Ramu, Satkhira, Hathajari: the friendless minorities of Bangladesh


Ramu Upazilla of Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh usually comes to news when mad wild elephants attack localities and trample people to death. But this time, news of a different madness sent a chill through the spine of the whole nation. Through a night long mob attack and violence, dozens of Budhdhist temples, religious structures, monasteries, households were destroyed and burnt to ashes.

This is apparently the first communal attack on Buddhist minorities in Bangladesh. As Hindu and Pahari minorities used to be at the receiving end of almost all communal atrocities in Bangladesh, Buddhists coexisted peacefully with mainstream Muslims for centuries.

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This attack makes it the 3rd major incidence of communal violence in this year. Earlier in February the attack on Hindu temple and households in Hathajari, Chittagong remained pretty much under the radar. Major media of Bangladesh decided not to embarrass the so called progressive secular government by publishing these stories of minority persecution. During immediate aftermath, Government leadership, on the face of utter failure to control the situation in a timely manner — found it convenient to blame the opposition political parties. 8 months have passed since, no real efforts have been made to investigate and punish the perpetrators in Hajhajari.

In March of this year another major wave of attack was launched on Hindu properties, temples and businesses in southwestern district of Satkhira, Bangladesh. Like the events in Hathajari, this news also did not make it the mainstream news media. People only came to know about the atrocities in Satkhira when a group of angry Dhaka University students belonging to minority Hindu community came out in street protesting the event. And as usual, the Government, instead to going to the root of the problem, sincerely trying to find the real criminals, find it a very convenient excuse to come down harder on some opposition political parties.

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When Ramu incidence first came to light, highest government official making a statement on this issue, the home minister, blamed the local leader and MP of the opposition party for the atrocities. He however changed his blame rhetoric a couple of more times since then. Yesterday morning he blamed the Rohingya refugees from Arakan region of Burma for the violence. And then later the same day he notified the media that he had information that local terror networks in collusion with international terror organization did commit the Ramu atrocities.

And instead of securing all the remaining Buddhists and other minority localities and religious structures — the government leadership, starting with Home Minister, Industry Minister, Police High Ups, AL leaders Hanif and Nanok, AL MPs kept all the law enforcing resources busy in VIP duties for making their political visits and statements. And as a result, more Hindu and Buddhist temples in nearby Patiya, Ukhia etc came under fresh attacks.

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September 2012 — March 2012 — February 2012
It is rare for Bangladesh to have three events within the span of 8 months.

For the last major incidence we have go back by 11 years to October of 2001 when major Hindu persecution took place. That incidence may be different from the current incidence is that that took place under the newly formed BNP government which was yet to exert control over the administration.

The event before 2001 was that of December 1992 — again nearly ten years ago. Although it may sound like a politically biased statement, it is true that compared to what the administration did to prevent escalation of violence in December 1992 — in Hathajari, Satkhira and Ramu, the administration failed to mobilize resources in adequate time and stop the rioters with a heavy handed approach. In 1992, Government even blocked BBC News and CNN news to prevent Babri Mosque demolition clips being seen in TV in Bangladesh.

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Starting from Ershad era of 80s, when religious violence used to be instigated by Ershad government to divert peoples’ attention away from anti autocracy movements, to 90s and now in the new millennium — administration and law enforcement agencies have always been slow and reluctant to take measures against rioters. However all these times the civil society, the media, the human rights bodies, the progressive cultural forces all came out vocal against religious persecution and stood beside the oppressed. This trend is relatively absent or ‘weak at best’ when Awami League government is in power. There is a reflex inertia to say things do things those might embarrass Awami League. This makes minorities more helpless and friendless during Awami League era. At some point the minorities must start demanding the governments to answer for these failures to protect the minority lives and worship sites.

11 comments

  1. I don’t agree with this: “In 1992, Government even blocked BBC News and CNN news to prevent Babri Mosque demolition clips being seen in TV in Bangladesh.”

    This is not the solution. We don’t want government to block TV and Internet. We want them to do their job. Send police and arrest people. In every one of the recent incidents, police were just standing by, waiting for instructions from “higher ups.”

    • In 1992 during Babri Mosque demolition related violences, 10 people died — nearly all of them by police shooting the rioting mob.

