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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2038

Durgotsab and Hindu religious status in Bangladesh - Part- IVI

By Rabindranath Trivedi

Shri Jyotirmoy Barua, an Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh in an article titled ‘Durga Puja and our religious sentiment’ as appeared in the daily Star on 5 October 2014 stated: “Hindu religious festivals are famous worldwide for their colourfulness, and even with our diminishing numbers we celebrate those festivals like nothing happened to us. The so-called communal harmony in our country has long gone and left us with the rhetoric of harmony to chew it with the residue.

The fundamental element in our daily life has resulted in decreasing the Hindu community from 22% to 6% in the last 43 years, resulting in loss of importance in the politics of the country. There used to be a common conception that the Hindus were the 'vote bank' for the Awami League (AL). They did get friendliness from AL and rejection from BNP (BNP) and Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh. But over time, AL realized that if they relied on a particular religious minority for their politics it could backfire. So they, along with all other political parties, have started attacking the Hindus and looting their houses and business places. This has forced them to either leave the country or face death. AL benefited in both cases; if there was death then they could blame BNP and Jamaat for the atrocities; and if the victims left, AL could grab their properties! BNP and Jamaat leaders had also followed the same path, and they collectively managed to reduce the number of Hindus to 6% in just 43 years' time.

Attacks on temples and festivals have become a common phenomenon. Durga Puja is the prime target for vandalism and creating panic among the locals. The practice has become so widespread now that the Hindus plan to keep back-ups in case their idols fall under attack by the majority. One might task, what about law and order in the country? I don't know which country you are thinking of but I do know now that no law in this country will be able to prevent this happening in the coming years.

Nothing works when it comes to providing protection to the religious and ethnic minority groups in this country. The laws are best read in the books and not in practice. Law enforcers are sometimes part of the atrocity, and local governments seem to become deaf and dumb when it comes to safeguarding the minorities. Between October 1 and December 30, 2002, there had been 355 political killings, 3,270 rape incidents and a large number of arson attacks and looting of the belongings of Hindu families. No question was asked in during the full tenure of the elected political government!

After 8 years, due to an order by the Hon'ble High Court Division in connection with a Writ Petition, a Judicial Inquiry Commission was formed on December 27, 2009. They received 5,571 specific complaints of violence against more than 20,000 accused. The Commission, however, investigated 3,625 complaints. Upon completing the investigation they submitted their report before the Hon'ble High Court on April 29, 2011. The report has never been made public, like all other previous judicial inquiry commission reports. The Official Secrecy Act still plays a vital role!

In a press conference on April 29, 2011, Mr. Moudud Ahmed, a prominent leader of BNP, ruled out the allegation of communal attack on the Hindus and involvement of the BNP activists in the aforesaid rape, looting and vandalism in 2002, and also claimed that those were not communal attacks but fights between AL and BNP activists. Mr. Ahmed's statement essentially involved clear denial and political polarisation, and this has become the trend in the case of all communal attacks against Hindu, Buddhists, Adibashis and the Ahmadis.

Communal violence has an inherent politics, but political violence does not necessarily have to be communal. The two problematic terminologies contributed to some sort of legitimacy of the violent attacks on the religious and ethnic minorities, as if they wouldn't have happened if the politics or hurting of religious belief were not involved in it. The desire of the rulers to hide the ugly truth that there are communal tensions has been the main barrier against finding a way out. The religious sentiment of the minorities had not been evaluated as being the same as the sentiment of the majority people.

This is not the case when it comes to hurting the sentiment of Muslims. The recent comments by the Telecommunication and Information Technology Minister Abdul Latif Siddique against Hajj and the Tablighi Jamaat have given rise to demands for taking stern action against him, including hanging him until death. As a prompt action against such atrocity against Islam, Mr. Siddique has been removed from the ministry and the AL. Several cases have been filed against him in many districts of the country. It is very encouraging to see such prompt action being taken.

It would have been better if insults against all other religious belief were also taken as seriously by the government and the majority people. When some Muslims loot or vandalise temples then the sentiments of the Hindus or Buddhists are also hurt. But the state mechanism seems to become blind in addressing those incidents. Since February 28 to September 28, 2013, in 51 districts, at least 146 Hindu temples were attacked, about 500 Hindu families became homeless, 5 people were killed and 65 were injured. No one raised their voice against this hurting of the sentiments of the Hindus!

