By Amity Saha*
Islamic hooligans vandalised and looted at least 15 Hindu temples along with hundreds of houses of the minority Hindu community as the latter celebrated Kali Puja and Diwali in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar on the afternoon of October 30, 2016. The violence began around 1:30 p.m. in protest of a Facebook post that rumour has it was posted a few days ago by a Hindu fisherman named Rasraj.
Around 150 to 200 people indulged in the attacks and vandalised at least seven to eight idols of five temples in that locality. In a little while, the attacks spread to Kashipara, Ghoshpara and Dashpara areas and several other places of the same district.
While the Bangladesh government claims the existence of secular and peaceful conditions for the Hindus and other minorities, the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian-Tribal minorities in Bangladesh are in reality being treated viciously by the majority Muslim population.
The Hindu minority, particularly, is facing a grim situation where it is facing persecution at the hands of radical Islamic groups having links with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, Hefajat-e-Islam, Awami Ulema League, Hizbut Tahrir, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat etc. Without any doubt, Brahmanbaria is an illustrative example of this situation.
In 1947, Hindus constituted nearly 30 per cent of the population of then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh. But an estimated 20 million Hindus were “missing” from Bangladesh by the year of 1991. Today, Hindus comprise less than 9 per cent of the 157 million population of the country — and this number will certainly diminish now after the Brahmanbaria rampage of 2016.
Prominent Bangladesh economist Prof. Abul Barkat, in a recent paper titled “Seventh Five Year Planning (2016-20) in Bangladesh: The Dream and Reality”, has estimated that over 1.1 crore (over 11 million) Hindus had left Bangladesh due to religious maltreatment and discrimination between 1964 and 2013. Prof. Barkat observed that the regular outflow of the minorities, tribals and marginal people living in the plain or hilly areas of the country is the result of their being denied their traditional rights to lands, water bodies and forests.
Prof. Barkat said over 25 lakh acres of land belonging to minority and tribal people have been forcibly occupied by those belonging to both ruling and opposition parties as if in a fundamental attitude of Islamic perpetuity.
Criticising ‘The Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Act of 1965’ and its subsequent versions ‘The East Pakistan Enemy Property (Lands and Buildings Administration and Disposal Order of 1966)’, ‘The Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provision) Ordinance No.1 of 1969′, or the latest avatar of it, ‘The Vested and Non-Resident Property (Administration) Act (XLVI of 1974)’, Prof. Barkat said all these Acts and Ordinances were orchestrated to repudiate the rights of the Hindu minority as well as other non-Muslims from the territory of Bangladesh.
Prof. Barkat estimates that, on an average, 632 Hindus left Bangladesh every day in the 49 years between 1964 and 2013 — which means that a total of 1,13,03,320 (49 x 365 x 632) Hindus have fled Bangladesh during 1964-2013.
The reasons are obvious — and related to brutality, persecution and discrimination on the ground of their belonging to the religious minority.
Fisherman Rasraj was arrested under section 57 of the ICT Act (Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006). It is a strict legal provision and the punishment is evenly unforgiving.
But those people who attacked the minority members and ransacked their houses and vandalised temples are not penalised under similar strict regulations. For such brutal offences, the law must be strict.
Besides, the Facebook post in question is also highly questionable as the Photoshop thing could not have been done by a primary-level-pass fisherman. These Facebook posts are obviously being created by people who have an interest in fomenting unrest and thereby conditions amenable for looting property and land of the minorities.
Such false Facebook posts and their brutal aftermath have been witnessed earlier at Ramu, in Chittagong division, four years ago. Mobs destroyed 12 Buddhist temples and monasteries and 50 houses in reaction to a tagging of an image depicting the desecration of a Quran on the timeline of a fake Facebook account under a Buddhist male name.
Under section 259, 295 Ka, 298 of the Bangladesh penal code, such serious crimes can be properly tried. In the case of Rasraj, however, it has been seen that the magistrate did not give him the scope of defending his position.
In a recent case reported from Daudkandi, in Comilla District, a person from the majority community posted an offensive post against the Hindu religion. The person was arrested by the police. Later, the accused apologised in another post and claimed that his account was hacked following which the police set him free.
But the point is that law should be applied equally for all.
Bangladesh still has the world’s third largest Hindu population with about 12 million Hindus. They are living without protection from radical groups and others who can assault and abuse them with impunity because almost everyone turns a blind eye to their victimisation. This is unfortunate!
And yet, which major media outlet is reporting about this ongoing ethnic cleansing? Whether internationally-hailed human rights organisations are planning any agitation against it — or even mentioning it in some noteworthy manner? The answer is not at all.
*Amity Saha is a Research Assistant (International Affairs) at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). She can be reached through email <[email protected]> and <[email protected]> and twitter handle @omnia39.