The Bangladesh Awami League, since its inception in the late 1940s, started practising non-communal politics in the subcontinent. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation who led the liberation struggle of Bangladesh, took the initiative to secularise the Awami League and the erstwhile socio-political culture of this land.
One of the core principles of Bangabandhu’s liberation struggle was that of secularism and non-communalism. After the independence of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu adopted secularism as one of the four fundamental principles of state policy.
After the assassination of the Father of the Nation along with his family members, the extra-constitutional government of General Ziaur Rahman unconstitutionally dismantled the principle of secularism from the constitution and incorporated provisions allowing religious politics in the country, amending Article 38 for their narrow political gains.
Subsequently, in line with General Zia’s philosophy, another extra-constitutional regime of General Ershad also continued to bring religion in state affairs for their narrow political gain and to perpetuate their rule. The BNP-Jamat’s two government tenures led by Begum Khaleda Zia carried on the legacies of the extra-constitutional military regimes in terms of supporting communal policies at all levels.
During this period, the religious minorities, especially a significant number of the Hindu population, were subjected to oppression and repression.
The daughter of the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Hasina, after returning to Bangladesh in May 1981 started to lead a historic movement for restoration of democracy and rule of law in the country. Protection of the rights of the people belonging to the religious minorities was an important feature of her movements. Her movements for establishing fundamental rights continued till she took state power by winning the general election in 1996 and even beyond.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism and violence against people belonging to religious minorities. “Dhormo jaar jaar, utsob shobar (Religion as per one’s own, but festivals common to all)” is not only a slogan adopted by the Awami League but is also a depiction of religious harmony in Bengali society and culture for hundreds of years.
Our government always provides adequate protection during the festivals of religious minorities. This year, about 35,000 Durga Puja mandaps were set up across the country and the festivities went off peacefully except for some undesired and heinous incidents in Cumilla, Chandpur, Noakhali, Feni and Rangpur.
The total number of Durga Puja mandaps rose from 30,000 in 2017, which signifies the fact that the government has been adequately providing security and other facilities to them.
On October 13, 2021, the first attack at a local temple in Cumilla town was reported, arising out of an unexpected incident that is deemed to be a part of a conspiracy to start communal terrorism. On the directive of the Prime Minister, the government took serious cognisance instantly and started initiating all the necessary actions.
The Prime Minister has directed all concerned in the government to take immediate steps to identify and arrest the criminals, bring them to justice and take preventive measures in order to protect the religious minorities, especially the Hindu population.
Prime Minister Hasina also ordered to provide adequate compensation speedily to the affected people. The government deployed the Border Guard Bangladesh in 22 districts following tensions over the Cumilla incident.
But several incidents of attacks on Hindu temples occurred in the next few days in Chandpur, Noakhali, Feni and Rangpur, the most serious of them in Noakhali.
Prime Minister Hasina has urged Awami League leaders and activists to step out and resist the attacks on Hindu mandirs and houses and properties belonging to the religious minorities.
Starting with the Cumilla incident till date, 71 criminal cases have been lodged and about 500 people arrested all over the country on charges of communal attacks and violence. More cases are being processed. The police and the other law-enforcing agencies are working hard and conducting operations to arrest the accused.
Prime Minister Hasina has dismantled the regime of impunity in Bangladesh and established the rule of law. Her government has responded instantly to every incident of communal violence in the country by way of bringing the criminals to justice, while the other governments had actively indulged to this kind of heinous acts.
After the attack on a Buddhist temple in Ramu in 2012, 300 people were arrested within seven days, including the Upazilla chairman of Naikhongchhari, Tofael Ahmed, a Jamat leader who was suspended from his position.
The trials of the accused are continuing in the regular criminal courts and the government has been working hard as prosecution to ensure they are punished.
In the Nasir Nagar violence of 2016, 53 suspected were arrested and sent to jail within the first two days. The government did not exempt anyone from the prosecution. The trial is going on in the regular courts.
Because of the number of courts in comparison with the population, trials in Bangladesh generally take a considerable period of time for disposal. Even the trial of the killers of the Father of the Nation and his family members continued for many years.
Prime Minister Hasina has given a stern warning to perpetrators of communal violence. “Nobody will be spared. It does not matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished,” she has said.
Prime Minister Hasina, who truly believes in secular and non-communal politics, has said: “The Bangladesh Awami League does not use the term minority as a nomenclature for religious minorities in Bangladesh. We all are citizens of Bangladesh standing on equal footing and our constitution, laws of the land and the culture and heritage do not discriminate among our citizens on the grounds of religion, caste, creed, gender, etc.”
There is information that some political parties are trying to take recourse to communal terrorism in order to dismantle the current political and economic stability of the country and tarnish the image of Bangladesh before the outside world. It is substantially clear who could be the potential beneficiary.
A number of authentic reports indicate a political motive to destabilise the government through the recent communal violence. The reports have clearly indicated that the BNP and its allies and their activists and supporters have actively participated in the communal violence.
After the first incident in Cumilla, many BNP leaders, through their social media handles, had instigated or indulged the common people to engage in communal violence. In the past 10 years, the BNP and its allies have used several methods of campaign to try to destabilise the government. Having failed in every method, they have taken recourse to communal violence.
Given the sensitivity of the socio-political-cultural ethos of South Asia, playing the communal card was an easy task for them. However, because of the staunch and stringent position of Prime Minister Hasina’s government in dealing with and addressing the issue, the situation is under control.
The government has taken effective and adequate measures, both preventive and punitive, for the protection and welfare of the people belonging to religious minorities as well as for rendering justice to the victims and their families.
⚫ The author is the information and research secretary of the Bangladesh Awami League