The recent attacks on Hindus in various districts of Bangladesh have led many to reconsider the problems of the partition of India, whose legacy refuses to end. Many fear that such chaos will lead to a further exodus of Hindus from the neighboring nation to this side of Bengal.
Many criticize the government of Bangladesh for not being able to anticipate and prevent violence during Durga Puja celebrations; many allege the involvement of grassroots workers from the ruling Awami League in the attacks. Some believe that no successful action will ever be taken against criminals through due legal process.
Many in India are criticizing Indian leaders for not formally condemning the incident with strong words. Most unfortunate is the fact that many on both sides of the border are not disturbed by the incident. For them, “it happens, it has happened in the past too”. It is well known that in Bangladesh politics two currents are almost as strong: liberal Democrats on the one hand and Islamic fundamentalists on the other.
The first stream is informed by the spirit of the liberation struggle (muktijuddho), which Cheikh Mujib represented later in his life, and has considerable influence among the urban middle class. The other current, having more influence in the rural areas, always claimed that the liberal current was sympathetic to the causes of India.
The constraints of electoral politics have often forced the government of Sheikh Hasina to be firm enough against the jihadist policies of the Second Current. Despite this, the minorities in Bangladesh have no choice but to firmly support Sheikh Hasina and his party.
It is often said that in Bangladesh bullying against minorities is not normally recorded in police stations, especially in rural areas. Cases of atrocities against Hindus are often not taken to logical conclusions. This makes minorities particularly vulnerable, ultimately leading them to migrate to India informally.
Why minorities in general and Hindus in particular have not been able to organize over the past 75 years to resist such bullying is a matter of debate. However, the fact remains that they have accepted the eventualities as their fait accompli, instead of fighting for their rights in their homeland. Whether Sheikh Hasina’s current regime succeeds in turning the tide is what is to be seen next.
As far as India is concerned, the Union government has shown maximum restraint in its reaction to events in Bangladesh, even though Indians cannot remain immune from the consequences of the chaos in the neighboring country by because of their common heritage. This restraint on the part of Indian political leaders has demonstrated once again the value India attaches to friendship with Bangladesh.
Those who engineered chaos against the Hindus wanted Prime Minister Hasina to lose his popularity among minorities. Perhaps they wanted the Indian government to distance itself from the Hasina regime. These elements, many of which supported the Pakistani genocide during their liberation struggle, found new life after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan.
The people of India and Bangladesh must be extra careful to avoid falling into the trap of jihadist politics. On many occasions, the government led by Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated its determination to fight fundamentalism. The criminal cases against most of those implicated in the murder of Bangladesh’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, have come to logical conclusions, even after 45 years of assassination.
The die-hard leaders who were convicted of war crimes during the 1971 Liberation War have mostly been prosecuted and executed. The Dhaka Special Counterterrorism Court has sentenced five people to death for the murder of liberal blogger Abhijit Roy. Four Islamist extremists were sentenced to death last year for beheading a Hindu priest in 2016.
There are many such cases which indicate the firmness of the current regime in dealing with organized terrorism, which in turn has raised the expectation of minorities and other vulnerable sections to seek justice from the Hasina government. There has been a spate of assassinations of liberal bloggers, cultural activists, politicians, minority priests, writers and publishers in Bangladesh since 2013, followed by the attack on Holey artisan bakery ( 2016).
The Bangladesh government’s zero tolerance policy towards violent extremism indicates the current regime’s steadfastness in dealing with organized terrorism. Many suspected radicals were killed in aggressive repressions after 2016, which brought a great degree of stability to the country and also facilitated an impressive rate of economic growth.
If the same zero-tolerance policy is adopted towards the criminals who designed and executed the recent chaos against Hindus, it will reverse the 75-year-old wave of injustice against minorities in this country. Bangladesh does not know why the Hindu population of this country has grown from almost 30% in 1947 to around 8% today.
An introspection is already present within civil society and the academic community of Dhaka. Tackling the poison of community intolerance in any society is an ongoing process. Aberrations will always occur, but the way the state responds to such aberrations is indicative of the strength of a democracy.
More than haughty rhetoric, what is important is to properly investigate every case of atrocities against minorities by law enforcement agencies within a specified time frame, to reserve the culprits and to punish them according to the legal process. . If necessary, the whole investigation can be brought under the control of the Supreme Court and the trial can be carried out in an expedited court.
You have to know why the intelligence services and the police failed to protect Hindus from barbaric attacks. If the attackers included supporters of the ruling party, they should be shown no mercy. Hindus who have lost their lives and property must be properly compensated. Unprecedented punishment inflicted on rioters will be the greatest tribute to the memory of Bangabandhu and the spirit of muktijuddho on the occasion of his 50th birthday.
(The writer is a retired civil servant)