New Delhi: At least four persons were killed in Bangladesh’s Chittagong and dozens severely injured when activists from Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamic fundamentalist group, as well as students affiliated with Left parties clashed with the police during their protest against the ongoing visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi there.
The protests, which were already going on across the country against Modi’s scheduled visit, intensified after the prime minister landed in Dhaka to take part in Bangladesh’s National Day celebrations.
Just as the Friday prayers got over, protesters gathered at Dhaka’s Baitul Mukarram mosque where Hefazat activists clashed with police and Awami League supporters, sources in Bangladesh told ThePrint.
When PM Modi was participating in the National Day celebrations in Dhaka along with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina, massive clashes erupted near the mosque where as many as 60 people, including two journalists, were injured, reported Daily Star.
The protesters were raising slogans against Modi, prompting the local police to fire rubber bullets at them and resort to baton-charge, Daily Star stated.
The Hefazat-e-Islam activists also protested in Chittagong and raised slogans against Modi, reported Dhaka Tribune.
Some student organisations were also involved in the protests in both Chittagong and Dhaka, where they clashed with pro-Awami League student organisations, sources said.
In Chittagong, the situation spiralled out of control as the protesters attacked the local police station and also tore down the National Day banner hanging outside the police station. The clashes went on for an hour, according to Dhaka Tribune.
“Eight people were brought to the hospital with gunshot wounds and among them four succumbed to their injuries,” the publication quoted Md Alauddin, assistant sub-inspector of the police outpost at Chittagong Medical College Hospital, as saying.
Rafiqul Islam, a police official, told Reuters, “We had to fire teargas and rubber bullets to disperse them as they entered a police station and carried out extensive vandalism.”
Dhaka Tribune quoted Hefazat’s Central Organising Secretary Azizul Haque Islamabadi, saying, “Police attacked our leaders and activists at Baitul Mukarram in Dhaka. The students took out a procession to protest the incident and came under police firing.”
Who are these protesters?
The Hefazat-e-Islam, or ‘Saviour of Islam’ is an Islamic fundamental group, which is a coalition of several small organisations.
A BBC report said, “It has traditionally not sought power through elections, but looks to use its street muscle to change Bangladesh’s traditional secular culture and politics through the imposition of what it believes are proper Islamic ways.”
While the Hefazat-e-Islam has been creating trouble across Bangladesh, in 2018, right before the elections, the Sheikh Hasina government had entered a political understanding with the group. But Bangladesh has been witnessing an unabated rise in religious extremism and communal hatred over recent years.
Traditionally, the Hefazat has always allied with the Jamaat-e-Islami, which has ties with the Bangladesh’s main opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The Hefazat came to prominence in 2013 when a Bangladeshi blogger was killed outside his home owing to a clash between police and Islamic protesters, who took to the streets accusing such bloggers of blasphemy.
The group that year had launched a 13-point charter of demands, which included enactment of an anti-blasphemy law with provision for the death penalty, exemplary punishment to all bloggers and others who insult Islam, cancellation of the country’s women development policy, a ban on erecting sculptures in public places and a ban on mixing of men and women in public, among others.
They had even launched widespread protests against French President Emmanuel Macron for his comments over Prophet Mohammed’s caricatures in Dhaka last year.
‘Hefazat activists are a part of Saudi-funded madrasas’
Experts said the student protesters are not “anti-India, but they are against PM Modi”, but Hefazat activists “are completely anti-India”.
“The protesters are mainly students who are affiliated to the Left parties and Hefazat-e-Islam activists,” Farid Hossain, political analyst and writer based in Bangladesh, told ThePrint.
“The students are protesting because they believe Prime Minister Modi is guilty of the Gujarat riots and that he represents a Right-wing pro-Hindutva party. On the other hand, there are these Hefazat activists, who have been protesting since last year when they came to know that PM Modi will be visiting Dhaka.”
“The student protesters are not anti-India, but they are against PM Modi and they believe that Bangabandhu’s ideology was different from that of his. But the Hefazat activists are completely anti-India and they are part of a chain of Saudi-funded madrasas. They see it as a revolution,” he added.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)