[On Sunday, hundreds of Muslims entered a Hindu neighborhood, where they ransacked 15 temples and the homes of more than 100 families, Mr. Deb said. He said that the mob “used long, hard sticks and locally made sharp weapons” to assault Hindus they found there, and that at least 20 people, including a priest, were wounded.]
By Julfikar Ali Manik and Ellen Barry
A vandalized Hindu temple on Sunday in Bangladesh. Attacks on Hindus are not
unusual in the country, but it is rare to see multiple crowds targeting temples as they
did on Sunday and Monday. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Crowds of Muslims attacked Hindu homes and temples in eastern Bangladesh this week, raising concerns that simmering religious tensions could escalate.
Attacks on Hindus are not unusual in Bangladesh, but it is rare to see multiple crowds targeting temples in an organized way as they did on Sunday and Monday.
On Saturday, an Islamic group in Nasirnagar organized a protest against a Facebook post it found offensive. The post included an image of the Hindu god Shiva appearing at a Muslim holy site in the Saudi city of Mecca.
The crowd demanded that the young Hindu man who created the image be put to death. Nevertheless, the group was given permission to hold a rally the next day, and mosque loudspeakers were used to mobilize an even larger group, said Anjan Kumar Deb, the vice chairman of Nasirnagar subdistrict.
On Sunday, hundreds of Muslims entered a Hindu neighborhood, where they ransacked 15 temples and the homes of more than 100 families, Mr. Deb said. He said that the mob “used long, hard sticks and locally made sharp weapons” to assault Hindus they found there, and that at least 20 people, including a priest, were wounded.
The district police chief, Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, characterized the damage as less extensive, saying that eight temples and 22 houses were damaged, and that one person was hurt.
Ten suspects were under arrest, he said. The Hindu youth who is believed to have posted the controversial image was arrested on Saturday.
Mr. Deb, who is Hindu, said that Nasirnagar, whose population is 40 percent Hindu, has never experienced religious violence on this scale.
“Even in 1971, during the Liberation War, Nasirnagar was a safe place for Hindus, when many Hindus were killed and tortured in other parts of Bangladesh,” he said.
Mr. Deb added that he felt the police and local officials “failed to ensure the security of the Hindu community, even after knowing about the tension and the rally.”
Hindus make up about 11 percent of the population of Bangladesh, where Muslims constitute the majority, according to government statistics.
Kazi Reazul Hoque, the head of the country’s human rights commission, said local officials made a “gross mistake” by allowing the crowd to regroup Sunday morning. Bangladeshi newspapers offered similar criticism. The Daily Star, in an editorial on Wednesday, called the government’s inaction “baffling.”
“Has the government lost confidence that the majority of the people of this country, although religious, believe in a pluralistic society?” the editorial asked.
Four other episodes of religious violence were recorded at roughly the same time: On Sunday, crowds ransacked four Hindu temples and households in the nearby town of Madhabpur, the police said. On Monday, unidentified men broke into a temple in Hathazari, near the city of Chittagong, stealing gold jewelry and cash left by worshipers at a Hindu festival, the Hathazari police said.
Another confrontation occurred in the northeastern town of Chhatak on Monday. After Hindus celebrating a festival set off firecrackers near a mosque, several dozen Muslim men converged on a nearby Hindu temple, pelting it with stones, the police said. A group of Muslim youths also defaced an idol at a Hindu temple in the southern city of Gopalganj, according to Salim Reza, the officer in charge of the police station there.