Last week violence broke out again in Bangladesh after Muslims attacked Hindu homes and temples. Local newspapers criticise the government for "Islamising” the country. Indian editorials back Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and point the finger at radical Islamist groups.
Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – It all started with a picture of a Qurʼān placed at the foot of a statue of an Indian deity.
Posted on social media, the image sparked violence between Hindus and Muslims, which went on for days during the Durga Puja holiday.
Muslims accused Hindus of "offending Islam” and so attacked Hindu temples and set fire to dozens of Hindu houses.
Many observers immediately thought that the picture had been circulated by groups of radical Islamists to increase the sectarian divisions of the country, which for decades have remained latent.
An investigation in Bangladesh by Daily Star seems to endorse this version by describing the first attack as “premeditated”, highlighting the shortcomings of the Bangladeshi government and its security forces in managing the unrest.
That attack, which took place in Cumilla on 13 October, sparked violence that spread to surrounding areas and lasted at least until 17 October. So far six people have been confirmed dead with hundreds of homes destroyed and at least 450 people arrested.
In response to the violence, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday took part in a four-kilometre march in the capital together with protesters demanding an end to the violence.
Backed by her party, the Awami League, she asked the Home Affairs minister to take action against those responsible for starting the attacks.
Yet, despite the increasing number of sectarian clashes in recent years, the Bangladeshi government has never arrested any suspect.
On the contrary, “Two people charged with vandalising and attacking Hindu houses and temples in 2016 in Nasirnagar were even nominated by the Awami League to contest in the upcoming elections,” writes the Daily Star.
The Awami League, which prides itself on being a secular party that defends the rights of minorities,[*] is actually not immune to the progressive "Islamisation of the nation," the paper noted.
“It may not be an overstatement to say we have institutionalised hate and intolerance for other ideas and beliefs, and have created micro-fascists who feel entitled to not only tell others how to live their lives, but take increasingly violent means to impose their views on others.”
The Dhaka Tribune agrees. “The truth is, the secular sovereign state of Bangladesh has become the country of people who are Bangali (Bengali) by ethnicity and Muslim by religion. People of all other ethnic groups and religious persuasions live in this land at our indulgence.”
The issue is no longer simply a domestic political problem but has become regional in scope since in neighbouring India, Hindus are being mobilised by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In their editorials, Indian newspapers support Hasina, although they say that “Islamist radicalism has penetrated deep into Bangladeshi society.”
In fact, the Times of India writes that were radicals to “take over”, the country would risk losing the progress and economic gains obtained so far by the government.
Hasina, perhaps aware of the delicate balance between minorities in India and Bangladesh, has been more cautious in her comments.
Speaking via videoconference to Hindu religious officials at the Dhakeshwari temple in Dhaka, she said that what happens in India must not influence what happens in Bangladesh.
For the Indian Express, the spread of violence in South Asia reflects an Islamist strand. This “leftover” from the subcontinent’s pre-partition time is now influenced by groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and threatens not only Bangladesh, but the entire region.
[*] Hindus make up 10 per cent of Bangladesh's 170 million people.