Tribunal's rulings against Islamic leaders have sparked weeks of violence
Bangladeshi Hindus suffer in fallout from war crimes
With ash and dust on her face and clothes, Milon Rani Das looks like a refugee. Yet only 10 days ago she had everything -- a neat, tin-roofed house, food, clothes and some savings.
Almost all her belongings were destroyed on March 8 when an angry mob, allegedly made up of local radical Islamists, set her house on fire. She and her two school-age children narrowly escaped death.
“We were sleeping, when suddenly we saw the house was on fire, and I ran out with the two kids,” said Das, 35, a Hindu.
Das fought back tears as she sat in a makeshift camp southeast of Dhaka, where 10 other Hindu families from Uttarda in Comilla district took shelter after the attacks.
Across the country, at least five Hindu men have been killed, hundreds of Hindu homes, temples and businesses have been vandalized, and dozens of Hindu statues smashed in the past three weeks.
“All these years, we have lived peacefully and we have never caused harm to anyone in the village. I don’t know why some people wanted to kill us,” said a heartbroken Das.
Protests have been going on since February 28, when top Islamist political leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee was sentenced to death for war crimes committed during Bangladesh's war for independence. At least 80 people including six policemen have been killed, with scores injured and arrested.
The three main political parties -- the ruling Awami League, main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and Islamic Jamaat -- are pointing fingers at each other over the latest bout of violence. Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir have been accused of orchestrating the attacks.
“The party that tortured minorities during the 1971 war is responsible for the attacks, and we will bring all perpetrators to justice,” said Awami League Home Minister MK Alamgir.
But Jamaat acting chief Mokbul Ahmed said the secular ruling party is responsible for the attacks and is putting the blame on Jamaat for political reasons.
“During AL rule minorities face more violence, and its AL politicians who grab the lands of minorities more than any other party,” Ahmed said.
However, local rights groups say leaders of every party have been responsible for land grabs taking up to 75 percent of the total land previously owned by Hindus.
Rana Dasgupta, a Supreme Court lawyer, says that minorities, mostly Hindus, have been targeted since 1947, when India and Pakistan were partitioned by Britain before independence along religious lines.
“During the Pakistan period Hindus were targeted because of anti-India sentiments and in independent Bangladesh they are tortured for political reasons and land grabbing. For a long time, Hindus have been denied justice, and that encourages recurring violence,” said Dasgupta, secretary of Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikkya Parishad, a major minority forum.
Millions of Hindus have crossed the border to India since the war, going from 30 percent of the population in 1947 to less than 10 percent today.
The recent attacks resemble post-election violence against minorities when the BNP-Jamaat alliance came to power in 2001. That time, too, Hindus were mostly victims and the crimes were largely met with no justice.
Time will tell if Das and her family's attackers will face prosecution. If not, they may join the millions of Hindus who have already fled Bangladesh.
Already, she said, “We feel insecure, as though we are in a foreign country.”
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