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Bangladesh: Violence in Brahmanbaria | Khushi Kabir and Enamul Hoque Chowdhury

7 November 2016

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[excerpts from reportage in The Daily Star - November 07, 2016]

The vicious attacks on Hindu homes, establishments and temples since October 30 indicates an increase in the level of bigotry among certain sections of the society. The question is how did these miscreants get the courage to carry out these crimes? The Daily Star talks to some individuals who have been directly affected or are speaking out against these hate crimes.

Interviews by: Eresh Omar Jamal, Moyukh Mahtab and Shamsuddoza Sajen

Inaction leads to impunity

Khushi Kabir

"The situation started just like Ramu with a story of a Facebook post which sparked off the rest. The administration had arrested this guy who is supposed to have made the post. We heard in Brahmanbaria that he was not even very literate, does not have a Facebook account, and does not know how to use Photoshop. He is from a fishing community. The guy was arrested. Then two groups asked for permission to hold a rally, and they were given the permission. After the rally, they started attacking the temples and houses.

The women and children who had to hide during the attacks, you could see the trauma in their eyes. Many of them had to cross the river and hide, and only came back later. The main thing is the fear and the trauma that has been created, apart from the fact that they had lost everything they had.

There is a pattern of what has been happening time and again. We have seen the story of Facebook posts in Pabna, in Satkhira and many other places. This was done to create a situation to foster communalism.

The administration did tell us it wasn’t just one group of people involved in the attacks -people from all political parties were there for looting.

So obviously there is an attempt across the country to try to create insecurity in the minds of the minority and push forward an intolerant, extremist version of Islam. Before this in Brahmanbaria, there have been attacks involving burning of Ahmadiya houses.

We asked the administration first if they knew about the Facebook post that was circulating. They said that they did, and had already arrested the guy. So if they had already arrested them, we asked, why did they allow the rally in the first place?

The next question was why after giving permission for the rally, there wasn’t enough protection provided? We had heard from some people there that the attacks happened after the police had left.

But we do know that the MP, who is also the Minister for Fisheries, did not visit any of the houses of the affected. And after he went there four days later, he was reported to have made a communal remark, which he later claimed he didn’t. But the important thing is right after his visit, there was another attack.

How can the administration be so laid back? The intelligence agencies are supposed to provide intelligence. The administration says they were inactive they didn’t have information: so what were the various intelligence agencies doing after the first attacks?

How is administration allowing this to happen? They don’t have the courage to act. Either they are completely detached, or they are complicit. Through their inactivity, they are giving impunity to people to create this havoc.

These Facebook posts that are being created are obviously being created by people who have an interest in creating these situations to loot property and land. The administration is giving a very wrong message by by asking people from posting anything that hurts religious sentiments instead of taking action against the perpetrators. We ask, what about the religious sentiments of the Hindus?"

Rights activist and coordinator of Nijera Kori

A Hindu woman stands in the ruins of her home in Nasirnagar of Brahmanbaria yesterday. On Sunday, religious zealots attacked homes and temples in the area over an alleged Facebook post. Photo: STAR

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Unpardonable negligence

Enamul Hoque Chowdhury

"I headed the investigation team formed by the National Human Rights Commission, and visited Nasirnagar soon after the incident. We went to every house and temple affected by the attack and talked to the victims. In my observation, it was a pre-planned serial attack. It was so coordinated that attacks on different places happened at the same time. The extremist groups were planning the attack for quite some days and people from remote upazilas were also found involved in the violence. It seems to me that various interest groups joined hands to execute their vicious plan. For example, the local poor fishermen are the worst victims of the attack. Most of them are engaged in fishing in local beels that have been the target of a certain interest group for a long time. After the attack, almost all the fishermen left the village. It seems that the poorest sections of the Hindu community were basically targeted in this attack, so that they lose what little resource they have, and thus are forced to leave their homes and business behind, which most probably will be grabbed by the influential locals.

The role of the local administration is quite questionable. The OC of the local police station himself confessed that when the attack occurred he was present at a temple. When he found that the mob was nearing the temple he was visiting, he left the place. The UNO of the area is also guilty of negligence. He gave permission to hold rallies despite rumours of propaganda of a vicious activity such as this. In fact, it was even announced over microphones by some quarters that the Hindus should be ’decimated’. He could have easily withdrawn the permission. But either he was unmindful or did not seem to care about the consequences. The comments of the local politicians, especially those of the minister, are totally irresponsible.

We have submitted our investigation report within the shortest possible time. And the government has taken it very seriously. I hope the culprits will be identified soon and will be given exemplary punishment. Now, the government has deployed BGB to protect the area. It should have been done immediately after the first attacks, so that we could have prevented the subsequent ones. Following the Nasirnagar incident, attacks on minorities were reported in various parts of the country. If we can ensure proper punishment in every case, the sense of impunity that perpetrators feel will definitely be shattered and the recurrence of communal violence can be prevented in the future."

Commissioner, National Human Rights Commission

[see full report here ]


The above material from The Daily Star is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use