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Govt, media, opposition — Bangladesh can teach India how to handle hate crimes

When violence broke out against Hindus during Durga Puja in Bangladesh, PM Sheikh Hasina, ruling party, media and opposition spoke in one voice to condemn it.

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The way Bangladesh responded to the religious violence against Hindu minorities has set a template for all liberal democracies of the world. It did not go for a split-screen debate of both-siderism. The condemnation was unequivocal and universal.

Last week, Bangladesh saw one of the worst spates of anti-Hindu violence in recent years. This coincided with Durga Puja and resulted in widespread attacks on Hindu religious places and residential quarters. These incidents were allegedly triggered by an incident of ‘desecration’ of a Quran at a Durga Puja gathering in Cumilla. According to one of the prominent newspapers in Bangladesh, The Daily Star, a total of “101 religious sites including Hindu temples, puja mandaps and 181 shops/homes were attacked in six days since the Cumilla incident”.

The united Bengal — Bangladesh and Indian state of West Bengal — is historically known for the worst events of communal violence in world history.  But this time, the Bangladesh government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, political parties, journalists and opinion makers all spoke in unison against the attacks on Hindus. The opposition to the communal violence was so united that it is not easy to find even fringe voices supporting anti-Hindu violence. The Bangladeshi public sphere spoke in one voice.

This is not the case in today’s India, where politics and public discourse are so vitiated that even when an eight-year-old girl was raped and killed in Kathua in Jammu, a group of people came out in support of the accused, who have now been found guilty by the court. During the infamous 2020 Delhi riots, one section of the media supported the rioters and failed to stand against the violence. TV channels even tried to link the riots with the Islamic State and other foreign agencies, but these allegations were never substantiated. 

Even during a calamity like Covid-19, a section of opinion-makers and mediapersons tried to communalise the pandemic and blamed a Tablighi Jamaat congregation, and that too at a time when many larger events took place in India. In all these and many more such events, India never spoke in one voice. The worst thing is that even the ruling dispensation, the party in power and its infrastructure didn’t abstain from fanning communal hatred.

Bangladesh has shown us how to act in such volatile situations.

Also read: India must take strong view of attack on Hindus but not with an ‘anti-Bangladesh’ mindset

Bangladesh speaks in one voice

The Bangladesh government made it clear that it will not endorse any act of violence and that law will be enforced. PM Sheikh Hasina said, “The Hindus have the right to worship without fear as much as Muslims and other religious groups. They fought alongside their Muslim brothers during the Liberation War in 1971 and have equal rights in Bangladesh.”  

This gave a clear message to all the mischief makers that the government will not side with them. Hasina gave instructions to the home minister to take stern action against all involved in committing violence against Hindus. Acting on these instructions, police filed as many as 71 cases against the alleged perpetrators and arrested more than 450 miscreants in five days. Over 43 persons, including the man who posted the Facebook video that allegedly triggered the violence, were arrested in Cumilla.

As a ruling party, the Awami League came out in support of communal harmony and coined a slogan that has become quite popular now — “Each unto his or her religion, festivals are for all.” The party also organised harmony rallies and took out peace marches. Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader said that party members will build resistance against communal forces

All prominent news outlets in Bangladesh acted quite responsibly and made efforts to quell the hatred and violence. The Daily Star reported prominently that according to the police, it was in fact a Muslim man who desecrated the Quran in Cumilla.

Even civil society played its role in the peace initiative of the government. Peace marches and communal harmony meetings were organised across the nation in which thousands of Muslims participated. Such rallies were also organised in the universities and colleges. Journalist associations also participated in those rallies. Former Bangladesh cricket captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza condemned the attacks on Hindus and said this is “not the red and green we wanted to see”. He was alluding to the colours of Bangladesh’s national flag. Film actors, actresses and artists have also taken a stand against communal violence.

There is a political blame game also happening in Bangladesh. Awami League and principal opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), are blaming each other and ascribing motives. However, like the Awami League, the BNP has also condemned the communal violence. Its leader Mirza Abbas said that there must be a strong resistance against the communal violence because this can dent the global image of Bangladesh. He added that, “If we can’t resist it, our independence and sovereignty will be at stake.” Strong words indeed.

Also read: ‘3,600 attacks since 2013’ — violence against Hindu minority not a first for Bangladesh

India has a lot to learn

Meanwhile, India took note of the Bangladesh violence and condemned it. The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said that the Indian authorities are in touch with the Bangladesh government. Not only this, the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka actually met a delegation of Hindus and assured them the High Commission is monitoring the situation closely. In many cases, such outreach by a foreign country may lead to diplomatic and political repercussions. But Bangladesh responded carefully and said that authorities are in touch with the Indian embassy in Dhaka.

As we can clearly see, in Bangladesh, all institutions — political, executive, academia, media and civil society — stood against the anti-minority violence and communal strife. In fact, no notable person or group in Bangladesh has come out to support or justify the violent incidents.

Also read: BJP drags Bangladesh, Kashmir, Taliban into Bengal bypolls, TMC says communalisation won’t work

Indian society, however, has become so fragmented and disjointed at this juncture that when it comes to communal violence or controversy, such seamlessly united acts of all political and social forces is hard to achieve. In recent years, we have seen how the political class — the opposition and the government — and the civil society spoke and reacted differently and contradictorily on the matter of Article 370, CAA-NRC, mob lynching, Ram Mandir,‘Love Jihad’, cow politics, violence against minorities and so on.

Bangladesh is, of course, not free from bigotry and communalism. The communal forces are quite active there. But there is almost a national consensus that at this juncture, the nation cannot afford communal strife because it will lead to a break in law and order situation and may result in economic hardships. Bangladesh is working hard to improve its Human Development Indicators, and the International Monetary Fund has predicted that it can surpass India in terms of nominal per capita GDP. At this point, communal violence is the last thing that Bangladesh will want.

The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has written books on media and sociology. He tweets @Profdilipmandal. Views are personal.

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