Election brings back trauma for survivors
It has now been over a month that Bhajan (not the real name) travelled to Munshiganj with his family. He doesn't get enough work to make a living there, but he feels it is safer than his home in Monirampur of Jashore ahead of the upcoming national election.
Newly-wed Bhajan and his wife used to live in a small hut in a remote place between Monirampur and adjacent Abhoynagar upazila five years back. Some 9-10 people attacked the couple and another Hindu family the night after voting for the 2014 national election ended .
“Nothing happened earlier to alert us . We were completely caught off-guard,” Bhajan said over the phone last week.
On that fateful night of January 5, 2014, Bhajan's wife and another woman of the family next door were raped.
Why did they become a target?
Bhajan said, “They [attackers] were asking us, 'Did you go to cast your vote?”
As the next day's sun appeared on the horizon laying bare their wounds and humiliation, the families left their homes with whatever belongings they had, and went to live in a relative's house temporarily in another upazila.
Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, a forum for secular Bangladesh and trial of war criminals, has identified 61 places across the country including Monirampur and Abhoynagar, where it fears that minorities, especially Hindus, may be attacked in polls-related violence this time.
It is assumed that members of the Hindu community vote for “boat”, election symbol of the ruling Awami League, said Shahriar Kabir, president of Nirmul Committee. “So activists and supporters of BNP-Jamaat swoop on the minority community.” There were attacks around the 2001 national election on the minority community, on a large scale.
Hindu voters account for between 12 and 48 percent of all voters in the localities vulnerable to pre- and post-polls communal attacks, according to data assembled by Nirmul Committee.
Those who are poor and belong to lower castes like Dalits and Harijans are at highest risk of communal attacks, Shahriar added.
Determined to not allow incidents like those of 2014 to repeat, Nirmul Committee in recent months communicated the gravity of safety issue to the Election Commission and the National Human Rights Commission.
In a letter to the NHRC on November 13, it said that though communally-charged campaigning is prohibited before election, Jamaat-e-Islami and like-minded parties use religion to gain political advantage.
They deliver political speeches at waz mahfils (religious gatherings) and during sermons before Jumma prayers. “They create the grounds for violence by running hate campaigns against the history and spirit of the Liberation War, Bangladesh's constitution, women, free thinkers and other religions,” Shahriar Kabir said.
In response, the NHRC wrote to the EC, suggesting that it should take special supervisory measures in the vulnerable areas and resist attacks on religious minorities, women and transgender voters before and after polls.
Not leaving the matter only to the authorities, Nirmul Committee has already formed 52 “communal violence prevention committees” in as many risky areas. It aims to have one such committee in every vulnerable area, headed by respected people of the localities like imams of mosques, priests of temples and school teachers.
One legal aid committee and one medical aid committee will also be ready to mobilise support from districts to victims of any violence and attack, Shahriar said.
In a recent programme, Prime Minister's International Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi promised that police and administration would be on high alert to foil any attack on minorities in the run-up to December 30 polls and afterwards.
All these assurances, however, fall flat with survivors of previous attacks -- like Bhajan -- scrambling for refuge.
January 2014 was the last time his family left the village, scarred for life. As time closes in on the 11th national election, the couple, who have a three-year-old girl now, have taken preemptive measures, even if it meant leaving their jobs at Noapara Jute Mill in Abhoynagar.
Silence resonates through Bhajan's empty house, that the government built for them weeks after the 2014 attack.