Police ban Hindu war memorial service in Dhaka
Opponents say event was aimed at stoking tensions
Hindu devotees pray inside a temple in Dhaka
A memorial service to honor Hindus killed in the country’s 1971 war of independence was banned by police on Thursday after objections from both Muslim and Hindu groups.
Dhaka police told organizers not to go ahead with the Gana Sraddha ’71, an event organizers said was open to all Bangladeshis, scheduled to take place on Friday at a Hindu temple in Dhaka.
“We banned it since there was the possibility of trouble,” said Masudur Rahman, a joint commissioner of Dhaka police.
Organizers announced the event in early September, but it immediately drew opposition by the Ulema League, a group of Muslim clerics aligned to the ruling Awami League.
One of Ulema’s co-founders, Mujibur Rahman Chisty, later filed a complaint with a Dhaka court opposing the Hindu group using the term ‘martyr’ and for encouraging Muslims to attend a Hindu temple for a religious event.
During Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence against Pakistan, many Hindus were targeted and killed because of anti-Indian sentiments. One such atrocity occurred at the temple in Dhaka where the Gana Sraddha ’71 event was to take place. About 10 million Hindus were forced to flee across the border into India.
Ulema League secretary Abul Hasan said apart from the league’s religious objections, they were also concerned the event had political motives, given the tensions surrounding the war crimes tribunal involving leading members of the opposition.
“The Hindu leaders behind this program are closely linked to the opposition BNP [Bangladesh Nationalist Party] and fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami Party. It seems the program was a political ploy to stir up trouble,” Hasan said.
Mrinal Kanti Das, a Hindu and ruling Awami League official said the authorities were concerned the event would be used to create unrest.
“We have information that opposition BNP and Jamaat … were planning to use the service to spread anti-government propaganda and violence. Hindus who are supporting the radical opposition are working for their own vested interests, they don’t represent majority of Hindus in the country,” he said.
BNP and Jamaat leaders were not available to comment on the allegation.
Joyanta Kumar Sen, one of the ceremony’s organizers, called the allegations groundless.
“This is a religious ceremony open to the public and we have no political motivation. Every religion has martyrs and there is nothing wrong when it is used for Hindus.”
However, a major Hindu group also voiced opposition to the event, saying it goes against traditional Hindu teachings and anti-secular in nature.
“According to Hindu scriptures sraddha for a dead person can only be arranged by relatives or local villagers. There is no such thing as a mass sraddha,” said Rana Dasgupta, a leader of the National Hindu Mohajote and a Supreme Court lawyer.
“Moreover, setting Hindu martyrs aside from non-Hindus who died during the war is an ill-motivated move to create divisions based on religion,” he said.
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