      • I’m not disagreeing that during Babri Mosque, Bangladesh saw relatively little violence (thankfully). I am disagreeing that blocking media is the solution. What is needed is strong, independent policing. Not police that melts into shadows when the thugs are:
        a) linked to government
        OR
        b) linked to powerful area forces

      • As far as I recall. CNN, BBC was not totally blocked. What was done was a totally primitive but effective way to not allowing the people of Bangladesh see certain sensitive footage of Babri mosque demolition. during that time CNN BBC used to be telecast in Channel Six of BTV. So every time the footage of naked saints jumping on the main dome and demolition of the mosque came up, BTV will stop the broadcast about 30 to 60 second. It must have been a painstaking process for the people involved.

      • Again, I disagree very strongly that blocking media is the solution. It could never be the solution. We are believing the media and supra-media narrative about what “caused” the violence.

      • Also, we should also remember that violence is only one indicator. Babri (both the fake news circulated by Ershad’s regime in 1990 and the actual events in 1992) triggered some of the strongest spikes in out-migration by Hindus from BD since 1971 – driven by instances of general insecurity as well as specific property grabbing, intimidation etc. No deaths, no violence, no riots etc doesn’t necessarily mean all is well.

        Just blacking out news in a short period helps neither to address the long term underlying trends, or in dispelling the inevitable rumor mills which can often make things worse. Ershad’s manufacturing of a communal disturbance to deflect attention from the height of the student uprising in late 1990 shows how word of mouth even without news verification can escalate and explode rapidly.

      • I agree.
        90 and 92 created deep wound among the minority Hindu community in Bangladesh. After 1971, those events contributed most intensely to Hindi Migration out of Bangladesh. Added factors also included a generalized disenchantment and hopelessness on the Bangladesh investment that slowly became more powerful throughout the 90s. This disenchantment prevailed both in Hindu and Muslim community. Throughout 80s, all were waiting for removal of Ershad and better days ahead. But since removal of Ershad better days did not come.

        I wrote it before. In 1992, I was in Chittagong when Babri Mosque attack happened. We were preparing for our final Medical Exam. I saw how a few of our Hindu friends who were local of Chittagong took shelter in the hostel during the early morning hours. The fear and terror I saw on their face that night, I never saw anywhere before and hope not to see again. Their parents sent them to hostel ( at least one sons life be saved), they sent the daughters to their( Daughters) Muslim friends’ homes and themselves stayed back to see what they can protect from looters.

        After all what happened on that night it will sound very insensitive to say that the damage was limited due to police BDR actions. Especially nothing will heal the damage those events created in peoples’ minds.

        Interestingly, four months later, when I was rotating in the orthopedics ward of the medical college hospital, my rotation partner was one of the Hindu friends who took shelter at hostel that night of Babri mosque demolition. There were at least four to five young men admitted the filthy general wards veranda which bullet injury to their thigh bone, hip bone. Infection, rotting bones-flesh, cast-plaster immobilizing whole of lower limb, legs hanging to the ceiling with steel wires… That was an inhumane indescribable existence. All these young men, we found out, where shot during Babri mosque riot(?) night. we also found out that they were neither zealots nor political activists. They simply were youth of street — who always get sucked into the forefront of these sort of violence.

        Their condition was very bad – foul smelling infected flesh, uncleaned stool urine made the stench so intense that, it was even difficult to go near them.

        So who helped them out? That Hindu friend of mine and me took turns in dressing their wounds, changing dressing regularly until our rotation to that unit was over. He gave much more time than me to fix those rotting wounds.

  2. Rumi Ahmed writes that this is the first attack on Buddhist minorities. Buddhist temples have been attacked many many times in the CHT. In the 2010 attacks, temples were destroyed in Sajek. The army has several times stopped building of temples by blocking roads in the CHT. It does seem like we are somewhat less caring or less conscious about things happening in the CHT. So the military/intelligence tactic of making it seem like these attacks are an equal Bangali-Pahari maramari rather than a carefully-planned military intelligence instigated attack is working perfectly in the Bangali subconscious.

    • Hana
      This is what I wrote in the original post, ” This is apparently the first communal attack on Buddhist minorities in Bangladesh. As Hindu and Pahari minorities used to be at the receiving end of almost all communal atrocities in Bangladesh…”

      I did not forget or ignore violence against pahari communities in CHT or indigenous communities in Mymenshing or North Bengal.

      I thought violence on Pahari/ indigenous people is mostly race based — religion might not have been the main reason behind the animosity.

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