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Chasing an uproar in Bangladesh

Authored By: Saleem Samad

“To resume regular puja (prayer) for the devotees will take time, as mobsters have desecrated the temples. Only a few priests have the knowledge and wisdom to purify the holy sites.”
An outraged devotee Arun Kanti Saha with the venerated Ram Takur Ashram in Chowmuhani, Noakhali told a post-violence joint civil administration, police and ruling Awami League meeting.
When the Noakhali police chief urged upon the leaders of temple management committees and Hindi leaders, Saha declined to open up the temples for regular prayers for devotees.
The priest and committee members denied removing the debris and restoring the vandalised temples. The temple’s committee was not eager to purify the sacred places which were made unholy by armed hooligans who entered wearing sandals, shoes and deliberately spitting inside the prayer halls for their hate and anger against the Hindus.
Tons of debris of broken glass, smashed furniture, cooking utensils and of course, the vandalised deities have been kept as it is for the visiting civil society teams to witness the rage and fury of the violence.
The district civil and police administrations were desperate to return to normalcy in the towns and devotees are back to regular Puja.
It began after a Facebook post of a photo of a Quran (Holy Scripture of Islam) found on the lap (or feet) of the Hanuman deity at temporary Nanua Digirpar Durga Puja mandap (pavilion for public rituals) on Ashtami (eighth day), 13 October.
Hours later, thousands of Islamic vigilantes and bigots took to the streets in Cumilla, east of the capital Dhaka. The mobsters armed with metal bars, machetes, batons, bamboo sticks and construction hammers were hurled abuses against the Hindu religion and community – addressing them as ‘malayun’ (traitors).
Well, the Sunni Muslim’s faint interpretation of the Quran describes the Hindus [Quran names only Christians, Jews and Pagans] as Kafir’s (who has rejected the tenets of Islam).
Likewise, the Jews and Christens are also bracketed as enemies of Islam.
Middle-aged Achintya Das Tito, is secretary of the Cumilla Mahanagar (metropolitan) Puja Committee was woken up from slumber in the early morning by an officer of a police station.
He rushed to the Nanua Digirpar Puja site and was debriefed on the recovery of a copy of the Quran from the mandap. For safekeeping, the police officer kept the divine book under his armpit.
Moments later the copy of the Quran found at Hanuman deity’s lap or feet and photos of the holy book under the armpit of the officer became viral on Facebook, describing that the Hindus have committed blasphemy and insulted the sentiment of the Muslims. Muslims were urged to protest and punish the Hindus.
After five days the perpetrator was arrested for posting on Facebook. Within a few hours, hundreds of frenzy mobsters ransacked the mandap, smashed the Durga and Hanuman deities. The vigilantes paraded the streets and attacked several temples and business centres owned by Hindus for several hours while the police and administrator remained mute bystanders. Often scores of Islamic evangelists in ‘Waz-Mehfil’ spewed hatred against the Hindus, not to speak of disparagement the Christians, Buddhists and Ahmadiyya Muslims [like in Pakistan, the Mullahs term the sect as a heretic].
Also in the line of fire were the millions of liberal Muslims who remain defenders of secularism, pluralism, freedom of expression, religious freedom and gender equality are bracketed as ‘Murtad’ (apostate). The hate-mongers have millions of followers on their YouTube channels and term the Hindus as enemies of Islam.
Maulana Abdul Awal Khan Chowdhury, National Amir of Ahmadiyya Jamaat, Bangladesh argues that blasphemy was not practised during Prophet Muhammad’s tenure. The Quran prohibits hatred against other religions, faith or ethnicity, Chowdhury said. But Sunni Muslims cite the controversial Sharia law that has sanctioned action against the infidel. Videos by Islamic evangelists vomiting unlimited hate speech were never prosecuted and the channels in YouTube were not blocked by telecom watchdog.
Hardly were they charged under the repressive Digital Security Act, 2018, when thousands of netizens (social media citizens), journalists, opposition and critics were slammed with the draconian cybercrime law and many are languishing in prison.
On 30 October 2016, after a Facebook post attributed to an illiterate Hindu fisherman, hundreds of religious zealots launched a coordinated attack on six villages inhabited by Hindus in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria. Several Hindus were often arrested for fake Facebook posts and hurting the feelings of Muslims. Fake posts on social media are often engineered by Islamic bigots backed by masterminds who have a political colour of the ruling party launch sectarian violence.
The phenomenon of the majoritarian Sunni Muslim is to dominate the society, religious minorities and Adivasis (ethnic communities). Besides the Muslims, 12.73 million of the population are Hindus (8.5%), the rest are Buddhists, Christians and ethnic communities.
The Hindus are visible minorities in cities and towns in Bangladesh. In the villages, they are mainly artisans, fisherfolk and traders. The zealot’s soft targets are the temples, Hindu neighbourhoods and their businesses in commercial districts and markets. The onus of the security and welfare of the minorities obviously rests upon the majoritarian. The Muslims take a large slice of the state and politics. Thus, the state governed by the ruling party will have to shield the minorities and provide protection, security and safety.
Several human rights and citizen’s groups, after visiting the recent spate of racial violence in Cumilla, Noakhali, Chandpur, Bhola and Dinajpur, concluded that it was a failure of civil administration, police, political parties (including opposition) and civil society to protect the Hindus.
But Prof Robaet Ferdous of Dhaka University, an outspoken defender of religious freedom after touring the strife-torn areas, differs. “It’s not only the local administration, police and ruling party’s failure to protect the Hindus, but I see the collapse of the society during a national crisis, which contradicts the legacy of the glorious liberation war in 1971 which promised to establish secularism, pluralism and freedom of expression in Bangladesh.” On its 50th independence anniversary Bangladesh transgressed from the pledge, he lamented.
Sangita Ghosh, a filmmaker and defender of secularism said the scars from the wounds of racial hatred will not heal unless the perpetrators are brought to justice. Unfortunately, in 20 years none of the perpetrators was prosecuted for hate crime. The victims never received adequate compensation for breaking their hearts and trusts, she bemoaned.
The sectarian violence has caused a global uproar, including in the international media and has dented the image of Bangladesh. This, rather sadly, comes at a time when the country has made significant strides in economic development, women’s empowerment and gained an international appreciation for achievements in SDG Goals.
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