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'Bangladesh: Hindu Life Matters' campaign takes off

The universal protest against the recent brutal killing of George Floyd, the black American in the United States, by the police has triggered off another protest-campaign in Bangladesh and the UK with the catchy slogan, <em>‘Bangladesh: Hindu Life Matters! Stop religious minority persecution!’</em>. The campaign is gaining momentum specially in the wake of the killing of a young Hindu man by the police in Kotalipara under Gopalganj district in Bangladesh on 2 June 2020.

According to a report published in the leading Bengali daily newspaper, <em>Prothom Alo</em> in Dhaka, the victim, Nikhil Talukder, (32), of Ramshil village was playing cards with three others. At that moment, Assistant Sub Inspector Shamim Uddin appeared on the scene and started beating them. Three of the group escaped, while Nikhil could not. The police officer beat Nikhil mercilessly causing fractures in three backbones. He was admitted to the Barisal Sher-e-Bangla medical college hospital and when his situation worsened, he was moved to Dhaka Pangu hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

<em>Dainik Samokal,</em> another newspaper quoted his wife, Iti Talukder: "My husband did not do any crime, he was simply playing cards. Why did the police officer beat him to death in such an inhuman way. I demand punishment for this killing by the police."

<strong>Protests in Europe</strong>
Iti Talukder’s demand has snowballed into a demand from Hindu minorities beyond Bangladesh borders. Secular Bangladesh Movement UK, a London-based organisation led by a human rights activist, Pushpita Gupta, a British national of Bangladeshi origin has started a campaign against the issue of continuation of violence  against the Hindu minorities in Bangladesh.

Attacks on religious minorities, especially Hindus, across Bangladesh is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for many years, post-1975 period with the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation.
What is alarming, however, is that assaults on the Hindu community in different parts of Bangladesh has spiraled at an alarming rate even under the present government, which is assumed to be minority-friendly.

Politically influential perpetrators with connections to the ruling Awami League (AL), pro-BNP and pro-Jamaat carry out attacks, rape, abduction, land grabbing, temple vandalism, forced conversions etc. The victims do not dare file police cases fearing further harassment as the police often take the side of the perpetrators.

<strong>Attacks on Hindus continued during Covid-19</strong>
Incidents of illegally and forcibly evicting religious minorities from their ancestral homes, burning their houses and temples perhaps occur only in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Such atrocities against the Hindus have been continuing for long and what is worrying is that even during the Covid-19 crisis, such attacks are going on unabated.

Even during the present AL government, an organised anti-Hindu and anti-India propaganda is being fueled by fanatic Islamic preachers in the name of ‘<em>Wajj mahfil</em>’ throughout the country, drawing huge numbers of followers on the social media. These radical Islamic groups including Hefazat Islam have become so powerful politically that the present government was forced to agree to their demands to take out ‘secular’ texts from the school curriculum on the ground that those were anti-Islam.

<strong>Anti-Hindu and anti-India propaganda</strong>
This acerbic anti-Hindu and anti-India propaganda has peaked and is now clearly visible in Bangladesh. There have been countless infiltrations of Jamaat and BNP elements into the AL and its students front, Chattra League. This has been possible due to active and passive consent/support of some central AL leaders, even ministers.

A voluntary organization <strong><a href="http://www.bidyanondo.org">Bidyanonda</a></strong> which came into prominence in the recent past due to its exemplary
social work to help the poor, became the target of the Islamic fundamentalist groups. The founder Kishore Kumar Das received a series of threats and groups critical of Bidyanonda demanded that the organization be banned. In the face of such vehement criticism and threats from Islamic groups, Das resigned, although some secular groups felt that he should not have succumbed to the demands of the fundamentalists.

Later, Das was coerced to issue a statement saying that Bidyanondo had nothing to do with Hinduism and above 80% of its members are Muslims. He further said, the name of the organization had been chosen by the majority members of the organisation and the word <em>Bidyanondo</em> means ‘Learn for Fun’.

