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India Presses Bangladesh to Protect Hindu Priests at Dhaka Mission

Jhumur Deb
Guwahati, India
2016-06-20
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Bangladeshi Hindus submerge a clay idol of the goddess Durga during Durga Puja festivities in Dhaka, Oct. 23, 2015.
Bangladeshi Hindus submerge a clay idol of the goddess Durga during Durga Puja festivities in Dhaka, Oct. 23, 2015.
AFP

India should tread carefully in pressing Bangladesh to act over a death threat allegedly sent by the Islamic State (IS) to a Hindu priest in Dhaka, experts cautioned on Monday.

The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), intervened diplomatically on Friday after the Kolkata-based Ramakrishna Mission in Dhaka received a threat-letter addressed to one of its priests.

The intervention is rare, if not unprecedented, because  India had until then refrained from voicing concern to Dhaka about the safety of Hindus in majority Muslim Bangladesh, where members of religious minorities, secular bloggers and others have been targeted in a spate of killings by suspected Islamic militants dating to February 2013. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, but local officials have consistently denied that IS has a presence in the country.

Modi’s government “has to be very cautious in dealing with Bangladesh to ensure that its interference does not fuel another round of resentment among radical groups who are of the view that the Hindus in Bangladesh seek help from India for protection,” Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, a Bangladesh expert at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told BenarNews.

“Regardless of Modi being a follower of the R.K. Mission, the Indian government has to intervene in the matter because the institution is from India. But is has to exercise immense caution,” Bhatacharjee added.

India intervened after the head priest at the mission received the menacing letter on Wednesday.

“Bangladesh is an Islamic state. You can’t preach your religion here. If you continue preaching, you’ll be hacked to death with machetes between [the] 20th and 30th,” read the letter, which bore computer-generated IS letterhead, according to Bangladeshi media reports.

The letter was signed by one A.B. Siddique but did not mention the month.

According to a top Indian government source, Modi, who is a follower of the Ramakrishna Mission, has ordered the Ministry of External Affairs to give high priority to the security around the mission, where five Indian citizens are based.

Intelligence officials in India and Bangladesh also are coordinating an investigation into the threat, the anonymous source told BenarNews, adding that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had taken up the issue as well with the ministry.

“High Commission of India, Dhaka, has contacted both Bangladesh police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has been assured of full support and protection. We are also in direct contact with the R.K. Mission in Dhaka,” Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, tweeted on Friday.

Security beefed up at Dhaka mission

Sanjoy Hazarika, a distinguished expert on affairs related to northeast India, agreed with Bhattacharjee, saying the Indian government should be careful in how it handled the matter so as not to be seen as meddling in Bangladeshi affairs.

“Bangladesh is a country which has acted against war criminals who committed atrocities against Hindus in the liberation war of 1971,” Hazarika told BenarNews, adding that India need not pressure its neighbor for assuring action.

“The Indian government has to carry our complete assessment of the ground situation and be extremely careful in handling the situation,” he said.

But Rakesh Sinha, a member of India’s right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP, urged the Modi government to exert more pressure on Bangladesh through diplomatic channels to curb a growing trend of Islamic radicalism there.

“It is India’s moral responsibility to intervene in such acts of terror in Bangladesh to safeguard Hindu institutions and members of minority groups facing such death threats regularly,” Sinha told BenarNews.

In Bangladesh, a spokesman the Dhaka Metropolitan Police said that it and other security agencies were doing all they could to protect the priests at the Hindu mission.

“The police have taken the threat very seriously and we have [already] deployed more troops around the Ramakrishna Mission compound,” spokesman Masudur Rahman told BenarNews.

“The police and intelligence officials have been tasked to ensure fool-proof security of the compound and all staff of the mission,” he said.

Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.

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