Protesters demand law to protect religious minorities after anti-Hindu attacks

Hindu groups have blocked the Shahbagh intersection in Dhaka for over one and a half hours demanding a law and a commission to protect religious minorities within two weeks after recent communal violence.

The protesters occupied the key intersection about 4 pm on Friday. They led a procession of torches to the National Press Club before ending their demonstration for the day about 5:45 pm.

Bangladesh Hindu Parishad earlier demonstrated outside the National Museum in Shahbagh demanding punishment to those responsible for the attacks on Hindus in Cumilla and other parts of Bangladesh, compensation for the victims and security for the religious minorities. 

“We are giving the government an ultimatum of two weeks to formulate a law and constitute a commission to protect the religious minorities,” said Sajan Kumar Mishra, general secretary of the Hindu Parishad.

They threatened to take a protest march to the Prime Minister’s Office if the government does not move to meet their demands by the deadline.    

“We have been compelled to block Shahbagh because the government did not heed to us after we submitted a memorandum on our demands,” Sajan said earlier, adding that they did not block the intersection earlier considering Jum’ah prayers and Dhaka University admission tests.

The government has failed to provide the religious minorities with security and punish those involved in the previous attacks, said Sumon Kumar Roy, president of Bangladesh Hindu Lawyers’ Council. “We want those behind the attacks to be brought to justice.”

The groups that joined the protests included Jago Hindu Parishad, Arjo Protinidhi Sabha Bangladesh, Bangladesh Sanatan Kalyan Jote, Jatiya Hindu Mahasangha and International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

A few hundred metres from Shahbagh intersection, Dhaka University students organised a concert in protest against the communal violence. Besides music, the participants protested through reciting, drama, dance and mime performances.  

A provocative social media campaign centring the alleged dishonouring of the Quran at a puja venue in Cumilla on Oct 13 triggered communal violence during which Muslim fanatics carried out attacks on temples and puja venues in the city, leaving scores of people injured.

Eight people died as communal violence spread to several other districts amid Durga Puja. Police arrested hundreds of people in dozens of cases over the clashes and attacks.

The arrestees include key suspect Iqbal Hossain, a man who allegedly placed a copy of the Quran at the puja venue in Cumilla, and Fayez Ahmed, who posted a video of the Quran at the puja venue.