Rajat Sharma

Why Hindu homes are being set on fire, temple vandalised again in Bangladesh?

akbA sense of fear and gloom has gripped nearly 1.5 crore Hindus living in Bangladesh, after a 200-strong mob went on a rampage in a Hindu locality in Rangpur on Sunday night, setting fire to 29 houses, belonging to Hindu fishermen. In Feni, 157 km from capital Dhaka, Hindu temples and shops were vandalized by mobs on Saturday.

The attacks on Hindus intensified after mobs vandalized Durga puja pandals and Hindu temples, after a fake rumour was spread about alleged desecration of Holy Quran at a puja pandal in Comilla five days ago. Since then, the number of attacks on Hindus has multiplied.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ministers had promised to take strong action against the rioters, but there is no sign of decline in the number of attacks. Even ISKCON Hare Krishna temples have also been vandalized and two devotees were killed.

Neither Islamic jihadi leaders, who incited mobs to launch these attacks, were arrested, nor were they sent to jail. Lack of strong action on part of the government has indirectly encouraged rioters to go on a looting, rape and arson spree, targeting Hindus.

Images and videos that are coming from Bangladesh are horrifying. Hindus do not feel secured even in the confines of their own homes, and they are afraid of moving around on streets. Hindus are having sleepless nights and they are yearning for help from neighbouring India. There have been protests from Assam to West Bengal by Hindu organisations against the attacks on their brethren in Bangladesh.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed victims saying how they were sleeping inside their homes in Peerganj, Rangpur and were woken up by slogans and shouts by a violent mob of more than 200 people. The mob took the menfolk outside and thrashed them severely. Women and children ran away to the paddy fields to save their lives. Within minutes, most of the homes of Hindus were set on fire by the mob. 29 out of 65 homes of Hindus were completely burnt by the mob.

There was widespread looting of cash, ornaments and costly items from homes that were not burnt. The rioters did not even spare the clothes and cooking utensils of victims. After the rioters had left, local Hindus told police the names of each of the rioters, all Muslims, but no action was taken. Most of the Hindus in the locality are now penniless and homeless.

The first attack on a Durga Puja pandal and temple took place on October 13 in Comilla. Soon after, temples and puja pandals were attacked and vandalized in Chittagong, Chandpur and other cities. There are still no signs of the number of attacks abating.

According to Bangladesh officials, there appears to be a uniform pattern behind these attacks. Firstly, false rumour about desecration of holy book is spread on social media, and soon after, mobs turn up to attack and vandalize Hindu temples, businesses and homes.

According to Bangladesh police, the hand of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing has been found in the Rangpur riots, where 29 Hindu homes were set on fire. The surprising part is that Bangladesh politicians and police are trying to indirectly justify the attacks by pointing at “objectionable” posts by Hindus on social media. Though Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has promised help to Hindus in rebuilding their homes, a strong sense of fear continues to persist.

Hindus in Bangladesh on Monday took out protests in Dhaka, Chittagong and other cities demanding protection for their community and arrests of rioters. In Kolkata, there was protest on Monday outside the Bangladesh Deputy High Commissioner’s office. Leaders who took part in the protest alleged that the majority Muslim community is silent over the attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, and this was a serious trend. They said, if immediate action was not taken, jihadi elements would target larger number of Hindus. There was protest in Guwahati also, where the local ISKCON leader demanded deployment of UN peacekeeping force in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan alleged that these attacks are part of a conspiracy to “defame” his country, but, in reality, it appears to be part of a conspiracy to force the Hindus to leave the country that has been their motherland for centuries. In most of the attacks on Durga puja pandals, temples and Hindu homes, the modus operandi is the same. First, a rumour is spread on social media about blasphemy or desecration of holy book, and then mobs turn up for plunder and arson.

According to statistics compiled by a human rights outfit, Legal and Conciliation Centre in Bangladesh, there were 3,679 attacks on Hindus during the last nine years in Bangladesh. Out of these, 1,559 Hindu homes were looted and set on fire, 442 Hindu businesses were vandalized and set on fire, while 1,678 incidents of breaking of Hindu idols of gods and goddesses, temples and setting fire to shrines took place. Eleven Hindus were killed and 862 Hindus were injured in these attacks.

What steps have the Bangladesh government taken to prevent such attacks on minorities? The moot point is that, the common Hindu in Bangladesh is living in a state of fear, feels unprotected, and there is threat to his life and property.

On Monday, the US State Department condemned the attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh. The State Department spokesman said, “Freedom of religion or belief is a human right. “Every person around the world, regardless of their religious affiliation or belief, should feel safe and supported to celebrate important holidays”, the spokesman said.

On Sunday, the Bangladesh Hindu diaspora staged a protest outside the Bangladesh embassy in Washington. It called upon US-based watchdog groups and media houses to highlight the gravity of violence against Hindus in Bangladesh. A leader of Bangladesh Hindu diaspora said, indigenous Hindus continue to be the target of organised hate and discrimination in Bangladesh, a country where the population of Hindus has declined from 28 per cent during the 1940s to nine per cent now.

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