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The Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Oikyo Parishad (unity alliance) of Bangladesh has claimed that the incidents of attacks on religious minorities in the first three months of the current year are three times higher than what happened throughout last year.

The watchdog also says that the number of people affected by the attacks during the three months is six times higher than last year.

The shocking findings were presented before the media in Dhaka on Friday by the general secretary of the watchdog, Rana Dasgupta, who is also a prominent prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal.

Attack on the non-Muslims particularly Hindus, Buddhists and indigenous people, their worshiping places and houses, killings and rape is a common phenomenon in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Even though the country’s constitution recognizes secularism as one of its principles, it also gives Islam the status of state religion while religion-based politics is allowed and patronized.

Such attacks are so evident that the local print and online media feels reluctant to highlight the incidents of attacks while the TV channels refrain from covering the incidents at all.

There is no precedence of harsh punishment meted out to the culprits responsible for such communal attacks. In most cases, police do not probe the incidents and delay in filing the charge sheets, apparently to give the government the scope to claim that no such things are happening. On the other hand, the government accuses rights activists, and local and international observers of exaggerating the plight of the non-Muslims.

Notably, the ruling government in the last seven years has not initiated the trial of perpetrators who had carried out mass attacks on the Hindus just after the 2001 general elections for supporting the Awami League. It is also not sincere to complete the probe and start the trials in the cases filed over the 2013 attacks on Buddhists in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong based on rumor that a Buddhist youth had defamed the Qur’an on Facebook.

More importantly, the systematic persecution of the indigenous peoples living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the plains has long been ignored by the subsequent governments.

Horrific statistics

During the press briefing, Rana Dasgupta presented statistics of the attacks that include murder, rape, gang-rape, forced conversion, land grabbing, attack on temples and houses, vandalism, arson and eviction.

In 2015, the watchdog reported 261 incidents of attacks in which at least 1,562 people and institutions were affected.

But in the first three months of the current year, there were at least 732 incidents of attacks affecting some 9,566 people of the non-Muslim communities across the country.

During this time, at least 10 people were killed and 366 injured; eight women and children were raped and gang-raped; 10 were abducted; two were converted to Islam forcefully and 22 families were threatened to leave their houses.

The number of attacks on temples, houses and businesses, grabbing and looting was 655.

Rana Dasgupta said that of the 9,566 affected people 8,250 were attacked centering the ongoing Union Parishad polls.

He said: “In most of the incidents, the attackers used political influence and power. In some cases, the attackers influenced the administration and the law enforcers to escape legal action, and violated court orders to grab land.”

Recently, several local and international rights bodies have also condemned the persistent attacks on non-Muslims, secularists and atheists. But the concerns cannot shake the Awami League policymakers.

Asked about the watchdog’s findings by BBC Bangla, Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif categorically rejected the allegations, saying that the government would take appropriate legal action if the allegations are placed specifically. He also claimed that his party was on alert so that no one can harass or attack the religious minorities.

Two other ministers also spoke to the BBC Bangla and claimed that they had got some allegations in the past and took legal measures after scrutiny.

The claims, however, contradict the facts.

The persecution is systematic

Earlier, people had a common belief that the Awami League is secular and thus soft towards the non-Muslims and the BNP-Jamaat alliance is the opposite. But during the recent years the Awami League had proved that they are actually afraid of taking strict action against the radical Muslims. Many central and local leaders of the ruling party are now acting in concert against the non-Muslims and secularists and atheists.

Breaking the previous records of discrimination and persecution against the non-Muslims, the Awami League leaders and supporters have surpassed the extremist BNP-Jamaat and their allies in grabbing land, attacking worshiping places, killings and rape.

Such attacks generally increase during the elections, religious festivals and when the war criminals – mainly those from Jamaat-e-Islami – are sentenced or executed.

Currently, the Islamist parties, militant groups and extremist individuals are campaigning on blogs and Facebook against the Hindus and other non-Muslim groups as well as non-Sunnis terming them kafirs to justify the attacks. All these groups are believed to be funded and supported by Jamaat, the existence of which is now at stake because of the execution of its top leaders and a possible ban on its activities.

They are also spreading propaganda against the Hindus claiming that this religious group has become stronger in Bangladesh in the job market. On Friday, radical Islamist platform Hefazat-e-Islam, the B-team of Jamaat, demonstrated in Dhaka and elsewhere alleging that mostly the Hindu people are writing the textbooks. They also claimed that the country’s education policy promotes anti-Islamic teachings.

The education minister recently said that the future education system would be designed based on Islamic teachings – apparently to appease the radicals. Moreover, after the murder of secularist Nazimuddin Samad, the prime minister clearly said that the government would not shoulder responsibilities if anyone is killed for defaming Islam. Hefazat has lauded her speech, and said that her remarks justified their demand for an anti-blasphemy law.

In March, Hefazat and like-minded Islamists demonstrated across the country and threatened to wage jihad if a 1988 writ petition challenging the legality of state religion was not rejected. And it was rejected.

Under these circumstances, secular activists have called for dropping secularism from the constitution and naming the country “Islamic Republic of Banglastan” since the pro-Pakistani forces have got a strong foot during this tenure of the so-called secularist Awami League.