'So far, no case [on hurting the religious sentiment of minorities] has been resolved yet'
In a rare move, the authorities of Jashore University of Science and Technology (JUST) on October 26 suspended a student for allegedly posting negative remarks on social media about Hindu gods and goddesses.
This is the first time that a student at a Bangladeshi university has been suspended for hurting the sentiment of a religion other than Islam, according to the Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Oikya Parishad.
Kushal Baran Chakraborty, an assistant professor of the Sanskrit department at Chittagong University and founding president of Sanatan Vidyarthi Samsad (SVS), said: “Our organization(SVS) is working in all public universities. After reviewing various incidents, it can be seen that the recent incident at Jashore University of Science and Technology (JUST) is the first case where the authority has taken immediate action for hurting the sentiments of the Hindu religion.
“A few days ago, a similar incident happened with a Muslim student in JUST and the Hindu student was suspended on charges of hurting religious sentiment,” he added.
Although there are few reported incidents of the sentiments of religions other than Islam being hurt at Bangladeshi universities, such incidents are far from uncommon in the country.
197 incidents in a year
According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) data compiled from Bangladeshi newspapers, a total 1,580 incidents where the sentiment of a religious minority was hurt have been reported from 2013-2020. This amounts to an average of 197 incidents each year.
However, the ASK report also said there has been a 95% decrease in the number of incidents where the sentiment of religious minorities was hurt over the last eight years, dropping from 495 in 2013 to 48 as of September this year.
On the other hand, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad puts the number of incidents where the sentiment of religious minorities was hurt at over 1,000 in each of the past five years, except for 2018.
The incidents include attacks, vandalism and robbery at temples, the theft or vandalism of idols, forced conversion of religion after abduction, harassment of Hindus through the use of beef and insults to gods and goddesses.
Rana Das Gupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad, said most of the victims were Hindu as they make up 99% of the minority population.
When asked about cases filed over hurting the religious sentiment of both Muslims and followers of other religions, Police Headquarter (PHQ) Assistant Inspector General (media) Md Sohel Rana said the data was not available at hand and a few days would be needed to compile it.
20 lawsuits with Cyber Crime Tribunal, 18 filed by Muslims
According to the Cyber Crime Tribunal, a total of 20 cases filed for hurting religious sentiment are currently in the trial process. Among them, 18 were filed for hurting the religious sentiment of Muslims and the remaining two for that of Hindus.
The tribunal’s Public Prosecutor (PP) Nazrul Islam Shamim said social media posts and comments hurting religious sentiment easily spread and lead to widespread outrage.
“It is not like only members of a different religion hurt religious sentiment. There have been many cases where followers of the same religion have been accused of blasphemy,” he added.
Two Hindu men convicted of hurting religious sentiment, so far
On October 15, the Cyber Crime Tribunal jailed a Hindu man for seven years for demeaning Islam and insulting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a 2017 Facebook post. This was the second ever verdict of the tribunal in a case filed over hurting religious sentiment since the tribunal’s formation in 2013.
According to the case filed under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, the convict--Sujan Dey-- was arrested on May 10, 2017 from Mainmukhi Bazar of Langadu upazila in Rangamati.
The same tribunal on September 16 handed Jibon Krishna Roy, a security guard, a seven-year jail term for posting "obscene, derogatory and objectionable” comments about the Prophet.
Do police avoid acting on complaints from religious minorities?
SVS Founding President Kushal Baran Chakraborty said he filed a general diary (GD) with Hathazari Model police station on October 18, after he had received threats from the Facebook account of one Syed Shahzad the previous day.
Kushal had received three text messages and four audio messages from the account through Facebook Messenger.
One of the audio recordings had said: “We will evict Hindus from this country between 2016-2024. We 10,000 men are only waiting for our Amir’s order, and then there will be no idolaters in this country.”
Kushal claims police are yet to take any action over the GD.
“Police have not even called once to check if I am safe or not,” he said.
Additional Superintendent of Police (District Special Branch) Mohiuddin Sohel said they are trying to identify the miscreants and investigating the incident with the highest priority.
Dipangkar Ghose, Supreme Court advocate and organizing secretary of Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Oikya Parishad said: “So far, no case [on hurting the religious sentiment of minorities] has been resolved yet. Some accused have been arrested, but they are mostly out on bail.
“During the 2018 elections, the government said a Minority Protection Act would be made. However, there has been no progress. If the law and a minority commission are formed, issues will be much easier to resolve. If there is a specific law, sluggishness in the case will be reduced,” he added.