Villagers demand money, compel mourners to chant Buddhist mantras.
DHAKA, Bangladesh, May 21 (Compass Direct News) – Buddhist villagers in southeastern Bangladesh forced Christians to participate in a Buddhist cremation rite for a deceased family member last weekend and demanded money for a post-funeral ceremony.
Uttam Lal Chakma, 55, died last Friday (May 15) after a long illness in Dighinala sub-district of Khagrachari hill district, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) southeast of Dhaka. A member of Mynasukhnachari Baptist Church in the Babuchara neighborhood, Chakma had converted from Buddhism to Christianity two years ago.
Pastor Vubon Chakma and Christian villagers sought to give him a Christian burial the next day, but a hostile group of local Buddhists forcibly stopped them from doing so, according to a local Christian source.
The source told Compass that a member of the Buddhist group told family members, “He was born as a Buddhist, and he will be buried as a Buddhist.”
Local Buddhists prohibited the Christian burial at the behest of the village committee chairman, the source said.
“Forcefully they cremated him by wood log and forced other Christians who were present there to utter Buddha mantras,” the source said.
Christian villagers subsequently requested that they be allowed to bury the charred bones. They dug a grave and were praying and reading Bible verses when Buddhist villagers, some of them drunk, arrived and brought the ceremony to a halt.
“They said to the Christians, ‘You cannot read the Bible here,” the church source said, requesting that the names of the Buddhist leaders be withheld for security reasons.
One of the senior pastors of the Babuchara Baptist church, 60-year-old Pitambar Chakma, tried to reason with the enraged Buddhists, but they confined him and Vubon Chakma for the night.
The source added that they demanded 12,000 taka ($US177) to hold a post-funeral ceremony today, to which they planned to invite more than 250 Buddhists, including their local monk.
“They threatened that if we do not give it before May 21, we have to give them 24,000 taka, twice as much as they wanted,” the source said. “They also threatened if 12,000 taka is not given to them, pastor Vubon Chakma and his father will be evicted from the society. This is a sign of unremitting hostility toward Christians by Buddhists.”
At press time the amount had not been given, but the area Buddhists had taken no action, the source said.
The village Buddhists also protested when Christians constructed a church building eight months ago, he said.
“Always they force all the people here to become Buddhist and males to shave their heads,” he said.
Besides threats of expulsion, local Buddhists have also disparaged Christian converts in foul language, and there have been instances of torture, the source said, adding that there are 22 Christians in the area.
“We have no one to complain to about them,” the church source said. “If we protest against them, it is dangerous because they have links with an underground armed group. If we inform the administration or law enforcement agencies, they do not help us because of our conversion.”
The local Buddhists have ties with United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) militants who oppose a 1997 peace accord between the government and the tribal people. The hill tract areas had suffered unrest for decades, and hostilities continue as a leading proponent of the peace accord urged the government to ban UPDF for alleged terrorist activities, according to today’s The Daily Prothom Alo.
Report from Compass Direct News