Addressing Hate Crime in Bangladesh
Recently, a letter threatening to kill 19 persons including ministers, teachers, cultural activists, Ganajagaran Mancha organisers and bloggers has been sent to the media. Those listed were described as 'satanic bloggers', 'enemies of Islam and madrasa education', 'atheists', and 'Sylhet-haters'. To add the background, four bloggers and online activists, all who wrote against religious extremism have been killed this year 2015 by religious terrorists. So it seems that all of a sudden the bloggers have become a vulnerable social group and victims of hate crime.
In criminology, 'Hate crime' generally refers to criminal acts that are seen to have been motivated by bias against one or more of the types above, or of their derivatives. Incidents may involve killing, physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters. In both crime and law, hate crime (also known as bias-motivated crime) is usually violent, prejudice motivated crime that occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group. Examples of such groups include but are not limited to: ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, nationality, physical appearance, religion, or sexual orientation.
As to refer, hate crime is a serious societal problem found in other states also. Only in USA; more than 7,722 incidents of hate crimes in 2006 have been reported of which about 52 % were directed at people because of their race, 19 % because of the victims' religion, 16 % because of their sexual orientation and 13 % because of their ethnicity or national origin. So it is not new in societies going through transitions and modernization.
Research found that people commit hate crimes for many reasons:
* They are ignorant about people who are different from themselves and intolerant of the difference.
* They need to be able to look down on others in order to compensate for their own low self-esteem and suffering.
* They have been brutalised themselves (though not by their victims) and therefore see brutalising others as fair game.
In case of Bangladesh, though it is officially a secular state, but huge populations are still illiterate. Poverty often means segments of populations lack access to formal education institutions so join the madrasa system of education instead. It is alleged that these institutions are run by clerics who are neither enlightened and nor well read in religious texts. Thus they are easily influenced and dogmatic, and promote a vicious circle of religious intolerance based on rigidity.
If we examine, we find that perpetrators of hate crimes in Bangladesh are young people from poor families, educated from various religious institutions and out of touch of concepts like freedom of expression, cultural diversity, peaceful co-existence and tolerance. Being young, they are immature and due to ignorance, they can easily be motivated. Also the leaders who train them also help them financially and gain their respect. Continuous instigation and direction from childhood makes them unable to think otherwise. In such environment, their belief system gets contaminated and hateful feelings towards any particular group of people get paramount consideration. We find that two bloggers belong to Hindu religion so hatred towards Hinduism can be an associative reason that rationalised their action.
Though the criminal justice system of Bangladesh is trying to prosecute the offenders under the penal code but still special law is needed to address hate-terrors because these are not general cases of murders. Surely these killings are clear violation of right to life under Article-32 of the constitution of Bangladesh and threat to secularism which is one of the basic political philosophies incorporated in our constitution.
To find the solution we can conclude that lack of knowledge is one root cause behind hate crimes. People, who lack exposure to other people, cultures, and diversity, tend to be xenophobic. So the cure is to remove ignorance by introducing an enlightened education system that will allow making informed choices. That education can come from what we learn in school (academic) or what we learn by observing the experiences of others (vicarious) or what we learn from our own experiences (empirical). So we must strive to educate ourselves and be willing to educate others by sharing our knowledge and experience in every educational institution.
The writer is Lecturer in Law, School of Social science, Humanities and Language (SSHL), Bangladesh Open University.