In the last two weeks in 15 districts, at least 22 Durga Puja Pandals were vandalised by the local Muslims. bdnews24.com reported on September 27 that 82 out of 408 Puja Pandals at Rajshahi have been declared as risky (important) by the police! This is the scenario in most of the districts. Even after 43 years of our independence, religious festivals of minorities face threat of being attacked by the Muslims. We have to live with this ground reality and unless there is strong action by the majority to protect the minorities and strict adherence to the existing laws, or even enactment of a new one to cover communal violence, it will remain a never-ending problem. ( DS ,5 Oct 2014)

When parts of Mata Sati’s dead body fell on earth, each of those sites became a Shakti-peeth — a space of divine significance. Of the 51 Shakti-peeths on earth, Bengal is blessed with 16, of which Bangladesh has 5 — Bhabanipur, Iswaripur, Chandranath hill near Sitakunda, Joinpur and Shikarpur. The sacred geography extends to Dhaka where Ma Dhakeshwari has been offering protective cover over the city for centuries. She has been attacked regularly in the last 50 years. When large-scale planned destruction of religious structures is accompanied by a concomitant catastrophic fall in the proportion of religious minorities like in Bangladesh (from about 25% of population in 1951 to under 10% in 2011), it’s clear that both gods and their devotees are fair game.

For the last major incidents, we have to go back to October 2001 when major Hindu persecution took place. The event before 2001 was that of December 1992. Although it may sound like a politically biased statement, it is true that compared to what the administration did to prevent escalation of violence in December 1992, in Hathajari, Satkhira and Ramu, the current administration failed to mobilise resources in time to stop the rioters with a heavy-handed approach.Starting from the 1980s, when religious violence used to be instigated by Ershad government to divert peoples' attention away from anti-autocracy movements, to 1990s and now in the new millennium -- administration and law enforcement agencies have always been slow and reluctant to take measures against rioters.”( Rumi Ahmed ” The Minorities of Bangladesh, DS ,5 Oct ’12).

Dr Nadim Jahangir, a Professor & Dean, School of Business, Independent University, Bangladesh opined:”Bangladesh is a country of 142 million people. The population data, updated by BSS for 2008, shows that 89.52% of the country’s population is Muslim, and the remaining 10.48 % consists of religious and ethnic minorities. Of the minorities, the Hindus are the largest group consisting of 9.58% of the population. The Buddhists are the third largest group with 0.46 %, and the Christians, the fourth largest group consisting of 0.26 % of the population.

And added, ”If we take a look at the statistics, we will see that over the years the minority number is decreasing in Bangladesh. It is a very alarming situation as a nation for us. In the past ten years, while comparing the growth of the total population in Bangladesh, there is an alarming decrease of Hindu population in the country. According to statistics available with the government sources, the proportionate decrease in Hindu population is around nine hundred thousand. In 2001, the total number of Hindu population in Bangladesh was 16.83 million, while the population was expected to be 18.2 million in 2011.

But the latest statistics available with the government shows the total number of Hindu population is at 12.3 million, which is nine hundred thousand less than the expected rate of growth. Currently 8.5 percent of the total population of Bangladesh is Hindus, while in 2001, it was 9.2 percent. The proportion of Christian, Buddhist, and other religious minority population did not see any major decline in the past. Even though only the Hindu population in Bangladesh is currently decreasing at an alarming rate, if we continue to attack other religions in this manner, they too will be gone from our society, putting our nation’s civilization on the edge.

Rise of radical Islamists as well as greed of forceful occupation of properties of minority people have compelled hundreds of Hindu families to migrate to other countries. Minorities, especially Hindus in Bangladesh, started migrating to various countries, including neighboring India, since the partition of British India in 1947. In most cases, law enforcing agencies, instead of protecting the minorities’ families, have tried to defend the perpetrators, simply because of their political identity or social status.

Regardless of whichever party came to power in Bangladesh, repression of minorities has been present, as it has become a type of social disease within some of the Muslim population of Bangladesh in applying repressive actions on the Hindus and other religious minority groups. We have more expectation from the current government, the party which always talks about secularism. Also, during the time of Awami League government, we have noticed different high office positions were granted to people belonging to the minority population. This is not to imply that the minority people were chosen as a favor, but that they were given the position because they deserved it – irrespective of their status as a minority. This high position job placement was not seen during the BNP government” (New Age, 14 Oct.’12)

(To Be Continued)

- Asian Tribune -

Durgotsab and Hindu religious status in Bangladesh - Part- IVI
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