Ahmadiyyas, Panchagarh and our unending shame
The organised attack on the Ahmadiyya community, yet again, calls for the state to hit back at the self-proclaimed defenders of the faith. For too long we in this country have witnessed, in horror, the many ways in which religious minorities or those whose beliefs have been at variance with those of the majoritarian segment of believers subjected to shameful demonstrations of mob violence.
The manner in which the Salana Jalsa, annual conference, of the Ahmadiyya community was pounced upon in Panchagarh last week once again gives the lie to the self-gratifying slogan of Bangladesh being a land of communal harmony. That is our shame. It is shame that does not go away despite the assurances of the nation’s prime minister that no one will be permitted to destroy communal harmony in the country. The prime minister’s statement has been given short shrift by those who last week undermined their own faith by going after the faith of others.
It is time for the republic, with all the force and power at its command, to strike back at these elements who have once again torched homes, have presided over the murder of citizens and have brought the state once more to this terrible pass. It is important that the state take charge, that the government assume command of the situation.
That can be done through demanding to know from the local administration and the police force in Panchagarh why they failed to ensure an atmosphere conducive to the holding of the Ahmadiyya conference in Panchagarh. It is a terrible commentary on the national narrative that every time the Ahmadiyyas attempt to organise their religious sessions, the elements of bigotry move into high gear to create roadblocks for these men and women of peace.
In this putatively secular state, it is therefore indecent for citizens to stay silent when their fellow citizens come under assault from elements whose shaky faith in their own religious beliefs propels them into launching assaults on individuals who honestly and sincerely uphold their beliefs through the scripture they have adhered to for ages.
In this day and age, in this country founded on the principle of every community possessing the right to practise its religious convictions, in a state where the constitution asserts the equality of all citizens and all religions before the law, it has regularly been our collective misfortune to be silent witnesses to the barbaric instincts of those who not only practise hate toward other faiths but also violate the ideals which since the times of the Holy Prophet have underpinned the beauty of Islam.
Following this fresh assault on the Ahmadiyya community, it becomes the sacred, constitutional responsibility of the republic --- and that brings into the scene the civil administration, the police and other security forces --- to enforce the law. It ought to be for the state to step back and observe the many ways in which the lives and properties of not just Ahmadiyyas but also of other communities, religious as well as ethnic, have repeatedly been endangered by vicious majoritarian hate.
For the state, the fundamental responsibility from here on must be a guarantee of security for the followers of all minority groups before the elements of chaos take to the streets and then go on to kill and burn in our towns and cities. With the regrettable experience of the state engaging in reactive action, namely, by going for measures against criminal elements after they have committed their misdeeds, it is now time to go for a change in strategy.
Keep those engaging, or conspiring to engage, in such seditious activities under ceaseless surveillance right from the beginning. Whenever these agents of disorder organise themselves after prayers at mosques and threaten a breakdown of law and order, the security forces must move in with full force. Ensuring that the Ahmadiyyas and all other religious groups remain safe is the clear responsibility of the state, for they are all citizens of this People’s Republic and are expected to be privy to all the rights the constitution guarantees them and all other sections of the population.
In these past couple of decades, especially with anti-democratic and illegitimate regimes undermining the fundamental principles of the state, we have embarrassingly been troubled by a decline in the numbers of our religious minorities. Hindus have made their way out of the country; Christians, once a vibrant community, are today almost non-existent; and Buddhists have since the assault by fanatics on Ramu more than a decade ago, remained subdued as a community.
Additionally, we have reports endlessly coming in of land and property belonging to ethnic communities, who have been part of this country for generations manifold, getting commandeered by the majoritarian segment of society. On the pretext of development by those coveting their ancestral land, these unfortunate people, with little voice in the public domain, have repeatedly faced eviction and, in effect, extinction.
None of this enhances respect for us as a nation in the larger global landscape. And within Bangladesh, they leave us with deep worries about our future as a nation-state. And they do because of the not so concealed appeasement of many of the bigots trying to overturn the nature of this Bengali republic that has gone on over the past many years.
When teachers face harassment from students because they discuss science, when the theory of evolution must be abandoned in classroom studies because of pressure from elements uncomfortable with scientific explanations behind life and its meanings, when studies of literature must jettison writers who do not happen to share the mistaken beliefs of fanatics, it is time for Bengalis to come together in organised and determined resistance.
Our journalists, our academics, our respected Islamic religious scholars and our intellectuals owe it to the country to step in as a body to check the malicious acts of those who have destroyed and looted Ahmadiyya homes, Hindu homes and temples and Buddhist homes and temples. These bigots are enemies of the state and must be dealt with as such.
It gives us hardly any satisfaction to be informed, after every such ugly incident has taken place, that investigations have been initiated, that inquiry committees have been constituted, to probe the incidents that have taken place. The government in its own interest needs to take into account the failure of those responsible for guaranteeing the security of those coming under the machete assaults of criminal gangs masquerading as the faithful and bring them to task.
This nation, born of the sacrifices of three million of its citizens and inheritor of the powerful legacy of its political leadership in 1971, cannot and must not cave to the machinations of the dark forces busy doing all they can to undermine it.
The murder and mayhem committed against the Ahmadiyya community in Panchagarh ought to be the last such manifestation of mob instincts on the part of the forces of fanaticism.
It should now be for the laws of the state, for the security forces, for those in the corridors of political power, to put the leash on the organisations which planned the disturbances and bring them to justice. Nothing short of such drastic, determined action will do.
Bangladesh was born of the dignity underpinned by its strenuous struggle for freedom more than a half century ago. It is dignity which must not be frittered away through the pernicious acts of men and women who have little compunction in trampling underfoot the laws ordained by God.