Leaders and activists from minority groups take part in a protest in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in 2016 to demand justice for violence against Hindus. (Photo: UCA News)
Sixteen prominent activists from various rights and civil society organizations have demanded a probe into torture, harassment and other abuses reportedly being inflicted on minority communities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh during its Covid-19 shutdown.
In a letter signed and submitted to Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on May 31, they demanded that 30 incidents of violence against religious and ethnic minorities committed in April and May be investigated.
They cited reports of such violence from local media and various social organizations.
“With grave sadness, we have observed that during this crisis there have been violent attacks on and injuries of religious and ethnic minorities, attempted land grabbing, harassment of innocent people with false allegations of blasphemy, and attacks on Hindu temples, which have created panic among minorities. Women and children have not been spared either,” it stated.
On May 15, after allegations of defaming Islam were made against a local Hindu youth, attackers vandalized houses of 10 Hindu families in Bhola district in southern Bangladesh, the statement said.
On May 17, unknown assailants torched the home of Ronesh Thakur, a prominent Baul (mystic singer), in the Derai area of Sunamganj district, the activists said.
They blamed what they said was an existing culture of impunity for repeated attacks on minorities.
“In some of the latest attacks we have seen a similar pattern — false accusations of defaming religion used as a pretext for attacking minorities. Several similar incidents occurred in the past and no justice was done, so the same is happening again,” said Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu lawyer and secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, an interfaith rights group.
At least three cases of violence targeted minority Christians in April and May, according to the Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA), a leading Christian rights forum.
Two Christians were beaten in a land dispute in Sherpur district, while several Christians were threatened and beaten for refusing to pay money lenders in Barishal district and a Christian youth was beaten after being falsely accused of drug dealing, said Nirmol Rozario, the BCA president.
Rozario, a Catholic, said all the attackers were politically connected to influential local Muslims.
“This is so frustrating and unacceptable. In a time of pandemic, people are supposed to be sympathetic, but attacks continue on vulnerable communities. In our country, Muslims connected to political parties or using parties as fronts perpetrate such attacks, and no justice is done,” Rozario said.
“Repression of minorities goes against the pluralist culture of Bangladesh, but a culture of impunity encourages radical elements to commit crimes again and again. The government needs to ensure justice so that the culprits don’t dare commit such crimes again.”
Some 90 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 160 million population are Muslim, with about 8 percent Hindu. The rest belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.