By Anand Kumar
December 9, 2016
Bangladesh has often been seen as a
moderate Islamic country. But it has also seen several waves of religious
extremism. And in recent times, there has been a fear of Islamic State getting
a foothold in Bangladesh.
This fear was especially strong in the
aftermath of the July 1 Dhaka Café attack. Fortunately, the prompt action of
the government against the terrorist groups and their masterminds did enough to
quell the apprehensions of emergence of ISIS in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, ISIS
itself seems to be struggling for its survival as the battle for the territory
controlled by it rages in West Asia.
But the ideology that the Islamist groups have
propagated seems to linger on in Bangladesh.
Its manifestation was seen in the October
30 Brahmanbaria violence where houses and temples of the minority Hindu
community have been vandalised. This attack was followed by a couple of more
attacks of similar kind.
There is no doubt that the present Awami
League government in Bangladesh is secular in orientation and is trying to
protect the minorities, but the problem seems to be quite deep.
Bangladesh has always been a divided
society where one section of the population is secular but there is also a
section which has been extremist. This extremist section seems to be growing in
strength as influence of radical ideology has grown worldwide.
Moreover, as Bangladesh depends on
migration of its workforce abroad for remittances, it has also received Wahhabi
and Salafi ideology along with these remittances. The Gulf countries have also
fuelled extremism through charities and donations for mosques and Qaumi
One such group which is intimately linked
to quami madrasas is Hefajat-e-Islam. This group has its headquarters in
Hathzari of Chittagong. It has been involved in recent attacks on the
minorities in Brahmanbaria. It is also the same group which held Dhaka to
ransom when it launched its protest against the secular Gano Jagran Manch —
which supports war crime trials in Bangladesh and has called for capital
punishment to Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah Kader Molla.
The recent attacks by Hefazat-e-Islam are
believed to be in retaliation against the alleged demeaning of Islam by a
Hindu, Rasraj Das, who is a fisherman from Brahmanbaria. The group alleged that
the person tried to belittle the holy Kaaba. Though the alleged guilty person
has been arrested and sent to jail, the Hefajat-e-Islam, along with Ahle Sunnat
Wal Jamaat, decided to bring out two protest marches on Diwali day against the
minority community. During these marches, cadres of Hefazat-e-Islam went
berserk and vandalised at least five Hindu temples and ransacked more than a
hundred Hindu houses.
Actually, the modus operandi is quite
similar to the 2012 Ramu attacks against Buddhists in Cox’s Bazar. Even then, a
supposedly blasphemous post on social media site Facebook was used to attack
them. Later, it was found that the alleged culprit did not post it but it was
simply tagged on his page by someone and the post showed up on his Facebook
Even in the Brahmanbaria case, Rasraj Das
has been cleared by investigators of the charge of hurting religious sentiments
of the Muslims. The district police has found that the controversial Facebook
image that triggered a wave of communal attacks on Nasirnagar Hindus a month
ago was not uploaded from Rasraj’s mobile phone. Actually, the post was made
from Dhaka. This has also been confirmed by the Forensic Department of Police
Bureau of Investigation.
Brahmanbaria is the district of Islami
Oikya Jote leader late Mufti Fazlul Haque. It is a stronghold of the Islamist
parties in Bangladesh. It has also been a hotbed of extremist and terrorist
activities. In January 2016, a music college named after famous Bangladeshi
composer and music teacher Ustad Alauddin Khan was vandalised.
The minorities of Bangladesh have been
coming under attack at regular intervals. This has created an atmosphere of
panic among these people who look towards the Awami League government for
protection. But so far, the government has not been very effective in
preventing such attacks. The government alleges that these attacks are being
orchestrated by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat
who want to defame the country. But such allegations do not absolve the
government of its responsibility.
It is also believed in Bangladesh that the
organisational set up of Awami League has been penetrated by Jamaat-e-Islami
and a number of Jamaat leaders have infiltrated the party. In many cases of
violence against minorities, these people are suspected to be involved.
To the credit of the present Sheikh Hasina
government, it must be said that it has promptly deployed security forces (RAB
and para-military BGB) in the affected areas. But unfortunately the local
police has not been doing its job with alacrity. The inaction of local police
against the extremists has caused concern among the minority community.
Unless the government improves the law
enforcement at the local level, violence against the minorities in Bangladesh
would be difficult to prevent.
Anand Kumar is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies
& Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.