By Reinhard Backes, ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
The international Catholic pastoral charity, Aid to the Church in Need, is following the persistent tensions in Bangladesh with great concern. “In the Dinajpur diocese in the north-west of the country Catholic Christians are repeatedly attacked by Muslim groups,” confirmed Véronique Vogel, head of the Indian section. According to the Bishop of Dinajpur, Sebastian Tudu, a missionary centre in the village of Bulakipur is being guarded by 30 policemen. “The worst of it is that in three villages which have been attacked the men were no longer at home. Many women and children are suffering and living in fear and terror,” Bishop Tudu reported in a letter.
“For months militant forces in Bangladesh have recruited a lot of new followers. This is a very worrisome development. A few months ago Buddhists were attacked and now it’s the Christians turn. Not only religious motives are involved here, but also political ones,” commented Ms Vogel. When asked about the background to the unrest, she said “There is a great shortage of land in Bangladesh, for example. Some groups therefore sometimes put simple people under great pressure with the aim of taking over their land. If on top of this they belong to a different religious community, a religious and political conflict will soon develop. Bangladesh is a powder keg, a very poor country with serious social problems.”
In early June, the Catholic seminary of Dinajpur was raided by Muslims. They forced their way into the building, wasted it and attacked the 25 seminarians who were present. The diocese reported the matter to the police; the candidates for the priesthood were housed temporarily at another location. The background was possibly a dispute between Muslim and Christian families in a neighbouring village. Subsequently a group of Muslims had evidently decided to seek out the seminary.
Bangladesh is a Muslim country. Islam is the state religion. Around 90 per cent of the 142 million inhabitants are Muslims, predominantly of the Sunni persuasion. About 9 per cent of Bangladeshis are Hindus and only 0.3 per cent Buddhists and Christians. According to the statistics, there are at present 318,000 Catholics living in Bangladesh.