Trial of perpetrators in previous incidents could have prevented this
By Mahfuz Anam
We express our deepest sorrow at the loss of lives and regret the killings and injuries suffered by the people in Borhanuddin of Bhola. As a people we abhor violence and as such cannot but be sad at the loss of lives. However, we need to examine why this happened and if there is any lesson to learn for the government, the law enforcers and us as a society.
Circumstantial evidences gathered so far leave no doubt in our mind that the Bhola incident did not happen, it was made to. And the purpose was also very clear — to embarrass the government and to show that our claim of universal religious tolerance is based on a weak foundation.
The incident also revealed that in spite of all the training of the law enforcement bodies our capacity to handle agitated mob leaves much to be desired.
Let us start with the last. We are fully sympathetic to the police and know the dangers they face in handling mob particularly those who use violence. The claim is that police fired in retaliation. Even if we accept the police story in full, killing of four people and injuring of hundred others, almost inevitably, lead to the view that it was a case of overreaction. Of course, we, as armchair analysts, cannot know the real situation but still need to ask, couldn’t the matter have been dealt with differently? Police know very well that those who organise agitation with a view to creating mob violence try, as part of their strategy, to instigate the police to force them to react – the more violently the better. The challenge is not to fall into that trap. Did we, in this case?
In this particular case there were two advantages that the police had – first, the incident started on Friday afternoon whereas the firing occurred on Sunday. This gave them ample time to prepare for any eventuality and second, police already knew that the Facebook account that was used to spread the hate messages was hacked proving that the whole thing was a setup. In fact, before the firing occurred police had already arrested the hackers.
Police did the right thing, and for which we commend them, by engaging with the local religious leaders and the Imams and diffusing the tension to a great extent. In the morning of the fateful day police officials again engaged with the religious leaders. When the situation was greatly diffused and calm appeared to have been restored, a highly charged group of agitators came onto the scene, incited the crowd to become violent and attacked the police officials, including the SP and additional DIG of the Barishal range, and other officials who had gathered in a nearby madrasa. The mob opened fire injuring a police constable and the retaliatory firing ensued, according to the police.
It would appear to us that when the vested group saw that police were able to calm the situation and realised that their aim to create a violent situation was being thwarted, it resorted to incitement that ended in the loss of four lives. It is a typical method mob inciters use and we should have been prepared for it.
What our law enforcers appear not to have factored in is the role of the people who were originally responsible for hacking the said FB account, putting in the fake messages and creating an abusive conversation, whose screen shots were then made and distributed widely. This group wouldn’t let their well laid out effort fail just because of an intelligent police initiative and sensible reaction of the local religious leaders. And hence the violence, the attack on the police and the unfortunate deaths.
As of writing this commentary, police have done a commendable job of both containing further violence and protecting the religious group that has been targeted. The handling of the situation throughout Monday also deserves appreciation.
The troublemakers’ obvious purpose was to belie our claim to be a highly tolerant country that celebrates its diversity of all types including and especially the religious. They have been at it for quite some time. We have seen similar attempts in Ramu in 2012, in Pabna (Sathiya) in 2013, in Brahmanbaria (Nasir Nagar) in 2016, in Rangpur (Thakur para) in 2017 and now in Bhola (Borhanuddin).
The pattern in all the above cases is similar. A Facebook account of a religious minority person is hacked, a fake post against our religion and denigrating our Prophet is posted, which is then made viral, and in apparent retaliation a huge ‘spontaneous’ mob ( in one case it was reported that participants in the rally were brought in by buses ) gathers within a very short time that attacks places of worship of other religions and vandalises their properties. In the case of Ramu, several Buddhist temples reduced to ashes were historical treasures for Bangladesh.
We in the media, especially this newspaper, have always raised questions about the contrived nature of the so-called spontaneous outburst and the retaliation by a mob who appeared, in almost all cases, to suddenly appear out of nowhere in the shortest possible time and start indulging in violence.
A point needs to be made here that must be addressed immediately. A total of 36 cases were filed in the above instances (excluding the present one in Bhola) but most regrettably trial of not a single one has been completed. They are all at various stages of investigation, etc. There cannot be any acceptable explanation for this lack of police action. By not completing the cases the police gave, perhaps unwittingly, a message that prosecuting those attacking the minorities or vandalising their places of worship and properties was not the priority of our law enforcers.
Imagine if we had prosecuted all the criminals responsible for the attacks on minorities. We would have, at least, sent out a strong message against such actions. More than anyone else our law enforcers should know that when a crime goes unpunished it is not only that justice is being denied to the victim but also that other criminals are being encouraged to commit the same crimes. This must stop forthwith.
We echo our prime minister when she warns “not to try to cash in on the Bhola incident”. We must all be ready and willing – and we are – to work alongside the government to create a tolerant and harmonious society for without a universal acceptance of our varied culture, diverse religious and ethnic heritage the Bangladesh of Liberation War will not be achieved.
But wishes and warnings are hardly enough.
To start with we must expose the fact that all the incidents so far of an individual from a minority community denigrating our religion were NOT TRUE. That they were done by vested quarters who wanted to destroy the fundamental ethos of Bangladesh and of our Liberation War which is tolerance of diversity and harmonious and peaceful co-existence of all groups. This means we must immediately, in the shortest time possible, complete investigation and finish all legal formalities to expose these vicious attempts to destroy Bangladesh of our dreams and punish the people behind all such actions.
We commended Sheikh Hasina in the past, and do so again, for holding the trial of our war criminals. We now urge her to make this our topmost priority of the moment.