We strongly condemn the outrageous incidents the nation witnessed during the recent Durga Puja festival. A number of people were killed and hundreds injured in violence and mayhem that took place. Apparently, those involved in the violence were incited by widely circulated footage on social media about alleged desecration of the Holy Quran during the Durga Puja celebrations in the district of Cumilla. There were also incidents of vandalism in Hindu temples in Chandpur’s Hajiganj, Chattogram’s Banshkhali, Cox’s Bazar’s Pekua, and Rangpur’s Pirganj.
Thankfully, the government took prompt and strong actions against the perpetrators of these most heinous acts. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised to bring to justice the culprits behind the violence, saying anyone involved in the attacks on Hindu temples and Durga Puja venues will not be spared. It must be admitted that the present government has been largely successful in containing extremism in Bangladesh. However, there are vicious elements, albeit miniscule in terms of numbers, in the society who take every opportunity to disrupt communal harmony in Bangladesh– a country which is known and appreciated throughout the world for the generous way it treats members of the minority community. The non-Muslims in Bangladesh are given equal rights in every sphere of the society. In this country one’s religious identity does not come in the way of his or her life and livelihood. However, if attacks on minorities continue the reputation of Bangladesh as a country where religious tolerance is the norm can erode. There are certain quarters who can take advantage of carnages like these and besmirch the well-earned reputation of Bangladeshis as a fair and tolerant people.
The Bengali culture shared by members of all communities is still thriving. And it is safe to say that the vast majority of the Bangladeshis are deeply saddened by the events. We must remember that there have been no religious riots, on massive scale, in independent Bangladesh. The constitutional guarantees providing equal status to all religions serve as a bulwark against intolerance.
Religious freedom is of paramount importance, not only because it is about religion, but also because it is about freedom. Muslims, who are the overwhelming majority here, have lived in total peace and harmony with their neighbours of other faiths. Islam has laid down some universal fundamental rights for humanity as a whole. Muslims take pride, and justifiably so, in their treatment of non-Muslims in their societies.
History shows that Muslims took the rights of their non-Muslim subjects seriously when the idea of this right was not even given any thought by others. The Muslim scholars are unanimous in their opinion that Muslims must protect the non-Muslims living in a Muslim majority state from any oppression and must protect their lives. They are bound to do so for all who live in the state. There are Muslim scholars who have gone to the extent of saying that the sin of oppressing a non-Muslim is even worse than oppressing a Muslim.
If, for argument’s sake we agree that there was mischief perpetrated by Hindus in the puja mandap, the offended people should have taken legal recourse. Communal harmony is the hallmark of democracy in a country governed by the rule of law. Rule of law pervades over the entire field of administration and every organ of the state in this country is supposed to be regulated and governed by the rule of law.
In the current age, with fake news and rumours reaching people within minutes thanks to social media, it has become quite easy for vested quarters to generate communal hatred. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the state and ulema or religious scholars to play due roles to prevent communal hatred from spreading. The government must ensure that any platform is not misused to demonise any community and propagate outrageous views. If controversial remarks are reported on social media or elsewhere, the authorities concerned must take actions to defuse the situation. Bangladesh cannot be allowed to get caught in the maelstrom of communal hatred of any kind.
Communalism is an obstacle in the development of the country. As stated earlier, Bangladesh has a legacy of unity and diversity which has to be upheld. We have to properly address any incidents of intolerance. The mischief-makers must be dealt with sternly.