A young man was beaten to death by a stalker at Paschim Sonabaji in Nawabganj of Keraniganj upazila, Bangladesh on Monday night, for allegedly protesting the harassment of his niece. The deceased was identified as Bhakta Chandra Sarker, 22.
Sub-inspector Jalal of Nawabganj police station said Hasan, a local young man, tried to harass Bhakta’s niece Koheli Chandra during a religious Kirtan (group singing of devotional Dharmic songs), at their house around 9 pm. As Bhakta protested the incident, Hasan hit him with a rod, leaving him critically injured. He was taken to Nawabganj Health Complex where doctors declared him dead. Hasan went into hiding after the incident.
Attacks on Hindus and other minorities are common in Bangladesh, a nation with over 90% Muslim population. The Hindu population in Bangladesh has witnessed a steep fall from 22% of total population in 1951 (in then East Pakistan) to under 9% today. An eminent Bangladeshi researcher recently predicted ‘No Hindus will be left (in Bangladesh) after 30 years,’ as he estimated around 774 Hindus flee the country each day to neighboring Bharat, to escape persecution at the hand of the Bangladeshi state and Islamist radicals.
Secularism is one of the four fundamental principles according to the original 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh. The secularism principle was removed from the constitution in 1977 by Ziaur Rahman, replaced with a statement of “absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah”, and Islam was declared the state religion in 1988. In 2010, the Bangladesh Supreme Court restored secularism as one of the basic tenets of the constitution, but pradoxically retained Islam as the state religion. Just last year, the court rejected a 28-year-old petition to revoke the constitutional provision declaring Islam as the state’s religion, much to the disappointment of the nation’s minorities
Bangladesh has witnessed a spate of beheadings of Hindu priests in the last 1 year, coinciding with similar brutal hackings of liberal Muslims and atheist bloggers, by suspected Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Islamic State terrorists. In July 2016, 5 IS jihadis, incidentally well-educated and from rich families, stormed the upscale Gulshan cafe in Dhaka and killed 29 people. One of the dead included 19 year old Bharatiya national Tarishi Jain who was killed as she couldn’t recite from the Quran.
The threat from Islamist terror notwithstanding, low-intensity attacks and persecution of Hindus is rampant in Bangladesh. The country’s democratic politics is divided between the hardline Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which has allied with the Islamist organization Jamaat-e-Islami in the past, and the ‘secular’ Awami League led by PM Sheikh Hasina.
Around Diwali last year, organized mob violence against Hindus started in Brahmanbaria‘s Nasirnagar upazila and soon spread to other parts of the country – 22 temples were demolished and over 200 houses burnt. The trigger was an alleged blasphemous Facebook post by a poor Hindu fisherman Rasraj Das (27). Das was arrested and granted bail after 2 months, when a forensic report showed no evidence that he had posted any photograph on Facebook that hurt religious sentiments.
In Jan, the police arrested the Awami League backed Haripur Union Parishad chairman Dewan Atikur Rahman Akhi in connection with the attack. Awami League Minister Mohammad Sayedul Haque (Minister for Fisheries and Livestock), also MP from Brahmanbaria, visited his constituency 72 hours after the Islamist attacks, and delivered a hate speech abusing Hindus as “Maluyaner Bachyara” (children of Kafirs) and tried to intimidate the media for covering the attacks. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Bangladesh said that the attack was part of a well-orchestrated plan aimed at grabbing lands of the minority community.
Incidentally, despite such egregious violations of human rights of religious minorities in Bangladesh, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a quasi-governmental advisory body in USA, ranks Bharat as a Tier 2 country of ‘particular concern’ whereas Bangladesh ranks lower under ‘Other Countries and Regions Monitored.’
It remains to be seen whether the Government of Bharat will take up the issue of Hindu persecution in Bangladesh when PM Sheikh Hasina comes on a state visit next month.
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