'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Sunday, June 12, 2016
PINAK RANJAN CHAKRAVARTY - Bangladesh's growing Islamist violence and how it can destroy the country
Another member of the
minority Hindu community in Bangladesh was slaughtered earlier this week in
Jhenaidah district. Ananda Gopal Ganguly, a 65-year-old poor Hindu priest was
waylaid while on his way to the mandir on his bicycle. Ganguly was born three
days before India's Independence in 1947. The victim's head was
almost severed, indicating that killers were trained in the Islamic halal
method of slaughtering animals. The killers came on a motorcycle and fled after
killing the priest - the usual modus operandi in such attacks.
Even before the
country could deal with Ganguly's murder, another innocent Hindu, Nityaranjan
Pandey, a worker in an Ashram in Pabna district, lost his life in a similar
manner. Like Ganguly, Pandey was
also hacked to death. The killers go to him while he was on his morning walk. The Islamic State (IS)
claimed responsibility for the murders. For the killers, it was two less kafirs
on the planet.
A homeopathy doctor
was brutally murdered by unidentified persons a few days earlier, also in the
Jheniadah district of Bangladesh. The person, a Muslim, had converted to
Christianity and was involved in preaching act, according to the local church. The finger of
suspicion again pointed towards Islamist radicals because apostasy in Islam is
punishable by death. The murder was the fulfillment of an Islamic duty. The IS
claimed responsibility for this killing as well.
Ganguly, the Hindu
priest and Pandey, the ashram worker, had no known enemies and were not
involved in any dispute with anyone. The two killings, therefore, have to be
seen as the latest episode in the rash of targeted hate killings that have hit
Bangladesh over the last two years.
about 9% of Bangladesh's population of around 160 million today, declining
steadily under the onslaught of organised persecution since the partition. The
decline has, unfortunately, continued steadily even after Bangladesh became an
independent country, as Hindus came under persistent pressure to dispossess
their properties. The most abominable
methodology of persecution was and continues to be the targeting of Hindu
womenfolk who have been subjected to abduction, rape and conversion by sections
of the majority Muslims, not excluding members of the political class.
With the recent spate
of murders, it is clear that Islamist radicals are targeting the minority Hindu
community again. In another disgraceful
incident, a Hindu Principal of a College near Dhaka was humiliated. He was made
to hold his ears and do sit ups and then dismissed from service. It was alleged
that he had insulted Islam.
The whole despicable
episode was supervised by none other than an MP from the Jatiya Party, an ally
of the ruling Awami League Party, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. To be fair the
government moved quickly to defuse the nationwide outrage and quickly
reinstated the Hindu principal, after an inquiry found all allegations of
insulting Islam to be completely false. The principal had
physically disciplined a student and what happened was an act of revenge. The
pupil and his family spread rumours against the principal driving people into a
frenzy. However, no action was taken against the erring MP.
- Over the last few
months, a Buddhist monk, a Sufi Muslim leader and a professor of English have
been murdered, revealing a gruesome pattern
- Since February 2015,
over 25 people have been murdered violently, some publicly, in hate crimes
- Victims have been
from religious minorities, secular and free-speech advocates and atheist
- Over 12 persons have
survived such murderous attacks
The radicals have also
killed human rights activists, an openly gay person and his companion, working
for the US Embassy in Dhaka and even the wife of a police officer who had
successfully arrested members of the outlawed Jamaat ul Mujahideen, Bangladesh
(JMB) in Chittagong. The IS and Al-Qaida in
South Asia (AQIS) have claimed responsibility for these targeted killings which
were geographically dispersed across the country. An obscure group calling
itself the Ansarullah Bangla Team has also staked claim on some of these
The spate of murders
have shaken Bangladesh and PM Hasina has ordered a countrywide crackdown on
Islamist radicals. In spite of Islamist
radicals taking responsibility for the murders, the issue has been amply
politicised. The Hasina government has consistently denied the existence of the
IS and AQIS in Bangladesh. Hasina herself, her
ministers and government officials have instead, blamed home-grown Islamist
radicals for these spate of murders. This has led to fears of further such
attacks spreading and even targeting aviation assets, in collaboration with
international jihadist networks.
