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Blasphemy charges stoke fear among Bangladeshi minority teachers

A number of Hindu teachers have been accused of defaming Islam and Prophet Muhammad in the Muslim-majority nation

Leaders and members of minority groups march in capital Dhaka on Oct. 16, 2021, to demand justice for communal attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh

Leaders and members of minority groups march in capital Dhaka on Oct. 16, 2021, to demand justice for communal attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh. (Photo supplied)

Published: February 01, 2023 12:25 PM GMT

Updated: February 01, 2023 01:06 PM GMT

Blasphemy allegations against Hindu teachers in Bangladesh have prompted Church officials to conduct programs to make teachers and students in Catholic-run institutions vigilant against increasing fanaticism in the Muslim-majority country.

Joyti F. Gomes, secretary of the Bangladesh Catholic Education Board, said religious minorities are concerned about emerging religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh.

“When we have meetings with teachers, and management of Catholic-run schools, we make them aware of this religious fundamentalism, ask them to be aware,” Gomes told UCA News.

“Recently, we have been doing more and more such seminars where teachers and parents are asking to be aware,” he added.

According to the board, the Catholic Church runs a university, 15 colleges, and 580 primary or high schools having some 100,000 students, most of them Muslims.

The awareness campaign in Catholic schools intensified after a series of blasphemy cases were leveled against Hindu teachers by Muslim students and parents, which reportedly triggered fear among Catholics.

In the latest case on Jan. 29, Newton Sarker, a Hindu biology teacher at Deyapara Model Secondary in southwestern Jessore district was temporarily suspended after Muslim students and parents protested inside the school campus demanding action against the teacher.

The protesters alleged that Sarkar hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims by insulting Islam and Prophets during a science class for students in eighth grade.

Quoting his eighth-grader son, Ali Mohammad, a local Muslim, alleged that Sarkar insulted Islam by denying the existence of prophets.

During the class on Jan. 25, Sarkar said that he does not know "if there were prophets in Islam. Science does not believe this. Humans originated from monkeys," Ali told UCA News.

Sarkar dismissed the allegations and said his words have been manipulated.

“I talked about the reality of science... I spoke about the need to honor Gods and Prophets in every religion with respect,” Sarker told UCA News.

Sarkar said he is now afraid of mobs attacking him and his family.

“I live in fear. I have not said anything that goes against the religion, I respect all religions,” he added.

Following the protest, the school formed two probe committees to investigate the incident.

"We have started the investigation process, the teacher is temporarily suspended.  If he is found guilty in the investigation, we will take legal action and if he is found innocent, he will be reinstated in his work,” a government education officer and head of a probe committee told UCA News.

There is no exact data on how many Hindu teachers have been accused of blasphemy. Local media reported several cases over the years.

Bangladesh does not have a blasphemy law, but its British colonial-era Penal Code makes ‘hurting religious sentiments’ a punishable offense.

In March last year, Hriday Mandal a teacher in the central Munshiganj district was arrested and sent to jail after his students accused him of defaming Islam. He was later released after a probe committee found no credible evidence against him.  

On June 18, Hindu teacher Swapan Kumar Biswas in the southwestern Narail district was garlanded with shoes, a symbol of social disrespect after he was accused of blasphemy.

He allegedly protected a Hindu student who made a post on Facebook reportedly offending Islam.

On May 13, 2016, Shyamal Kanti Bhakta, headmaster of Peer Sattar Latif High School in Narayanganj district near the capital Dhaka, was suspended on an allegation of hurting the 'religious sentiments' of Muslims.

He was forced to resign from his job and made to squat holding his ears publicly, a gesture of unconditional apology in Bangladesh.

A probe later found Bhakta was targeted by a local Muslim politician for not agreeing to make politically-affiliated appointments in the school.

The humiliation of Bhakta sparked widespread public outrage, prompting the government to initiate legal action against the perpetrators.

While religious fundamentalists target Hindu teachers for vested interests, they enjoy impunity even if the accusation is proven false, which encourages the extremists, says Monindra Kumar Nath, a Hindu leader.

Nath is also the joint secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Unity Council, the country’s largest religious minority forum.

“Since we are a minority, a fundamentalist group of the majority of Muslims can easily create public opinion against us and slander Hindu teachers. But unfortunately, when the allegations are disproved, no action is taken against the complainants,” he told UCA News.

Nath alleged that Islamic extremists cannot accept that Hindus are gaining social prominence despite being a minority, so they continue to look for an opportunity to suppress them.

Besides, Bangladesh has seen a rise in communal attacks against Hindus, the largest religious minority group, over the past few years. 

As Hindu teachers continue to be targeted, teachers from other minority groups also fear the same fate, said a Christian teacher who asked not to be named.

“We are now afraid to speak up in the classroom because we don't know how they will blame us in this Muslim-majority country. So we are not sure what to say or not in the class,” the science teacher told UCA News.

“This fear is not only in me but also in all my teacher friends who are from the minority community,” the teacher added.


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1 Comments on this Story
it is a CRIME TO MAKE FALSE ACCUSATIONS. this has been going on in bangladesh and india by the majority who take advantage of the minorities educational institutions to get better education and instead of being grateful for the benefits received, turn TRAITORS. these people who make false accusations MUST BE PUNISHED! CRIMINALS!!!

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