By Rumi Ahmed
October 5, 2012
Ramu Upazilla of Cox's Bazaar district usually comes in the 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 nation. Through a night-long mob attack and violence, dozens of Buddhist temples, religious structures, monasteries, and 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 third major incident of communal violence this year. Earlier in February the attack on Hindu temple and households in Hathajari, Chittagong remained 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 the immediate aftermath, government leadership, in the face of utter failure to control the situation in a timely manner, found it convenient to blame the opposition political parties. Eight months have passed, but no real efforts have been made to investigate and punish the perpetrators in Hajhajari.
In March of this year, another major wave of attacks was launched on Hindu properties, temples, and businesses in southwestern district of Satkhira. Like the events in Hathajari, this news also did not make it to the mainstream news media. People only came to know about the atrocities in Satkhira when a group of angry Dhaka University students belonging to Hindu community came out in the streets protesting the event. And, as usual, the government, instead of going to the root of the problem and sincerely trying to find the real criminals, found it a very convenient excuse to come down harder on some opposition political parties.
When Ramu incident first came to light, the 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 changed his blame rhetoric a couple more times since then. Then he blamed the Rohingya refugees from Burma for the violence. Later on the same day, he notified the media that he had information that local terror networks in collusion with an international terror organisation committed the Ramu atrocities.
And instead of securing all the remaining Buddhist and other minority localities and religious structures, the government leadership, starting with home minister, industry minister, police high-ups, AL leaders Hanif and Nanok, and AL MPs kept all the law enforcing resources busy with VIP duties for their political visits and statements. 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 eight months.
For the last major incidents, we have to go back to October 2001 when major Hindu persecution took place. That incident may be different from the current incident in that it 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. 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 current administration failed to mobilise resources in time to stop the rioters with a heavy-handed approach.
Starting from the 1980s, when religious violence used to be instigated by Ershad government to divert peoples' attention away from anti-autocracy movements, to 1990s 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, civil society, media, human rights bodies and progressive cultural forces, all came out vocally against religious persecution and stood beside the oppressed. This trend is relatively absent or weak "at best" when an Awami League government is in power.
At some point, the minorities must start demanding the government's answers for these failures to protect minority lives and worship sites.
Rumi Ahmed is a political analyst and co-founder of AlalODulal.org blog