The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a Hindu organisation with a global network, bore the brunt of the recent spate of violence against the Hindu minority in Bangladesh, as its temple at Noakhali came under attack on October 15, resulting in the death of two devotees, and vandalism of the property. Radha Govinda Das, an ISKCON Dhaka spokesperson, spoke to Outlook over phone five days after the violence. Excerpts:
Q. How did the chain of events unfold since October 13?
We saw it coming. The Comilla incident happened on October 13. The next day, some Islamic cleric in Noakhali issued a public threat that if the culprits behind the insult to Quran were not arrested by that night, Muslims will leave no Durga Puja mandap unscathed after Friday namaaz. These developments were reported to the administration and protection was sought in advance. But none was given. They could have posted any armed force. Even the ruling party, Awami League, could have asked its student wing, Chhatra League, to put up a human barricade outside Puja mandaps and temples. But nothing of that sort happened, and the miscreants had a free run.
Q. When did the attack happen?
It started around 3 pm on Oct 15 and continued till 8 pm. There were about 50 resident devotees at the time. There was vandalism, looting and killing, not only in our temple but the entire Choumohani area. I need not describe all that happened, as these have been widely reported in the media. Everybody knows.
Q. How did the administration respond?
They did not. First of all—and here lays the root of the problem this year—the government strangely did not deploy police protection for puja pandals. Every year, they deploy police at puja pandals. But it didn’t happen this year, and we have no idea why. This gave miscreants ample opportunity. Secondly, even after the violence broke out, the administration and police were missing in action.
Q. What was the role of the ruling party?
Almost no role in ending violence, and in some cases, some of them were complicit in the violence. There are reasons to suspect the role of the mayor and MP of Comilla.
Q. There are rumours ISKCON was targeted because of its initiatives to reclaim some temples and adjacent lands from illegal occupation.
I can’t confirm. But yes, ISCKON, along with several other organisations and well-meaning individuals, have taken the initiative to reclaim temple properties. We approached the judiciary and administration. As a result, a few temples and some land have been reclaimed. But we did not do anything illegal. We did not do it ourselves, nor applied force. People had occupied these illegally and forcefully. From our end, everything has been done through the judiciary and administration.
Q. Could you name some properties that have been reclaimed?
The Radha Gobinda temple at Wari in Dhaka; a temple at Kather Pol area in Sutrapur, Dhaka; the ISKCON temple at Habiganj, Sylhet; the Radha Madhav temple at Jugal Tila in Sylhet; and properties belonging to a temple at Beanibazar in Sylhet, the birthplace of Shree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s companion, Srivas Thakur, has been partially recovered. Initiatives are on to recover a few more debottar (dedicated to god) properties.
Q. Did the administration reach out to ISKCON after the violence?
They did, with assurance of safety as usual, but one can understand that it becomes difficult for Hindus to trust such assurance because of what they had to undergo repeatedly. These assurances hold no value as Hindus effectively get no protection. They have had to learn the truth the hard way. There have been innumerable instances of such violence on Hindus based on false allegations, but where has the government taken any action? Not a single culprit has been given exemplary punishment. For so many years now. Since there is no strong action, no punishment matching the magnitude of the crime, no one fears attacking Hindus on some false pretext.
Q. What is the main reason behind repeated attacks on Bangladeshi minorities?
They want Hindus out of Bangladesh. They want all Hindus to leave so that they can usurp their assets. Otherwise, Hindus should behave like second class citizens.
Q. What’s your message to the Bangladesh government?
Bangladesh should formally and publicly announce they want Hindus to leave, that the government will not be able to ensure their safety and security. We can then approach the UN and seek refuge in India.
Q. What is your message to the Indian government?
Since we live in Bangladesh, we will address the Bangladesh government and no other. But of course, we want to tell the global community to ask Bangladesh if they want Hindus to live here or not. The world shows its concerns for Rohingyas who had to cross over to Bangladesh from Myanmar, but where is the concern for Hindus who are crossing over to West Bengal endlessly over the past so many years, leaving their land, temples and other assets behind, sneaking over the borders in the dark of night, illegally, without even all necessary documents? We want to tell the global community that India was partitioned on the basis of the Two-Nation Theory, but Bangladesh was born rejecting this, with the aim of establishing a secular country. Hindus fought with Muslims shoulder-to-shoulder, to earn Bangladesh her freedom. Now, if Bangladesh wants to return to the Pakistan way, let the country deport the entire Hindu population to India, lock, stock and barrel, and the global community should supervise the process. We have had enough sleepless nights.