Published:  12:23 AM, 10 October 2018 Last Update: 12:25 AM, 10 October 2018

Anti-Hindu election violence under scrutiny

With national elections expected later this year, Bangladesh's Hindu community is bracing for the sort of targeted violencethey've seen around every major election in Bangladesh's history.  

Even if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the ruling Awami League blame Jamaat-e-Islami, other Islamists, and their own political opponents after the fact; the real problem, according to those on the ground, is that this government refuses to take action against those who commit crimes against Hindus.In that one respect, at least, they are no better according to many here, than the Islamist-friendly Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

This has gotten the attention of several foreign lawmakers, including at least two members of a powerful US Congressional Committee, with authority over spending and trade.  And the US State Department is reviewing 23 separate incidents of targeted anti-Hindu violence, from January through July of 2018 that the Bangladeshi government neither prevented nor prosecuted.

Although there has not been any significant uptick in anti-Hindu violence, foreign lawmakers are concerned that history suggests that there will be as elections draw closer; and the Bangladeshi government's seeming tolerance for it as reflected in their lack of action against the known criminals.  Human rights professionals admit that, tragically, violence against minorities and marginalized people occurs almost everywhere.  

What makes it their business, several have told me, is when governments enable these crimes; that is, are complicit by sending a message that acts otherwise criminal under that nation's law will not be treated as such if the target is a minority or other group.  In the case of Bangladesh, that usually means Hindus.

The most serious anti-Hindu violence thus far in the election run-up, took place in the Rangpur district.  Religious leaders there encouraged a crowd to avenge their faith after claiming that one of the Hindu villagers posted a statement on Facebook "insulting the prophet Mohammad."  

The accusation turned out to be false.  The alleged perpetrator had long ago left the village and, regardless, did not have the skills needed to leave the alleged post.  That, however, is beside the point to most observers who insist that there is no way to normalize such a violent and unrestrained reaction to an unsubstantiated allegation. 

That reactioninvolved "tens of thousands" of attackers overrunning the village and committing multiple crimes that involvedbeatings, arson, and looting.  Some villagers have alleged sexual assault as well, but I have not been able to confirm them as of this writing.  

The other issue causing international scrutiny is the fact that the criminals responsible for the attack, arson, and looting have not been arrested, nor do members the Hindu community expect them to be. The Rangpur incident shows why Bangladesh's 12-14 million Hindus live in fear and expect no justice from this or any other Bangladeshi government.

Several US officials are currently reviewing the history of minority, and especially Hindu, persecution in Bangladesh, as well as the quality of the government's reaction to it.  While they do, they will be looking at what happens to Hindus as the elections get closer.  Will they be subject to targeted violence?  

Will the government prevent it?  And if it does occur, will the government take decisive action against the perpetrators?  Several Bangladeshi officials assured me that the government will act to prevent the violence.  When I communicated that to American officials, the reaction was that the value of those assurances will be reflected in what actually happens.

The writer is an American intellectual and geopolitical analyst

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