ucanews.com reporter, DhakaUpdated: January 25, 2017 10:09 AM GMT
A Hindu woman in her vandalized house after Islamic hardliners attacked a Hindu community in Nasirnagar, in Bangladesh on Oct. 31, 2016. (ucanews.com photo)
A prevailing sense of apathy and a culture of impunity have both been highlighted as contributing factors to a steep rise in violence against religious and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh.
There were 1,471 incidents of violence and abuse against minorities in 2016, a fivefold surge from 262 cases in 2015, according to a report from Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, the largest minority rights forum.
The report, titled "Incidents of human rights violations on minority people in 2016," was released in the second week of January. It said that minority communities have witnessed 71 killings, 29 mysterious deaths and 96 death threats. At least 875 people were injured in various attacks, 17 women and girls were victims of rape and there were 15 gang-rapes. Homes and assets were also targeted.
"Our prime minister and political leaders say that they are concerned about the security of minorities, but it seems hollow as minorities continue to face violence and are denied justice. Bangladesh is turning into a dangerous place for minorities," Rana Dasgupta, secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council told ucanews.com.
"In the past, there were many cases of violence against minorities but attackers were not duly punished and justice was rarely meted out. If there were justice, the abusers would never have the courage to commit the crime again," Dasgupta said.
"It's high time for a minorities protection law in the country, which we have been pressing for," he added.
Religious minorities protest and call for justice over attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh during a rally in Dhaka on Nov. 4, 2016. (ucanews.com photo)
Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, chairman of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission, said that Bangladesh's long tradition of religious pluralism and harmony is at stake.
"We have seen waves of attacks against minorities by majority communities globally in recent times, and sadly, it is also having a negative impact on the proud tradition of harmony. Not only religious minorities but all kinds of minorities are facing violence," Bishop Rozario told ucanews.com.
"There is a lack of commitment in the justice system, administration and political parties for the rights and protection of minorities. If police were not involved in bribery and laws were properly enforced, there wouldn't be attacks," Bishop Rozario said.
"It could be good to have a ministry and law to protect minorities but I would insist on administrative and political commitments. We have seen a separate ministry to deal with troubles in the Chittagong Hills, but it has failed to deliver so far," he added.
Ashoke Barua, secretary of the Bangladesh Buddhist Federation, said that besides state seriousness there must be a social movement to tackle rising abuse.
"Only some Muslims are exploiting and violating the rights of minorities but a large number of Muslims are good people and they respect other faiths and religious harmony. These Muslims need to come up, collaborate with minorities and resist the evil forces that try to destroy harmony," he said.
About 90 percent of Bangladesh's 160 million people are Muslims, 9 percent are Hindu and the rest belong to different religions including Buddhism and Christianity.
Besides the dominant ethnic Bengali people, there are some 3 million people belonging to 45 ethnic tribal groups who are Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and animist.