On the occasion of Hindu festival Janmashtami, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the minority Hindus in the country that they have same rights as her.
Hasina's comments come a month after temples, shops, and houses of Hindus were vandalised in southwestern Bangladesh. Bricks were thrown at a temple, furniture inside was broke, one Hindu house was burnt, according to reports at the time. The July attacks were the latest in the wave of communal violence directed at Hindus in Bangladesh.
Hasina asserted that the number of mandaps in Dhaka during the Durga Puja festivities were much higher than in West Bengal. She interacted with Hindu community leaders on Thursday on the occasion of Janmashtami and urged believers of other faiths not to think of themselves as minorities, saying everyone irrespective of their religions will enjoy equal rights in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country.
"We want people of all faiths to live with equal rights. You are people of this country, you have equal rights here, you have the same rights as I have," said Hasina, as per the Dhaka Tribune newspaper.
She further said, "You would always think that you are the citizens of this country and you will enjoy equal rights. We also want to see you in that way. Please don’t undermine yourselves. You were born in this country, you are the citizens of this country."
Hasina virtually joined the event at Dhakeswari Mandir in Dhaka and JM Sen Hall in Chattogram from her official residence in Gonobhaban. She said the number of mandaps in Dhaka is higher than the number in West Bengal or Kolkata, and across Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festivities.
However, Hindus were attacked during Durga Puja festivals last October in countrywide communal violence. Security forces were deployed in 22 districts in the country after dozens of Hindu temples were attacked after rumours spread that Islamic holy book Quran had been desecrated. The violence began in Cumilla and then spread elsewhere.
The Guardian reported, "About 10 Hindu temples and shrines were attacked and vandalised by the crowds, who threw stones and smashed statues of the Hindu gods [in Cumilla]. The anti-Hindu violence continued into Friday and Saturday. More than 80 special shrines set up for the Durga Puja festival were attacked, with about 150 Hindus injured and two killed."
The last October's violence was not the only instance of violence last year. Waves of anti-Hindu violence also swept Bangladesh in August and March 2021.
"In August, four Hindu temples were attacked in the country’s Khulna district and in March, during a visit by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, hardline Islamist groups attacked Hindu shrines," reported The Guardian.
Hasina on Thursday lamented that whenever an untoward incident occurs, it is propagated in such a manner that the Hindu community don’t have any rights in Bangladesh.
“Colours are given to that incident in a way that the Hindus have no rights here. And the actions of the government after the incidents don’t get proper attention,” Prothom Aalo newspaper quoted her as saying.
Hasina said her government and the Awami League did not believe in undermining people from any religion.
“We can say it clearly. Our government is very cautious about it. I can assure you that,” she added.
The Hindu community is the second largest religious affiliation in Bangladesh according to the 2022 census, constituting approximately 7.95 per cent out of the total 161.5 million population.
Despite Hasina's assurances, Hindus in Bangladesh face "regular" threat of violence, according to rights group Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).
As many as 3,679 attacks on the Hindu community took place between January 2013-September 2021, according to an ASK report, cited by bdnews24.
"The attacks included vandalism of and setting fire to 559 houses and 442 shops and businesses of the Hindu community. At least 1,678 cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Hindu temples, idols and places of worship were also reported in the same period," reported bdnews24.
(With PTI inputs)