Bangladesh: A Lethal Religious Divide

The most recent attack on the Hindu community in Bangladesh is part of a broader problem of systematic oppression against religious minorities in the country. A Muslim-majority country, Hindus account for only 9% of Bangladesh’s population. Since gaining independence from Pakistan in the 1970s, the percentage of Hindus in Bangladesh has been constantly shrinking as more Hindus gradually migrate to India. Hindu community leaders have estimated the Hindu population in Bangladesh to have declined from 30% in 1947 to less than 9% now. Consequently, Bangladesh is scarcely a religiously diverse country. 

On 13 October, the spread of rumours that the Quran had been insulted at an annual Hindu religious festival sparked off attacks by hundreds of Muslim fundamentalists on religious pavilions in Cumilla, a city in Bangladesh southeast of the capital, Dhaka. Houses and businesses belonging to the Hindu minority, along with temples, were destroyed. Seven were killed, with many others being injured. In an effort to contain the mob, police had to open fire and use tear gas. Mobile internet access was also shut down for the majority of the day in Dhaka. 

The violence and rioting spread beyond Cumilla, resulting in the deployment of paramilitary forces to more than 35 districts. In response to the attacks, Bengali Hindus even protested outside the House of Commons in the UK, calling for the British government to put pressure on Bangladesh’s immediate and proper handling of the situation. 

The UN has urged the government to take control of the situation. In response, Sheik Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and a member of its ruling party, Awami League, has vowed to serve ‘justice and (take) swift action’ in response to the attacks. Her party’s campaign has long been premised upon a pledge to uphold secularity in the country. Nevertheless, Hindu activists say that little has been done to serve justice to victims of religious oppression.

The complicated historical landscape of this communal intolerance renders it a tricky situation for the government to resolve. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that beyond this long-standing cross-border religious conflict, the increasing intolerance towards minorities in Bangladesh has been fuelled partly due to the spread of misinformation on social media. Similar to the misinformation regarding the insulting of the Quran that triggered the riots in Cumilla, a fake Facebook post alleging an insult to Islam by a Hindu sparked another wave of violence in 2016, where many homes belonging to Hindus were burned down in Nasirnagar. 

While long-standing and deeply-seeded conflict within religious groups might seem difficult for the government to quickly tackle, a solution must be found as soon as possible to avoid the loss of many more lives. A crucial first step is to curtail the spread of harmful misinformation aimed at stirring interreligious conflict. 

This article was written by: Darrellyn Yong Zheng Ying, currently a student at the London School of Economics, pursuing BSc Economics.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: