In the wake of a wave of violent attacks on the country's minority Hindu community, international rights group Amnesty International has urged the government to give them better protection.
Over the past week, activists taking part in strikes called by Islamic parties have vandalised more than 40 Hindu temples across Bangladesh. Scores of shops and houses belonging to the community have been burned down, leaving hundreds of people homeless, said a press release issued by the group on Wednesday.
“The Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk, in particular at such a tense time in the country,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International's Bangladesh researcher. “It is shocking that they appear to be targeted simply for their religion. The authorities must ensure that they receive the protection they need.”
Faiz continued, “All political parties in Bangladesh should condemn any violence against the Hindu community and instruct all their members and supporters not to take part in such attacks.”
The victims told Amnesty International that the attackers were taking part in rallies organised by the Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir.
Jamaat, however, has publicly denied any involvement in violence against the Hindu community.
The latest attack took place on Wednesday at Daudkandi in Comilla, where a Hindu temple was vandalised and burnt down.
One of the victims told the rights group that on February 28, his family's village at Rajganj Bazar in Noakhali was set on fire by people taking part in a Jamaat-staged strike.
“They moved into our properties and set fire to 30 of our houses. Seventy-six families were living in these houses. They also set fire to our temples,” the victim said, requesting anonymity out of concern for his safety.
The authorities have provided temporary accommodation to the affected families, he said. The families had lost almost all their belongings to theft or destruction in the violence.
Another victim said a group of about 100 young men holding banners in support of Jamaat looted and damaged four shops at Satkania in Chittagong and vandalised a Hindu temple in the village on Saturday.
Bangladesh's Hindu minority makes up eight percent of the population and has historically been at risk of violence from the Muslim population -- including during the independence war in 1971 and after the general elections in 2001, said the press release.
“Given the obvious risks the Hindu minority faces in Bangladesh, these attacks were sadly predictable. We urge the authorities to take note of the violence and act to prevent further attacks,” noted Faiz.
Tensions have been running high in Bangladesh in recent weeks as Jamaat and Shibir have called strikes and protested against the international crimes tribunals, which have found some of its senior members guilty of crimes committed during the Liberation War.
Protesters have also been involved in violent clashes with police, who have used tear gas, rubber bullets or live ammunition against them. At least 60 people have been killed, mostly by police fire, but among the dead are also several policemen.
“While there are credible reports that police firing may have followed violent attacks against them by protesters, police use of excessive force cannot be discounted,” Faiz said.
In Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament, main opposition BJP yesterday demanded that an all-party delegation be sent to Bangladesh to assess the "atrocities on Hindus" by Jamaat-e-Islami.
Tarun Vijay (BJP) said, "Hindus are subjected to severe atrocities.... They are being killed, forced to take refuge in India and their abandoned properties are seized after being declared wasteful.”
He lauded the Shahbagh movement, saying it was a display of secular democratic forces and the fact that all Hindus, Muslims and Christians were Bangladeshis.
Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP said it was a "violation" of human rights in Bangladesh and demanded a response from the government.