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Bangladesh: Attacks on non-Muslims must stop now, forever

AHRC-STM-014-2014
January 13, 2014

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

Shame shadows Bangladesh again. Numerous attacks have been waged on the Hindu community across Bangladesh in the wake of the January 5th general 'election'. Houses and business establishments owned by Hindus have been targeted. Other ethnic and non-Muslim communities have also been attacked. Temples and religious sites have not been spared. Few hundred Hindu families have lost their property and savings in acts of vandalism, loot, and arson. Numerous women and children from minority communities, have fled their homes, and are in hiding in fear of further attacks. Their homes destroyed, some sleep under the open sky in the cold air of winter nights. Neither the state nor humanitarian organizations have responded with adequate food and shelter for the victims.

Thousands of Joint Forces troops, comprising the police, Rapid Action Battalion, and Border Guards, have remained deployed for tightening 'election period' security. The Bangladesh Army has also been on the street to 'aid' the government since December 2013. All these swarming forces have failed to prevent the attacks and protect the minority population.

This is, of course, not the first such series of attacks; it is only the latest instance in a litany of shameful attacks on the dwindling minority population of Bangladesh. Attacking minorities has become an election tradition in the country. Whether real or fake, rigged or boycotted, no election appears to be complete without literal minority bashing. It is time Bangla literature updates its historical reference to there being only 6 seasons in the land. The election period is now akin to a separate season in itself, one in which vandalism, loot, arson, and attack on minority establishments is a key feature.

How long can the non-Muslim communities sustain such barbarity?

Targeting of non-Muslims for political gains is done by both parties that win and parties that lose elections. Of course, many Muslims also fall victim to the seasonal violence of elections; at least five lives have been lost in post election violence this year, not to mention over a hundred killed in the lead-up to the election. Apart from political gains, such attacks, orchestrated by powerful people, linked to the ruling or opposition parties, are often undertaken for grabbing land and assets. The attacks on Hindus, in particular, also open undue opportunities to politicians beyond borders, for earning 'extra' benefits, again, at the cost of the dignity and interests of the people of Bangladesh.

Following this latest rounds of attacks on minorities, the government has hurled accusations on opposition political parties. The pro-government media and civil society has echoed the story of the attacks having been undertaken by the opposition. The police, virtually across the country, have registered complaints maintaining the position of the pro-ruling party, holding the opposition responsible. The chief opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party(BNP), and its ally, Bangladesh Jamaat-E-Islami (BJI), have, in turn, blamed the ruling party, the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), for the attacks.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has had the opportunity to enquire after the well-being of victims in Chapatala village, Avoynagar, in Jessore district. The victims' version of events contradicts the government's take. Residents of Chapatala state the following:

They say Mr. Ranjit Kumar Roy, a ruling party candidate, a Hindu, won the election. Cadres of the defeated candidate, Mr. Abdul Wahab – who was a leader of the Bangladesh Awami League until he was denied a ticket by the party this election – led the attacks. Supporters of few other political parties, those with links to the attack leaders, and local 'petty criminals', thieves and muggers, jointly committed the crimes. Around seventy lower caste Hindu families lost most of their assets as a result. Their houses and shops have been looted, belongings burnt.

It must be noted that Abdul Wahab also happens to be a Whip in the yet to be dissolved 9th Parliament. On December 28, 2013, Wahab held an election campaign meeting at Sundali Primary School ground adjacent to Chapatala village. In that meeting Wahab allegedly threatened Hindu families with dire consequences if he were to lose the election to his Hindu counterpart. The Hindu inhabitants of Chapatala village did not imagine that the victory of Mr. Ranjeet Kumar Roy would cause them so much misery. The case of Chapatala makes it clear that politicians of all hues are behind such dastardly violence.

The AHRC has learned that local administrations in some districts have provided relief and remuneration to some victims. While adequate relief is essential, and must cover all the affected, what is really required is 'justice' for the victims. To ensure justice, the institution of a judicial probe commission is the need of the hour, to investigate and prosecute perpetrators regardless of their political or religious identity. However, if history is any indicator, AHRC is well aware that even if such a commission were to be instituted, something highly unlikely, the incumbent regime would only go so far as to abuse it. Such criminal investigations surrounding the communal attacks will only likely end up as another tool for those in power to further corner political opposition.

The AHRC notes the statement of Mr. Subrata Chowdhury, President of Bangladesh Hindu Buddha Christian Oikkya Parishad and a Supreme Court lawyer. BBC Bangla Service news has recorded him stating that "now, it has been accused that Jamaat-Shibir committed the attacks. It is made to be a slogan. In reality, it has been seen that it is not the Jamaat-Shibir who have attacked in all the cases. We have found that in many places the Awami Leaguers are involved too. If Jamaat-Shibir have committed these, then why the government is not bring them to the book and why actions are not being taken against the public officials for failing to prevent such incidents?" Mr. Chowdhury asked.

The realities are truly unfortunate, as Bangladesh has a long and commendable history of communal harmony, unlike neighbouring nations. The people, regardless of their religious background, fought for the country's independence in 1971. Together, they sacrificed lives on the battle field. If any roadside tea-stall plays a song such as "Mora Ekti Fulkey Bachabo Boley Juddho Kori" [We struggle for protecting each and every flower], any Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and ethnic community member will sing along in chorus. Ordinary citizens of Bangladesh have deep bonds beyond their communal identities. It is, however, the shamelessly dirty politics atop the nation, and the unforgivable failure of the civil and police administration to prevent attacks on non-Muslims, that has butchered the people's history.

The people must unite again to prevent the politics of communal violence. It is not merely a loss for the minorities, in terms of their houses, businesses, and valuables. Trust and respect in society, which money cannot buy, is lost in such attacks. The social fabric of Bangladesh is rent asunder. The country's image and, in particular, that of the Muslim majoritarian community is besmirched internationally. The historic fraternity of the people must resurface, stronger, to sideline those paralyzed by greed. The parties that fail to end such bloody politics must be relegated to the bin of history. Communal violence must be stopped now and forever.

ENDS

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