This author was
surprised to see a foreigner (a European) supervising security checks before
the boarding gate at Dhaka's international airport recently. The fear of
internal sabotage and, indeed, lax security measures have forced the Hasina
government to bring in foreign supervisors at the Dhaka airport. Many
countries, including India, have offered more cooperation to Dhaka on
While Hasina was quick
to show public sympathy for the first blogger who was killed and visited his
family to offer condolences, she has since backed away from this policy. She
has castigated those who insult Islam and the Prophet and warned such people to
desist from doing so. Her ministers and high
government officials, including the police have parroted her line. It seems she has
decided that defending the right to free speech will bring her no electoral
dividends in her deeply religious, though moderate, Muslim country which has
over a 90% Muslim population.
Hasina has, from time
to time, flirted with Islamic parties and groups for electoral support and she
is not averse to doing it again, as her changed stance on the hate killings has
made clear. This is a policy
fraught with negative consequences. She may view her policy as politically
expedient to avoid arousing Muslim sentiments and shoot down opposition's
charges of her being secular and anti-Islam.
But Islamists are definitely going
to exploit the policy ambivalence and evasive posturing on these killings. Hasina must remember
that pandering to radical Islamists and coddling them has brought much grief to
Pakistan. The DNA of the
Islamists in Bangladesh and Pakistan are similar and collaboration between
them, under the patronage of the Pakistan's ISI, is a known fact. Hasina has, therefore,
consistently blamed the opposition parties BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI)
for conspiring with radical Islamist elements for these killings, to
destabilise her government.
WAR, RELIGION AND VOTES
The targeting of
Hindus is also a clear signal that the Islamists, apart from ideological angst
against Kafirs, want to discredit her government's reputation with Hindu voters
and mar her standing with India. Hindutva groups in
India will, no doubt, take note of the hate killings and start questioning the
Hasina government's credentials. She has vowed to bring them to book.
Both the BNP and JeI
certainly have grievances against the Hasina government. The JeI's top
leadership has been decimated by the convictions in the War Crimes Tribunal.
Several top leaders have been executed. Another leader, the
main financier of the JeI, Mir Quasem Ali will be executed soon. His death
warrant has been signed, after he lost all appeals in higher courts. These executions have
led to a diplomatic row with Pakistan which regarded the JeI as its primary and
faithful fifth columnist in Bangladesh.
BNP's leader Begum
Khaleda Zia is fighting a losing judicial battle over corruption charges and is
beleaguered by desertions of capable party leaders who have left the party. Her deputy, Tarique
Rahman, her corrupt, clueless and semi-educated surviving son, is in exile in
London and unable to return since arrest warrants against him are pending for
corruption and other cases. Hasina's critics blame
her for usurping all power after the one-sided election, the execution of war
criminals, repressive measures against the opposition BNP, hounding of the
media and NGOs for the Islamist backlash.
dimension of the IS also adds another toxic ingredient to this explosive mix.
Bangladesh has a history of fringe Islamic groups which have received
encouragement from Wahaabi influence. Members of the
country's large diaspora in the Arab countries are prone to indoctrination.
Even in Singapore, eight Bangladeshi workers were recently arrested and
deported for radical Islamic activities and conspiracy to mount terrorist
attacks in Bangladesh, under the banner of the Islamic State of Bangladesh.
This cell in Singapore
was found in possession of radical Islamist literature, bomb making material
and funds for purchasing weapons for use in Bangladesh. Links between home
grown and international terrorist networks cannot be ruled out. Whatever the
cause, the shadow of radical Islamist violence hangs over Bangladesh. Denial is
never a good policy and the Hasina government must crackdown with a heavy hand
to curb this menace.
Islamic radicalism can
destabilise Bangladesh and spill over into India. Security of both countries
are inextricably intertwined and India will be extremely supportive of the
Hasina government in its crackdown on these Islamist radicals. This issue is
going to haunt Bangladesh-India talks when Hasina undertakes her much-awaited
visit to India later this year.