For thousands of years people of this region were proud of their rich cultural diversity and communal harmony. But the divide and rule policy of the colonial lords put severe dents on this harmony. In 1947 two countries emerged in this subcontinent at the cost of thousands of lives claimed by brutal communal riots. Six decades later we are witness to the vicious manifestation of communalism in Jessore, Dinajpur, Ramu and so on. But there is a difference between what had happened during 1947 onwards and the current wave of terror against communities.
In 1947 the population of Hindus in the then East Pakistan was 29 percent of the total population. But by 1970, this population was reduced to 20 percent. The reason behind this drastic reduction was the communal riots. Communal riots and violence compelled these Hindus to leave their ancestral homes and migrate to India. After the emergence of Bangladesh with a secular constitution, it was assumed that people of Bangladesh would revive their golden memories of prosperity and communal harmony. But dreams remained dreams.
Persecution of religious and ethnic minorities went on, mostly on Hindus which is the second largest religious group after Muslims in Bangladesh. Now the Hindus, once rich and influential community of Bangladesh, comprise only 8-10 percent of its total population. The question is why is this going on despite the existence of laws to tackle it? If we observe the nature of the recent assaults, it is easy to see that minorities are being attacked sometimes by a particular group but mostly by the unified gangs of all parties with Jamaat taking the lead, incited by political leaders and excited about grabbing the property of the victims.
Since there is a land-greedy political mastermind behind these assaults, administration usually does not dare to take punitive measures against the attackers. Not only that after each of this attack, two main political parties Awami League and BNP start to blame each other and ultimately try to shelter their activists involved with violence. This sort of political indemnity is a big reason why incidences of communal attacks are repeated in Bangladesh. And for this kind of political immunity, the acts and sections of Bangladesh Penal Code fails to protect the rights of the oppressed.
Twelve years ago we had been shaken by the Bashkhali incident where 11 Hindus were burnt alive in their home. A special investigation committee was formed to find out the facts behind it and bring the criminals to justice. But has the report of that committee been published yet? The case didn't proceed further due to so called 'legal limitations'. This sort of injustice in the earlier incidents has paved the way for the horrific attacks at Ramu, Sathia, Ovoynagar etc. As the attackers know very well that the police will do nothing to them as they may share the booty with their tacit support. Sometimes the greed for more land prompts political leaders to instigate communal hatred against a particular community with false claims of insulting prophet Muhammad (Sm).
The fact is when a religious story has been tagged with this violence, the attackers enjoy immunity. In this case the police has to file charges with anonymous criminals and the cases never end with punishment meted out to the perpretrators. So in each case the existing laws have failed to prevent these communal assaults. In this regard advocate Rana Das Gupta a senior lawyer and an expert on communalism practices in Bangladesh says, “A separate and independent law has to be promulgated to safeguard the minority groups. Till then, the cases of assaulting minorities should be handled with Shontrash Domon Ain (Anti Terrorism Act), Jononirapotta Ain (Public Safety Act) and Druto Bichar Ain. Not only that an independent and empowered commission has to be formed to handle the issues regarding the religious and ethnic minorities.”
Rana Das Gupta also says that political parties have a major role to play. MPs should be made responsible for any occurrence of communal violence in his/her constituency. Political party chiefs should not allow their party workers in the party with any allegation of conducting communal assault.
It is true that despite having a constitution that upholds equality and secularism, now Bangladesh needs a law to prevent the worst form of racism. In many countries racism and communalism have been prevented by separate laws such as Equality Act, 2010 of United Kingdom. The victims of these incidents have also demanded investigations and protection from the United Nations as the national security system has always failed to protect them. Even the conscious Muslims are appalled by the extent of violence.
Jotirmoy Borua, a senior lawyer and activist has put more emphasis on cross religious effort to prevent communal violence. He suggests that a cross religious team, involving volunteers of all religions of the vulnerable area will be responsible to safeguard the properties of the minorities. He also initiated this effort after the Ramu massacre and by this inclusive initiative, security has been ensured in many areas. Alongside the promulgation of a new law and commission to protect minorities this awareness raising approach is essential to prevent violence. This sort of cross religious inclusive approach has to be adopted nationally to make people conscious of other's safety and government's commitment to protect all its citizens.
Preventing communal terrorism requires a national approach. The consequence of communal violence may threaten our national security also. So whether by passing laws or setting up a commission, the crying need is to put a halt to communalism at any cost.