Human rights groups and Hindu leaders in Bangladesh today demanded more security for religious minorities amid reports that members of the community were attacked in several parts of the country during elections.
Activists of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its key-ally fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami attacked Hindu households in western Jessore and northwestern Dinajpur, local media reports said. The Daily Star and several other newspapers said the activists vandalised 130 Hindu houses and torched another 10 in Malopara village as they went to cast votes defying the opposition call for the boycott.
Police, however, said 70 to 80 men attacked the village but joint forces comprising police and paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh chased them away. The activists threatened the Hindus of dire consequence for voting, sparking panic and prompting the army "striking forces" intervention. "We were on election duty. In spite of that we rushed here to protect the villagers," Maj Rahman last night said, adding that a temporary police camp was installed at the area.
"Some 400 Hindus were forced to flee their homes and take refuge on the other side of the local Bhairab river fearing fresh attacks," Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddho-Cristian Oikya Parishad vice president Kajal Debnath told PTI.
Other reports said Hindus came under attack also at Pornia area in northwestern Dinajpur overnight where the opposition activists severely assaulted 10 elderly people of the community and vandalised over 10 houses for defying their calls for election boycott.
But army intervened, forcing the activists to flee.
"We demand intensified protection...we don't want to be traded off politically or used for anybody's political purpose," Debnath told PTI in an apparent reference to a perception that the Hindus were traditionally supporters of Awami League, which pursue a policy of secularism. He added: "Keep me (Hindus) beyond (political) focus, I don't want to be a victim."
According to media reports, only a small number of Hindus cast their votes in north-western Lalmonirhat and southwestern Satkhira either fearing attacks by opposition activists.
They said most of the Hindu villagers were annoyed with the government for not taking adequate steps for their protection during earlier such attacks in recent months when the opposition spearheaded anti-government campaigns.