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Bangladesh: Disinformation Over ‘Quran Desecration’ Sparks Deadly Violence

Supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the West Bengal state are citing Bangladesh violence as an example to flare up an anti-Muslim narrative in campaigns across local elections.

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Supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the West Bengal state are citing Bangladesh violence as an example to flare up an anti-Muslim narrative in campaigns across local elections.

NEW DELHI — Bangladesh is caught in the grip of deadly sectarian violence for days now after allegations of the desecration of the Quran during a Hindu festival surfaced on social media last week. Muslim mobs attacked Hindu temples and shrines, forcing police to swing into action and resulting in the death of at least seven people so far.

On Thursday, local media reported, the police have identified and arrested Iqbal Hossain, one of the prime accused,  allegedly responsible for keeping the Quran at a Hindu temple during the festival on October 12 in Comilla city. The police said that they zeroed in on Hossain after scrutinising the CCTV footage from the spot.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hassina has vowed to take strict action against rioters responsible for attacking the minority community as security deployment was beefed up across the violence-hit areas. Reports said that scores of homes of Hindus have been vandalised and torched by mobs.

The situation took a wrong turn last week after videos emerged on social media making claims that a Quran has been placed on the knee of a Hindu deity in a temple on the eve of the Hindu festival of Durga Puja. The information spread like wildfire, triggering passions among Muslims who came out on roads in Comilla and began attacking Hindu temples and shrines.

Police retaliated by firing tear gas to control the violence. Many protestors and policemen were injured during the clashes, reports said. At Hajigonj Chandpur, the police opened fire on protesters which reportedly left four people dead. Two Hindus have also been killed in the violence so far. Hindus constitute around 10% of Bangladesh’s 160 million population.

On Tuesday the Prime Minister directed her Home Minister to go after those responsible for inciting the violence as she had vowed that “they will be hunted down and punished”.

Amidst the violence, groups supporting Islamic rule in the country have held protests across cities and towns for a week with many demanding capital punishment for blasphemy.

“We ask the government to arrest those who defamed the Quran by putting it at the feet of an idol in Comilla,” Mosaddek Billah al-Madani, president of Bangladesh’s Islami Movement, was quoted as saying by Associated Press. He added that protesters demanded “the death sentence” for those responsible for the images.

It has emerged that disinformation being allowed on social media is keeping the cycle of violence afire. First, without verifying the people behind the desecration, Muslims came out and resorted to indiscriminate violence against Hindus which is yet to die down.

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Furthermore, the investigation by Indian news outlet The Wire has found that a verified Twitter account ‘Bangladesh Hindu Unity Council’ (@UnityCouncilBD) which shared images of the violence was in fact fake. The account falsely used an old video of a fire incident in India and passed it as the ongoing situation in Bangladesh. The tweets from the account were widely cited in reports by many prominent media outlets including The Guardian.

The violence has had a further ripple effect across South Asia as Hindu nationalist mobs attacked mosques and Muslim homes and shops in the Indian state of Tripura which borders Bangladesh.

Supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the West Bengal state are citing Bangladesh violence as an example to flare up an anti-Muslim narrative in campaigns across local elections. They also use the excuse of violence to justify the controversial Citizenship Law that grants citizenship to refugees from neighbouring countries but discriminates against Muslims.

“The impunity with which religious freedom of Hindus in Bangladesh is being trampled, reiterates the importance of CAA, a humanitarian legislation…” wrote Amit Malviya, the party’s social media chief, on Twitter.

In Assam, the leader of a Hindu extremist outfit Bajrang Dal issued an open genocidal threat to Indian Muslims saying they will have to face the consequences of the attack on Hindus in Bangladesh. “If they kill one in Bangladesh, we will kill five in Assam,” said the leader. “What happened to Muslims in Myanmar, we will do much worse in Assam and India” – referring to the genocide of Rohingya Muslims.

However, Indian Muslim groups condemned the targetting of Hindus and their places of worship in Bangladesh. “The news of deaths and destruction coming from our neighbouring country is extremely disturbing and unfortunate,” O M A Salam, the chairman of Popular Front of India, said.

Last week,  PM Hasina asked India to ensure that the Bangladesh situation does not lead to escalation of communal violence which could in turn “affect our Hindu community here”.

It remains to be seen what will become from this painful example of sectarian violence in Bangladesh across South Asia.

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