At least eight people have been killed in Bangladesh over the past week since clashes broke out after Hindu temples in India’s neighbouring country were vandalised during Durga Puja celebrations.
According to media reports from Bangladesh, the incidents of vandalism started on October 13, even as people are questioning the role of the government in making efforts to curb the violence. The United Nations has stepped in and asked Bangladesh to ensure minorities are protected. It has also asked the Sheikh Hasina-led government to launch an impartial probe in the recent communal violence.
Bangladesh UN resident coordinator Mia Seppo tweeted: “Recent attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh fueled by hate speech on social media, are against the values of the Constitution and need to stop. We call upon government to ensure protection of minorities and an impartial probe. We call upon all to join hands to strengthen inclusive tolerant Bangladesh."
Recent attacks on Hindus in🇧🇩 fueled by hate speech on social media, are against the values of the Constitution and need to stop. We call upon Government to ensure protection of minorities and an impartial probe. We call upon all to join hands to strengthen inclusive tolerant🇧🇩— Mia Seppo (@MiaSeppo) October 18, 2021
In the attacks during Durga Puja, mandaps, pandals and temples were vandalised in Comilla on the afternoon of October 13, after the alleged desecration of Quran by placing it at the feet of a Durga idol at a pandal.
Police and administration have tried to bring the situation under control, but the clashes have left at least 40 people, including police personnel injured, according to Dhaka Tribune.
According to media reports, violence erupted after an alleged blasphemy incident at a Durga Puja pavilion in Comilla, bordering Chandpur and about 100 km from capital Dhaka. At first, the mandap was vandalised. Incidents of vandalism have also been reported from Hindu temples in Chandpur’s Hajiganj, Chattogram’s Banshkhali and Cox’s Bazar’s Pekua.
On October 17, 20 Hindu households were allegedly burnt to the ground by “radical Islamists” in Pirganj of Rangpur district. A total of 66 families have been victims of arson attacks. Police said this happened over allegations of a Hindu man posting abusive religious content on Facebook. Vandalism and arson were also reported in Karimpur, Kasba and Uttarpara areas.
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Prime Minister Hasina has, however, assured strict action against those who incited violence. She said, “People who incited violence will be hunted down and given appropriate punishments to prevent any recurrence of such incidents."
“People of all religions shall live together in Bangladesh," she added.
Authorities have registered 71 cases in connection with the violence during Durga Puja. At least 42 people have been detained in connection with the Rangpur incident. Bangladesh has also claimed that the main culprit in the Comilla incident has been detained.
Besides, Bangladeshi citizens and free-minded intellectuals have also taken to the streets. Close to 10,000 Muslims protested outside the main mosque in Dhaka on October 16. They demanded punishment for the culprits, while many were also seen protesting in Rangpur and Chittagong.
Bangladeshi celebrities have also condemned the violence on social media. Chanchal Chowdhury, a well-known face in the world of drama in Bangladesh, wrote, “How happy was bijaya… there is nothing left to say!! Humanity will be immersed in similar way… inhumans beings are determined to destroy both religion and peace… If people live, religion will live, the world will live…" (sic)
Former Bangladesh cricket captain Mashrafe Mortaza has also reacted to the communal violence. “Yesterday, I saw two losses. One Bangladesh cricket team’s, which pained me. The other being the whole of Bangaldesh’s, something that shattered my heart. This red and green (colours of the flag signifying the nation) is not what we wanted. So many dreams, so many hard-earned lives lost in a flash," he said.
Bangladeshi actor Jaya Ahsan, who has also worked in numerous films at Kolkata, condemned the violence, saying, “This valley of death is not my country. The exhilaration of hangmen is not mine. This huge crematorium is not my country. This bloodstained slaughterhouse is not mine."
Well-known filmmaker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, singer Asif Akbar, Prof Kamrul Hasan Mamun and several others also took to social media to denounce the attacks and demand punishment for the culprits.
On October 18, hundreds of students and teachers at Dhaka University and other institutions also blocked a major road crossing in the capital city in protest against the communal violence.
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With elections inching closer in Bangladesh, such incidents are bound to surface in an attempt to showcase the failure of the Hasina-led government.
While main opposition leader Khaleda Zia is now in jail, many in Hasina’s party Awami League have alleged that the violence was supported by Zia supporters.
The incidents of violence have left the Hasina political camp in disarray. While some are alleging Pakistani links, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has also directly attacked the Hasina-led government
Senior BNP leader Mirza Abbas on Tuesday said there must be a strong resistance against communal violence and the plot to dent the country’s image. “If we can’t resist it, our independence and sovereignty will be at stake… We have to strongly prevent it,” he said.
“When our leader Khaleda Zia was the prime minister, Ramadan fasting and puja were observed together thrice in this country. There was no communal violence at that time,” he added.
India has called the violence in Bangladesh “disturbing". The Indian High Commission along with consulates are in close contact with the Bangladesh government and local authorities.
However, ISKCON followers in Kolkata sang bhajans and protested outside Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata, after an incident where an ISKCON temple at Noakhali in Bangladesh was vandalised and a follower was killed by a mob.