Muslim neighbors, local council threaten to burn home if they file assault case.
MALUMGHAT, Bangladesh, December 8 (Compass Direct News) – The harassment that Bangladeshi converts from Islam face from Muslim neighbors in this southeastern area near Cox’s Bazar can take serious turns – as it did last month, when an attack by about a dozen Muslims left a Christian family with machete wounds.
Confident that no police would side with Christian converts from Islam, the Muslims in Chakaria town, near Cox’s Bazar 380 kilometers (236 miles) southeast of the capital city of Dhaka, later filed false charges of assault against the wounded and limping Christians, family members said.
The smallest of claims can serve to provoke such attacks. Laila Begum, a 45-year-old Christian convert from Islam, said she was helping to make disbursements for a local non-governmental micro-credit agency called Darpan in Chakaria town on Nov. 1 when 10 to 15 Muslim neighbors blocked her way and demanded 200 taka (US$3).
Begum told Compass she had borrowed 2,000 taka (US$30) last year from a neighbor, a Muslim woman who goes by the single name of Kohinoor, and this year paid her back with interest. Telling the group she would give them no more money as she had already repaid the loan, Begum said, she asked why they were demanding more.
They began beating her, snatching a pair of gold ornaments from her ear.
“Suddenly they got equipped with sticks, iron rods, knives and machetes,” she said. “Several places of my head were lacerated by machetes and iron rods. They also cut two of my fingers when I tried to fend off their attacks. They beat me in several places of my body by iron rods and sticks.”
Begum said her husband Abdur Rahman, a 48-year-old gatekeeper at Memorial Baptist Hospital, and her 27-year-old son Selim Rahman, heard her screams and were also beaten when they rushed to help her.
“They thrust at my son with machetes and a sharp knife and stabbed him in his thigh,” she said. “They beat my son with sticks and iron rods, knocking him down. They also beat the kneecap of my husband and other parts of his body.”
When her 18-year-old daughter Rosy Rahman came to their aid, the attackers punched her in the neck and chin, she said.
“They beat her in various parts of the body with sticks,” Begum said. “Shamelessly they removed her wrap over the breasts in front of dozens of onlookers.”
One of the attacking neighbors, she said, told her, “Nobody will come to save you if we beat you, because you are converted to Christianity from Islam.”
Begum, her husband and elder son were admitted to a nearby hospital. Her husband is still hobbled, walking with the aid of a stick.
“Muslim neighbors filed a case against us where they mentioned that we had beaten them – it is a false case,” Begum said. “They beat us and they filed a false case against us.”
Police Sub-inspector Manjurul Alam confirmed that the Muslim neighbors had filed a case against Rahman’s family, and that Rahman had also filed an assault case against the attackers.
“We are investigating it,” he said.
Begum said local Muslims threatened to beat the Christians again if they filed a case against them.
“They threatened that if we file a case, they will carry out an arson attack, and our house will be burnt to the ground,” she said. “They will evict us from the locality. They will beat us again and our life will be in great trouble.”
The family informed local governing council members about the attack, but they demanded 20,000 taka (US$300) to settle the matter and also threatened them, she said.
“The local council officials also told us that if we file any case in the police station, our houses will be burnt to ashes and we will be evicted from the locality,” she said. “The Muslim neighbors are spreading rumors that we beat them, that we borrowed 22,000 taka from them and that we did not pay them back the money. But we do not have anyone to stand beside us and listen to us.”
Because the family members are converts from Islam, they said, neighbors and distant relatives often pick quarrels with them over any small issue, with villagers later joining in to threaten or attack them.
“If we go to the market or any public places, Muslim people push us roughly from behind and use filthy words against us about Christianity,” said the oldest son, Salim Rahman.
The entire family is living in isolation due to their conversion, which the female members said is especially difficult for them.
“Whenever I go outside, local people look at me with evil leers,” said the oldest daughter, Rosy Rahman. “Everyone bad-mouths me and casts aspersions on our faith.”
She said such harassment forced her to stop going to school in 2004.
“If I had not stopped going to school, my life would have been in trouble,” she said. “I feel insecure and mixed-up, because local people always want to deflower me. If anything bad happens to me, no one in the society will stand beside me. What did we do against the society? We did nothing against them, we simply changed our faith.”
She said the ostracism and societal misconduct sometimes lead her to contemplate suicide.
History of Resentment
When the family and others converted to Christianity in 1991, area resentment festered and finally broke into violence in late 1992, when local Muslims vandalized and burned the local church and several Christian-owned homes.
The government deployed more than 2,000 police and other law enforcement personnel to bring the situation under control, and some local Muslims were arrested for arson.
“The arrests made the local Muslims very angry,” said pastor Benu Barua of Memorial Christian Baptist Church of Malumghat.
Rage dating back to the events of the 1990s may be at the root of the beating of Begum’s family, he said.
“The Muslim neighbors beat them for such a small amount of money – any small issue to the Muslim neighbors is like a red rag to a bull,” Barua said. “This kind of oppression, what happened to Begum’s family, is less common on other traditional Christians or those who converted from the Hindu religion. But Muslim-converted Christians are more oppressed here.”
Report from Compass Direct News