In the shadow of fear, Hindus in Bangladesh are set for Durga Puja celebrations

2021 was one of the deadliest years for Hindus. Will 2022 be any different?

Meherun Naher Meghlabdnews24.com
Published : 24 Sept 2022, 08:24 PM
Updated : 24 Sept 2022, 08:24 PM

Achintya Das Titu prepares to celebrate the Durga Puja just a week away, but his mind is haunted by the shadow of violence that scarred his community a year earlier.

“Law-enforcement agencies and the administration have assured us of security during the celebrations. But the members of my community are still in trauma. The old wounds have not healed,” said Achintya, president of Cumilla Metropolitan Puja Celebration Council.

Four temples, seven puja venues and homes and shops owned by Hindus were attacked after a copy of the Quran was found at the makeshift puja venue in Nanuar Dighir Par, a neighbourhood in Cumilla, on Oct 13, 2021.

Still, the preparations for the puja at the same venue were on, but Achintya said last year’s violence clouded the festive mood.

Days after the Cumilla incident in 2021, Noakhali’s Begumganj, 65 kilometres away, erupted into similar anti-Hindu violence during the Durga Puja, the most important 10-day festivity for the community.

Hundreds of Muslim hardliners, with chants to kick off a “holy war” in the name of Islam, swooped on the Hindu worshippers and attacked the temples and their houses.

Later, Begumganj police said more than 200 attackers beat and stabbed to death a member of a temple committee in Begumganj.

Reports emerged steadily from across the country with details about how mobs desecrated idols and started riots against Hindu worshippers.

At least seven people -- five Hindus and two Muslims -- died in senseless riots across the country. Over 150 people were injured and dozens of temples and Puja Mandap, a makeshift arrangement for Durga’s worshipping, were desecrated and destroyed and Hindu homes were attacked in more than a dozen districts of Bangladesh.

Highlights:

  • In 2021, at least seven people died, over 150 people were injured and dozens of temples and Puja Mandap were desecrated and destroyed and attacks were carried out in Hindu houses in a nationwide riot during Durga Puja festivities.

  • - At least 1,678 temples and prayer sites belonging to minority communities have been desecrated, vandalised and destroyed since 2013, according to rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra.

  • - At least 101 people were injured in 72 such incidents in 2019 and 71 people in 67 incidents in 2020. In 2021, the worst year in recent memory, five were killed and 301 were injured in 204 incidents.

  • In 2022, until July, four temples were vandalised, three were torched, and idols were desecrated in three other temples.

  • In the latest population census published in July, the rate of the Hindu population fell to 7.95 percent in 2022 from 8.54 percent in 2011.

  • The 2022 census report mentioned two factors that contributed to the fall of the Hindu population – migration to different countries and the low fertility rate.

In a recent report, Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB), a rights monitoring agency, concluded that there was no other instance of such magnitude of violence against minority Hindus in the history of the country.

Hindus believe the mighty celestial Durga lands on the mortal plain every year with a message of peace and harmony. In 2021, instead of harmony, it was mayhem for them. How are they faring this year as the 2022 edition of Durga Puja is approaching this year?

Has anything changed since 2021? In all honesty, the hostilities appeared to have not changed much.

On Sept 12, police in the district town of Kushtia started investigating an incident of desecration of idols of Durga and her family members -- Laxmi, Ganesh and Kartik. Police opened an investigation into another incident in Manikganj’s Harirampur, which took place on Aug 27.

As similar patterns have been emerging, former and current organisers of the puja across the country, who have agreed to be interviewed for this report, do not believe that they will have the opportunity to celebrate the puja with peace of mind and a sense of security.

At least 1,678 temples and prayer sites belonging to minority communities have been desecrated, vandalised and destroyed since 2013, according to rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra.

At least 101 people were injured in 72 incidents in 2019 and 71 people in 67 incidents in 2020. In 2021, the worst year in recent memory, five were killed and 301 were injured in 204 incidents.

In 2022, until July, four temples were vandalised, three were torched, and idols were desecrated in three other temples.

The administration seemed reluctant to register incidents as official reports may raise questions about law and order.
Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Oikya Parishad ’s Vice-President Kajal Debnath

HINDU LEADERS DO NOT SEE A WAY OUT

In all his frustration, Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Oikya Parishad’s Vice-President Kajal Debnath said the people from his faith have been inured to dangers.

“It has become an everyday thing for us. The administration seemed reluctant to register incidents as official reports may raise questions about law and order. Perhaps it is an ill attempt to show the outside world that our lives are safer and more secure than before. In actuality, it is not,” he said.

Desecrating idols has turned into a ritual for some in a country which is known for its communal harmony.
Former president of Bangladesh Puja Celebration Council Milon Kanti Dutta

Milon Kanti Dutta, former president of Bangladesh Puja Celebration Council, said: “Desecrating idols has turned into a ritual for some in a country which is known for its communal harmony.”

Additional Inspector General of Police (Media) Md Kamruzzaman termed such incidents isolated. “Law enforcement agencies do their best to protect the sanctity of temples and prayer sites, especially during puja times. Some vested quarters somehow still manage to ensue chaos. But we do take care of those. We arrest the perpetrators and make sure they face justice. Courts in Bangladesh as of now have been dealing with many such cases,” he said.

Chandranath Poddar, general secretary of Bangladesh Puja Celebration Council, disagreed. “Not so. These incidents were planned and orchestrated to achieve some goals.”

“We are constantly reminded that minorities in Bangladesh are living a better life than in other countries. But crimes have no statute of limitations. We do not want a single person to be harassed for their religious identities.”

ENSURE LAW AND JUSTICE

Writer and human rights activist Shahriar Kabir sees it as a plot to “make Bangladesh a monolithic society, free of Hindus, by fundamentalists.”

His arguments may have some validity.

In the latest population census published in July, the rate of the Hindu population fell to 7.95 percent in 2022 from 8.54 percent in 2011 in Bangladesh.

The 2022 census report mentioned two factors that contributed to the fall of the Hindu population -- migration to different countries and the low fertility rate.

Shahriar Kabir proposed to intensify security protocol in temples and prayer sites during Durga Puja, advised puja organisers to form their vigilante units and asked the administration to identify attackers.

HRFB in its report came up with 17 recommendations to stop violence against minorities after conducting a survey on communal violence during the 2021 Durga Puja festivities.

Nur Khan Liton, HRFB’s convenor and ASK’s executive director, believe accountability and transparency are the keys here.

“Minorities in Bangladesh have been facing harassment and torture for a long time. Unless the administration deals with these crimes accordingly, it won’t stop. That’s why I urge all stakeholders, from social pressure groups and human rights organisations, to stay vigilant to protect the Hindus during the upcoming Durga Puja.”

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher