Geopolitics

Islamists Target Hindu Minority In Bangladesh

''The goal of the fundamentalists is to force us to leave Bangladesh and go to India,” says one activist for the rights of religious minorities.

Hindu devotees Swamibagh, Bangladesh
Hindu devotees Swamibagh, Bangladesh
Frédéric Bobin

ENAYETPUR — There is a pile of burned-out metal sheets and poles, and the smell of ashes still remains in Enayetpur, a Bangladeshi hamlet situated on the Gulf of Bengal. Three houses of braided palm, where 20 people were sleeping Jan. 8, did not resist long in the fire caused by attackers who threw Molotov cocktails during the night.

Miraculously, only one person, Acharjee Mitu, was wounded. He still has some burns on his forehead, a shiny pink stain. A week later, the villagers are still in shock. They belong to the country’s Hindu minority, which represents just 9% of the population. During the last year, Muslim attacks against Hindus — and occasionally against Buddhists — have intensified. The controversial Jan. 5 elections, boycotted by an opposition that includes influential fundamentalist Muslims, have worsened the climate of violence.

Resident Sanjay Acharjee did not see the attackers. But he has no doubt about their identity: “They are activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami and of BNP — Bangladesh Nationalist Party.”

Jamaat-e-Islami is the primary Islamist party in Bangladesh. It is historically allied with the BNP. In recent weeks, the two parties orchestrated a violent campaign to protest the last elections on the grounds that it was not “transparent.” Police and paramilitary forces have responded with great brutality, polarizing the Bangladeshi political scene even further.

In this highly charged context, the Hindu minority was an easy target for the most extreme opposition activists, including those related to the Islamist movement. The Islamists wanted to make them pay for their participation in the elections.

Hindus — and other minorities (including Buddhists and Christians) — have always supported the Awami League, the ruling party since 2009 whose mandate was renewed after the Jan. 5 elections. Embodying the legacy of the struggle for Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) independence against Pakistan in 1971, the Awami League defends secular values of religious minorities as a safeguard against Islamist extremism.

“The goal of the fundamentalists is to force us to leave Bangladesh and go to India,” says Ranajit Kumur Dey, president of an organization defending the rights of Hindu, Buddhist and Christian minorities. In fact, the exodus to a large neighboring country with a Hindu majority is a history that dates back to the partition in 1947 between India and Pakistan of the former British “crown jewel.” Today only about 11 million Hindus are still living in Bangladesh.

The independence of Bangladesh in 1971, during which Hindus were victims of pro-Pakistani forces, accelerated the demographic decline. In Enayetpur, people still remember that time. A fire back then destroyed all the households. “The majority of the population of the village fled to India,” says Sanjay Acharjee.

The increasing number of attacks in recent months, motivated both by religious fanaticism and land expropriation, has revived the memory of that dark period among Hindus. A vigilante group has organized night patrols, and the lack of sleep has given them dark circles under their eyes.

“If I had the means, I would leave Bangladesh,” says Arun Acharjee. “We do not want to leave the country that is our homeland,” says Gobinda Mohajan. “But we live in permanent insecurity.”

What’s hardest for Mohajan to understand is that the secular government of the Awami League is ineffective in protecting Hindus, even though the religious minority supports the government. Mohajan is even tempted to put all the parties of the “Muslim majority” in the same basket. “They are all interconnected and share the same feelings,” he sighs.

A disillusioned statement that leaves little room for hope.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
China

Peng Shuai, A Reckoning China's Communist Party Can't Afford To Face

The mysterious disappearance – and brief reappearance – of the Chinese tennis star after her #metoo accusation against a party leader shows Beijing is prepared to do whatever is necessary to quash any challenge from its absolute rule.

Fears are growing about the safety and whereabouts of Peng Shuai

Yan Bennett and John Garrick

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's apparent disappearance may have ended with a smattering of public events, which were carefully curated by state-run media and circulated in online clips. But many questions remain about the three weeks in which she was missing, and concerns linger over her well-being.

Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, had been out of the public eye since Nov. 2. 2021 when she penned a since-deleted social media post accusing former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct.

In the U.S. and Europe, such moments of courage from high-profile women have built momentum to out perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault and give a voice to those wronged. But in the political context of today's People's Republic of China (PRC) – a country that tightly controls political narratives within and outside its borders – something else happened. Peng was seemingly silenced; her #MeToo allegation was censored almost as soon as it was made.

Keep reading... Show less
Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