Hasina’s Ominous Silence as Bangladesh’s Hindu Lambs are Targeted
(Eight to ten armed terrorists attacked a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, Bangladesh on Friday night. The wave of violence in the country over the past months has killed rationalists, bloggers, activists, and members of religious minorities. This article has been republished in light of the attack.)
The targeted killings of freethinkers in Bangladesh has taken a worrying turn in the last few weeks. The recent trend is ordinary citizens, whose faiths are putting them in the sight of Islamists, are being targeted. Sunil Gomes, a Christian, was hacked to death after Sunday prayers on 5 June in the northwest. Anando Gopal Ganguly, a Hindu priest, and Nityanando Pandey, a Hindu ashram worker, were killed in similar attacks on 7 and 10 June, respectively.
The latter incident took place in Bangladesh’s northwest, a hotbed of terrorist activity since the early 2000s, by Islamist outfits such as the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, who flourished due to state patronage during the 2001-2006 BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami coalition government. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the murder of religious minorities, but the current Awami League government continues to deny their existence in the country.
Minorities Feeling Insecure
Who is carrying out these attacks is an academic debate whose significance is exaggerated in the face of their increased frequency.
Domestic extremist groups, prospering as a result, whose modus operandi rely on striking fear, attempt to raise their stock by associating with foreign terrorist outfits.
Until now, the government’s response has been to restrict freedom of speech and expression, to appease Islamism. Minority groups have expressed deep concerns about religious persecution, communal violence and systematic oppression at the hands of Islamists. Discrimination and lack of security are seeing around 750 people from minority communities leave Bangladesh every day, the majority of whom are Hindus who seek refuge in neighbouring India.
The Awami League has historically enjoyed near unanimous support from religious minorities, especially the Hindus. The absence of BNP and Jamaat, who were the chief proponents and beneficiaries of Islamic ideology in politics, in governing has created an opportunity for Awami League to either rid politics of the poison, or appropriate it. The government is, regrettably, opting for the latter. Safe in the knowledge that religious minorities will always prefer the League, the party is taking this support for granted and looking to broaden its appeal amongst the conservative sections of the population, which outnumber the other considerably.
Awami League’s Newfound Vigour
Conversely, the latest move from the police contradicts its stance, to date, of suppressing victims, and vulnerable groups and individuals. The Inspector General announced a week-long drive against militancy, starting 10 June. This is the tangible result of the government’s newfound vigour in light of the murder of Mahmuda Khanam Mitu, the wife of a police officer said to be playing a leading role in investigating Islamists. Perpetrators of the crime, amongs them members of the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the Jamaat’s violent student organisation, have already been arrested.
Where ministers and government officials warned freethinkers in the past, Mitu’s death on 5 June at the hands of fundamentalists prompted unqualified denouncements and heated statements about justice and retribution in parliament. Hasina went as far as to suggest that family members of extremists shared the blame for the beliefs and actions of their kith and kin. Whether this marks a return to secularism by the Awami League remains to be seen, however.
Bangladesh’s Minorities at Risk
- Around 100 Islamist militants arrested by Bangladesh authorities after a
spate of recent killings of minorities.
- More than 30 people targeted by militants since last year; the Islamic
State has claimed responsibility for 21 such attacks.
- The Awami League government is playing appeasement politics by choosing
to remain silent on targeted killings.
- Despite PM Sheikh Hasina’s vow to track down killers, little is being done to
assure minorities, as her government would be labelled anti-Islamic.
Pandering to Islamic Fundamentalists
The government’s uncontested grip on power is conditionally on the support of Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, Pandey, the Ashram worker was butchered on the first day of the anti-militancy drive, the results of which have been uninspiring thus far. There is no evidence yet that religious minorities, freethinkers and other vulnerable groups are being afforded greater protection.
All this suggests that the strong reaction to Mitu’s death is born of a political need to please the police. Extending this to minority communities would leave the government weak to being labelled anti-Islamic, something that, by its own admission – evidenced by ministers and the prime minister’s son, who is widely considered to be her heir apparent – it wishes to avoid.
The safety of
the targets of Islamist attacks is still not being guaranteed. Additionally, the Awami League’s compromises with Islamism, deployed by its political opponents
to devastating effect and much benefit, does not seem to have ended. Bangladesh
is hostage to a dangerous game of brinkmanship that encourages fundamentalism
(The writer is a columnist for Dhaka Tribune whose socio-political writings include the short story collection, “Yours, Etcetera” and the poetry collection, “Requiem”. He can be reached at @ikhtisad)
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