Hindu religious festivals are famous worldwide for their colourfulness, and even with our diminishing numbers we celebrate those festivals like nothing happened to us. The so-called communal harmony in our country has long gone and left us with the rhetoric of harmony to chew it with the residue.
The fundamental element in our daily life has resulted in decreasing the Hindu community from 22% to 6% in the last 43 years, resulting in loss of importance in the politics of the country. There used to be a common conception that the Hindus were the 'vote bank' for the Awami League(AL). They did get friendliness from AL and rejection from BNP (BNP) and Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh. But over time, AL realised that if they relied on a particular religious minority for their politics it could backfire. So they, along with all other political parties, have started attacking the Hindus and looting their houses and business places. This has forced them to either leave the country or face death. AL benefited in both cases; if there was death then they could blame BNP and Jamaat for the atrocities; and if the victims left, AL could grab their properties! BNP and Jamaat leaders had also followed the same path, and they collectively managed to reduce the number of Hindus to 6% in just 43 years' time.
Attacks on temples and festivals have become a common phenomenon. Durga Puja is the prime target for vandalism and creating panic among the locals. The practice has become so widespread now that the Hindus plan to keep back-ups in case their idols fall under attack by the majority. One might task, what about law and order in the country? I don't know which country you are thinking of but I do know now that no law in this country will be able to prevent this happening in the coming years.
Nothing works when it comes to providing protection to the religious and ethnic minority groups in this country. The laws are best read in the books and not in practice. Law enforcers are sometimes part of the atrocity, and local governments seem to become deaf and dumb when it comes to safeguarding the minorities. Between October 1 and December 30, 2002, there had been 355 political killings, 3,270 rape incidents and a large number of arson attacks and looting of the belongings of Hindu families. No question was asked in during the full tenure of the elected political government!
After 8 years, due to an order by the Hon'ble High Court Division in connection with a Writ Petition, a Judicial Inquiry Commission was formed on December 27, 2009. They received 5,571 specific complaints of violence against more than 20,000 accused. The Commission, however, investigated 3,625 complaints. Upon completing the investigation they submitted their report before the Hon'ble High Court on April 29, 2011. The report has never been made public, like all other previous judicial inquiry commission reports. The Official Secrecy Act still plays a vital role!
In a press conference on April 29, 2011, Mr. Moudud Ahmed, a prominent leader of BNP, ruled out the allegation of communal attack on the Hindus and involvement of the BNP activists in the aforesaid rape, looting and vandalism in 2002, and also claimed that those were not communal attacks but fights between AL and BNP activists. Mr. Ahmed's statement essentially involved clear denial and political polarisation, and this has become the trend in the case of all communal attacks against Hindu, Buddhists, Adibashis and the Ahmadis.
Communal violence has an inherent politics, but political violence does not necessarily have to be communal. The two problematic terminologies contributed to some sort of legitimacy of the violent attacks on the religious and ethnic minorities, as if they wouldn't have happened if the politics or hurting of religious belief were not involved in it. The desire of the rulers to hide the ugly truth that there are communal tensions has been the main barrier against finding a way out. The religious sentiment of the minorities had not been evaluated as being the same as the sentiment of the majority people.
This is not the case when it comes to hurting the sentiment of Muslims. The recent comments by the Telecommunication and Information Technology Minister Abdul Latif Siddique against Hajj and the Tablighi Jamaat have given rise to demands for taking stern action against him, including hanging him until death. As a prompt action against such atrocity against Islam, Mr. Siddique has been removed from the ministry and the AL. Several cases have been filed against him in many districts of the country. It is very encouraging to see such prompt action being taken.
It would have been better if insults against all other religious belief were also taken as seriously by the government and the majority people. When some Muslims loot or vandalise temples then the sentiments of the Hindus or Buddhists are also hurt. But the state mechanism seems to become blind in addressing those incidents. Since February 28 to September 28, 2013, in 51 districts, at least 146 Hindu temples were attacked, about 500 Hindu families became homeless, 5 people were killed and 65 were injured. No one raised their voice against this hurting of the sentiments of the Hindus!
In the last two weeks in 15 districts, at least 22 Durga Puja Pandals were vandalised by the local Muslims. bdnews24.com reported on September 27 that 82 out of 408 Puja Pandals at Rajshahi have been declared as risky (important) by the police! This is the scenario in most of the districts. Even after 43 years of our independence, religious festivals of minorities face threat of being attacked by the Muslims. We have to live with this ground reality and unless there is strong action by the majority to protect the minorities and strict adherence to the existing laws, or even enactment of a new one to cover communal violence, it will remain a never-ending problem.
The writer is Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.