At least seven people have been killed and hundreds injured in violence that broke out in Bangladesh after the Quran was allegedly desecrated.
A photo of the Quran was allegedly placed on the knee of a Hindu deity – Hanuman – during celebrations of the Hindu festival, Durga Puja. The alleged incident took place in Cumilla district which sparked nationwide protests.
Mosaddek Billah Al Madani, president of Bangladesh’s Islami Movement said: “We ask the government to arrest those who defamed the Quran by putting it at the feet of an idol in Cumilla.”
Last week police used live fire to disperse protesters resulting in the death of four Muslims on the spot and several others were injured in the action.
Dozens of buildings including shops, temples, and houses belonging to the Hindu community were targeted in some parts of the country by unidentified men.
Sources in the police said that at least 500 suspects have been detained in different parts of the country. In order to stop the spread of violence, the government has deployed “Border Guards Bangladesh” in 22 of the 64 administrative districts and has put the elite Rapid Action Battalion on high alert.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, said: “A thorough investigation is underway. We will definitely trace those who carry out such incidents. Nobody will be spared. It doesn’t matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished. We want such punishments so that no one dares to do so in the future. Religion is private and the festival is for all and we enjoy every festival together. Some people are religiously blind and they always want to create communal conflicts. Such people belong not only to the Muslim community but also to all other religions.”
She called upon people to be vigilant and said: “If we all work together, they will not be able to cause any harm. We believe that those who are born on the soil of this country and who are its children should practice their religion freely.”
Saad Hammadi, the South Asia campaigner for Amnesty International, said: “Targeting religious sensitivities to stoke communal tension is a serious human rights violation and requires immediate and decisive action from the government to address the situation of minorities in the country.
“We urge the authorities to take urgent steps to protect the members of the minority community against such attacks and ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims. The authorities must promptly, thoroughly, impartially, and transparently investigate the incidents and bring those suspected to be responsible for the violence and vandalism to account through fair trials.”
UN Resident Coordinator in the country, Mia Seppo, said: “We call upon the Government to ensure the protection of minorities and an impartial probe. We call upon all to join hands to strengthen inclusive tolerant Bangladesh.”
Asaduzzaman Khan, Home Minister of Bangladesh, also assured strict action against culprits and said that 45 people have already been arrested and more will follow. He also assured support for the minority community.
A US State Department spokesperson said: “Freedom of religion or belief is a human right. Every person around the world, regardless of their religious affiliation or belief, should feel safe and supported to celebrate important holidays.”
Meanwhile, radical Hindu groups in India are calling for a boycott of products from Bangladesh and asking Muslims in India to condemn the violence in Bangladesh.
Former legislator and senior BJP leader Ranjan Das told the Hindustan Times: “If India cuts all the trade relations with Bangladesh like we did it with Pakistan in past, the country will be bound to starve.”
Similarly, the leader of another ultra-hardliner Hindu group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Purna Chandra Mandal, urged Muslims in India to protest against the violence in Bangladesh.
“If they (Indian Muslims) do not condemn the act of violence in Bangladesh, we will consider that they are supporting it,” he said. “It is time to make it clear that we are not going to act like hypocrites. There will be violence against violence.”
Prime Minister Hasina warned India of any action saying: “We expect that nothing happens there (in India) which could influence any situation in Bangladesh, affecting our Hindu community here.”