A Growing Religious Divide in Bangladesh

With a muslim majority, Bangladesh houses a population of around 165 million, out of which only 9% constitute of Hindus. As the minority group continues to deteriorate in size, religious violence has become a recurring sight in the country. A research conducted by Professor Abul Brakat from Dhaka University indicates that an estimated 750 Hindus flee Bangladesh everyday in hope for a better future and economic conditions. Once making up 30% of the Bangladeshi population in 1947, a rapid decline in the minority presence has been recorded, as instances of religious violence increased.



Following an alleged leaked video of the Quran (the holy book of Islam) being supposedly placed at the feet of a statue of a Hindu goddess during the Durga Puja festival, a series of gory attacks unfolded. Houses of Hindu citizens in numerous districts across the country were attacked, leaving six dead, and many more injured.


Days after the attacks, a Hindu advocacy group known as ‘International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ alongside various other rights groups and Hindu activists staged large-scale protests in the Bangladeshi national capital of Dhaka. Accompanied by students and teachers from Dhaka University, the protesters demand justice.



Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has long portrayed the image of being a ‘minority-friendly’ leader, advocating for equality. With rising instances of violence against the Hindu minority, international pressure from world leaders, coupled with immense public scrutiny on the Prime Minister’s Awami League government, continues to build. The United Nations Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh, Mia Seppo, has further urged the government to ensure the protection of all minority groups and initiate an “impartial probe into the incidents.” The United States has further stated that “Freedom of religion or belief in a human right. [...] The State department condemns the recent reports of attacks on the Hindu community in Bangladesh.” International organisations, including Amnesty international, have also publicly condemned the acts of violence and have called upon the Bangladeshi government to take strict action against the perpetrators of the crimes.


With the majority of the fleeing Hindu population seeking asylum in India, the reaction to the recent attacks has left certain sections of the Indian community in a flurry, as they express disappointment over the Indian government’s response to the attacks. Pro-democracy groups and activists urge Prime Minister Modi to collaborate with Dhaka to eliminate the threats posed by religious fundamentalism while maintaining good relations with its neighbour on the east. Official statements from the Indian government are yet to be made. However, sections of the public call for the Indian Prime Minister to ensure that the attackers are penalised for their actions.


Such violence and prejudice against minority groups has been a longstanding challenge for Bangladesh. The local human rights group ‘Ain o Salish Kendra’ has recorded over 3,600 attacks against the Hindu minority since 2013. Over 1,670 cases of vandalism have been recorded with an estimated 440 houses becoming subject to arson targeting. The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) suggests the number of attacks may be a lot higher than what has been recorded thus far.



Testimonials of the Hindu population suggest that the intention behind such attacks is to reduce the minority population in Bangladesh by driving people away from their homes. Such attacks going unpunished have sparked major security concerns for minority populations. Though Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had previously vowed to investigate all occurring violence, perpetrators of the attacks remain unpunished and no consequences or laws to ensure the protection of the people have been put in place. Blaming religious fundamentalism, the Prime Minister faces great pressure for action to be taken, as the recent attacks gain an international spotlight.


Rana Dasgupta, the general secretary of the BHBCUC, reveals that the Hindu minority are prevented from receiving any legal recourse, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. She states that the police do not permit the minority group to file any complaints, while investigations that do get recognised, often weaken over time; releasing perpetrators with no charges.



 

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