Writing in Dhaka Tribune this week, Saleem Samad recalled a popular song of Sufi singer Fakir Lalon Shah. The revered singer’s 131st death anniversary fell on October 16. But since October 13, Bangladesh witnessed a frenzy of loot, arson and killing in Hindu homes, temples and villages, the like of which it had not seen in the last 20 years. The immediate provocation was said to be the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran at a Durga Puja pandal and an allegedly derogatory social media post, both unsubstantiated.
In this backdrop the fakir’s song seemed apt. “O how long are we to wait/For the birth of a society/Where castes and class and labels/Like Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian/ Will be forgotten?/And none will be there to swindle the innocent/ Pretending to be their saviour/Nor will there be bigots.”
As Bangladesh’s Prime Minister warned miscreants, while pointedly saying that events across the border in India were instigating mischief mongers in her own country, students and civil society staged protests and demanded harsh and exemplary punishment. Mindful of the poor image the communal clashes were projecting, Bangladesh Government did direct stern measures.
Five miscreants were shot dead by Bangladesh Police and between October 14 and October 20, 470 miscreants were arrested. The ruling Awami League ‘de-nominated’ some of their own leaders, who were found to have instigated the violence. The police however failed to prevent miscreants who set hundreds of houses on fire, burnt standing crops and vandalised over 80 puja pandals in Kumilla, Rangpur, Chittagong and other districts where the violence spread. At least two Hindus were killed though the full magnitude of the carnage is still not clear. Ironically, the police did manage to prevent any damage to the house of the teenaged boy who was accused of writing the derogatory social media post. The family fled and the boy’s statement was recorded. Students and members of the civil society hit the streets and demanded protection of minorities and exemplary punishment to miscreants.
Several commentators compared the attack on Hindus in October 2021 to the post-poll violence in October 2001 when Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in alliance with Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, had swept to power. Thousands of Hindus had then taken refuge in West Bengal.