Whose purpose is being served by communal riots?
The remnants of the spate of communal attacks that shook the country nearly four weeks ago is still prevalent. From discussions and criticism, to analyses of the events as well as the events behind those events—all are happening in different spheres. However, it is safe to say that Bangladesh has managed to stand against the push of communal violence this time. The vultures working behind the scenes wanted bloodshed between Muslims and Hindus in the country, ready to happily feast on the bloodied remains, but because of the vigilance of the government and the people, their hopes remained unfulfilled—to some extent, at least.
Almost 90 percent of the country's people are Muslims. Of the rest, most of the people are Hindus. Hindus and Muslims in this country, who are devoted to their respective faiths, have been coexisting peacefully for ages, save for occasional tensions and unrest. One of the exceptions was 1971, during the Liberation War, when a large number of Hindus were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in the neighbouring country. But that was mostly the Pakistani aggressors' doing.
On October 13 this year, the reckoning of the opportunistic rogues was clear. Place a copy of the Quran at the feet of the idol of a Hindu deity at a Puja mandap. Then provoke the Muslims by going live on Facebook. Their expected reaction was riots everywhere. However, their calculation proved to be wrong due to the traditional non-communal character of the people of this country. Although there was some tension in the districts surrounding Cumilla, where the incident happened, and a few other incidents of attacks on Hindus followed in other districts, like Rangpur, no one—not the government or the opposition, the right wing or left wing, or even the well-known religious groups—supported these heinous attacks. In addition, various organisations came together at different places in support of communal harmony, and gave out a clear message: bigotry has no place in Bangladesh. The attacks in Rangpur, far away from the scene in Cumilla, was somewhat intriguing. Many feel that as the administration set up strict security cordons in Cumilla and the surrounding districts, and the mischievous group failed to take advantage of the situation, they chose this far-flung district to achieve their objectives.
However, there are some questions that are unanswered. While the OC of the nearest police station in Cumilla was busy picking up the copy of the Quran from the spot, a person not far away was live-streaming it on Facebook. Was the OC aware of it? Wouldn't it have been wise to have anticipated the kind of reaction such an incident would incite if the video was spread on Facebook? It was necessary to arrest the man who was live-streaming right away. Could the local administration have tightened security a little quicker to neutralise the situation in the area and in the surrounding districts? Was there an opportunity to avoid the casualties in the hands of the law enforcement forces in Chandpur? Could political and social organisations in the areas have been quicker to take an effective attempt to ease tensions? Could a statement have been issued by people in responsible positions on an urgent basis, in order to maintain peace and order in the face of provocation on Facebook?
There are some more frustrating aspects of this situation. Although the political and social organisations in the country—be it the government or the political opposition—expressed their strong support for communal harmony, they were also busy blaming each other. Undoubtedly, the main responsibility of maintaining peace and order lies with the government. The political opposition also needs to play a constructive role here. It is very clear, from the nature of the incident in question, that it was a well-planned conspiracy by some anti-state force, who chose the biggest religious festival of the Hindu community in the country to create a communal strife. It is not far-fetched to assume that there was involvement of some external forces against the interests of Bangladesh. Is it not necessary, in such a situation, to forget political conflicts and speak with a united voice?
Another cause of concern is that, when everyone in Bangladesh is trying to restore communal harmony, the extremist forces in the neighbouring country are using the incidents in Bangladesh to create chaos there. It was quite evident in the frontier states, especially Tripura. Subramanian Swamy, one of the senior leaders in India's ruling party, called on the Indian government to invade Bangladesh in the wake of the recent communal violence (The Week, October 18, 2021). Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a right-wing Hindu organisation and a close ally of the ruling BJP, wrote to the United Nations, the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and the European Union, urging them to set up an international inquiry commission in Bangladesh to investigate the violence against Hindus, send a fact-finding mission, and press the Bangladesh government to ensure security, justice and compensation for the victims of the violence (India Today, October 23, 2021).
Obviously, these are not auspicious signs at all. It may be worth mentioning here that the present government of India has been trying, for several years, to push a large section of Muslim inhabitants of the border states of India into Bangladesh by identifying them as illegal immigrants under various pretexts. In this context, even though the Indian government has not directly blamed the Bangladesh government for the recent communal tensions, would it be unreasonable to think that the attempts to incite unrest in the border states are part of a larger plan by some quarters to push the Bengali Muslim population there to Bangladesh as refugees? This question may arise especially because those who are trying to create communal conflict there are basically affiliated with the ruling BJP or its allies. Bangladesh is already overwhelmed with the burden of over a million Rohingya refugees who were forcefully displaced because of Myanmar's state violence. Is the country in a position to open another refugee front on the Indian border?
It is clear that communal conflict—in Bangladesh or in India—will bring no benefit to this country. Despite many changes at different times in the axis of power, Bangladesh has never deviated from the principle of "Friendship to all, malice towards none" in its foreign policy, introduced by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Keep in mind, however, that this principle can only make sense for a country if it stands on its own two feet on a solid foundation. Only the unity of all citizens, irrespective of race and religion, can give such a solid foundation to a country. Only when a nation is united can it dare to look eye to eye at the outside world. In 1971, this nation was able to defeat the well-equipped Pakistan Army because of the steely unity of people from all walks of life under the leadership of Bangabandhu. The strength of the nation depends on that same unity today as well. Communal conflicts can only be desired by those who don't want to see this country in a strong position. The patriotic forces must always keep their eyes and ears open in this regard.
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is the chairman of the Department of Pharmacy at Jahangirnagar University.