Fear and violence for minorities in Bangladesh
According to local sources, fear and violence mark the lives of Christian and Hindu minorities in Bangladesh, with boycotts, roadblocks and terrorist attacks surrounding a recent election which coincided with the celebration of Christmas.
The ruling Awami league won overwhelmingly following the general election in Bangladesh Sunday, January 5, 2014, in an election marred by low voter turnout, a boycott by the opposition parties and considerable, even fatal, violence on the part of some of the opposition, in the hope of preventing the vote.
According to recent reports, at least 21 people were killed and more than 300 injured during the elections. A hundred polling stations were the target of damage and attacks as part of the boycott led by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally, the Islamist and markedly fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party.
Sources close to the international Catholic pastoral foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) told of the tensions during the preceding days, in the run-up to the election, which coincided with the celebration of Christmas.
"Due to the terrible and difficult situation, the majority of people were unable to celebrate Christmas in my region in Dinajpur,” said a local source.
“In most of the dioceses, many of the villages are far apart and generally the priest can only celebrate Mass there only once or twice a year. As a result of the boycott, the roadblocks and the terrorist attacks, the priests and catechists were unable to move about easily; even in their own towns or villages it was not possible to move around."
The source goes on to explain that in addition to burning cars, throwing containers of gasoline against trains and lifting railway lines, followers of the most fundamentalist opposition parties also resorted to attacking the religious minorities in the country, especially Hindus.
"They are burning the houses of the minorities, looting them and even beating people, sometimes to the point of death. Every day we see photographs in the paper of many people killed in these extreme conditions. We are living through a terrible situation."
The situation has grown still worse since the elections, however. "On the very day of the election, a number of Hindu houses were looted and then burned in a village near our house.”
“Last night, January 7, a Christian village was burned and many people were beaten. Some members of our families are among them. Please pray for the safety and protection of the ordinary people in our country, especially those of minorities."
According to other sources contacted by ACN, the situation is not equally serious throughout the country. In general, many of the acts of violence were not directed specifically against individuals, but took place within the context of the boycott and the strike in opposition to the elections in the country.
But there have been serious attacks on religious minorities in the country, with the Hindu minority in particular having suffered some of the worst violence.
One priest from Dhaka reported: "There are some places where the people have suffered greatly, for example, one district in Dinajpur and two districts in the Diocese of Khulna.”
“In the capital and other districts where election was held, the government called out the army, and the security forces were very much on the alert. They sent the police to all the churches for their protection, both in the cities of Dhaka and in the surrounding villages.”
“Hence I was able to celebrate Christmas in a village 30 km from the city of Dhaka. There were more than 10 police officers posted at the door of the church, from December 23rd until the evening of the 25th. Everything was peaceful, even though I was personally frightened to travel around on my motorbike during those days.”