Increasing Muslim mob violence against Hindus in Bangladesh signals religious extremists gaining strength in the South Asian nation, minority leaders and rights activists say.
In the latest incident, a Muslim mob burned down 30 Hindu houses and vandalized another 50 in Majhipara village in northern Bangladesh’s Rangpur district on Oct. 17 night. The attackers also snatched 25 cows and 10 goats.
The violence lasted an hour and erupted after a Hindu boy allegedly made an anti-Islamic post on a social media site.
Hindu villager Niranjan Roy, 38, said the attackers burned his two-room tin-sheet house to the ground with all the belongings and stole two cows.
“A group of Muslims came to our village chanting religious slogans and carried out this attack. Villagers including myself were hiding in the paddy field and wherever they could,” Roy told UCA News.
The attack in Rangpur was the latest violence after a series of attacks marred Durga Puja, the largest Hindu religious festival in Bangladesh.
The unrest began on Oct. 13 when footage posted on social media allegedly showed a copy of the Quran placed on the knee of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman inside a tent erected to celebrate the Hindu festival in Cumilla district. Muslims took offense at what they saw as desecration of their holy book.
Muslim mobs vandalized Hindu temples and puja venues in up to a dozen districts, prompting authorities to deploy additional police and Border Guards of Bangladesh soldiers in about 22 districts.
Police fired on a rioting Muslim mob of some 500 in Hajiganj in Chandpur district, leaving four Muslims dead on Oct. 13.
In Begumganj of Noakhali district, two Hindus were killed after a mob of 200 Muslims attacked a Hindu temple on Oct. 16, police said.
According to the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist and Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), at least six Hindus were killed and 70 puja venues were attacked, looted and set on fire in the final three days of the Durga Puja festival from Oct. 11-15.
Amid concerns from neighboring Hindu-majority India, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met with Hindu leaders on Oct. 14 and promised stern action against attackers. She said her government is committed to maintaining religious pluralism and harmony at any cost.
However, minority leaders say violence against Hindus during their major religious festival shows that religious extremists are demonstrating their power in the Muslim-majority nation.
Evil communal forces exist in the country and the government has failed to protect minorities from religious bigots, says Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu Supreme Court lawyer and BHBCUC secretary-general.
“We blame the government for this attack. If the government wanted, it could have used its power to stop the attacks,” Dasgupta told UCA News.
“There were similar attacks in the past, but no justice was done to victims. The politics of the blame game between the main political parties prepared the ground for extremist forces to show their strength and fueled the rise of fundamentalism.”
Political parties are hesitant to act against hardline Muslim groups in case of a backlash from Muslim voters, say rights activists.
Dasgupta said religious minorities have lost faith in political leaders. Governments have failed to protect them from violence, including the ruling Awami League, a nominally secular party led by PM Hasina that has been in power since 2009.
“The government speaks about the safety of minorities before elections to win their votes but has not fulfilled promises after victory. The extremists are taking advantage whenever possible. This should be seen as a national problem, not just a problem for minorities,” he added.
Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, also pointed out that religious extremism is rising as the government’s commitments to minorities are not reflected in the reality amid a visible lack of justice for previous attacks.
“The government speaks about harmony but it is not doing what is needed to maintain harmony. Right now, the government needs to take a tough stance to eliminate extremist forces, no matter who they are,” he said.
The government should initiate meetings of religious leaders, politicians and civil society members to stop religious bigotry in the country, Father Gomes told UCA News.
While minority leaders express concerns, reports from rights groups point to rising violence targeting minorities, mostly Hindus.
According to Dhaka-based rights body Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), there were 3,710 attacks on minority Hindus in Bangladesh between 2013 and 2021. They included vandalism and arson attacks on houses, shops, businesses and temples as well as the violent grabbing of land and properties.
This year until September, at least 102 Hindu houses were vandalized and set on fire and six shops came under attack, the group reported.
The political blame game and a lack of sincerity to protect minority rights allows violence against minorities, says former ASK director and rights activist Nur Khan.
“When in power, political parties point fingers at the opposition for violence against minorities. As a result, justice is never done,” Khan told UCA News.
In the past 15 years, no serious action was taken against perpetrators of violence to deter them from engaging in such incidents. “So, it continues and keeps increasing,” Khan said.
Mawlana Amjad Hossain, a Shia Muslim leader from Chittagong city, said not just the government but also Muslim leaders must take steps to stop their community from engaging in violence against non-Muslims.
“Muslims who instigate violence against people of other faiths are neither Muslim nor real human beings. Muslim leaders should help their members to respect people of all faiths,” Hossain told UCA News.
Bangladesh has been known as a moderate Muslim-majority country with a long-held tradition of pluralism and religious harmony.
However, since 2013 the country has seen a sharp rise in Islamic militancy that has led to the murder of about 50 people including atheist bloggers, liberal academics, writers, publishers, religious minorities and foreigners.
About 90 percent of more than 160 million people in Bangladesh are Sunni Muslims, 8 percent are Hindu and the rest adhere to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity, according to government data.