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Bangladeshi Hindus edgy as they welcome demon slaying goddess

Fear of possible violence by hardliners gripped minority Hindus in Muslim-majority Bangladesh at the start of five-day Durga Puja, the biggest annual Hindu religious festival.

Published: October 20, 2023 11:02 AM GMT

Updated: October 20, 2023 11:03 AM GMT

Tension mounted in Bangladesh following hate speeches and violence targeting minority Hindus ahead of Durga Puja, the biggest annual Hindu religious festival that began today.

The untoward incidents days before the five-day festival led to a confrontation between Hindu groups and the ruling Awami League government. Last Sunday, Hindu leader Tapan Baksi filed a case against 400-500 unidentified people, mostly members of the ruling party’s youth and student fronts, for an attack on a protest rally of Hindus in southeast Cumilla district that left three Hindus hurt.

The Hindus were protesting a “defamatory” remark by Muslim lawmaker AKM Bahauddin Bahar from the ruling party who urged Hindus to hold “an alcohol-free Durga Puja.” Last month, the Muslim mayor of Munshganj district sparked uproar after he called a Hindu lawmaker with a slang term for Hindus.

This week, state-run Islamic Foundation came under criticism after it asked government officials to limit the use of loudspeakers and trumpets during Muslim prayers. Hindu groups have expressed fear of violence and vandalism during Durga Puja like 2021 when about 100 Puja venues and Hindu houses were attacked over false allegation of Quran desecration.

Bangladeshi Hindus stage a demonstration to protest religious violence in capital Dhaka on Oct. 18, 2021

Bangladeshi Hindus stage a demonstration to protest religious violence in capital Dhaka on Oct. 18, 2021. (Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)

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Catholic Church leaders have welcomed a verdict by India’s Supreme Court declining to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages. The top court on Tuesday refused to legalize same-sex marriages but stated the country had a duty to acknowledge lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer relationships and to protect them from discrimination.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government opposed the bunch of petitions seeking to legalize same-sex partnerships in the five years since the Supreme Court struck down colonial-era laws banning gay sex.

An Indian same-sex couple walks outside their home with their adopted children in Bengaluru on Feb. 11. The Supreme Court on Oct. 17 declined to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages, leaving it to the parliament and state legislatures to create such institutions and grant them legal validation. (Photo: AFP)

Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council spokesperson issued a statement favouring court order terming it as “most appropriate”. “The church does not recognize such unions” because the church teaches the union of marriage is between a man and a woman, he further stated.

Lawyers for several same-sex couples urged the court earlier this year to grant their relationships full legal recognition, but the five-member bench ruled that extending marriage equality was a parliamentary decision. A Pew survey in June suggested 53 percent of Indian adults favored same-sex marriage while 43 percent opposed it.

The Sri Lankan Catholic Church and rights groups have joined media organizations and political parties to challenge the legality of the government’s “online safety bill” listed for debate in the parliament.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith filed a petition in the Supreme Court pointing certain clauses in the draft law seriously curtail freedom of speech and fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.

In this photo illustration taken on June 20, 2021, a user checks out a social media post on his laptop in Colombo after Sri Lanka's military launched an investigation after social media posts showed soldiers humiliating minority Muslims by forcing them to kneel on the streets during Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown. (Photo: AFP)

The bill reportedly proposes to compel social media platforms to divulge the identities of anonymous users who post information that government regulators consider to be "false" or “offensive.” It stipulates a five-year prison sentence for social media users and a 10 million rupee or 31,000 US dollars fine on social media platforms for non-compliance.

Rights groups have called it “a wholesale effort” to stifle criticism of the beleaguered government that has been under fire for failing to tackle the worst economic crisis and ongoing rights abuses. Cardinal Ranjith urged the Supreme Court to order a referendum on the issue and ensure the bill cannot be approved by parliament without a two-thirds majority vote.

Nearly two months after 22 churches and 91 Christian houses were burned down; the Christian neighborhood in Jaranwala of Pakistan’s Punjab province has witnessed a mass wedding ceremony of 11 Christian couples.

Catholic bishops blessed couples at the inter-faith ceremony last Friday.  Gifts including furniture and household items were exchanged and jubilant grooms performed Punjabi cultural dance accompanied by the beating of the traditional drum. The event came weeks after a Muslim mob attacked Jaranwala over the alleged desecration of the Quran.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw blesses a couple at a mass wedding ceremony on Oct. 13 in Jaranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province, nearly two months after an anti-Christian riot destroyed 91 Christian houses. (Photo: Catholic TV Pakistan)

Families of the brides thanked the organizers for the much needed support. Mass weddings are common among Pakistan’s poor due to their inability to pay dowry, the money or jewelry grooms demand from the bride's family. 

Muslim charity, Allah Waly Trust, served food for 1,400 guests, while Christian Business Fellowship Pakistan arranged the dowry for 11 Christian brides for the latest mass wedding.

A lawmaker in the Philippines has proposed granting tax exemption to public school teachers as a non-wage benefit to attract more qualified teachers in the education sector.

In a press statement on Tuesday, legislator Rufus Rodriguez asked the government to adequately compensate public school teachers because they are among the lowest-paid government employees. According to the Asian Labor Review journal, out of 847,467 public school teachers in the Philippines, 93.3 percent get less than a livable wage.

