10 November 2016

Arson and Vandalism Rattle Hindu Communities in Bangladesh

NOV. 6, 2016

Protesters in Bangladesh during a rally against recent communal violence in the country, in Dhaka, the capital, last week. CreditA.M. Ahad/Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Vandalism and arson directed at Hindu temples and homes continued over the weekend in Bangladesh, as crowds in various parts of the Muslim-majority country appeared to target its largest religious minority group.

Many of the acts were minor. Late Saturday or early Sunday, for instance, Hindu idols were defaced in temples in the north and south of the country, according to the police.

But Hindu communities are increasingly unnerved, said Anjan Kumar Deb, the vice chairman of Nasirnagar subdistrict, northeast of Dhaka, the capital, where an angry Muslim crowd ransacked 15 temples and scores of homes on Oct. 30.

Fifty-three people have been arrested in connection with those crimes.

India expressed “grave concern” over the attacks, with Sushma Swaraj, the external affairs minister, instructing Delhi’s ambassador to the country to visit the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina.

The violence in Nasirnagar, whose population is about 40 percent Hindu, was set off by a Facebook post published by a Hindu youth. The post included an image of the Hindu god Shiva appearing at a Muslim holy site in the Saudi city of Mecca.

Mr. Deb, a Hindu community leader, received a call on Saturday that unknown people had built a fire on the veranda of his home. “The attackers want to create a panic among Hindus,” Mr. Deb said, adding that the campaigns may aim to strip Hindus of their lands.

Human rights and government groups have opened investigations into last week’s attacks, including allegations that leaders from the governing party helped incite a crowd that went on to overrun temples and homes in Nasirnagar.

Journalists also questioned why police permission had been given to Muslim organizations to hold a rally over the Facebook post when it was clear that they were bent on violence.

Nasirnagar’s top administrator, who had issued permission, was transferred on Sunday, an indication of official displeasure.

Mizanur Rahman, the superintendent of the police overseeing the district, said that 500 security personnel had been deployed since the violence on Oct. 30, but that they had been unable to prevent the burning of six more houses on Thursday.

“It is not possible to guard each and every place in the area,” he said. “If someone is smoking or has a matchbook with him, if he drops his burning cigarette, or sets fire to a bunch of dry jute sticks or a bamboo house, that could trigger a fire.” He added, “How can we stop this type of incident?”

On Saturday, in the northern district of Netrakona, a youth was arrested while trying to set fire to a temple, said Zaydeb Chowdhury, the superintendent of police.

In Jhalakathi, a southern district, “unknown miscreants” destroyed Hindu idols either late Saturday or early Sunday, said Mohammad Mahe Alam, the officer in charge of Jhalakathi police station. He said that there were no witnesses, and that he suspected the attack had been motivated by a dispute over the land the temple occupies.

On the same night in Sirajganj, in northern Bangladesh, “unidentified miscreants” broke the heads off statues of goddesses from a temple, said Basudeb Sinha, the head investigatory officer at the Sirajganj police station.

Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka, and Ellen Barry from New Delhi.

  1. A version of this article appears in print on November 7, 2016, on page A8 of the New York edi

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