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Mystic singers attacked in Bangladesh

Police suspect the attackers are hard-line Islamists

ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka

ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka

Published: July 18, 2016 10:41 AM GMT

Updated: July 18, 2016 11:12 AM GMT

Mystic singers attacked in Bangladesh

A Baul mystic singer performs in Dhaka in this 2012 file image. Popular in Bangladesh and India, Baul is an ascetic tradition with Hindu influence and a love for music. (ucanews.com photo by Rock Ronald Rozario)  

Assailants brutalized a group of mystic singers, popularly known as Bauls, in southwestern Bangladesh on July 17, in what is the latest in a series of attacks on religious minorities in the country.

Armed with machetes and iron rods, about eight attackers stormed into a Baul Akhra (residence) and beat a group of sleeping singers. The attack left three singers critically injured while others fled. The attackers also vandalized the building.

"Three Bauls were injured in the attack and one of them, whose condition was critical, has been sent to Dhaka for better treatment. The other two are out of danger now," Humayun Kabir, officer in-charge of local Jibannagar police station, told ucanews.com.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack against the Bauls, which is a predominantly Hindu movement.

The latest attack comes during heightened tensions and a surge in Islamic militancy in the country, which has seen a chain of murders targeting atheist bloggers, liberal activists, foreigners and religious minorities.

Police suspect the attackers are hard-line Islamists who consider the mystical activities of Bauls as "un-Islamic."

"Bauls smoke marijuana and male and female singers perform together at night," Kabir said. "Local Muslims don’t like it so we suspect this might have triggered the attack." Police have detained three people, the official said.

The area is a stronghold of Islamic radicals who hate followers of other religions and even humanists like Bauls, says Father Arun A. Halsona, parish priest of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Karpasdanga.

"Bauls are peaceful people and they preach humanity, yet they have come under brutal attacks because Islamic radicals hate anyone other than followers of Islam," Father Halsona told ucanews.com.

Originating in Bengal in the 17th century, the Baul tradition was popularized by 19th century musician and social reformer, Lalon Shah, whose moving songs of religious tolerance inspired poets and thinkers of the time.

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Most of the Bauls are ascetics. They travel on foot from town to town singing and begging alms, staying at ashrams and akhras, but have no fixed address. Some choose to remain in their homes, but live a quiet, secluded life of music and worship.

Bauls are easily identified by their distinctive clothes — long white, red and orange robes — and their "ekataras" a single-stringed musical instrument. Anyone from any community can join if they adhere to their belief system.

In 2005, the Baul tradition was included in the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Islamic hard-liners in Muslim-majority Bangladesh consider Bauls as heretics.

Islamic hard-liners attacked a group of wandering Bauls, shaving their long hair and beards, and forcing them to recite Islamic prayers, in 2014.

A professor of sociology who taught Baul philosophy was hacked to death allegedly by Islamic militants, the same year.

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