A teacher guides her students before a nationwide earthquake drill at the Rafael Palma Elementary School in Manila on Sept. 8, 2022. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE/AFP)

The journal reported that public school teachers of the lowest rank, which accounts for 52.7 percent of the teaching population, receive up to 26,733 pesos or 472 US dollars monthly salary.

On the contrary, a Filipino household with five members requires around 21 US dollars to cover their daily expenses while a public schoolteacher receives around 15 US dollars per day. The proposed bill will provide tax exemptions to teachers on multiple levels.

Catholic Church leaders have called on Indonesian government to ensure safe and dignified return of thousands of people displaced by conflict in the Christian-majority Papua region.

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In a joint statement last Sunday, the Justice and Peace Secretariat of four dioceses – Jayapura, Agats, Manokwari-Sorong and Timika – and Franciscans and Augustinians Order, urged the government to conduct “meaningful consultations” before returning the displaced person to their homelands. They criticized the government for being slow on addressing the plight of displaced people in Papua.

Church leaders are seen with people displaced by conflict in Indonesia's Papua region during a recent visit. (Photo supplied)

In the statement, the dioceses have challenged the government’s claim in media reports that “the refugees had returned to their home villages.” Recently, the government told the media that all of some 45,000 people displaced by conflict since 2018 have returned home.

However, the church groups said their visit to the camps showed 5,296 people were still in temporary camps. Father Izhaak Bame from Manokwari-Sorong Diocese said he met the refugees facing many difficulties in refugee camps.

Authorities have banned the teaching and use of the Tibetan language in elementary and middle schools in two Tibetan-populated regions in southwestern Sichuan province.

This move, according to what is reported, threatens Tibetan culture and identity. The ban has been enforced in government-run schools in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture starting with the fall semester that began in September. The order requires all instruction in schools to be in Mandarin Chinese.

Students are seen in a classroom at the Lhasa Nagqu Second Senior High School in Lhasa, in China's Tibet Autonomous Region, on June 1, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Tibetan activists fear the move could lead to the extinction of the language in the regions — and could endanger its viability across the country. The government termed the move as an effort to raise education standards in schools. Tibetan activists countered it as “soft atrocity” that aims to eradicate the Tibetan language and culture.

The move is reportedly part of a wider crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party under its controversial “sinicization” campaign seeking to restrict and eradicate the language and culture of minority groups such as Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans.

Japan’s controversial Unification Church has criticized the government for asking a court to de-recognize the church as a religious corporation, calling the move a “death penalty.”

During a press conference on Monday in Tokyo, the church officials alleged the move by the government was “completely out of line” as it violates the church's rights as a religious entity. They said the church refutes all the alleged dubious financial practices.

The logo of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), known as the Unification Church, is seen at the entrance of its Japan branch headquarters in Tokyo on Oct. 13. (Photo: AFP)

The church’s reaction came after Japan’s education ministry last week submitted a request at the Tokyo District Court seeking the dissolution of the church and removal of its approval as a religious corporation.

The church has been accused of pressuring its followers into making hefty donations, and its members have been blamed for child neglect. It came under heavy scrutiny after Tetsuya Yamagami assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last July. Yamagami reportedly said he targeted Abe for his ties to the church. Yamagami claimed his family faced economic hardships after his mother made hefty donations to the church.

More than 1,000 people from shelter camps in a strife-torn southern Shan state of Myanmar have shifted to safer places following heavy rains and flooding.

Heavy rainfall since last week led to the release of excess water from the Mobye dam, affecting the camps and paddy fields that were under cultivation. The town is home to 30,000 people, half of whom are Christians. The residents have been living in Mobye after fighting between the military and rebel groups increased in 2021.

Residents move to safer places after heavy rains in Myanmar's Bago region on Oct. 9. (Photo: AFP)

Media reports say flooding has inundated several regions such as Bago, Mandalay, Yangon, and Mon. More than 27,000 people from the Bago region in southern Myanmar were evacuated to temporary camps and around 2,800 homes sustained damage.

The United Nations reported that more than 1.9 million people remain displaced in conflict-torn Myanmar.

Thousands rallied across the Arab and Muslim world on Wednesday to protest the deaths of hundreds of people in a strike on a Gaza hospital that they blamed on Israel, despite its denials.

Condemnation was widespread across the region and angry crowds gathered after calls from Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and Palestinian factions for mass mobilization.

Protesters clash with Lebanese security forces outside the US Embassy in Awkar east of Beirut, during a demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, on Oct. 18. (Photo: AFP)

"Death to America, death to Israel," hundreds of protesters chanted in Lebanon’s capital Beirut. Protesters took to the streets of the West Bank city of Ramallah and Nablus, shouting "Free, free Palestine."

Similar protests were held in various Muslim nations including Bahrain, Turkey, Tunisia, Libya, and Jordan. Israel and Palestinian militants have traded blame for the hospital strike late Tuesday, with the Israeli army saying it had "evidence" that the militants were responsible.

The Israel-Palestine conflict reignited after Palestinian militant group, Hamas, carried out a deadly attack on October 7 followed by retaliatory attacks from Israeli forces, leaving thousands killed.

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