2001 still haunts Hindus in Barisal | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 29, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 29, 2008

2001 still haunts Hindus in Barisal

Sixteen hours before polls, the Hindus in Shuktagar Union Parishad in Jhalakathi-1 constituency were still confused about casting votes as a new trend of intimidation has been introduced.
They have not forgotten the night before the eighth parliamentary election in 2001 which brought them some horrible experiences. The musclemen of former BNP lawmaker Shahjahan Omar, a graft accused, swooped on them with lethal weapons, trained guns on the men, assaulted the women and guarded their houses so that they couldn't go to poll centres.
The Hindus said those who dared to start for the polling centres were blocked on the way and beaten up irrespective of gender.
Anil, who made it to the polling centre, was stripped off his clothes in a public gathering during a victory meeting of BNP the next day, they added.
Shahjahan was so cruel to the community that even the poor among them had to pay his musclemen toll during wedding of their daughters to save them from being snatched from the bridal stage.
Most of those musclemen prevail. And some of those whisper to the ears of the helpless Hindus that it's not certain who would come to power and the army won't save them throughout the year.
"We will know who of you have voted for Boat and who for Sheaf of Paddy," said a whisper in the ears of the Hindu community.
When approached, none of the Hindus, however, dared to talk about the issue yesterday evening despite repeated attempts.
Finally, a BNP activist, who is also a victim of Shahjahan Omar's gang, after seeing the ID card helped this correspondent win the trust of a Hindu family.
"We cannot say whether we can vote as everything changes at the night before polls," said a middle-aged member of the family.
"We can say it for sure after the night tomorrow and once we safely reach the polling centre," added the mid-aged farmer. He stressed the necessity of special security on their way to and from the polling booths.
Requesting not to publish his name he continued, "If my name is mentioned, that might cost either my life or my honour or both."
The atmosphere is different this year and the Hindus were hoping for a change. But a comment of local UP Chairman Abul Kalam Azad has buried all their hopes again.
"Those who support Boat won't be allowed a piece of earth in my union," the farmer quoted Azad as threatening them at a recent public meeting.
Azad became chairman in a "selection" process as he did not let anyone stand against him during the BNP-led alliance rule.
A report came in the evening that Azad's supporters, known as cadres of Sohel-Nayan Bahini backed by Shahjahan, were entering the area with lethal weapons as well as money.
Rumours were rife that the musclemen would use money to woo the Hindu voters but keep the weapons for an alternative if the first approach fails.
The rumours added another shade of fear in the Hindus, who might not vote today.
Suktagar is not the only place in the region where the Hindus are suppressed ahead of or during the elections. The people of minority community in Barisal are usually not allowed to cast their votes for long as they are considered the vote bank of Awami League.
There is no official estimate how many Hindu voters are in the district. But candidate sources say 45 percent of the voters in Barisal-1, 30 percent in Barisal-2, and about 5 percent each in Barisal 3, 4, and 6 constituencies are Hindus. Another count says there are around 30,000 Hindu voters in Barisal-5.
The number of voters in these constituencies is about 1.98 lakh, 2.26 lakh, 1.83 lakh, 2.36 lakh, 2.94 lakh and 1.83 lakh respectively.
The voters of the metropolis under Barisal-5 don't face much trouble, but the problem is severe in some other places.
Around 20,000 Hindu voters in Uzirpur and Banaripara under Barisal-2 are reportedly under risk as they were repressed in 2001.
Hindu voters in Gouranadi and Agailjhara under Barisal-1 and Bakerganj under Barisal-6 fell victim to attacks in 2001 and mostly failed to cast their votes.

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