That the Hindus are leaving Bangladesh for India and other countries is not unknown. The only reason behind this fact is that they do not feel safe in Bangladesh. The voice of the secular group is very minuscule, and their voice is too feeble as they are also apprehensive of reprisal from Islamic groups and influential people in power. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is sympathetic to the minorities and is aware of the problems, but there has been infiltration of radical elements into her party and government.

<strong>Rohingya camps breeding centres of radicalisation</strong>
Rohingyas have become a real threat to the safety and security of areas where they are housed in Bangladesh. The Rohingya camps, according to reliable sources, have become breeding centres of crime, rape and more alarmingly, Islamic radicalization. The radicalized Rohingyas could pose a threat not just to this region, but also to the western world. Conspiracies are on to make a Rohingya Muslim state as Jamaat, Pakistani agencies and pro-Jamaat NGOs in the refugee camps are active in the camps.

An early report by <em>AFP</em> said that criminal gangs and militants are increasing their grip on the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, committing killings and abductions with "impunity". Some Rohingya community leaders "had received credible death threats, they believe from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and fear for their lives," the report said. ARSA has been blamed for deadly attacks on Myanmar security forces in recent years, including the attacks which sparked the 2017 clampdown.

The Bangladesh government has never admitted the presence of ARSA in the Rohingya camps. A report by wire agency <em>AP</em> on 27 February 2020 said that human rights groups acknowledge that there are criminal elements among some of the Rohingya refugees. It even mentioned about a gang led by Abdul Hakim who has allegedly abducted at least seven Bangladeshis over the last two months and killed three hostages. Hakim remains at large, the report adds.

<strong>Violent Extremism in Europe continues</strong>
Recent attacks in Reading (UK) by a Nigerian Muslim killing three passers-by and seriously injuring two more in a park in Reading in UK testifies that threats from Islamic fundamentalists in Europe is far from over.

Recently the Dutch police averted a ‘serious terrorist attack’ in the Netherlands and arrested seven of the suspected men, all Muslim. The plan involved jackets packed with explosives and Kalashnikovs at an event and a car bomb elsewhere, according to the report.

The undercover police infiltrated into the group as arms dealers and held meeting with the suspects. They were planning to launch attacks at a gay parade and cafes in Amsterdam. In another incident, the Dutch police arrested a 24-year-old Syrian man on 16 June 2020 at a reception center for people seeking asylum in the country. The man was accused of involvement in a terrorist organization, and was taken into custody in Balk, a village in
Friesland about 25 km west of Heerenveen. He is suspected to have taken part in the Islamic group Ahrar al-Sham in Syria in 2015 and 2016, according to police.

Ahrar al-Sham is not in the list of terrorist organization, as it does not operate outside Syria, according to a Dutch government Minister. These are only a few of many such incidents taking place in different parts of Europe, almost regularly.

<strong>Influence of Islamic Brotherhood on the rise in Europe</strong>
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the purveyors of a totalitarian and oppressive ideology which seeks to unite Muslim society under its umbrella is expanding its influence in Europe. Its presence in countries like France and Belgium is very strong. The MB is working to influence political decision making in France by affecting Muslim communities and elected officials in municipal councils.

Though MB is viewed as a legitimate organization while it should not be forgotten that MB’s core principles go against the core values of Europe such as secularism and rights of sexual and religious minorities and hatred to other faiths what they term non-believers. MB is believed to also exert a sort of soft influence on local French officials
through its people in the media and academia.

In another incident in Belgium, a police officer Mohamed S. from Schaarbeek was convicted by the Court of Appeal in Brussels last week for supplying secret information to terror suspect Yassine Atar. He was accused of passing on secret police information to Yassine Atar, brother of Oussama Atar, who is known as one of the key figures in the preparation of the March 2016 Brussels terror attacks.

These stray incidents show that violent extremism is far from over and there is no reason to be complacent that Europe is free from the threats of extreme violence. The threats are serious and there is an urgent need to draw the attention of the international community, especially European policy makers, governments and the civil society to the challenges and threats from violent extremism. And that could only be done by organizing conferences and demonstrations in different parts of Europe and holding discussions in different social media..