By Jai Kumar Verma*
On October 30, thousands of hardcore Muslims of Hefajat-e-Islam and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat took out processions in Nasirnagar and other places and demanded capital punishment for Hindu fisherman Rasraj, who allegedly posted on the social media a photograph of Lord Shiva inside the Masjid al Haram in Mecca. These Islamic extremists damaged 17 temples, broke the idols inside and looted several hundred houses and shops of Hindus.
In this rampage, more than 150 Hindus were injured. Rasraj was arrested and paramilitary forces posted in the area.
However, again on November 5, Muslim fanatics looted houses of several Hindus and vandalised temples and broke the idols inside. The police have arrested more than 50 persons who were involved in arson and loot.
Insiders claim that Rasraj is an illiterate person and no Hindu in Bangladesh would dare to post a derogatory photograph of the most sacred Masjid al Haram on social media.
The fact was that a few Hindu women were returning from Kali Puja and the son of a local influential teased them. When the chaperones of these women objected to the harassment, the miscreants attacked them and concocted the story of putting a disparaging picture of the most pious place of Muslims.
Local Muslims mention that Rasraj was not only illiterate but he must be ignorant about Kaaba and he cannot post a photograph on Facebook. They further mentioned that he had taken loan from local Muslims and there was some delay in repayment, hence the creditor might have put the anti-Muslim post on Facebook from his account to teach him a lesson.
Rasraj also mentioned that somebody had hijacked his Facebook account and put the objectionable photograph which he immediately deleted and also apologised.
The announcement instigating Muslims against Hindus was made from local mosques, especially from Nurpur, Asurain and Phulpur stating that a local Hindu had insulted the Holy Kaaba. When Muslims gathered near mosques, inflammatory speeches were delivered and a big crowd gathered which vandalised temples and looted houses.
Rasraj was an Awami League worker and was arrested the same day. The government constituted separate teams of the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) and Criminal Investigation Department to probe the matter but Muslim extremists vandalised temples and looted houses of Hindus before the investigation.
According to Prabir Chowdhury of the Bangladesh Hindu Alliance, the looting of Hindu houses and damaging of temples was pre-planned by radical Muslims. In fact, Hindus celebrated Durga Puja with great fanfare which was not liked by Muslim extremist organisations — hence they concocted the story and attacked Hindus and their temples.
In the recent past, there were several unprovoked attacks on Hindus, secular bloggers, atheists, writers and publishers as well as on foreigners by Islamic extremists. Muslim fanatics kidnap and rape unmarried Hindu girls and then convert them to Muslim religion.
Hindus and their temples were attacked by Muslim fundamentalists in 2014 when the Bangladesh Awami League won the elections and Sheikh Hasina became the Prime Minister. Earlier, in 2012, fanatic Muslims attacked Buddhist monasteries and looted their houses and shops when one Buddhist allegedly posted a slanderous photograph of the Koran in the social media.
In July this year, Islamic terrorists killed 20 persons, of whom 18 were foreigners, in a restaurant in Dhaka.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) – Bangladesh Chapter pointed out after thorough investigation that these attacks were “pre-planned” and the local authorities had not taken adequate measures to curb the violence.
The leaders of the minority community claim that the culprits of previous attacks and lootings were not punished, which encouraged fundamentalists and malefactors to indulge in teasing and looting of the minority community.
Several times the Jihadists attack the minority community just on suspicion. Hindus reveal that Muslim extremists themselves plant these derogatory photographs on social media and then vandalise temples, and loot houses and shops of the Hindu community.
The Pakistani forces had committed mayhem on Hindus in Bangladesh in 1971 but at that time the local Bengali Muslims were there to assist and console them — but it appears that fundamentalism as well as greed for the property of Hindus has increased in locals hence fewer people come forward for the assistance of Hindus.
The atrocities on Hindus are increasing and, therefore, a number of Hindu families are migrating to India leaving their property in Bangladesh. Local police officials like Abdul Kader, officer in-charge of Nasirnagar police station, also conspire with the extremists who vandalise the temples and pillage the houses and properties of Hindus. Kader was later suspended for dereliction of duty.
A few Hindu families have already crossed into India while several others have shifted from their houses to safe places. About 33 percent of the population of Nasirnagar area are Hindu and support the ruling Awami League party, hence the office bearers of Awami League assured that stringent action would be taken against miscreants and reasonable compensation would be given to the victims and vandalised temples would be repaired.
A section of media also use derogatory words like ‘Kafir’ and ‘Malaun’ against Hindus. In past also there were several cases where Hindu temples were damaged and idols were broken by fanatic Muslims. The cases of atrocities on minorities occur more on Fridays as several times the Imams of mosques deliver inflammatory speeches against Hindus which result in attacks on temples and idols.
The minority leaders divulge that prior to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the extremists were exterminating minorities, especially Hindus, systematically. After the creation of Bangladesh, the atrocities on Hindus were reduced for some time but again increased when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) came to power.
The Awami League is more secular but a few leaders are becoming fanatic and do not want to take stringent action against extremists as they feel that their vote-bank may be hurt. The Hindu population is continuously declining. In 1947, the Hindu population in the area of present Bangladesh was 31 per cent, which declined to 19 per cent by 1961, 14 per cent in 2002 and to 8.5 per cent in 2011. However, the Hindu population increased to 10.7 per cent in 2015 which was not liked by Muslim extremists.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj directed the Indian High Commissioner at Bangladesh to convey India’s concern about the safety of Hindus.
Analysts mention that Islamic extremism is increasing and a few youths have already joined Islamic State (IS) although the present government denied the presence of IS but the time has come when security agencies of the country should be cautious and deal sternly with the growing fundamentalism. IS would be defeated soon and at that time several Bangladeshis who are working with IS would return to Bangladesh and would spread the ideology of IS which will be detrimental for the secular fabric of the country.
The Awami League government should give stringent punishment to the officers of security agencies who allow extremists to vandalise the temples and loot the houses and shops of the minority community.
The religious as well as political leaders, including Imams of the mosques who deliver communal speeches, should also be punished under the law of the land. The media which spreads hatred should also be banned. The government must assure the minority community that they are safe in Bangladesh as it is essential for the economic progress of the country.
*Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. He can be contacted at: [email protected]