1994-03-28 00:00:00

Violence and other activities against non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the charge they promote Christianity are continuing in a northwestern district, despite the arrest of three Muslim fundamentalists.

The three were arrested Feb. 27 in Nandigram, Bogra district, 150 kilometers northwest of Dhaka. They are followers of a group of five "maulanas" (Muslim religious leaders) in the area who have organized to oppose the development activities of NGOs, which they say are anti-Islamic.

The maulanas, members of the right-wing, fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami Party, have issued a "fatwa" (religious decree) against the NGOs as well as Muslims working for them or using their services.

The regional office of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Council (BRAC) reports that 25 of the 502 BRAC-run schools in the 11 "thanas" (subdistricts) of Bogra have been burned down since the agitation began. The school in Gukul village was burned down March 17, but no arrests were made.

Other NGO-run schools and houses of NGO workers have also been destroyed, as well as saplings planted by the organizations.

The number of students in the remaining schools is decreasing, and teachers, many of them women, are afraid of being harassed or even physically abused.

While the five maulanas went underground after the arrests of their three workers, they kept their campaign going through other workers who speak and hand out leaflets in public, in mosques and in "madrasas" (Islamic schools).

Police have failed to take any effective action so far.

Even though the maulanas have been seen publicly in several places, the police superintendent in Bogra said, "We are looking for the leaders. All the thanas have been directed to keep an eye on the situation."

The situation is not beyond police control and they are trying to find out whether any political party is involved or not, he said.

In compliance with the fatwa, more than 100 pregnant women are not able to receive health care from various NGOs and at least 10 women in Nandigram and Kahalu thanas, some of them NGO workers, have been divorced by their husbands.

Over 60 families there, beneficiaries of various NGOs including BRAC and Grameen Bank, which specializes in small loans to women to start rural enterprises, have been ostracized.

In Durgapur, tuberculosis patients have been prevented from taking treatment offered by BRAC. The maulanas warned them that if they accepted treatment from the NGOS, they would become Christians.

A national daily reported that after the maulanas spoke against women involved with the NGOs and warned that women not wearing the "purdah" (traditional veil) would have their heads shaved, women in 12 villages will not come out of their homes for fear of the maulanas and their followers.

One local women´s organization leader said, "It seems that it is not possible to make a protest locally against these maulanas. A strong protest has to come from Dhaka, centrally."

International media reported that on March 24, the Bangladesh Women´s Council, identified as the largest women´s rights group in the country, handed a petition to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia asking her to stop Muslim clergy from harassing women and NGOs involved in educational programs for poor women.

Nationwide, including in Bogra, BRAC reports 40 of its schools have been burned down and 200 others have been damaged or looted.

Militants have also uprooted some 100,000 saplings planted under various development programs in Bogra district and the greater Chittagong, Mymensingh and Sylhet districts, respectively in the north, northeast and southeast.

A Bangladesh daily quoted M. Yunus, managing director of the Grameen Bank, as saying that "a concerted and determined campaign against his bank and the NGOs has reached such a state that it can no longer be ignored."

BRAC, like Grameen Bank an acclaimed secular NGO, runs 20,000 community-based, non-formal primary schools across the country, aiming to prepare all children, especially girls, for formal education.

Various NGO sources see in the movement against them the hand of Jamaat-e-Islami as well as the support of some government primary school and madrasa teachers and village money lenders who feel the NGOs are undercutting them.


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