Hindu Priest Hacked To Death In Bangladesh
NEW DELHI: A Hindu priest was killed by three men on a motorcycle in Jhenaidah, Bangladesh -- the latest in a string of similar violent attacks in Bangladesh.
Shaymanonda Das was preparing for morning prayers at a temple when he was attacked, police say. He was hacked on the neck several times with machetes. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
Such attacks -- targeting minorities in Bangladesh including Hindus, Christians but also secular writers and bloggers, journalists, academics, gay rights activists and others -- are becoming increasingly commonplace in the Muslim majority but theoretically secular country. Since February 2013, more than 40 people have been killed in such attacks.
Recent attacks include two christians being hacked to death in early June. Sunil Gomez, 65, was found dead in his shop in Bonpara, one of Bangladesh’s oldest Christian communities. Following the attack, local Christians held a protest rally demanding the immediate arrest of the killers. They argued that the police were not doing enough to halt the spread of violent extremism which has engulfed the country. They cited the previous murder of Christian resident Gabriel Costa whose killer has not yet been found, as evidence of police complacency. Sunil’s death came just hours after the murder of a top police official’s wife in Chittagong. Mahmuda Khanam Mitu’s husband, Babul Akter had been leading an investigation against Islamic extremists. The killing, also claimed by Islamic State, is thought to have been a ‘revenge’ attack.
Also in early June, a 70 year old Hindu priest was hacked to death in southwestern Bangladesh, with the Islamic State claiming responsibility. "God willing, the knives of Mujahedeen will continue until we cleanse Bangladesh from the wrath of polytheism," a statement released by the militant group said. The priest, Ananda Gopal Ganguly, was on his way to temple when the assailants attacked him.
In April, a leading gay rights activist and friend were hacked to death by suspected Islamists posing as courier company employees. Xulhaz Mannan, an editor of Bangladesh's first magazine for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Roopbaan, and a friend, Tanay Fahim, were hacked to death in Mannan’s apartment in Dhaka by five or six people.
The attack came just days after a university professor was hacked to death by suspected Islamists in the city of Rajshahi. English professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, 58, was attacked by machete wielding assailants, as he walked to the bus station from his home. Professor Siddique, is the fourth professor from Rajshahi University to be killed by Islamists.The attack was claimed by the Islamic State.
Also in April, secular blogger -- Nazimuddin Samad -- was hacked to death in Dhaka. Samad, a 28 year old law student had criticised elements of radical Islamism on his Facebook page, had been on a hit list of 84 atheist bloggers that a group of radical Islamists had drawn up and sent to the interior ministry.
Protesters -- 300 of whom took the streets after Samad’s murder -- have accused the government and police of fostering a climate of impunity that makes such brutal crimes not just possible, but frequent in the Muslim majority country. Maruf Rosul, one of the Ganajagaran Mancha activists, told the Guardian at the time: “The government is creating impunity to all the offences by not bringing the perpetrators to book. “Instead of pointing blame at different outfits, the government should identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
In 2015, Bangladesh witnessed multiple similar attacks on secular writers, bloggers and others. In October, a publisher of secular books was hacked to death, while two other writers and a publisher were stabbed and shot at a publishing house in a separate attack in Dhaka. The body of Faisal Abedin Deepan, of the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house, was found inside his office, after Deepan had filed a complaint with the police following death threats and abuse received on facebook.
On the same day in October, publisher Ahmed Rahim Tutul was attacked in the office of the Shudhdhoswar publishing house and seriously wounded. Two other writers were seriously wounded in the attack.
Both Deepan and Tutal had published books by Bangladeshi-American writer and blogger Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death in February the same year. A month later, blogger Washiqur Rahman was killed. Blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was killed in May. In August, Niloy Neel, another secular blogger was hacked to death.
In all cases, the Bangladesh government did little to catch the attackers. All four men were killed in a similar fashion -- hacked to death with sharp weapons. All of them were killed inside or near their homes. Further, all four were critical of religious intolerance, a sensitive issue in Bangladesh which although technically a secular country is gripped by religiously-motivated politics and violence.
Niloy Neel was murdered after the gang broke into his apartment in the capital's Goran neighbourhood, according to the Bangladesh Blogger and Activist Network which was alerted to the attack by a witness. Neel's name was Niloy Chowdhury, but he used the former name in the blogging community,Dhaka Tribune reported, Neel used to write about the need for capital punishment for 1971 war criminals, the report said.
In an earlier attack, blogger-activist Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered in northeastern Sylhet in Bangladesh by unknown assailants.
Das, in fact, wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website once moderated by Roy. Police said that Das was attacked by masked men with machetes in broad daylight, as he left his home for work. Local police officer Mohammad Rahamatullah told Reuters that Das "came out of his house and what we came to know from the local people who are witnesses, was that four miscreants chased him and killed him near his house".
In all cases, the Bangladesh government and police came under scrutiny. Roy’s death, for instance, prompted the country’s Law Commission to comment on the “general” and “helpless” way people are being targeted in the country that has, in turn, compromised faith in the judicial system. Roy’s wife, who suffered head injuries and lost a thumb in the attack, had initially pointed to police failure in preventing the attack. “While Avijit and I were being ruthlessly attacked, the local police stood close by and did not act,” Rafida told Reuters. Now, we demand that the Bangladeshi government do everything in its power to bring the murderers to justice.”
Roy’s father, Ajay Roy, also accused the police of negligence in the crime and said officers allowed the attackers to escape, adding that he was "not satisfied" with the investigation.
Tragically, these attacks were not an aberration. They follow a string of attacks on writers, bloggers, professors and journalists in the country.
According to the “2014 World Press Freedom Index” released by Reporters Without Borders in January this year, Bangladesh ranked a low 146 of 180 nations. Ahmed Rajib Haider, an atheist blogger was hacked to death on February 2013, by machete-wielding activists from a militant group associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami party. Haider, an architect by profession, ran a blog that was instrumental in demanding trials for the perpetrators of the mass killings during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, a move that was widely seen as aimed at radical Islamists.
Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi, two well-known married Bangladeshi journalists were stabbed to death in February 2012; the motive is still to be determined. Another blogger, Asif Mohiuddin, was stabbed and accused of blasphemy.
Islamic State and Al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for numerous killings but the Bangladesh government denies the claims, asserting that there are no foreign Islamist groups in the country. The Awami League government blames political opponents for the killings, asserting that they are trying to destabilise the government. Indeed some have argued that the rise of terrorism is more a response to the Awami League’s stifling of opposition.
Whatever organisations are behind the killings it is clear that secularism is becoming increasingly non-existent in Bangladesh. Blasphemy laws, the reaffirmation of a state religion and recent comments by state officials, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, symbolise an increasingly intolerant and religious trajectory.
In April, Sheikh Hasina said of atheism; “if anyone writes filthy words against our religion, why should we tolerate that?”
“Why the government would take responsibility if such writings lead to any untoward incidents?” she continued.
Statements like these do little to console Bangladesh’s religious and liberal minorities. With India’s recent commitment to fast-track citizenship for Hindu refugees, will we see a new influx of Hindus, Christians and others fleeing an increasingly hostile climate in Bangladesh?