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Speaking over the phone on Friday, Prothom Alo’s staff correspondent Gaziul Huq told me that there had been no incident in Cumilla on Friday. There had been a large number of law enforcement personnel deployed all over the town. The founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra Zafrullah Chowdhury, Gono Sanghati convener Zunaid Saki and Hindu Buddha Christian Oikya Parishad leaders Subrata Chowdhury and Nim Chandra Bhowmik went to Cumilla and visited the Nanua Dighir Par puja mandap. They spoke separately to the local leaders of the Hindu community. Zafrullah Chowdhury said, the government has miserably failed to provide the Hindu community with security. Subrata Chowdhury said the same. Nim Chandra Bhowmik said that just as there is communal politics in Bangladesh, there is communalism too.

Will it ever be found out who left the copy of the Holy Qur’an at the puja mandap? Why would anyone of the Hindu community take a copy of the Qur’an Sharif there? No faithful Muslim would do so either

We claim Bangladesh to be a harmonious country. But in a country where there is harmony, why should there be the need to deploy police when a certain community observes their festivals? The question of insecurity doesn’t arise during the festivals of the majority community. The late academic professor Anisuzzaman once said in anger, during the Pakistan rule, the state was communal, but the society was non-communal. In Bangladesh, both the state and the society have become communal. He was referring to military ruler Ershad’s state religion issue, but we have hardly moved on since then. Both secularism and state religion remain in the constitution.

Leaders of the ruling party regularly sprout rhetoric about non-communalism. But they have no answer as to why during this non-communal rule of theirs, the religious minority is repeatedly subject to violence and state discrimination. Maulana Bhasani would say, no one has ‘naxalite’ written on their bodies. Communalism is like that. No one becomes non-communal by simply claiming to be so. This has to be proven in deeds.

Speaking to journalists and people of all walks of life in Cumilla, it was evident that if the local administration and police had taken speedy measures, the incident at the Nanua Dighir Par puja mandap would never have gone so far. Will it ever be found out who left the copy of the Holy Qur’an at the puja mandap? Why would anyone of the Hindu community take a copy of the Qur’an Sharif there? No faithful Muslim would do so either. So was this carried out by some malicious quarters in order to disrupt the communal harmony?

The government’s duty is not simply to run around after the incident. The government has several intelligence agencies. Why did they not take measures in advance to prevent such incidents?

Immediately after the incident, members of the Hindu community asked the administration to quickly send police to the puja mandaps. The police turned up much later. They turned up at many puja mandaps after the incidents occurred. This is certainly a matter of concern. Next we saw inflammatory messages being posted on social media, leading to attacks on temples, Hindu homes and business establishments all over the country. According to Prothom Alo reports, at least 22 temples and deities were damaged and set on fire in 10 districts. BGB has been deployed along with police and RAB in 22 districts.

Till yesterday, four cases had been registered in Cumilla regarding these incidents. So far 42 persons have been arrested in these cases. The incident in Cumilla led to a fatal incident in Hajiganj, Chandpur. A group of people took out a procession there under the banner of ‘Touhidi janata’. When they launched attack on several temples, police opened fire, leaving four dead and 50 persons, including police, injured. Though the procession was brought out under the banner of ‘Touhidi janata’, a banana seller was among those who died and all were under the age of 20. Did they join the procession voluntarily or were they instigated? How will the three working class families whose offspring died, now survive? Where is this politics of hatred and vengeance taking us?

Like many other places in the country, Cumilla was known to be a town of communal harmony. This is where Shaheed Dhirendanath Dutta was born, this is the home of Sachin Dev Burman. The home where Sachin Dev was born is now the Sachin Dev Burman Cultural Centre. In 1922 it was in this town that the rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam carried a harmonium around his neck, singing for humanity. How can we accept the travesty of humanity in this same town today?

A high level meeting was held in the secretariat on Thursday regarding the situation. The meeting was attended by home minister Asaduzzaman Khan, cabinet secretary Anwarul Islam, as well as the heads of the various law enforcement and intelligence agencies. After the meeting, the home minister told newspersons, the Cumilla incident was extremely unfortunate. Severest legal action will be taken against those who carried out the incident. Those who practice religion, those who believe in religion, cannot do this. This can be a ploy to destroy the communal harmony in the country. Such incidents are also being used to disrupt law and order. Measures will be taken against those involved in such efforts.

The government’s duty is not simply to run around after the incident. The government has several intelligence agencies. Why did they not take measures in advance to prevent such incidents?

While exchanging puja greetings with members of the Hindu community on Thursday, prime minister Sheikh Hasina said those who created chaos at the puja mandaps would have to face the law and would be subject to severe punishment. She said they would be punished in such a manner that they would never dare to carry out such deeds in the future. Only future can tell how far these words of the prime minister have managed to reassure the members of the minority community. Our experience shows that in very few cases were the offenders punished in the attacks against the minority community during the rule of various governments.

Awami League had formed a judiciary commission to look into the attacks and violence against the minority following the elections in 2001. The recommendations made by the commission lie confined to the files. During the Awami League rule there were attacks on the religious and ethnic minorities in Ramu, Nasirnagar, Shalla, Santhia and Gobindaganj, but those cases remain unresolved. The accused remain unpunished. In fact, two of the accused in the attacks on the minority community in Nasirnagar, were nominated by Awami League in the UP elections. While the nominations had to be withdrawn in face of a tirade of protest, justice remains to be done.

Members of the minority community can never feel safe and secure in a country where such attacks and violence are never brought to justice.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be reached at [email protected]

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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