On October 15th, 2021, Durga Puja, an important Bengali Hindu festival, became a day of sadness as attacks on Hindus left six people dead and many others injured. 21-year-old Pranta Chandra Das, one of the victims, was brutally beaten to death by religious fundamentalists who were mainly Muslims. The violence ensued after rumors spread online that the Quran had been disrespected at a Durga Puja celebration, as it was said to have been placed at the feet of the Hindu goddess Durga. This is considered very disrespectful to Muslims as the Quran is a sacred text and should not be placed on the ground. After news of this circulated, many fundamentalists went on to desecrate 17 Hindu temples, ransack and destroy homes, and attack many individuals. In the aftermath, protests broke out across the country condemning the violence and urging the government to take action to protect the Hindu minority. Only later was it discovered that a Muslim individual named Ikbal Hossain placed the Quran there himself to provoke the attacks. He has now been arrested, but the damage his actions incited has become widespread and has affected the lives of many.
The History of Bangladesh
Bangladesh is located in the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent. During the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, it became a part of Pakistan known as “East Bengal.” In 1971, Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan after a brutal war.
Bangladesh is home to a large Muslim population, while the Hindus constitute a minority and have been the targets of violence and persecution for decades. In 1947, Hindus in Bangladesh were an estimated 30% of the population, which is a stark contrast to the now estimated 8%. This is attributed to the fact that many Hindus left the region for India, as they worried about facing discrimination for their religion.
At its creation in 1971, Bangladesh was secular. However, by the late 1980s, secularism was abandoned and Islam was named as the state religion. In 2010, it was once again declared a secular state in which everyone was free to practice their religion. Yet, this was not enforced in practice, and many minorities continue to be discriminated against for their religious beliefs. Specifically, attacks on Hindu temples and businesses have been increasing in the country, and an estimated 3,600 attacks have occurred since 2013.
The government has denounced the attacks and made it clear to perpetrators that they will face consequences if they continue. Further, the government has also organized rallies in support of the Hindu minority. However, these incidents are not the first time Hindus in the country have been attacked, with the country exhibiting a continuous pattern of violence against Hindus. While the government claims it will protect the Hindu minority, its previous inaction does not inspire much hope.
Most political parties have done little to protect religious minorities in the country. Despite the fact that many parties have a secular platform, they largely try to appease the Muslim majority. For example, two prominent political parties that governed together from 2001-2006, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami Party, do not take the necessary steps to ensure minorities in the country do not face persecution. Other parties, such as the Awami League Party, have also not worked to protect minorities despite being secular. Parties largely enable fundamentalist groups by not taking steps to prosecute and punish those who participate in and commit the violence.
Similarly, the government has not taken adequate action to investigate incidents and prosecute those responsible. After many attacks on Hindus in 2016, the government did crack down on extremists, but largely only due to pressure from the media and the international community. The current prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, leads a secular platform but also works hard to maintain a balance of prosecuting extremists, while not making enemies out of Islamic groups. While the government has been trying to crack down on extremists, it is not enough to prevent violence against Hindus in the country.
Reasoning Behind the Attacks
Much of the violence towards Hindus in Bangladesh seems to be in response to the violence against Muslims in India. The persecution of Muslims in India has caused extremists in Bangladesh to retaliate against the Hindu population in their country. Ultimately, attacks on one religious group have caused retaliation across the border towards the other group. After the most recent attacks in Bangladesh on Durga Puja, the violence spilled over into India. Many attacked Muslims in India at mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, and individuals were terrorised. While there has been continuous religious tension in the Indian subcontinent, it has been increasing over time.
British colonialism is in part to blame for the divisions between Hindus and Muslims. The problems Muslims in India are facing today can be linked to colonialism. Muslim leaders dominated the region when the British invaded and the British used the idea of ‘saving’ minorities in the region from the rule of the majority. This was the start of tense relationships between Muslims and Hindus and this relationship continues even to the present day. The partition that resulted in the formation of Pakistan was largely due to religious tensions between those two majority religions.
Many Islamic groups have denounced the attacks in Bangladesh and have stood in support of Hindus. However, there has been a rise of extremists in the country. The government has not been successful in controlling and condemning these extremist and fundamentalist groups that bring about significant harm. Instead, the government tries to appease them, which allows them to gain prominence and continue the violent attacks. They appease them by not intervening and by letting extremist groups do what they want with little consequence.