We are deeply concerned by the reports of attacks on different puja mandaps, temples, and business establishments since the alleged desecration of Islamic scriptures in Cumilla on October 13. Since that incident, at least five people have reportedly been killed, and many others injured, in violent clashes that have taken place in a number of places across the country, including Chandpur's Hajiganj upazila. This prompted the prime minister to issue a stern warning on Thursday against those who carried out the attacks, as well as their instigators. They will be traced and "hunted down," she said, and appropriate punishment will be meted out to stop the recurrence of such barbaric acts.
We commend the prime minister for her unequivocal stance on this issue. There have been a number of arrests made as part of the drive to nab the perpetrators. While the heavy deployment of armed police and other security measures have helped to bring the situation under control to some extent, it is the wider impact of such incidents—and their repeated occurrence—that worries us. The Cumilla incident was clearly meant to stoke communal tensions. And in that it was successful—however temporally. But its effect—especially the feeling of trauma experienced by religious minorities, and the chasm among the adherents of different faith groups that threatens to widen with every such incident—is unlikely to fizzle out any time soon.
While all attention is now naturally on the aftermath of the Cumilla incident, it's important that we focus on the forest rather than the trees to understand why such incidents keep happening in Bangladesh. Our memory of the Ramu incident nine years ago is still fresh. There have been many such communal attacks before and since. The manner in which these tragedies unfolded, mostly under the pretext of "religious sentiments" being hurt, indicates a pattern that should worry the authorities. And in almost all cases, unfortunately, the process of the delivery of justice has been painstakingly slow. We do hope the Cumilla incident will be the starting point of an exception, as nothing sends a clearer message than justice—both for the victims living in fear and the perpetrators. While Bangladesh should work on its poor records in this regard, what would equally benefit us is to understand the dynamics of communal politics—the powerful forces that keep fanning communal tensions behind the scenes. Given how big the problem is, it will take a whole-of-government approach to address it, meaning the executive, judicial, and legislative branches will all have to participate equally in creating an environment in which communal actors find it hard to pursue their goal or escape unpunished.