With deep regret, and a fair bit of concern over the future, we must note that distasteful incidents of communal violence are becoming more and more frequent in Bangladesh. In our particular context, this almost always means persecution faced by the minority Hindu community in the country. And although in the last 10 years or so these incidents have almost always followed the same, tried and tested pattern centring social media posts - authentic or otherwise - that are then used to provoke the majority community into mindless violence, as a society we appear hopelessly inept at preventing it.
Narail was the latest setting for this rash on the fabric of harmony and tolerance between Hindus and Muslims. Locals said a group of Muslims gathered in the Dighalia village area after midday prayers last Friday (Jul. 15) and started demonstrating against a Facebook post by a local youth, Akash Saha, that allegedly offended Islam.
Although they couldn't get to the alleged offender, the mob turned violent in the evening. They vandalised several Hindu homes and torched one of them during the hate attack. The assailants also threw brickbats at a temple in the area. Police fired warning shots to disperse them. The law enforcers took Akash's father to the police station after failing to find him. No attacker was detained at the time.
On Saturday, Narail-2 MP and former Bangladesh cricket captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza visited the area and reassured Hindu residents in his constituency that their lives and property would be protected. Clearly distressed, he sought the assistance of locals to ensure such incidents do not recur. Akash was eventually arrested by police in a case over 'offending religious sentiment' on Sunday. Later in the week, five alleged attackers were arrested, in a case filed against 250 unnamed individuals by police.
It comes not long after Ain O Salish Kendra, the human rights advocates, petitioned for a judicial investigation into the harassment of college teacher Swapan Kumar Biswas, who was forced to wear a garland of shoes after allegedly defending a Hindu student for a controversial Facebook post in a separate incident also in Narail. But the court refused to hear a supplementary petition requesting an investigation into the attacks on Hindu homes.
Inevitably, such incidents draw increased attention from our big neighbours in India these days. Every time something like this happens, they aid Bangladesh's depiction as a country that fails to take care of its own citizens. A series of photo exhibitions have been recently held in West Bengal, The Bangladesh Files, which has been obviously named to draw a parallel with the killings of Hindus in Kashmir, is an attempt to portray how systematically Bengali Hindus have been massacred in Bangladesh since the Noakhali riots of 1946. These incidents overshadow the fact that over the years, representation of Hindus has increased in Bangladesh, such as in the top echelons of the bureaucracy and in the law and order machinery.And even more importantly, these mindless acts blight the nationhood we obtained at such a high price in 1971.
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