A test of fire for Sheikh Hasina

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The Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh has a lot more to do to end the anti-Hindu violence in the country. That it began in Noakhali district is all the more distressing, as it was in this area that Mahatma Gandhi preached peace while India was partitioned. That 450 people were arrested for their involvement in the riots is commendable but the moot question is whether the arrests would lead to their conviction and punishment. The prime minister’s words of condemnation are strong and confidence-inspiring. Equally gladdening is that the civil society in Bangladesh has rallied against the violent lot. There is nothing to suggest that the violence was spontaneous, while all the evidence points to mischievous elements planning it in great detail.

As has become the practice, social media is used to spread false reports of desecration of the Holy Book to start violence which then picks up its own momentum. In the instant case, six people were killed and property belonging to hundreds of people was destroyed. Bangladesh’s foreign ministry has blamed those who have not reconciled themselves to Bangladesh’s Independence from Pakistan 50 years ago for continuously propagating their “toxic narratives to instigate violence, hatred and bigotry”.

Political forces which have not taken kindly to Sheikh Hasina returning to power in 2009 and holding on to her post could also be behind the violence. Islamist forces like the Al-Qaeda had, in the past, struck in the country, proving that they could be ignored only at the nation’s peril.

Though Islam is the state religion in Bangladesh, secularism runs deep in the veins of the people. Nonetheless, there are fringe elements capable of engineering violence based on imaginary tales of blasphemy. One report has estimated the number of violent incidents against Hindus, who constitute 10 per cent of the population, at 3,600 since 2013.

In terms of economic growth, women empowerment, literacy and child mortality rate, Bangladesh has been doing much better than India. It has a thriving export-driven garment industry that employs even Indians at middle levels. Peace is an essential ingredient for success in any field and Bangladesh is not an exception. India has, rightly enough, expressed concern over the goings-on there. Dhaka cannot be unaware of the consequences the violence can have on India.

The hot-headed are not few in number in India and they can reciprocate in an equally dangerous manner. Of course, that is what terrorists of all hues want. The targeting of the minorities like Hindus, Sikhs and migrant labourers in Kashmir is not any different from attacking people in Bangladesh because their style of worship is different from that of the majority community.

Violence cannot be justified in any manner. If the past incidents are anything to go by, even courts find it difficult to punish those who “protested” against blasphemy. If the guilty are allowed to go scot-free, it will encourage more to take the law into their own hands. Sheikh Hasina should walk the talk and punish the guilty.

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Published on: Thursday, October 21, 2021, 02:30 AM IST

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