Once a religious fundamentalist, always a religious fundamentalist. Hate speech is a habitual offense and an addiction which keeps returning for those who are extremists across the religious spectrum. And in a recurring atmosphere of intolerance and polarisation, this is a vicious cycle waiting to be repeated.
Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui of the famous and secular bastion of Furfura Sharif has yet again put his foot in his mouth with violent and aggressive hate speech. He has stoked widespread controversy on a delicate and sensitive subject now stalking various districts of Bangladesh, where the communal fault-lines have been sharpened and intensified by fundamentalist forces.
The Bangladesh government has declared that those who were against the liberation of the country in 1971 are actually behind the violence unleashed against the minority Hindu community during the Durga Puja festival. This clearly points fingers at Islamic fundamentalists who have been pushed to the backfoot by the current Awami League government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Abbas Siddiqui has said that the man who placed a copy of the Quran in a Durga Puja pandal in district Comilla should be beheaded. A video doing the rounds shows him using this language. He was apparently addressing a religious gathering in North 24 Pargana. Earlier he had passed derogatory comments against some secular initiatives in Durga Puja pandals in West Bengal.
Siddiqui had founded the Indian Secular Front (ISF) in alliance with the CPM and Congress in the recently held assembly elections in West Bengal. Even at that time, he was accused of inflammatory speeches and the Left was criticised for aligning with him. The CPM had countered by arguing that the ISF comprises minorities, Adivasis and Dalits, among others, and is essentially secular. The alliance got drubbed. Even a young rabble-rouser with apparent vociferous and loud supporters could not translate this support into votes. Even his own uncle, the senior Pirzada, refused to align with him.
Earlier, his sexist and abusive speech against a Muslim MP from Trinamool Congress, who is also a famous film actress in West Bengal, was criticised widely. He, however, seemed unrepentant.
As SabrangIndia had reported from the ground in Furfura Sharif during the election campaign, even secular Muslims in his own bastion seemed reluctant to vote for Siddiqui, while, later, they overwhelmingly voted for Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress to defeat the BJP across the state. Despite his rabble-rousing skills, there was transparently lukewarm support for him in Furfura Sharif. Indeed, Muslim women, like most women in Bengal, especially in rural areas and among the economically weaker sections, voted for ‘Didi’.
Since then, Siddiqui has been lying low while his alliance partners are still rubbing their wounds. The communal flare-up in Bangladesh has given him a chance to spread his wings yet again, it seems, as it has done to various hues of fanatics and fundamentalists across both sides of the border.
Apparently triggered by inflammatory content on social media and crass propaganda, Durga Puja pandals have been attacked in multiple locations across various districts of Bangladesh, including in Comilla, Chittagong, Noakhali, among other locations. Hajiganj in Chittagong witnessed widespread arson and police opened fire on a violent mob which was attacking a temple. Four persons have reportedly died in the firing, while around seven Hindus have been reportedly killed.
Even in Dhaka which witnessed over 200 Durga Pujas, the police had to intervene when a crowd gathered to protest the ‘sacrilege’ in Comilla. Five people were arrested. Despite fears of violence, all the immersions of the goddess were conducted peacefully with heavy police protection.
The Bangladesh government, from day one, has moved with decisive intent and speed. The most elite and special forces were deployed to protect the Durga Puja pandals. Violent extremists were nipped in the bud even as they went on a spree of arson and attacks on the pandals.
Sheikh Hasina called upon the Hindus to feel totally safe and secure in her secular country and said that the government stands with them and will not tolerate any violent extremism from any quarter. She instructed Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan to take quick and effective action. She also asked the Puja Committees, including the small ones, to inform about their location etc. to the administration and police so that they can be protected from the rowdy elements. She and her home minister have appealed to the people to not believe anything on the social media without fact-checking; they have categorically declared that rumour-mongering on social media and hate speech will be dealt with an iron hand.
“A thorough investigation is under way on the incidents in Comilla. Nobody will be spared. We are getting a lot of information about the incident. It does not matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished,” said Sheikh Hasina. She was addressing worshippers at the historic Dhakeshwari temple in Dhaka during the festive days via a virtual speech.
The police have meanwhile narrowed down on one man who apparently did the act. He is currently on the run. Besides, activists and leaders of the Awami League party have been holding harmony and peace rallies and processions across the country. “Do not fear, Hindu brothers and sisters. Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League are with you. Sheikh Hasina’s government is a minority-friendly government,” Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader is reported to have said at a rally at the party’s office on Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka. “Resist the communal forces on the streets,” he has appealed to his party workers.
Civil society groups, artists, writers, academics and students too have joined in the peace process while restoring old cultural and social ties of friendship and harmony with the minority community. Bangladesh has an ancient and inherited tradition of celebrating Durga Puja across communities, and this communal violence seems instigated by fundamentalist forces out to create polarisation, especially since they have been effectively marginalised in recent times.
Bangladesh has around 10 percent Hindus who live as dignified citizens observing their cultural, social and religious beliefs in a largely secular society, which has been strengthened under the Awami League government. There have been no cases of any discrimination against them in the recent past.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has appreciated the support of the Bangladesh government and the large majority of the public which has helped in conducting the Durga Puja celebrations peacefully. Its spokesperson said that the Bangladesh government has promptly dealt with the disturbing events.
The question however remains is: Will the West Bengal government act against the hate spewed by Abbas Siddiqui?