A disturbing media report tells us about the plight of at least 14 Hindu families that have been evicted by land grabbers allegedly at the behest of influential quarters in Barguna District. Reportedly, the first three of these 14 families left their homes following threats and intimidation from powerful groups in 2013 and the next two families in 2014; and the compounding tragedy is that on March 12, 2015, the rest of the families were also driven off their homestead land.
What is most disturbing is that the affected minority families were threatened and evicted over a protracted period without allegedly any action against the perpetrators. Quite clearly, criminal actions like destroying and looting of property after the terrified minority families left their homes have not been punished. Under the circumstances, one might ask if psychological harassment and material deprivation of minority Hindu population in some parts of the country shall continue to be a dangerously recurrent reality.
Attacks on Hindus and their property have demonstrated the immensely sad but blunt reality that even after forty two years of democratic pluralistic existence, the religious minority of Bangladesh have not been able to save themselves from the deadly embrace of communal mischief. In fact, when the battered Hindu citizens proposed to disenfranchise the entire community by publicly asking to strike Hindus off the voters' list so that they can escape the wrath of politically motivated obscurantist elements, one could gauge the depth and severity of the wound.
Upon scrutiny of the ground situation one might say that it is time to find out why the number of Hindus has decreased over the years, particularly since the creation of People's Republic of Bangladesh in 1971? Has the mindset of the majority community really changed for establishing the ethos of an equal rights society?
We in Bangladesh need to ask whether it is religion per se or the politicization of religious identity and the mobilization of this identity for community and state ends that have resulted in communal violence. We also need to find out whether the emphasis is on contests for power and resources.
Coming to specifics, in Bangladesh, why do we witness attacks on Hindu properties? Is creation of hatred a ploy for some of the majority Muslim politicians and influential people to grab Hindu property? The torching of Hindu houses over a petty altercation in the recent past quite clearly indicated the malafide intention of terrorizing and dislocating the vulnerable minority. Simple common sense should tell that the ferocity of attack on Hindus is caused by the victims' weakness and the perpetrators' suspected immunity from the process of law. Are the patrons of the mischief-makers too powerful to be dislodged?
The immediate imperative, under the circumstances, is to effectively deactivate the vultures that are on the watch to grab the lands and properties of panicked Hindus. This requires political will and stern administrative measures for ensuring continued security. However, beyond that, the minorities need to politically organise themselves in such a manner that in the course of time, issues of their honorable existence become a focus of mainstream politics. Such course of action is expected to provide substantial relief.
The politicians cannot be part of a deliberate effort to realign state and cultural power in the interest of the majority because that will result in non-Muslim minorities being defined explicitly or implicitly as second class citizens of Bangladesh. The progress of a nation demands proactive action from the state to ensure the security and rights of all citizens.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.