A few years back, I witnessed something that I, ever since, have identified as the prime example of a despicable direct attack on religious minorities.
It was a Friday afternoon. I was wrapping up my prayer mat, scanning the area for some shade to complete the munazat, when I saw few men storming towards an under-construction building. I grew genuinely alarmed, if not interested, when I saw one of them pick up a metal rod before entering the construction site.
I was a curious little boy and had the time, so I followed. I quietly followed them as they made their way up the stairs. The end of the expedition had all of us walking into a small room on the fifth floor facing the mosque, to find an old labourer tirelessly working his razor-sharp saw at some steel beams, trying to cut out small segments. It was a noisy business.
At that moment, it hit me why they were there, as the events began to unfold.
The men presented their allegations. As the story went, the old man had not stopped his work for the prayer and the sound had bothered the men in prayer. Now, they were the judge, jury, and executioner.
The accused was met with frantic blows to his body with the rod, and once the sentence had been carried out, the religious police headed back downstairs. On their way out, they found another worker, much younger, fast asleep on top of a stack of bricks. I assumed that what he was up to must’ve been a very profane thing, because the man was immediately awakened with a few hits of the rod, and he was then asked to explain why he was in slumber instead of attending the prayer.
The bewildered worker mumbled, trembling with fear: “Ami toh Hindu,” (But I’m Hindu) to which the leader of the posse replied: “Tahole puja kor, ghumabi na,” (Then do your puja, don’t sleep) which was punctuated with cursing.
With that, they left, but I lingered on for a couple of more seconds, trying to process what just happened, accidentally catching sight of the terrifying look of despair on the young man’s face.
This story ends here. The story of the suffering of minorities throughout the country, however, doesn’t.
Some months back, a group of men in Sylhet got out of a mosque after their prayers and walked straight into an Iskcon temple and vandalised it, because the temple hadn’t paused their religious hymns.
Such was the prayer these devotees had just concluded. Such was their respect for the sanctity of their wudu, which is supposed to be the sacred state of sanctity in which Muslims can offer their prayers to the Almighty.
But we understand – the men felt disturbed. It doesn’t matter that it was something that might as well be an essential part of the religious proceedings.
It doesn’t matter at all. The majority wins.
Earlier this week, a news article quoted a fundamentalist leader trying to offer an explanation regarding the issue of the sculpture in front of Bangladesh’s Supreme Court, saying the sight of statue of Lady Justice may arouse, or otherwise agitate a man in prayer in the neighbouring Eidgah Mosque should he catch a glimpse of it. Such is his resolve and his focus on his prayer. But we understand. It’s quite alright.
Almost every Thursday night, I, along with the entire neighbourhood, lose sleep to the ungodly screams of “scholars” preaching in Waz Mahfils. Among their scholarly wisdom, which they feed to the ordinary working men, are arguments like: “In some country’s tree we saw Allah’s name, but have you seen Bhagwan’s name? This means that Allah exists, He is real.”
And that’s just one such programme, in one neighbourhood, and that too in the capital of our great nation.
There are those among us who take to defending fundamentalist ideologies with the excuse that ours is a Muslim-majority country (despite there being no recognition of that in the constitution), saying how ceding to the “majority” would be for the greater good, for averting another large-scale religion-based conflict, thereby justifying minorities being bullied over and over again through time.
To them I say: the murder of the freethinkers, innocent priests, and followers of different faith, the woes of the Santals of Gaibandha, the woes of the Hindu families of Nasirnagar – these are on you. Does that make you uncomfortable? It should. By god, it should.
The same people who provide moral support to hate crimes on religious and ethnic minorities, turning a blind eye to the culture of belittling other religions, kowtowing to radical fundamentalists and their backward visions for Bangladesh – the very same people cry dirty and loud about Islamophobia in foreign lands.
Time and again, our Facebook newsfeeds buckle under the weight of rants calling out such “acts of religious intolerance” and preaching “humanity.”
All it takes them is a two-minute clip from NowThis or LADBible. Most recently, the instigator was an Indian singer who had tweeted something which, it is worth noting, was grossly misinterpreted.
I shudder to imagine a scenario where we’d be on the receiving end – whether it’s vandalism of our places of worship, or physical assault on believers of our faith.
This article first appeared on The Dhaka Tribune.