Communal hatred has been at the root of many incidents of violence in places across the country this year, including Bhola’s Manpura and Cumilla’s Korbanpur. These acts of grotesque violence included an incident of burning a man to death in Lalmonirhat’s Burimari area.
Protesters raised voices countrywide against the oppression, yet their efforts were only met with failure to stem the spread of extremism. Building statues were subject to opposition from Islamic extremists towards the end of the year, which included a ruckus involving defacing of a statue of Bangabandhu.
Activists claim that the government ignored their calls for forming minorities commission and enacting laws to protect them.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her speech on the eve of the Victory Day clearly stated that she would not tolerate creating divisions using the name of religion.
HIFAZAT UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT
An organisation which constantly argues against the education and rights of women, Hifazat-e Islami drew attention by demanding the cancellation of the plan to build the statue of the Father of the Nation.
Islamists objected to the construction of Bangabandhu’s statue at a rally under the banner of ‘Towhidi Janata Oikya Parishad’ in Dhaka’s Gendaria on Nov 13.
Mamunul Haque, who heads Bangladesh Khelafat Jubo Majlish and is joint secretary general of radical Islamic outfit Hifazat, had opposed the construction of Bangabandhu’s statue at a separate programme at the BMA Auditorium in the capital the same day.
On Nov 27, Hifazat chief Babunagari threatened to “pull down” statues no matter which party erects them.
Amid the countrywide protests against the statements of the Islamist leaders, an under-construction statue of the Bangabandhu was vandalised in Kushtia.
Later the police arrested two madrasa students and two of their teachers after reviewing the incident on CCTV footage.
Sedition charges have already been brought against Babunagari in the incident of statue vandalism and his stance against sculptures of any kind.
The High Court has ordered the authorities to take legal steps to punish those who opposed the building of statues and defaced the sculpture of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
A GLIMPSE INTO COMMUNAL OPPRESSION
Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Unity Council and Bangladesh Minority Watch carried out a study on the persecution of the religious minority community over the year.
The report showed the sectarian status of the country in the seven months stretching from March to September. In this period, 17 deaths, 10 murder attempts, 11 death threats, 30 cases of rape and torture, six rape attempts, three suicides over molestations, 23 abductions were reported on the media.
It also mentioned 37 idols being smashed, 23 temples attacked, vandalised and set on fire, eviction of 26 houses, five religious institutes taken over, 73 attempts of eviction, 34 people threatened to leave the country, 60 families forced out of their villages.
There were also instances of four people being threatened to convert while seven others were forced to convert. As many as 88 houses and business institutions were vandalised and looted as 247 individuals were physically assaulted and four others detained over complaints of making “negative remarks” on religion
Many countries held protests against the France’s stance denying punishment for the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. Islamists in Bangladesh joined their voices in the protests.
But on Oct 30, a violent incident involving a person named Abu Yunus Md Shahidunnabi Jewel stormed into the headlines.
A mob stormed the union council office and dragged Jewel out before beating and burning him to death on the Lalmonirhat-Burimari Highway near Burimari Land Port on allegations of showing disrespect to the Quran. Five arrests were made in three cases over the incident.
An investigation carried out by the National Human Rights Commission said there was no proof Jewel insulted the Quran.
Just a day later, on Nov 1, fire was set on the house of the Hindus on allegation of speaking ill of religion in Cumilla’s Muradnagar Upazila.
People were called up using loudspeakers to create a gathering which began vandalising and looting the houses of the Hindus. These included houses of East Dhaur Union Chairman Bona Kumer Shib and his brother.
The miscreants obstructed the fire trucks from bringing down the flames as the police, public representatives, the locals and the victims all complained that it was a carefully chalked up plan.
Earlier on May 16, a young fish trader was attacked in his shop in Bhola’s Chowmuhani Bazar by a group of attackers who marched to the market after Friday prayers following his alleged comment on religion.
Upon intervention from the police, the assaulters got into a clash with the law enforcers leaving at least 10 people injured. The police later lodged a case against the youth under the Digital Security Act.
In April, in another incident of showing contempt to religion, a youth was attacked in Kurigram’s Satani Hailla village in Kaliganj Union. Police later arrested him.
