,” said Rana Dasgupta.
“When the Awami League came to power in 2009, we expected no more incidents of minority torture. Unfortunately, there have been incidents where minorities were tortured since 2011 and we can see how this has continued in recent incidents. These attacks take place at random times of the year. We try our best to ensure that any minority group members do not leave the country after they face violence. We visit them to assure that we’re willing to help them.”
In his explanation for why violence against minority groups had continued, Rana Dasgupta said that Bangladesh was initially created from the notion of a Bengali spirit but has since strayed from its egalitarian notion and the constitution has been given a communal aspect.
“The idea of a united Bengali nation has been sundered on the basis of religion. This constitution encourages communal power. The BNP had taken communal instigators on board during their rule. Though the present government hasn’t done that, they have somewhat surrendered to that power. The communal power is hatching conspiracies with different government bodies. This is evident in their success at bringing changes to textbooks.”
No matter how much the government assures the minorities, no one, including the police, administration, public representatives or political parties, helps them when they are attacked, the veteran lawyer said, voicing his frustration.
On the ninth day of Durga Puja, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned the attackers of stringent punishment, which raised the hopes of the minority people.
“But the very next day, communal powers attacked the Hindu community in Chowmuhani, Chattogram and other places. Now the Hindus are really worried,” Rana Dasgupta said.
The Hindus have been attacked repeatedly over communal issues, but it is evident there are political machinations behind the attacks, said human rights activist Noor Khan Liton.
“Any government in power has had some of their people involved in the incidents. We saw a few leaders from the ruling party involved in Ramu, as well as in Lama. The ruling parties tend to create situations they can benefit from. Whoever is in power blames the opposition and therefore (the violence against minorities) never goes to trial. If you look at the incidents over the past 10 to 15 years, those never went to trial.”
There was no exemplary punishment that will make the perpetrators think they will face consequences if they commit such a crime, the rights activist said. This is why the incidents of violence against minorities have continued and intensified.
(This article was first published on bdnews24.com and has been reproduced here in full with a few minor edits to conform to HinduPost style-guide.)