03/30/2015, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Death threats cleanse a Hindu village of its inhabitants

by Sumon Corraya
The 14 families who lived in Chandantola are now refugees in a neighbouring town. Police arrested some of the local politicians who forced the Hindus to sell their properties at bargain prices, but the refugees complain of long-term persecution and sexual harassment of their young women.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Chandantola, a tiny Hindu village in Barguna District, is now a ghost town. Its row of still furnished houses has no life after the hamlet’s last residents left. In all, the 14 families that called the village home abandoned everything they had because of the lack of security and the never-ending persecution.

Following the latest death threats, the last residents were forced to sell their properties for a song and became refugees in another town in the district. What had started with one family leaving in 2013 because of repeated threats continued in 2014 with the departure of two more families, and ended with the flight of the rest on 13 March.

According to local witnesses, Abdur Rashid Akan, a local leader in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and Yakir Hossain Sarkar, from the Awami Juba League, are behind the campaign of intimidation that sparked the exodus.

The two would turned local Muslims against minority Hindus in order to rid the hamlet of their presence and grab their land.

"Led by Yakir and other leaders, some people came into the village and forced Hindus to sell their homes at bargain prices,” said Taslima Begum, a 40-year-old Muslim woman.

Complaints were filed against the Muslims in connection with the Hindu "flight" on 22 March. Some of the culprits were also arrested, including Rashid. In fact, "We are investigating the case with the utmost urgency," said Mohammad Babul Akhter, a police officer in Taltoli.

However, despite assurances by district authorities, the community does not intend to go back to the village. In view of this, "If necessary, we shall build them new homes with government funds,” Barguna Deputy Commissioner Mir Zahurul Islam said.

Still, Hindus accuse the authorities of failing to heed their complaints and of doing nothing against the pressures that led to their exodus.

The victims said that the young women in the community were regularly subjected to sexual harassment. Some also had to drop a complaint against Rashid, guilty of torturing some women, because of threats from Yakir.

"They threatened us with knives and told us to leave the area immediately. We turned to Awami League leaders, but it was useless," said one of those who fled. The Awami League is the country’s ruling party.

Religious persecution is not uncommon in Bangladesh. Hindus are frequently the victims of threats.

Every month, there are reports of temple demolition, idol destruction, and land grabs. Gradually, Hindus have been driven from the country.

Since 1947, when Bangladesh became independent from British India as East Pakistan, the proportion of Hindus dropped from 30 to 10 per cent of the population in a country that now has 164 million people.

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