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Monday, January 13, 2014

String of attacks rattles Bangladesh's Hindus

Source: IBN Live

Bangladesh's Hindus have been rattled by a string of attacks linked to the recent controversial general election, with leaders of the minority community saying such violence can be stopped only if the government takes stern action against perpetrators.
Activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami were blamed for attacks on the Hindus, who were accused of backing the Awami League which won the January 5 polls despite a boycott by the opposition.
The activists torched, vandalised and looted homes, shops and businesses establishments of Hindus in the northwestern districts of Dinajpur, Lalmonirhat and Thakurgaon and at Noapara in western Jessore district, which was the worst affected area. According to statistics from the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council (HBCUC), 485 households and 578 shops owned by Hindus in 32 districts were vandalised since the election schedule was announced on November 25.
String of attacks rattles Bangladesh's Hindus
String of attacks rattles Bangladesh's Hindus

During this period, 152 temples were also damaged. "It appeared that the state has failed to take adequate steps to protect the minority community," said Mizanur Rahman Khan, chairman of the statutory Bangladesh Human Rights Commission.
Hindu community leaders have cautiously welcomed government actions to prevent attacks on minorities, including a decision last week to set up special tribunals under an anti-terror law to punish those responsible for violence. "We see the situation is improving with no major attacks or intimidation if Hindus in the past two days thanks to growing social resistance and government action," Kajal Debnath, presidium member of the HBCUC, told.
But the community leaders feared the improvement could be a short-lived phenomenon if culprits were not brought to justice quickly and given stern punishment like life sentence. "The most important deterrent could be making a provision under which lawmakers of a (violence-affected) constituency will be held liable along with ensuring the accountability of the local administration and police for any attacks or intimidation," Debnath said.
Information Minister Hassanul Haq Inu reiterated the government s "zero tolerance" policy for communal intimidation as announced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He told PTI that steps were being taken for "stern punitive actions" against culprits.
"But first of all, let me tell you this is not any communal violence. The attacks were carried out with a political motive to create instability and affect our relations with regional nations," Inu said. He said dozens of culprits had been detained as part of a massive clampdown and the situation would improve further after the new Awami League government assumes office.
Lawmakers would go their respective areas and oversee an anti-communal campaign after the government is installed. The HBCUC staged a nationwide black flag protest over the attacks on Saturday, with the main protest held in Dhaka, where activists demanded the enactment of tougher laws to prosecute culprits in fast tracks courts and compensate victims.
Hundreds of youths carrying banners of the Ganojagaran Mancha or "mass upsurge movement" joined a march towards Jessore, where Hindus were the worst victims of violence. Government officials said the attacks on Hindus would be categorised as acts of "terrorism". Shafique Ahmed, the Prime Minister's law affairs adviser, said a process has been initiated to try the culprits under the Terrorism Prevention Act.
The Law Ministry has already taken the initiative of forming tribunals in consultation with the Supreme Court. Home Secretary C Q Moshtaque said the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh was kept in place despite the end of their election duties to asked to prevent fresh attacks on Hindus. Action had also been taken against several deputy commissioners and police superintendents for their failure to prevent attacks, he said.
Government-sponsored social committees had been revived to protect minorities and the districts administrations were asked to reach out to Hindus to give them moral support.
The mass circulation Prothom Alo reported that one Hindu died in panic of a heart attack after some persons set on fire hay stashed in his backyard in northwestern Joypurhat. Premier Sheikh Hasina blamed her arch-rival BNP chief Khaleda Zia for the violence. She promised strict action against the culprits, saying: "Everyone responsible for attacks on the minority community will face stern punishment."
In many places, opposition activists attacked both Hindus and supporters of the AL for defying an opposition call to boycott the polls which the BNP described as "farcical". But the BNP said in a statement that attacks on Hindus were being carried out at the government's instigation to divert people's attention from massive criticism of the polls.
BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, who issued the statement, asked opposition leaders and activists to take effective steps to protect minorities. Minorities account for 9.7 per cent of Bangladesh's population of 150 million and, according to the last census, Hindus make up about 8.4 per cent of the populace.

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