Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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Home  Worldwide  Bangladesh  November, 2004  The endangered minority and the marginalised
The endangered minority and the marginalised

The Financial Express
VOL XI NO 345 REGD NO DA 1589Tuesday, November 02, 2004


The endangered minority and the marginalised
Syed Fattahul Alim

Harrowing reports of communal violence are coming from Brahmanbaria. A mosque belonging to the minority sect of Ahmadiyyas has been razed to the ground by a violent mob at the Bhadhughar village in Brahmanbariya. So far as the report goes, it was the time of congregation of Ahmadiya people in their local mosque last Friday when some 100 people led by a local political leader and armed with lethal weapons stormed into the tinshed mosque and attacked the devotees. They asked the devotees to stop saying prayer and leave the place. The attackers pulled down the bamboo wall of the mosque and beat up everyone including the imam, who was giving sermon. Later, when the family members of the devotees came out of their houses in the vicinity of the mosque to save their near and dear ones, the mob attacked them, too. In the melee 11 people including six women were injured.
This is not for the first time that fanatics have targeted the place of worship of this particular community. This same eastern district of the country, which is home to some 25000 members of this particular religious community, was a scene of similar violence in 1987. Even in the capital city, violence-mongers issued threats against a mosque belonging to this sect of people and tried to forcibly occupy the mosque. Intervention by the police in the matter however averted further deterioration of the situation. But in the present case as it happened in Brahmanbaria, the police failed to swing into action in time and the consequence has been disastrous. After their place of worship and living quarters were vandalised by the fanatics, the members of the terrorised Ahmidiyyas of that area are living in a state of extreme fear. They have now come to understand that even though they are citizens of this country by birth, their rights as citizens are not being respected. Their rights have been violated with impunity but the state has failed in its duty to protect them in time.
Why are these people being subjected to this kind of persecution? As citizens of Bangladesh they have every right to live, work and pray like their fellow people in any locality of the country. No one has the right to trample upon this fundamental right of these people. Neither the constitution of Bangladesh, nor Islam, which is the faith of the majority, says that any part of the population can be discriminated against only because its belief system is different from that of the mainstream community of believers. The government leaders never miss the opportunity of telling the local and foreign audience that Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony, or that it is a moderate Muslim country. But where has gone that harmony or moderation in the case of the Ahmadiyya sect? After what has happened in Brahmanbaria, will the government still claim that this is a country of communal harmony, tolerance or even moderation?The entire responsibility of protecting any citizen of the country lies with the government. And when it comes to the question of protecting any group of people, who have a different culture, faith or ethnicity, the responsibility of the state becomes bigger. The state's real commitment to its professed ideals such as equality, fraternity and brotherhood in the eye of law in a democratic system or of God in a theocratic polity is put to the test when violence against the minority erupts anywhere within its political boundary. In the present case too, Bangladesh, with its ideals of democracy and secularism enshrined in the constitution, has been put through the paces.
It is however nothing new that a minority group of people is being subjected to persecution by a group of narrow-minded bigots. As always, the state and the government, to all appearances, become helpless in the face of the fury of those few violence-mongers. Moreover, in the history of nations, the minority and the marginalised have been the favourite target of the bigots, the xenophobes, the chauvinists, the racialists and the militants of every description. And most of the time it has been the state that had either patronised the perpetrators of the bullying of and persecution against the minority and the marginalised or looked the other way when such acts of violence were being committed. Notwithstanding such historical records, the state never took the responsibility for such crime against humanity. There were, however, few exceptional cases, as during the Nazi rule in Germany, when the state itself assumed the role of the tormentor. But the crime of oppressing, persecuting, marginalising and depriving the minority of their fundamental rights has still remained a favourite pastime of the powerful in every community and nation in all ages. Unfortunately, whenever the fanatics or the hirelings of the powerful carried out their heinous attacks against the minority, the blame was invariably laid on the majority. In the present case of the violence against the members of the Ahmadiyya community in Brahmanbariya, the report of the incident points the finger at the majority. But on the contrary, the truth is that the common people, who constitute the majority, are tolerant and respectful of the rights of the minority and the marginalised. And the majority people of Bangladesh cannot under any circumstances be held responsible for any of the few sporadic incidents of violence committed against the religious or ethnic minorities of the country. It is always the few extremists and hangers-on of the powerful who commit all the crimes against humanity.
So, the attackers of the Ahmadiyya mosque in the capital or in Brahmanbariya should not be considered as the representatives of the majority community, for the latter are open-minded and understanding. The violence-mongers on the other hand are a handful of extremists. It is the responsibility of the government to isolate these few trouble-mongers and put its foot down to stop repetition of such incident in the future.
The government has also a serious stake in ensuring the safety of the religious sect now under threat. The international community is keenly watching the development. The Brahmanbariya incident tells against Bangladesh's image abroad as a land of peace and communal harmony. Failure to protect the minority is not simply a failure on the law and order front. This is also tantamount to shielding the trouble-mongers. Such image of the government and the country is liable to send a wrong message to the prospective foreign investors in the economy.
The question of the image of the country abroad, or the impression of foreigners about ourselves aside, protection of the minority, the vulnerable and the marginalised is the primary duty of the state if it wants to prove itself worthy of the fundamental values it stands for. So it is also incumbent upon the incumbent government to prove itself against the backdrop of the disconcerting developments in the eastern district of Brahmanbaria and elsewhere.
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