In a horrific incident on Friday, a Hindu ashram worker was hacked to death by unidentified assailants, while he was on his regular morning walk in Pabna district, Bangladesh. The ashram worker’s death is the latest in a string of attacks targeting religious minorities in Bangladesh.
On Tuesday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the murder of Ananta Gopal Ganguly, a 65-year-old priest who was on his way to a temple. There have been around 10 killings of the kind over the past 10 weeks, according to the Press Trust of India. Last week, a Christian businessman was hacked to death near a church in northwest Bangladesh.
Although the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several of these attacks, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has consistently denied their presence in her country. At stake here, is the secular character that many Bangladeshis want to espouse. The country’s war of Independence in 1971 is often used as an anchor for modern-day struggles in Bangladesh to maintain its secular identity.
These struggles reached their zenith during the Shahbag protests in 2013 that demanded the death sentence for senior Jamaat-e- Islami leaders accused of numerous war crimes in collusion with the Pakistani forces. The ruling Awami League government has used these struggles to not only prosecute people involved with war crimes but also perpetuate its “secular” credentials. But in the wake of these developments, Bangladesh has witnessed a series of targeted murders of secular writers and intellectuals by banned Islamist groups, working allegedly on the behalf of the Islamic State.
In April, Rezaul Karim Siddique, a liberal professor, was hacked to death by murderous fanatics, who owe their allegiance to the Islamic State. “The basic conflict in Bangladesh is between modernism and Islamism,” said Saeed Naqvi, a veteran Indian journalist and commentator. “Bunched together as Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP, the Islamists constitute about 30 percent of the country living in an "Islamic" past, divorced from the magic of its syncretism.”
There is an insidious intent behind these attacks on secular writers and bloggers, according to Naqvi. “Macabre attacks on soft targets in Bangladesh have multiple purposes: they discredit the Hasina government, intimidate liberals, the anti-Jamaat e Islami masses,” he said. Religious fanatics in Bangladesh seek the formation of an Islamic state based on Sharia law.
However, since the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League took office in 2009, Dhaka has taken stringent action against the terror group and its affiliates. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, declares itself to be a secular party that is protective of minority Hindus and Buddhists. The Hasina government must address these attacks with a little more urgency.