In the meantime, the vandalising of idols in several districts of the country before the biggest celebration of the Hindus – Sharodiya Durgotsab – took place like all other years.
The report shed light on such incidents in Faridpur’s Titurkandi, Chattagram’s Satkania and Lohagaram, Jamalpur’s Melahand, Lakhsmipur’s Shakharipara, Cox’s Bazar’s Chakaria, Sylhet’s Jatarpur, Rangamati’s KPM, Bagerhat’s Chitalmari and Munshiganj’s Sreenagar.
A host of events involving oppression against and rape of women and children ripped through the security and stability of the society. Another one of such acts occurred when Nila Roy, a 10th-grade schoolgirl, was stabbed to death in Bank Colony of Savar over not agreeing to a proposal of love.
Although the legal end of the case made progress, the council said that justice had not been delivered.
The report said that a 12-year-old Hindu girl was raped in September in Sylhet’s Jalalabad. The family of the girl went from door-to-door of government services to plea for justice. After not getting any hope from the police even after three weeks had passed since the incident, the family resorted to help from the council.
The unity council went on to mention several other cases where justice had not been served while there were several cases where the victims were forced to convert to Islam after being kidnapped.
CASES FILED OVER 25-30% INCIDENTS OF OPPRESSION
Kajol Debnath, a presidium member of Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Unity Council and leader of Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad, said only 25 to 30 percent incidents of oppression of people from the minority groups see cases filed at police stations or courts.
“The rate of filing cases is dropping while justice is ensured in only five to six percent of these cases. The refusal of charges, delay in trial and improper trial lead many victims to refrain from filing cases,” he said.
He also criticised the arrests of members of the minority groups in cases under the Digital Security Act. “The government must react in the same way if any religion is hurt,” he said.
Shahriar Kabir, president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, said the Awami League had promised a national commission to look after the minority groups in its manifesto before the last election. “But we haven’t seen it implemented in two years,” he said.
He said Bangladesh needs a witness protection law so that the plaintiffs and witnesses can speak out without any fear of intimidation.
Shahriar demanded that the government assign more policemen in the areas inhabited by minority people.
‘POLITICAL INFLUENCE’ BEHIND RISE OF EXTREMISM
Harun-or-Rashid, a professor of political science currently working as the vice-chancellor of the National University, has “no doubt” that the “influence of ertain political quarters” is behind the religion-based radical groups’ threats.
“The Jamaat-e-Islami is trying to commit the crimes through them (radical Islamists) after losing registration. The BNP, which has fallen into a ditch, is searching for issues to overcome its crisis. They are trying to possess other forces,” he said.
“It won’t be a surprise if they try to achieve political goals by joining hands with these evil forces of politics,” he added.
The main goal of the statue was to overturn Bangladesh’s principles and take the country backwards to the course of Pakistan, said Harun. “It was indeed a political agenda. There is no reason to think otherwise,” he said.
The religion-based organisations often try to rise, sometimes through extreme violence by resorting to militancy, said the professor of political science.
“They are nothing new. It was their predecessors who joined hands with the Pakistani military in the 1971 genocide by forming the forces such as Al Badr, Al Shams and Razakar. They are the dark forces,” he said.
Prof Harun also sounded optimistic about putting an end to extremism in Bangladesh. “The tens of millions of people here are at the side of peace, harmony and amity. Will they (dark forces) be able to survive if the people stand up against them?”
Writer Shahriar Kabir said Bangladesh’s efforts to stop extremism needs to be based on short-term, mid-term and long-term plans.
“In the mid-term plans, we must review our curriculum. Why won’t madrasa students study history of bonding and civilisations? Why shouldn’t folk culture be backed? The policymakers must consider these,” he said.
To make clear the government’s position on extremism, Faridul Haque Khan, state minister for religion, has said at a recent programme that the country has no place for extremism, terrorism and militancy in the name of religion. He vowed to tackle these menaces with everyone’s help.
“All the religions preach the message of peace for the people’s welfare. No religion supports terrorism or militancy. These are crimes against humanity.
He emphasised efforts to strengthen the bonding between all the religions by highlighting the similarities in their basic principles.