Though Bangladesh has a reputation of being a country of harmony, it witnessed a bout of communal violence recently, in which the minority Buddhist community was the worst affected. The incidents, in which fanatics launched a premeditated attack in Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf and Patiya on September 29 and 30, have no parallel in the country’s history.
Ramu, a Buddhist dominant area was the worst affected, with the attack being well-orchestrated. Seven Buddhist monasteries, some of them over a century old, and three Sima Biharas were burnt and around 200 houses belonging to the minority community, ransacked and looted. A Buddhist temple and two Hindu temples were vandalised in Patiya.
Not only had the attackers mobilised support holding rallies and processions, but also used gunpowder and petrol in the attack, which has displaced hundreds of people.
The Buddhist religious sites, some of them over a hundred years old, are repositories of an invaluable cultural heritage. As news spread, condemnation, poured in from across the country, with government officials and media personnel rushing to the spots.
Independent reports have suggested unprecedented acts of subversion in minority populated villages, revealing an unprovoked, premeditated and well-orchestrated operation.
What is however left to be unravelled is the identity of those who masterminded the unprecedented acts of desecration since Bangladesh’s independence.
The attack was reportedly sparked off by an offensive Facebook post, allegedly by a young Buddhist man of the locality, although nothing concrete was known about the origin and authorship of the post. Locals have said that the followers of a fundamentalist party, led by several leaders, took out a procession alleging that a photo was uploaded on Facebook to defame the Quran. However, many Facebook users said the man did not post the photo but had linked it from another Facebook ID, and was in no way responsible. There is a strong feeling that the agent provocateurs may have then jumped in to exploit unfolding events.
Bangladesh’s long tradition of harmonious coexistence between people of various creeds, especially in the Cox’s Bazar area has been dented by this. Questions are being asked about the failure of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to protect places of worship for minorities and their property despite advance intelligence. Perhaps the unfolding disaster could have been averted had pre-emptive measures been taken.
A couple of days before the incidents, it was reported that a militant Bangladesh outfit was trying to establish its base in the inaccessible hilly area of the Chittagong Hill tracts. Locals say that a section of the Rohingya refugees, who were persecuted in Myanmar, had played a crucial role. Many are also of the opinion that the motive was to foil the ongoing trial of war criminals of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.
There is growing demand for an impartial enquiry, identifying the instigators and awarding exemplary punishment.
After visiting the affected areas, Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir said the government would take action through the Speedy Trial Tribunal (STT). A few hundred suspects are in custody.
For the Hasina government, the incidents in Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf and Patiya are a wake-up call.
The mood in the country is clear: the perpetrators must be punished, victims amply compensated and the monasteries and temples rebuilt. The government has promised to rebuild the structures and ensure the security and rehabilitation of the victims.
(The writer is a Bangladesh journalist and writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Recent incidents in Bangladesh, which targeted the minorities and their religious sites, have dented its tradition of communal harmony