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Minorities feel the heat across Asia

Religious minorities face hard times amid rising intolerance and anti-minority sentiment in Asian nations.

Published: October 22, 2021 11:08 AM GMT

Updated: October 22, 2021 11:09 AM GMT

Awami League government in Bangladesh has come under strong criticism for failing to protect minority Hindus from repeated communal attacks in the Muslim-majority nation.

Amnesty International issued a statement on Monday following days of Muslim mob attacks on Hindu temples, houses and shops during the final three days of Durga Puja, the largest annual Hindu festival.

Violence flared following allegations on social media that a copy of the Quran was desecrated at a Puja venue in Cumilla district. Muslim mobs vandalized Hindu temples, idols and properties. Clashes with police left five Muslims and two Hindus dead and hundreds injured.

On Sunday night, a Muslim mob burned down 30 Hindu houses in Rangpur district and looted livestock and valuables. Media reported over a hundred anti-Hindu attacks in six days and rights groups documented 3,710 cases of violence against Hindus since 2013. 

Minorities feel the heat across Asia

Hindus join a protest rally in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka to demand justice for Muslim mob attacks during the Durga Puja festival. (Photo supplied)

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In another Muslim Majority nation Pakistan, the curse of forced conversion continues to plague religious minorities. This week rights groups have reported a record rise of forced conversions of minority girls.

The Lahore-based Center for Social Justice documented 36 cases of forced conversions up to October this year, a rise of 117 percent from 2020. The victims included 21 Christian and 15 Hindu girls.

Nasira Iqbal, a retired judge of Lahore High Court, speaks at the Oct. 16 press conference in Lahore. (Photo supplied)

The shocking revelations came a week after Pakistan’s parliament rejected an anti-forced conversion bill, the Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act 2021, proposed by a committee formed by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The bill stalled after Islamic groups and Islamist parties opposed it as anti-Islam.

The rejection frustrated minority communities who for years have complained against forced conversions of their girls and women by Muslims. Rights groups decried the rejection as a violation of religious freedom. 

Sri Lanka’s government has approved legal changes to impose a ban on cattle slaughter. The decision has triggered a mixed response from various religious communities.

Buddhists have indicated that they strongly support the move to discourage beef consumption, while many Buddhists see cows as “the second milk mother.” Hindus also consider cows as sacred. Muslims have expressed concerns that the ban poses threats to the future of their meat industry. Beef suppliers and traders have protested the ban.

Buddhists support the government's move to discourage beef consumption. (Photo: iesc.org)

Political observers claim that the ban is politically motivated as the current government aims to appease the Sinhala Buddhist majority to consolidate power. Rights group Amnesty International says minority Muslims in Sri Lanka have faced systematic and consistent discrimination, harassment and violence from radical Buddhists since 2013.

While communal riots have targeted mosques, houses and shops of Muslims, the government has also adopted discriminatory policies including cremation of Covid-19 victims and a proposed ban on burqa and madrasas. 

At least 116 people have died and scores remain missing after massive flooding and devastating landslides hit India and Nepal in the aftermath of heavy monsoon rains. Houses and roads were swept away with tens of thousands reeling from a humanitarian crisis.

Officials in Uttarakhand state in northern India said 46 people have died and 11 are missing, while in Kerara state in the south the death toll reached 39. Nepal’s disaster management officials said 31 people have died and 43 are missing.  The government agencies have been rushing aid to stranded communities.

People gather concrete fragments and heavy bags wrapped in nets to build a dam as floodwater flows into the Indian state of Bihar near Muzaffarpur on July 13, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

In Kerala, Catholic Church officials have appealed to people to support survivors who lost everything. Two Catholic bishops have also visited some of the worst-hit areas and assured them of the Church’s support for affected people.

Flooding and landslides have become increasingly common in India and Nepal, mostly in the Himalayan region where landslides are a regular danger. 

Retired Chinese Bishop Stephen Xiangtai Yang of Handan, who faced persecution and jailing during the infamous Cultural Revolution, has died at the age of 99.

Bishop Yang died from old-age complications on October 13 and was buried early this week. He was known as a strong churchman who defied the odds, stood firm and never gave up amid persecution from the communist regime. Born in 1922, he was ordained a priest in 1949. He served various church ministries for 16 years.

Bishop Stephen Xiangtai Yang of Handan endured persecution from China's communist regime. (Photo supplied)

He was arrested for the first time in 1949 but was later released. He was arrested again in 1966 amid the Cultural Revolution and imprisoned in several labor camps until his release in 1980.

The Vatican appointed him auxiliary bishop of Handan in 1996 and he became bishop in 1999. Bishop Yang refused to join state-controlled church bodies despite pressure and strongly condemned the cross demolition campaign of the communist regime. 

