The country's Hindu minority feels unsafe since last week's attacks, which many believe were carried out to grab land owned by lower caste, disadvantaged Hindus.
A week after minorities in Bangladesh faced one of the worst forms of communal violence, the country's Hindu community is still reeling in fear of rightwing Muslim groups showing up in their villages and towns with an intent to harm them.
“I have always lived in fear,” a 30-year-old Hindu man who wished to remain anonymous told TRT World.
“Growing up, my experiences of puja festivals have been positive. But I always felt a fear that I could sense within my community,” said the young journalist who grew up in Faridpur, a south-central district in Bangladesh.
His parents also experienced the same unease about being Hindus in Bangladesh.
“The reason for this is that you never see justice being served after these attacks. So, there was always a concern relating to security,” he said.
As Bangladesh's mainstream media portrays attacks on minorities as communal clashes, he said the attacks should not be seen as clashes since it was an organised assault led by radical Muslim groups.
“You have only one side carrying out the attacks. It is communal terror”.
The 30-year-old thinks that sermons delivered by far-right clerics in mosques are leading Bangladeshi youth to the path of radicalisation, where a minority is seen as the enemy of a majority faith.
Then the social media, he added, lights the fire.
How Muslim mobs gathered
The attacks began on October 13 in the Muslim-majority country after a photo went viral on social media, showing a copy of the Quran being placed at the feet of a Hindu idol.
Goaded by the image, angry mobs of Muslims started attacking Hindu temples when Hindus celebrated the Durga Puja festival in various districts.
Bangladesh's law enforcement agencies responded to the attack by killing four Muslim men in Chandpur district while controlling the crowd that reportedly attacked Hindus. In other parts of the country, the police rounded up at least 450 people.
But anger kept boiling against the alleged desecration of the Quran. On October 16, thousands of Muslim protesters gathered in Dhaka to protest against the event, which they saw as an "insult to Islam".
More violence broke out in northern Bangladesh's Rangpur district. The trigger was another derogatory Facebook post — supposedly demeaning to Islam — shared by a user with a Hindu name. Next, the angry mobs torched 20 Hindu homes in the Pirganj neighbourhood.
The violence targeting Hindus killed two people from the minority faith and spread to other districts continuing for five days until October 17.
At least 150 Hindus were also injured, and 80 ‘mandaps’ (small temporary zones built as worship places) were vandalized during the mayhem, according to figures provided by Hindu community leader Gobinda Chandra Pramanik.
Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised the Hindu minority that the people behind the violence would be "hunted down".
The president of one of the largest Islamist parties, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karim, expressed concern over the attacks on Hindus, asking people from all faiths to maintain communal harmony.
Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami — while “urging the peace-loving Muslims to remain calm and tolerant” and saying that “Muslims will not allow” the disruption of “the existing religious harmony” in the country — have not explicitly denounced the vandalism carried out against Hindus. The party’s Ameer (president), however, expressed “deep shock” over the deaths of four Muslim citizens by police fire.
A way to grab land
Writer and activist Anupam Debashis Roy believes that these attacks are often aimed at grabbing land than disturbing the Muslim majority's peace with minorities.
“Attacking temples is simply a way of scaring them (Hindu minorities) away from their land,” Roy said.
“I see the communalism as targeted vandalism, done in a pre-planned fashion to take over Hindu land.”
A book titled Inquiry into Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act (2000) by Bangladeshi professor, Abul Barkat found that people benefiting directly from appropriated Hindu properties — using a now-repealed law —belonged to political parties (44.3 percent affiliated with the ruling Awami League and 31.7 percent with the other major political force, Bangladesh Nationalist Party).
Amnesty International called on the Bangladeshi authorities to take urgent steps to protect minorities.
The organization’s South Asia Campaigner, Saad Hammadi, said that the attacks were “symptomatic of the growing anti-minority sentiment in the country.”
“Targeting religious sensitivities to stoke communal tension is a serious human rights violation and requires immediate and decisive action from the government to address the situation of minorities in the country,” Hammadi said in a statement released by Amnesty International.
Video clips weaponized
The Bangladeshi police arrested the Facebook user with a Hindu name in Pirganj whose derogatory post purportedly led to the arson attacks on 20 Hindu houses.
Fake news and disinformation targeting Bangladesh have also emerged from neighbouring India. For example, a video clip of a gruesome murder was misrepresented as a Hindu being murdered in Bangladesh. In contrast, the murdered person turned out to be a Muslim named Shahabuddin who was killed in Dhaka about five months ago.
Fact-checking outlet BOOM Bangladesh detected a series of social media posts that tried to use past and unrelated incidents as attacks on Hindus, including a video clip of a fire in a Puja event in India’s Tripura state.
The video was posted on Facebook claiming that a Hindu temple was torched in Bangladesh’s Pirganj district.