The scheduled pran pratishtha (consecration ceremony) of the murti of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya on 22 January has generated a lot of apprehension among Hindus in Bangladesh.
The grand ceremony planned in Ayodhya next month has rekindled memories among Bangladesh’s Hindus, of the fallout of the demolition of the Babri structure in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992.
Hindus in Bangladesh were attacked, tortured, killed, raped and many were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam, while their properties were looted and many mandirs desecrated and destroyed.
The attacks, which continued for four long months till March 1993, were reportedly orchestrated by radical Islamists belonging to the then ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally — the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.
“We had to bear the brunt of the (Babri masjid) demolition. Many Hindus were killed, womenfolk were raped, abducted and converted to Islam, many mandirs were looted and desecrated and our houses were destroyed. Those attacks triggered another wave of exodus of Hindus from Bangladesh to India,” Benoy Kumar Das, a garments trader in the business hub of Narayanganj near Dhaka told Swarajya.
The most important religious place of Bangladeshi Hindus — the Dhakeshwari mandir — from which the country’s capital takes its name, was attacked and looted on 7 December that year.
The vigrahas of the deities were destroyed, gold and other precious jewellery, as well as cash was taken away from its coffers and the mandir was also desecrated by smearing some portions with the blood of a slaughtered cow.
“The inauguration of the Ram mandir at Ayodhya next month will generate a lot of media attention even in Bangladesh. The radical Muslims here who are always looking for a chance to attack Hindus may try to whip up passions and orchestrate attacks on us again,” said Das.
A senior functionary of the ‘Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishod’ told Swarajya over phone from Dhaka, that the timing of the Ram mandir inauguration may be ominous for the Hindus of that country.
“Parliamentary elections (in Bangladesh) will be held on 7 January and the results will be declared by 8 January. The Awami League is expected to sweep the elections and Sheikh Hasina will return to power. That victory is likely to trigger widespread protests by the BNP and Islamist parties. The radical Muslims in Bangladesh do not want Sheikh Hasina to return to power. They will vent their frustration at their inability to prevent the Awami League from forming the government again on Hindus. Hindus are the soft target in Bangladesh,” said the Porishod functionary who is also a lawyer.
Hindus have been targeted after elections in the past as well. After the BNP came to power in October 2001, nationwide attacks on Hindus by BNP cadres and Islamists resulted in many deaths and destruction of a lot of properties belonging to Hindus.
Again, in December 2008 and January 2014 when Sheikh Hasina came to power, Hindus were assaulted and their properties attacked by frenzied Muslim mobs angry at the Awami League’s victory.
“Hindus are the losers either way. When the BNP comes to power, the radical mullahs and their followers celebrate the victory by attacking Hindus. When the Awami League comes to power, they take out their anger on Hindus,” said another Sylhet-based leader of the Porishad, who retired as the principal of a prominent college in that province.
Debashish Kundu, who is a partner in a small IT firm in Dhaka, told Swarajya that Hindus are perceived to be strong supporters of the Awami League.
“That’s why Hindus are attacked when the League comes to power and also when the League loses. Hindus are blamed for the Awami League’s victory by the mullahs. And when the BNP comes to power, the mullahs and their followers celebrate by attacking Hindus,” said Kundu.
But the Awami League (AL) cannot absolve itself of the blame for attacks on Hindus. The AL has been infiltrated by Islamists who have a pronounced antipathy for 'malauns' (as Hindus are pejoratively called in Bangladesh).
Very often, it is AL functionaries in the middle and lower ranks of the party hierarchy who attack Hindus. “The motive is to dispossess Hindus of their properties and drive us away from the country,” said Kundu.
“Electoral victories and defeats are just an excuse to attack Hindus, grab Hindu properties and forcibly convert Hindus to Islam. The anti-malaun agenda of the Islamists, be they in the AL or the BNP, remains constant,” said Sailen Sil, a political analyst.
That is why, fear the Hindus of Bangladesh, the consecration of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya can make them the target of Islamists’ ire.
“The Islamists in Bangladesh — and their numbers are growing by the day — will be angry with Sheikh Hasina returning to power in early January. The grand consecration ceremony at Ayodhya will add salt to their wounds. They may use the ceremony (at Ayodhya) as an excuse to punish the hapless Hindus,” said Sil, whose close relatives fled the country in January 1993 after their properties at Mireswari village in Chittagong district were destroyed by angry Muslim mobs.
Many Hindus say that a lot, however, depends on Sheikh Hasina. “She has the entire administration in her powerful grip. If she forbids attacks on Hindus, we will be safe,” said Ratul Biswas, a former officer of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP).
“Sheikh Hasina plays a balancing game at times. She tries to keep a section of Islamists happy and indulges them. She provides them a sort of safety valve at times to take out their anger and frustrations by attacking Hindus. Otherwise, they can pose a grave threat to her,” said another young functionary of the Porishad.
This view is widely endorsed by not only Hindus, but also ‘secular and liberal’ Muslims of Bangladesh.
“If Sheikh Hasina does not want, there will be no attacks on Hindus. The reverse is true as well,” said Mantasoor Ahmed Mamoon, an educationist who teaches economics at a private university in Dhaka.
Her imminent victory in the forthcoming elections to the Jatiya Sansad (Bangladesh’s Parliament) will definitely anger Islamists. She may provide them an outlet by allowing them to evoke memories of the Babri structure demolition, and the inauguration of the Ram Mandir that has come up at the site of the demolished domes, to mobilise Muslim masses
And that can lead to attacks on Hindus of Bangladesh once again.
“It is not that we (Hindus) are secure in Bangladesh. Attacks on us have been a recurring feature for nearly a hundred years now. Not a day goes by without reports of a Hindu being attacked, or attempts made to take over Hindus property, or a mandir being desecrated. But what we fear is a largescale attack on us on the lines of what happened from December 1992 to March 1993,” said Sil.
The possibility of a repeat of 1992-1993 is sending a shiver down the collective spine of Hindus in Bangladesh. The only way a repeat can be prevented, say the Hindus there, is if New Delhi sends a strong message to Sheikh Hasina that any more attacks on Hindus will not be tolerated.
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