Every time there’s an attack on Hindus or their temples, questions are raised on the Sheikh Hasina Government’s secular credentials and on what her Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, is doing to address the issue and prevent atrocities on the minority community in Bangladesh. Attacks on Hindu lives, properties and temples take place every now and then in Bangladesh. According to the 2022 national government census, only eight per cent Hindus remain in Bangladesh and are vulnerable to attacks by religious fundamentalists.
In the first week of February 2023, unidentified Islamists vandalised 14 Hindu idols at 12 temples in Bangladesh’s northern Thakurgaon district. The targeted temples were located at Dhantala, Paria and Charul unions in Baliadangi upazila of Bangladesh. Since then, smaller attacks on Hindus have taken place in various parts of the country. Often, they do not even make it to the inside pages of Bangladesh’s newspapers and remain recorded only in the memories of those who bore the brunt of the attacks.
Organiser’s Special Correspondent, Nishant Kumar Azad spoke to Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal at his residence in Dhaka to understand how he perceived these issues and his party’s stand on them.
Awami League has been in power in Bangladesh for 15 consecutive years now. And your party claims to be secular. Is it embarrassing for you that the word terrorism keeps cropping up every now and then when someone mentions Bangladesh?
Bangladesh today is being recognised the world over for the many positives that came in during our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tenure. Bangladesh has become one of Asia’s most remarkable and unexpected success stories. Millions have been lifted from poverty, we are emerging as a dynamic and fast-growing market. Our infrastructure projects are the talk of town, as is our garments industry.
Terrorism is a conspiracy hatched against our Government and our country to take attention away from all the good things the Sheikh Hasina Government has been able to achieve. I would say it is created or patronised to embarrass us. The masses of our country never supported terrorism. What they (the terrorists) want to establish in the name of Islam is completely wrong.
“Our country never supports or believes in communalism. Our main mantra was to build Bangladesh with a secular spirit. The PM is working with that spirit. Our Hindu society was in this country and will always remain here. We have given them priority and will protect them at all cost”
Terrorism is not supported by our idea of Islam. Our Islam-based parties and the common people hate them. Let me assure you that we have been able to identify the terrorists and detect their nefarious designs. They try to escape abroad, go to the mountains for training, and then come back. But we were able to fight them. Terror is now under control. It is a success of the Government. Killing people has no place in Islam, or in any religion. Every religion promotes peace among people.
Terrorism has been created by a particular group of people, but they have failed. The question is who is patronising it? Those who patronise it in Bangladesh never want the good of the country. They did not want the good of Bangladesh even during the Liberation War. These groups opposed the country in the Independence War of Bangladesh as well. The concerted effort of these groups is to promote militancy and terrorism. We will not let them win.
It is a well-known fact that Bangladeshi Hindus have no political alternative except the Awami League. They do not vote for anyone else. But they are only 8 per cent of the total population of the country. So, are Hindus taken for granted by your party? How serious your party and Government is in addressing the concerns of the minority Hindu population?
Our country never supports or believes in communalism. Our main mantra was to build Bangladesh with a secular spirit. The Prime Minister is working with that spirit. Our Hindu society was in this country and will always remain in this country. The Government has no plan to exclude or deprive them. We have given them priority. They are in top positions, including in foundations, the secretariat and police department. They hold positions according to their merits. The Awami League loves the Hindu community.
The Awami League believes in non-communalism; the Awami League does not believe that only Muslims will prevail here. That is why people of all communities give unwavering support to the Awami League. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) also has Hindu community leaders, although they have made different groups at different times. Many of them also oppose the Awami League. Hindu Mahazat leader Govinda Pramanik recently gave misleading information. He later regretted it.
An Opposition leader has famously said that the Awami League is not a secular party and the BNP is not a communal party. He has said that an image of the BNP has been created as a communal party which is not true at all. What is your reaction to this?
It is an official political statement; they say the same thing over and over again. Awami League will never forget the way India has helped us. They gave us shelter (during the Liberation War). As many as three million people died, but they sheltered 12 million people.
We want to maintain good relations with India. We have given all the information which India sought on ULFA. We have recovered ten truckloads of arms destined for India. The BNP accommodated an extremist group; they accommodated Razakars in the Cabinet, who sheltered militants like Uthan Bangla Bhai and Sheikh Abdur Rahman. They have ties with extremists. They believe in communalism. They have political ties with the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Sir, you have led a very interesting life. You were a freedom fighter, who fought for a secular country that spoke in the same language and did not differentiate between Hindus and Muslims. Around 51 years have passed since the Liberation War. Temples are still vandalised in the country. This years also many Hindus and temples were attacked. Already, the rise of communal power is the talking point. Is the principle on which the Liberation War was fought still being followed?
We were not in power for 21 long years; in those 21 years, our values were lost, history was distorted. I wish we had not lose those precious years to darkness. Our Prime Minister has brought everything right back. Our spirit was a non -communal country, housing for all, education and health guaranteed for all. People of all religions will have equal rights. But the defeated forces of the Liberation War have not retreated yet. They are still active. They want to mar the spirit of the Liberation War. They are repeatedly trying to destroy religious harmony. These are part of that conspiracy. We will not tolerate this.
As the Home Minister, “I have given clear-cut instructions to the police to take stringent action against criminals who indulge in attacks on Hindus and temples. We spoke to people from the local Hindu community also. Their safety has been ensured”.