KOLKATA: Attacks on minority communities in Bangladesh are not new. Minorities of Bangladesh—Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims—have been hounded for events in neighbouring countries, from the theft of Prophet Mohammad’s beard hair from Hazratbal, Srinagar, in the 60s to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 to the attack on Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar four years ago.
However, the Kali Puja attacks on Hindus on October 30 and fresh violence on November 5 was unprecedented in the way the mobilisation and attacks were carried out—all circling social media.
A Facebook post of an image of Lord Shiva on Islam’s holiest site Kaaba Sharif posted allegedly by a Hindu man was the blasphemous cause of the fresh violence.
Soon after the post, radical Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam—which has quite a following in Brahmanbaria in Bangladesh—organised a mob of 3,000 people via WhatsApp and through blaring loudspeakers of local mosques on October 30 morning. Soon, Hindu localities Senpara, Daspara, Ghoshpara of Nasirnagar were attacked.
Houses were looted and burnt and temples vandalised. The violence spread to Sylhet, Jhenaidah, Jessore and Barisal districts. Some 34 people associated with the attacks have been arrested.
Bangladesh’s Minister of Fisheries and Livestock Sayedul Haque justified the attacks on ‘Malaun’ Hindus, which sparked more political blamegame. Malaun is an Arabic word for ‘cursed’, which the minority Hindus are often called in Bangladesh.
Following the attacks, social media—especially Facebook—has seen heated debates between Hindus and Muslims, with many justifying the attacks and comments of ‘Malaun’ on Hindus and others calling for peace. Only a few were apologetic.
The attacks exposed the way social media can act as a parallel system, totally bypassing law and order mechanisms. The police, without any mechanism to grapple with free-flowing content, was caught as clueless as the victims.
In a country that has seen unprecedented rise of radical Islam over the past decade, social media has become a tool to hound the minority and even justify it. Unless the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League wakes up to the devastating power of social media, it may lose its largest block of loyal voters, the minorities, and make living in the country difficult for them. That may ring alarm bells in the Northeast, which is tense after the Centre wanted to allow migration of Hindus from the eastern neighbourhood.