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.
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.
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 leadership 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.
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.
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 League government is in power. There is a reflex inertia to say things do things those might embarrass League. This makes minorities more helpless and friendless. At some point the minorities must start demanding the governments to answer for these failures to protect the minority lives and worship sites.