A politician from Bangladesh’s ruling party was arrested Thursday on suspicion of orchestrating the ransacking of Hindu temples and homes by Muslim mobs in the eastern part of the country in October and November, police said.
Police suspect the Awami League’s Dewan Atiqur Rahman (alias Ankhi), an elected chairman of the Haripur Union Council – the lowest tier of local government in Nasirnagar, a sub-district of Brahmanbaria district – of leading mob-perpetrated vandalism that targeted worship sites and hundreds of homes in the area belonging to members of Bangladesh’s Hindu minority.
The angry crowds that carried out the violence were incensed by an online post that allegedly defamed Islam.
“Ankhi was the mastermind; he planned the attacks, mobilized people, provided funds to carry out the attacks,” Brahmanbaria district Police Chief Mizanur Rahman told BenarNews.
The Awami official was arrested in Dhaka and is among 105 people taken into custody after the anti-Hindu attacks in Nasiranagar and in Madhabpur, a sub-district in nearby Habiganj district.
“The arrestees included leaders from all political parties, including the Awami League,” Rahman said. The authorities did not release any details on the status of those arrested.
300 homes vandalized
On Oct. 30, mobs attacked Hindu villages in Nasirnagar and Madhabpur, and vandalized at least 24 temples and 300 Hindu homes in apparent retaliation for an image posted on Facebook by a Hindu youth, Rasraj Basu Das, identified as an illiterate fisherman.
An image had appeared on his Facebook page depicting the Hindu Lord Shiva near the Kabba – the building at the heart of the al-Masjid al-Haram, Islam’s most sacred mosque in the holy city of Mecca.
Das, who claimed he did not post the picture, was charged with violating Bangladesh’s Information and Technology Act, which prohibits online defamation of any religion. He remains in jail.
On Nov. 4, five Hindu homes were torched in Nasirnagar.
“This is very frustrating to see [that] an Awami League leader plans the attack on the minority Hindus in Nasirnagar; we have trust on the Awami League; they protect us politically,” Nirmal Rozario, joint secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Oikya Partishad, a local inter-faith association, told BenarNews on Thursday.
Still, he hailed Ankhi’s arrest.
“You see, in most of the cases, the attackers on the minorities are not arrested. But this time the government has arrested a ruling party leader for attacking the minority Hindus,” Rozario said.
He urged the government to pursue an impartial investigation and take stringent measures against any Awami League leader found guilty of attacking the minorities.
Hindus leaving country
On Dec. 29, Jatiyo Hindu Mohajote, an association of Hindu groups that aims to protect social, economic, cultural and religious rights for Bangladesh’s Hindu population, reported that 98 Hindus were killed and 357 more were injured in 2016 in attacks in the nation, which has seen Islamic extremism rise in recent years.
Ananda Kumar Biswas, the association’s secretary general, told reporters at a press conference that attacks on Hindus were forcing many to leave Bangladesh. As many as 900,000 Hindus had left Bangladesh during the past decade, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
“The way the Hindus were attacked in Nasirnagar was a shame,” Biswas said.
‘Where will we go?’
Sunil Kumar, a Hindu who trades vegetables in Dhaka’s Farmgate area, said Awami League should expel any of its leaders who are involved in attacks on minorities.
“This is an open secret that the Hindus and the other minorities vote for the Awami League. But where will we go if the Awami League leaders attack us?” he told BenarNews.
Commenting on the arrest of a politician from his party, Awami League whip Atiur Rahman Atik told BenarNews,
“The Awami League strictly maintains secular politics; there is no room for communalism.”
“Awami League is a big party; there may be some bad people in it,” Atik added.
Dewan Atiqur Rahman is due to appear in a Brahmanbaria district court on Friday.