Local administration, police and intelligence agencies should be brought to book for their inaction alongside the zealots who carried out a spate of communal violence during and after the Durga Puja celebrations, civil society members and human rights activists have demanded.
At a protest in Dhaka on Thursday, they said that unlike the previous years, there were poor security arrangements during this year's Durga Puja celebrations — the biggest festival of the Hindu community. The local administration did not take any steps to ensure the security of the community despite the instructions of the prime minister after the Cumilla attacks. At the same time, the intelligence agencies also failed to alert the government beforehand.
Hameeda Hossain, human rights activist and academic, said, "I was shocked during and after the targeted violence and orchestrated hatred since social security subsequently fell apart and the country's constitution faced challenges."
"After the Cumilla attacks, I had hoped that policemen would bring the situation under control promptly. But we saw the Cumilla incident fuelled a spate of communal attacks on Hindu people in different places," the rights activist told the programme organised by Citizens' Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh.
As the anchor of the programme, economist and public policy analyst Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya said the recent communal attacks on Hindu communities – that go against the core values of the country – are not isolated incidents.
"The incidents go against the principles of both the movements led by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the golden jubilee celebrations of the country's independence," noted the economist.
He pointed to the pampering of religious bigotry by political parties and a culture of impunity for the recurring communal attacks.
"Those unfortunate events are the result of fundamental structural changes in our constitution and the introduction of religion in politics after 1975 for the sake of political gains and short-term benefits," Dr Debapriya said.
"The government has failed to bring the perpetrators of Nasirnagar and Ramu violence to book, and take action as per the report submitted by the special commission formed to counter future communal violence in the country," he added.
On this year's poor puja security arrangements, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder said usually a policeman and two armed ansar men guard each puja mandap every year.
"After talking to some deputy commissioners, I learned that there was no such security this year, even after the Cumilla incident. This is unfortunate," added the ex-cabinet secretary.
Economist Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said the security of the Hindu community could not be ensured despite the prime minister's directive as some culprits were lurking in the administration and law enforcement agencies.
About the cases filed over the religious violence, eminent jurist Dr Shahdeen Malik claimed police had deliberately made hundreds of people accused in each of the cases. He also noted that with hundreds of people being accused, the trials would drag on for a long time.
He also speculated about the outcome of a judicial inquiry committee being formed to look into the incidents.
However, Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous People's Forum, advocated for forming a judicial inquiry commission to unmask the culprits and sought the prime minister's intervention in bringing those involved in causing the troubles to justice.
A local leader of the Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad told the programme that the organisation could not reach the Noakhali deputy commissioner, superintendent of police and local lawmaker on the day of Bijoya Dashami as several puja mandaps and Hindu homes in Choumuhani were attacked, vandalised and set on fire.
He also complained that neither the local member of parliament nor the deputy commissioner went to the spot after the attacks.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), noted that the lack of democracy in Bangladesh is to blame for the incidents. "Such incidents will recur as long as there is no political transparency," she said.
Serajul Islam Choudhury, emeritus professor at Dhaka University, said the state has now become a bureaucratic state.
"It is true that there has been development. But the development has failed to ensure the security of the people. If a small number of people in a society become too powerful, they eventually turn into oppressors. The recent attacks reflect this cycle of oppression," noted the academic.
Former Planning Minister M Syeduzzaman, human rights activist Khushi Kabir, Dhaka University teacher Robaet Ferdous, member of parliament Fakhrul Imam, human rights activist Shamsul Huda, Trustee of the Liberation War Museum Dr Sarwar Ali, Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam and academic Rasheda K Chowdhury also spoke at the programme.