Anti-Buddhist attacks: mystery unresolved, scar unhealed
INTO the second year of the attack on a number of Buddhist temples and households at Ramu, Ukhia and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar and Patia in Chittagong, which began on September 29 and continued till September 30, the mystery surrounding the mayhem remains largely unresolved and, most importantly, the scar on the collective psyche of the minority Buddhist community unhealed. Of course, 17 temples, which were torched and looted during the attacks, reportedly triggered by a reported Facebook post on desecration of the Qur’an, have been rebuilt, although allegation are there that their original design has been ignored. Of course, the displaced members of the Buddhist community, who fled their vandalised and torched homes to escape the wrath of the marauders, have been rehabilitated. Of course, security has been heightened in Buddhist-dominated areas — for example, 200 members of the Border Guard Bangladesh are on round-the-clock vigil. Such steps by the government were indeed much-needed and have been acclaimed within and beyond the Buddhist community. What has, however, not been restored apparently is the community’s peace of mind, sense of security and, most importantly, faith in communal harmony, which, at least officially makes Bangladesh stand out in the comity of nations. Why? Because the political elite, especially the ruling Awami League, have apparently been too keen on gaining political mileage out of what may be called one of the darkest chapters in Bangladesh’s history and because the law of the land has once again been subjugated by partisan ping pong.
As has seemingly become their signature, the police opted for blanket cases and blanket arrests in the way of the mayhem; as many as 19 cases against more than 15,000 people, mostly unnamed, were filed and 500 were arrested. Almost a year later, the police submitted charge sheets in seven of these cases against 364 people on September 2 and 3. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, according to a leading Bangla daily, none of the prime accused in these features in the charge sheets. Moreover, the media reported intense lobbying by the major political parties, including the ruling Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to ensure that some of their local leaders and activists who have allegedly been involved in the atrocities are excluded from the list of accused. It is worth noting that the official inquiry identified 205 persons, including local leaders and activists of the Awami League, BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, as having been involved in the attacks on Buddhist temples and households. With the mastermind and the prime perpetrators of the attacks still at large, many members of the Buddhist community, especially those who have signed up as witnesses, are rightly apprehensive of targeted attack on their person and property. Moreover, the blanket cases and arrests by the police have also reportedly induced animosity among a section of the Muslim community against their Buddhist neighbours although the latter has had no role to play in such cases and arrests.
Overall, the government’s handling of the post-violence situation may have given rise to further uncertainty, mistrust and even animosity in the areas concerned. The incumbents need to realise that until and unless the masterminds and perpetrators of the violence and vandalism are put in the dock, effectively prosecuted and exemplarily punished, such uncertainty, mistrust and animosity will likely prevail.
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