By Ashis Biswas
Despite the its best efforts, the Awami League-run Bangladesh Government is seemingly unable to stop selected attacks targeting an already shrinking minority population. After Hindus, it is the turn of the much smaller Buddhists community to come under fire.
On Sunday night (Jan 30), Mr Visudha Mahath, head of the Dharmasukh Bouddha Vihar in the Khagrachari area in Eastern Bangladesh, was killed by suspected miscreants who attacked him during his sleep.
This came only days after the wrecking/vandalism carried out by unidentified miscreants on some 30-odd Saraswati clay images a few days ago at Boalkhali area in Chittagong, generating fresh fears among the handful of local Hindu residents. They wonder whether the Saraswati puja, being observed for over 100 years in the area, can now be organised on Feb 5 on schedule. Bangladeshi police have announced that the incident was being investigated and the guilty would be punished soon.
As for the latest incident, the 52 year old Buddhist Guru, who had been carrying out his assigned spiritual duties for over 30 years in the area, lived alone. His dead body was found the following morning as an attendant went to serve him tea. These and other details have been published in the Bangladeshi mass media. Khagrachari, a tribal area, is not far from the Indian state of Tripura.
Dhaka-based Government officials and police , according to reports reaching Kolkata, were not yet sure whether the murder in the Vihar was the work of local anti miscreants , or part of a larger planned offensive generally targeting non Muslim people /institutions. Death had occurred, according to local medical authorities, owing to a head injury.
Two mobiles were stolen from the Vihar, but no loss of cash or other items was reported. A spokesman of the local Khagrachari Union Parishad was quoted as saying that the murder could have been committed by dacoits also.
The killing of the Buddhist monk upset the Muslim-dominated local population, as people called for strong and immediate action to be taken against those responsible.
Observers are surprised that Buddhists should be targeted in Bangladesh. At present their population has been officially estimated at less than 0.8% of the total population of around 160 million. There remain many old Buddhist Vihars (monasteries) in Bangladesh, which a few centuries ago was a major centre for Buddhist religion and learning in South Asia .
One of the great teachers in the Mahayana school of Buddhism, the famous Atish Dipankara had been born in Bikrampur, parts of which lie currently within the Dhaka district. He had to go on a special mission to Lhasa in the old days, on an invitation from Tibetan authorities. There he was involved in research and other spiritual tasks till his death.
However, with the invasion of Bengal by Turkic Muslim rulers around the beginning of the 13th century AD, Buddhism declined as a religious force. The invaders destroyed many Vihars and forcibly closed down various school and monasteries maintained by Buddhist scholars.
At present Bangladesh Government helps existing monasteries to run by providing financial and other assistance. But of late, there have been disturbing signs of a resurgence of anti Buddhist feelings among a section of Bangladeshi Muslims, according to reports.
This is a somewhat unexpected and unfortunate outcome of the continuing tensions and distrust that have arisen between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the contentious Rohingya repatriation issue. During the last major exodus of Muslim Rohingyas from the Rakhine province in Myanmar a few years ago, following yet another attack carried out by Burmese troops and others in their villages, there had occurred an ugly backlash in Bangladesh.
In some areas inhabited by Buddhists, a large percentage of whom are tribes people in Bangladesh like Chakmas and Maras, Vihars and shrines were attacked as angry Muslims reacted against the violence unleashed against ‘Muslim’ Rohingyas by Myanmar’s ‘Buddhist dominated army’.
Reports suggest that Bangladeshi law enforcing agencies find it difficult to prevent isolated attacks targeting the minorities which present a greater challenge than outbreaks of mob violence. The mass violence targeting Durgapuja pandals last year claimed 7 lives and significant loss of property in Comilla and Noalkhali. But it had been triggered by a lone sneaky operator who placed a copy of the holy Quran in a pandal at an unguarded moment !
Similarly, policemen probing the vandalism destroying Saraswati clay images are not sure whether ordinary miscreants, naughty schoolboys or trained agent provocateurs had been responsible.
Observers say that the pattern and degree of violence directed against the minorities may be difficult to anticipate. There is no doubt however that the understanding and harmony prevailing among major communities in Bangladesh has come under fresh strains, if eruptions of communal provocations and violence are any indication , during the last 2/3 years.
During this time, in terms of high level visits, cultural interactions and diplomatic activities, Turkey and Pakistan have made their presence felt at various levels of life in Bangladesh. No wonder a section of Awami League hardliners has expressed its suspicions about the activities of the Pak intelligence agency, the ISI, in this connection. (IPA Service)