October 30 2016, a Facebook post falsely accused a member of the Hindu community of defaming Islam in Nasirnagar upazila at Brahmanbaria. Vandalism and a series of attacks were carried out by religious fanatics and other miscreants in 15 temples and 300 homes in Hindu communities. There was widespread looting of valuables and burning of fishing nets – the only means of livelihood in these communities. The country’s leading english newspaper, The Daily Star, reported the next day: “Mayhem in B’baria”
As soon as the story broke out about the violence, the members of our nearest Peace Pressure Group (PPG), which is located 40 K.M. away in Brahmanbaria, intervened. The PPG members visited the affected area to show solidarity with the victims and speak with the leaders of the Muslim community to restrain them. Our Peace Ambassador Nisat Sultana, the elected Upazila Vice-chairperson and member of the ruling played a critically important role in bringing the two communities together and trying about a political settlement. The atrocities created deep wounds, and a sense of insecurity and alienation among Hindu communities, most of whom belong to very marginalized fishing communities.
In September 2017, in order to heal the wound and restore trust between Hindu and Muslim communities, The Hunger Project Bangladesh, the country’s largest volunteer based organization with over quarter of a million volunteers, intervened to empower communities to uphold the values of pluralism, tolerance and inclusion for redressing identity-based prejudice, and promoting social harmony and religious freedom with the support from Canadian High Commission.
A series of Activities were implemented to build community resilience to extremism and religious bigotry and trained 150 community people as volunteer catalyst. These volunteers mobilized the entire community with “peace building messages” and sensitized against identity-based prejudice, hate-speech and hate-crime. These very efforts produced very positive results to heal the wounds and bring the two communities together.
In February 17 2018, with high enthusiasm and festivity, people of Nasirnagar spent a whole day for Interfaith Festival, which they describe as an event for reconciliation and a new beginning. A Local Hindu Priest and a Muslim Imam, inaugurated the interfaith festival by exchanging their holiest scriptures – the holy Quran and the holy Vagabat Gita. Exchange of their holy scriptures symbolized their willingness to eliminate the ignorance and prejudice towards each other. A colorful, grand rally marched around the Harinber Bazar chanting “Hindus and Muslims are brothers, and will live happily ever-after”. The rally attracted the whole community. This is the same Nasirnagar where community trust was deeply shaken and shattered by a series of heinous attacks in 2016.
On March 5 2018, Babu Bijoy Das, General Secretary of Bangladesh Awami League and Hazi Titan Ali Fakir, President of Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Haripur Union signed a Code of Conduct for peace and harmony. The Code of Conduct upholds the values of Dignity, Security and Diversity — all of which form the essential prerequisites of a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive society.
We believe the effort of Nasirnagar will have a ripple effect to restore social harmony throughout the country.
“Maybe I am alone for me; I created my world myself, but I am happy. I am not dependent on anybody. I can fulfill my needs myself,” Manjuma said happily.
Manjuma became a “sinner” when she lost her second husband, Shafiullah. Shafiullah worked in Saudi Arabia as a physical laborer when he suffered a fatal heart attack. After losing a husband for the second time, neighbors started to treat her as a living curse. She lives in Chiloin village of the Ajgora union in the Laksam Upzila of Comilla district.