Bangladesh govt asks Hindus to hush Durga Puja noise during Muslim prayer times

Ahammad Foyez
Bangladesh govt asks Hindus to hush Durga Puja noise during Muslim prayer times Devotees gather in front of the idol of the Hindu Goddess Durga to offer prayers during the Durga Puja festival at a temple in Dhaka, Oct. 3, 2022.
Munir uz zaman/AFP

A Bangladesh government circular asking Hindus to stop or limit the use of loudspeakers during daily Muslim prayers infringes on religious freedom, leaders of the minority group said as their community prepared to celebrate the Durga Puja festival.

The five-day religious festival, which starts Friday, draws hundreds of thousands of Hindus in Bangladesh and West Bengal, in a colorful and joyous celebration where devotees immerse themselves with idols of a goddess in local rivers.

Hindus form the religious majority in the neighboring Indian state, but in heavily Muslim-majority Bangladesh, they make up only 8% of the population. Bangladeshi Hindus say they feel they have been discriminated against or targeted in violence because of their faith.

The Islamic Foundation, a government religious agency, sent letters asking authorities, including the police, to stop or limit Durga Puja rituals during the five daily Muslim prayer times in Bangladesh. The puja features the playing of traditional drums throughout the day.

Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, said the letters shocked many in the Hindu community.

“The Islamic Foundation’s letters give us some hints about what is actually happening in the country. Government letters with such instructions are unconstitutional and hamper religious freedom,” Dasgupta told BenarNews, noting the constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious or ethnic identity.

Dasgupta said the letters made his group vulnerable to potential attacks.

“Since the independence of Bangladesh, the space for minorities in the country has narrowed. This suppression was sometimes supported by the state while attackers were encouraged by impunity for attacks on minorities,” he said.

BenarNews has collected copies of letters sent to officials in Sylhet, Gaibandha, Habiganj, Bhola and Cox’s Bazar districts.

“A decision was taken to limit the use of sound devices and not to use loudspeakers during the Azan [Islamic announcement], prayer and Friday’s Jummah prayer at Puja temples around the mosques during Puja celebrations,” one of the letters stated.

The letters mention the times of prayers, which vary by region but last a total of six hours.

Bangladesh’s state minister for religious affairs said the letters were not new – similar instructions were issued in the past.

“This time it is issued through an office order so that there is no confusion,” Faridul Haque Khan told BenarNews. “This is done as a precaution not to undermine anyone.”

Krishnendu Kumar Paul, secretary of the government’s Hindu Religious Welfare Trust, said 21 trustees across the country had been instructed to limit the use of loudspeakers, sound systems and musical instruments during the Muslim prayer times.

However, throughout countries with sizable Muslim populations, mosques are known for being noisy when the local imam summons the faithful for prayers over a loudspeaker.

In Indonesia, a Buddhist woman was sentenced a few years ago to prison on a blasphemy charge for complaining about noise coming from a neighborhood mosque. In 2016, the woman had approached a neighbor and complained that the noise from calls to prayers blasted through mosque loudspeakers was “hurting her ears,” and asked that the volume be turned down.

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A Bangladesh artist applies paint to an idol at the Ramana Kali temple in Dhaka during final preparations for Durga Puja, Oct. 18, 2023. [BenarNews]

Sion Shah, a Hindu youth from Narayanganj district, said the letters were having a negative effect on him and others.

“We are always conscious of communal harmony, yet such instructions mentally make us second-class citizens,” he told BenarNews.

In 2021, police arrested a man who, they said, confessed to placing a Quran at the site of a Hindu Durga Puja in the Cumilla district, where deadly violence broke out following an online post that showed Islam’s holy book at the festival.

The alleged desecration of the Quran apparently placed at the feet of a statue at a puja site enraged Muslims in Cumilla, who attacked Hindus, their homes, temples and puja venues. The violence spread to nearby districts and around the country over the next few days.

Police said they identified the suspect, a resident of Cumilla, from a 17-minute edited video of CCTV footage from around the puja site. The footage showed a man picking up a Quran from a mosque near the Darogabari area of Cumilla city and then seen entering the puja site before leaving without it.

A 75-year-old Hindu man who suffered injuries during the Cumilla attack died days later at a Dhaka hospital, pushing the death toll from clashes to eight. Bangladesh police said they had arrested nearly 600 people in connection with religious violence.

Muslim broadcasts

This week, Liton Chandra Das, a Hindu youth in Lakshmipur district, said he was subjected to the local Muslim community delivering sermons each year from a field next to his house, adding that the sermons can last for days and are broadcast through loudspeakers spread across the venue.

“From this event, many times there is a lot of negative talk about our religion, but we ignore it by thinking about religious harmony,” Das told BenarNews.

BD Puja-3.JPG
Devotees gather in front of the idol of the Hindu Goddess Durga to offer prayers during the Durga Puja festival at a temple in Dhaka, Oct. 3, 2022. [Munir uz zaman/AFP]

In the past few weeks, Hindu groups have expressed fears of communal attacks during the celebration, noting it will be the last Durga Puja before Bangladesh’s general election expected in January 2024. 

On Oct. 13, followers of ruling Awami League lawmaker A.K.M. Bahauddin allegedly attacked a procession of minority demonstrators in Cumilla town, injuring at least a dozen people. Police arrested two ruling party activists while the protesters filed a case accusing about 500 unnamed people for the attack.

That same day, organizers told reporters there had been incidents of vandalism at 10 puja sites in different parts of the country this year.

Durga Puja will be celebrated at 32,408 mandaps (Puja sites) across the country this year including 245 in the capital through Oct. 24, according to organizers.

Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a Bangladesh human rights group, reported at least 3,679 attacks on the Hindu community between January 2013 and September 2021.


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