In an unprecedented report, the Justice Department of the Philippines has revealed how dozens of policemen have been guilty of breaking rules in their acts of arrests, tampering with evidence and falsifying reports during the infamous anti-drug war of President Rodrigo Duterte.

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The report released on Wednesday is a rare admission of police culpability in at least 52 drug war cases resulting in the deaths of suspects that violated the legal jurisdiction of police.

Police investigators inspect the body of a suspected drug dealer killed by police during a drug sting operation in Manila, Philippines, on June 8, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

Some police officers involved in these dubious operations were suspended for 60 to 75 days, while others were dismissed. It was also found in several cases that the suspects were shot at very close range and that the evidence contradicted the police versions of shootings.

The deadly anti-drug war of President Duterte drew international condemnation as rights groups reported the deaths of over 12,000 Filipinos. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation to prosecute Duterte for crimes against humanity by ordering extrajudicial killings.

Myanmar’s military junta this week released more than 5,000 political prisoners including three Baptist pastors under a general amnesty ahead of the Lightning Festival. The pastors from the Kachin Baptist Convention were among more than 4,000 people arrested for participating in anti-coup protests.

Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was not among those released. However, the military has continued its offensives against pro-democracy protests and ethnic rebels across the country.

A man is reunited with his family members outside Insein Prison in Yangon after the military junta granted amnesty to more than 5,000 people in jails across Myanmar on Oct. 18. (Photo: AFP)

Media reports say that violent attacks in Christian-majority ethnic states including Chin, Kachin and Kayah have intensified with both Catholic and Protestant churches being targeted by the military.

In the latest case, a Baptist church and residential properties in Falam township were vandalized by the military on Saturday. Meanwhile, the military arrested seven Caritas workers in conflict-torn Kayah state, where they were on a mission to provide humanitarian aid to displaced people. 

In Thailand, more Buddhist clergy are getting involved in criminal offenses. In the latest case, police arrested a prominent senior Buddhist monk, Phra Khru Suthitarakapirak, in Chantaburi province near capital Bangkok.

He is accused of misappropriating funds equivalent to 500,000 US dollars along with several senior local officials from a Buddhist charity foundation. The arrest is one of a series of recent criminal cases in the Buddhist-majority country that have tarnished the image of Buddhist monks who are held in high esteem.

Buddhist monks look on during Makha Bucha celebrations at Wat Dhammakaya, north of Bangkok, on Feb. 26. A series of scandals have tarnished the image of monks. (Photo: AFP)

Last year Phanom Sornsilp, a former head of the country’s National Office of Buddhism, was sentenced to 94 years in prison after being convicted of embezzling about 9 million US dollars from funds allocated to 30 Buddhist temples.

In other instances, several Buddhist monks have been accused of crimes including fraud, drinking, drug abuse, gambling and sexual offenses. 

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has come under renewed pressure to reinvestigate and deliver justice for the bloody 1965-66 anti-communist massacres that left up to three million communists eliminated.

The call has grown louder after declassified documents in Britain revealed the extent of the United Kingdom’s role in one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century.

Members of Banser, the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, burn a communist flag in Blitar in eastern Java on Sept 30, 2015, during a rally commemorating late Indonesian dictator Suharto coming into power in 1965 after a failed coup that authorities blamed on communists. (Photo: AFP)

The Guardian newspaper reported that British officials secretly deployed black propaganda in the 1960s to urge prominent Indonesians to “cut out the communist cancer.” The article said British propagandists secretly incited anti-communists, including army generals, to eliminate the Indonesia Communist Party, which is still outlawed in the country.

The revelations prompted rights groups including Amnesty International to call for a reinvestigation into the killings.

Catholics in Vietnam have started offering scholarships to hundreds of poor students badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic to help them continue their education.

Some 200 poor students who risked dropping out of schools have received scholarships, according to Sister Elizabeth Tran Thi Hang, a nun from St. Paul de Chartres Congregation in Hue Archdiocese in central Vietnam. Each student has received 1.5 million dong or 66 US dollars.

St. Paul de Chartres Sister Elizabeth Pham Thi Bich offers scholarships to a family in Hue. (Photo: UCA News)

The church-based Me Oi Association in Hue offered financial support for 100 students this year with each given 115 dollars on average. Meanwhile, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Hue has offered scholarships to some 70 students affected by the pandemic.

Vietnam remained relatively unscathed in earlier bouts of the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the Delta variant wreaked havoc with more than 874,000 infections and over 21,400 deaths. 

1 Comments on this Story
Mistreating minorities in all the countries and religions indicates that all the religions have been corrupted. In their original versions, each one exhorted its followers to be just to minorities. Now please look for the arrival of a universal reformer.

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