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A time for Bangladesh to protest

“Why were enough police personnel or the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troops not deployed in those areas? Any attempts to initiate a political procession or assembly by the opposition party gets thwarted with strictness and agility, but why was no such action seen in the case of communal vandalism?”

Golam Mortaza | New Delhi |

Till 1990, Bangladesh lived mostly under military rule, apart from a brief period of three and a half years in the beginning. So, I will not consider that period of time for this discussion. From 1991 till date, there have been numerous attacks on the Hindu, Buddhist, Santal, Chakma and Marma communities on this land; many people from these communities have been killed or lost everything they had to vandalism and arson. How many of these incidents have been properly investigated, and how many perpetrators have been caught and prosecuted?

Democracy has not been fully established in the country, but it is not under military rule either. Political parties like the Awami League and the BNP have been ruling the country since 1991. For the last 13 years, Awami League has been at the helm of the government. The popular belief is that Awami League shows sensibility towards the minority communities. The very same Awami League is not only in power, but they are also holding on to unchallenged power – almost every Awami League leader boasts that they have no competitors. But how many times have the minority groups been attacked during the current ruling period of the Awami League? Who is to be blamed for the mayhem at Chattogram’s Buddhist colony?

In recent years, attacks have been carried out against Hindus in Abhaynagar of Jashore, Santhia of Pabna, Nasirnagar of Brahmanbaria, and Shalla of Sunamganj. This time around, members of the community in question were attacked in Cumilla and several other parts of the country.

After the Awami League was defeated in the 2001 polls by the BNP, the Hindu community was put under siege. Hindu communities in different areas of the country were attacked; some incidents of rape took place. At that time, the whole country was outraged; the citizens were protesting against the attacks. The then BNP government refused to shoulder the responsibility for the attacks, but the blame went to them in the end. The duty of preventing attacks on the citizens falls upon the party in power; BNP failed to perform that duty in 2001, and for that, they have been criticised and will continue to be criticised in future as well.

However, people who were vocal in 2001 seem to have chosen to stay mute in 2021. The concept of actively protesting injustice has taken a back seat. Now, people react to communal attacks by being ashamed on social media, and some seek forgiveness. As for these attacks, the government sometimes accuses the BNP, and at other times some invisible forces.

BNP, in the meantime, solely and directly points fingers at the government. There are questions about the Cumilla incident that are yet to be answered. Why did the police not respond immediately after receiving information about it? Why was there no response even after a call to the 999 hotline? These are the complaints from the local residents which should get the highest level of priority during the investigation. Is the investigation being conducted accordingly? Did it gain the right momentum? A Hindu community leader pointed his finger towards a local MP of the ruling party; will this accusation be investigated? Considering the past, these accusations hold deep significance.

During the 2016 attack in Nasirnagar, the issue of rivalry between two ruling party lawmakers was reported by the media, but we never got to know whether any follow-up investigation was conducted regarding those incidents. Three of the accused and implicated individuals behind the attack were recently nominated by the Awami League for union parishad elections, but later on, nominations of two candidates were cancelled. The other accused retained his nomination.

Why should we forget these incidents, refrain from protesting, and feel ashamed or seek forgiveness instead? People who vandalised houses and temples, desecrated idols, and looted and plundered – they are the actual criminals. They attacked people, and people lost lives, which makes the attackers killers too. We should be agitated by them and we should protest against them. We need to demand proper investigation and justice for the recent incidents. We also have to demand explanations for why the perpetrators of the past events did not get prosecuted. We have to hold the government responsible for not investigating the accusations raised, and we have to raise our collective voice in a manner similar to the reaction to the 2001 attacks when a lot of questions were raised and a significant number of protests were carried out.

When Muslims go through oppression in Palestine or Myanmar, we feel pained and we get agitated. But we, the very same people, proceed to attack our own countrymen who are a minority. No matter who is ruling the nation, no one prosecutes these attackers. They only do politics. This is not something that should make you or me feel ashamed; it is something worth protesting. “None of the attackers will be spared” – what is the meaning or significance of this statement? Why are such statements made year after year, instead of delivering justice to the people who are victims? In certain areas, the UNOs told journalists that they were helpless and could not control the attackers.

In that case, why were enough police personnel or the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troops not deployed in those areas? Any attempts to initiate a political procession or assembly by the opposition party gets thwarted with strictness and agility, but why was no such action seen in the case of communal vandalism? The attacks continued because of the submissive attitude of the law enforcement members. Some may point out in this case that when the law enforcement forces take a strict stance, guns are fired and people lose their lives – as was seen in Chandpur where four people were killed.

This raises another question: Does the law enforcement agency’s strictness directly translate to gunshots and killings? Do they not have any other way to deal with such incidents without violence? Strictness cannot be synonymous with opening fire at people in order to prevent them from ransacking temples. This kind of mindless shooting and killing will only worsen the situation.

The homes and houses of worship of the minority citizens are coming under siege. They are being exposed to heinous crimes like oppression and execution in broad daylight. Some insane individuals are conducting these despicable actions in the name of religion. Some politicians are sheltering, indulging, and controlling these lunatics. The people who are in power have been “hiding” them for the last 30 years. You and I may not have the capability to demolish the walls sheltering them, but we have the capacity to protest their actions and raise questions. If we feel ashamed or ask for forgiveness instead of protesting, then we will not be much different from the people who are providing shelter to the perpetrators of violence.

(The author is a journalist at The Daily Star/ANN)