Bangladesh government 'failing to protect minorities'

Leaders of the minority Hindu community have accused the government in Muslim-majority Bangladesh of failing to provide security and to protect them from Islamist mob attacks.

The accusation came after another incident of Muslim mob violence against the Hindu community over an alleged blasphemous post on social media, which left a temple, houses and businesses of Hindus destroyed, forcing dozens of Hindus to flee.

On July 15, a mob vandalized a temple, several homes and businesses belonging to Hindus in the Dighalia Bazar area in Narail district alleging a local Hindu boy Akash Saha had hurt Muslim sentiments in a post on Facebook. He has been arrested by the police.

Amid the uproar over the attack on social media, from civil society and protest rallies from minority groups, the police have arrested five Muslims for their alleged involvement in instigating violence.

The violence in Narail came months after large-scale attacks on Hindus were reported during the festival of Durga Puja after the alleged desecration of a Quran in Comilla district in October 2021. At least 11 people including seven Hindus and four Muslims died in the violence, local media reported. Police later arrested a Muslim man for desecrating the Quran and claimed he was "mentally challenged."

In the latest incident, over 100 Hindu families fled the area and recalled how under the pretext of blasphemy, the mob set out to destroy their livelihoods. They now anticipate a further reprisal by the Islamist mob and fear returning to their destroyed homes.

“The mob looted and set our houses on fire. They took money and other valuable stuff and even threatened us,” Hemlata Saha told UCA News.

She said Hindu women were scared to return home and feared "their honor was at stake."

“We don't want compensation; we want punishment for the criminals. The government has failed to give us security. Will the government allow us to stay peacefully in this country? If not, tell us directly. Why torture us,” Saha added.

Hindu homes and shops in Dighalia Bazar remain closed although the police presence in the area has increased.

“So far, five people have been arrested in connection with the vandalism of houses, shops and two temples. The operation to arrest the other culprits continues,” Narail district Superintendent of Police Prabir Kumar Roy told UCA News.

The National Human Rights Commission has directed the home ministry to investigate the incident as well as the failure to protect minorities.

“This type of incident is shameful for a secular country like Bangladesh. We urge the government to take measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents,” Nasima Begum, chairman of the commission, told UCA News.

The Hindu, Buddhist Christian Unity Council (HBCUC) reported that 70 places of worship were attacked, vandalized, looted and set on fire in different parts of the country last year.

According to a Dhaka-based rights organization, more than 3,500 attacks on Hindus were reported from 2013 to 2021.

Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of HBCUC, said timely action by governments over the years could have put a stop to repeated incidents of violence against Hindus.

Some minority leaders blamed the ruling Awami League government's majoritarian politics for the continued violence.

“The government thinks they no longer need the votes of the minorities. But it is responsible for the security of all citizens, including minority communities,” said one minority leader who did not wish to be named.

Father Patrick Gomes, secretary of the Inter-Religious Dialogue Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh, said the government must undertake inter-religious dialogue at the village level.

The Catholic Church organizes interfaith dialogue programs across the country, the priest noted.

“But we face some challenges like getting resourceful persons from other religions to talk about harmony. Some Muslims do not want to be seen alongside Christians as it can be counterproductive,” Father Gomes added.