Experience and Achievements 2015-2021, Updated January 20, 2022
The Hunger Project Bangladesh (THP-BD) has six years of successful experience in promoting peace and harmony in Bangladesh. This program was launched in partnership with the International Foundation for Election System (IFES) in the context of unprecedented violence during the 2014 National Election. It has been included as a part of the “Strengthening Political Landscape” project implemented by THP-BD as a sub-grantee to Democracy International (DI).
The aim of this program is to build peace and harmony, promote democratic values among grassroots citizens, achieve a greater understanding of election processes, and develop skills for peaceful conflict resolution. It has been financed by USAID and UKAID and is being implemented in partnership with local political leaders and politically active citizens in 73 sub-districts, of them 46 sub-districts programs are supported by IFES and 27 sub-districts by DI.
Success in mobilizing and training party and civil society leaders
From 2015 through 2021 – during a period when there has appeared to be no constructive dialogue between parties, this program has mobilized and trained 1,537 political and politically active citizens as Peace Facilitators in 73 Upazila-level teams, including 466 females (30%). Among the full group, 36% are from Bangladesh Awami League, 26% from Bangladesh Nationalist Party, 9% from Jatiya Party, 28% from Civil Society/Academic/ media, and 1% other.
This program has demonstrated that responding to violence while fostering tolerance and peace is possible. Through carefully orchestrated training and mobilization, it has shown how a grassroots movement for the prevention of violence can be successfully created and expanded. It has shown that a deliberate, step-by-step process can effectively re-establish social harmony and give ordinary people the tools to maintain it. The success of this project shines a light on the immense potential for restoring political settlement and social harmony in Bangladesh.
Our upazila teams have succeeded in the following workstreams:
- Peace & Harmony:
- Teams provide the only avenue for the engagement of a weakened main opposition political party.
- They ensure multiparty peaceful coexistence.
- Then respond to any incidents of religious intolerance and communal violence.
- Elections were comparatively peaceful in our work areas – no significant violence was reported.
- Democratic Values & Practices:
- Teams facilitated political rivals to sign Codes of Conduct in 20 Upazilas committing to peaceful resolution of disputes.
- Opposition leaders are able to constructively engage with the ruling party
- Conflict Mitigation & Addressing Social Issues:
- Teams identified and addressed a range of issues such as drug abuse, violent extremism, domestic violence, inter/intra party tension, greater educational opportunities.
- Significant contributions in COVID response, particularly in creating awareness and addressing stigma; working in partnership with local administration.
- Ownership & Sustainability:
- Teams share costs and organize events in situations where no donor funds are involved.
- Acknowledgement & Recognition:
- Local Administrations invite our team leaders to meetings, work in partnership (informal) on social issues (particularly during COVID), and seek PFG support in addressing social tensions and disputes.
Peace Facilitators in Dispute Resolution
Mitigation of Social Conflicts
The recent trends of community-based violence paint a degrading picture of society as the number of conflicts (social, political, religious, and other types) have increased over the years. The Hunger Project has been working to mitigate community-based violence and promote intersectional democracy at the local level and has acquired a very positive reputation in mitigating conflicts through the intervention of the Peace Facilitators. The Peace Facilitators have been capacitated and made aware through PAVE Training, Refreshers Training, Peace Events, Campaigns with Youths, etc. Besides, a multi-party platform, Peace Ambassadors District Network (PADN), has been formed to support all the PFG members,
The country has been experiencing various types of conflicts at both the national and local levels. Among all sorts of conflicts, social conflict needs to be addressed on a priority basis so that peace and harmony are established. THP has been training the PFG members, coordinators, peace ambassadors, and advisors to equip them to intervene in and mitigate social conflicts. While running the project, it was observed that the Chittagong region had the maximum number of incidents of social conflicts. On the other hand, only 65 cases of social conflicts were reported in Barishal, Rangpur and Mymensingh regions. The consolatory fact is that most of the social conflicts have been mitigated by the Peace Facilitators at the local level. Our teams mitigated a total of 1073 social conflicts.
The most significant achievement of the project has been the end of the culture of enmity among the leadership of the rival political parties and restoration of social relationships – which has significantly reduced the threat of violence during political instability in future. In ten sub-districts, the major political parties have signed a ‘Code of Conduct’ promising to settle differences peacefully and work together against violent extremism.
Mitigation of Political Conflicts
For the last five years or more, the has not seen any rivalry in national politics as the ruling party is in monopolistic power, and the leading opposition party has refused to participate in the local and national level elections. In spite of that, a large number of political violence occured due to the unstable situation of intra-party dominance. The recent local government election has increased the intra-party nomination business. In Cox’s Bazar, Rangpur and Mymensingh regions, a high number of political conflicts were speculated. Our teams were very vigilant from the beginning of the local government election and were successful in mitigating a total of 67 incidents of political conflict.
Mitigation of Religious Conflicts
The months of September and October 2021, were really horrifying for the minority people of Bangladesh, especially people from the Chittagong and Rangpur regions where most of the religious conflicts took place during the Durga Puja festival. The violence that started in Cumilla had spread to more than 20 districts, where the angry mobs attacked 70 Hindu temples and Puja venues, vandalized and looted 30 Hindu households and 50 businesses, and killed 5 people in the process, all over the country.
During that crisis, our teams have taken timely initiatives to establish resilience and ensure safety of the Hindu communities in the areas. As a result, only 2 of our 72 project intervention Upazilas were affected by religious violence this year.
Mitigation of Other Conflicts
Apart from political, social, and religious conflicts, there are conflicts between family members, inter-family conflicts, conflicts for dowry, land grabbing, and others are seen in the field. At Barishal and Jashore regions instances of other religious conflicts arose and a total of 314 conflicts were mitigated by our teams at the local level.
There is evidence that our peace ambassadors have been able to defuse communal/political tensions and mitigate communal conflict in the recent past. Some of such cases are given below –
Case 1: Reconciliation in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria in 2018
On October 30, 2016, a Facebook post falsely accused a member of the Hindu community of defaming Islam in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria that resulted in vandalization and a series of attacks on 15 temples and 300 homes of the Hindu community by religious fanatics and other miscreants. There was widespread looting of valuables and burning of fishing nets, the only means of livelihood in the communities. The country’s leading English newspaper, The Daily Star, reported the story the next day with the title: “Mayhem in Bramanbaria” https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/mayhem-bbaria-1306942
Soon after the violence broke out, our nearest Peace Facilitators, located 40 km away in Brahmanbaria, intervened. The faclitators visited the affected area to express solidarity with the victims and speak with the leaders of the Muslim community to restrain them from further such attacks. The Peace Ambassador, Nisat Sultana, the elected Upazila Vice Chairman and member of the ruling party played a critically important role in bringing the two communities together and forging a political settlement.
There the atrocities created very deep wounds and a sense of insecurity and alienation among Hindu communities, most of whom belong to very marginalized fishing communities. In order to heal the wound and restore trust between Hindu and Muslim communities, The Hunger Project (THP) intervened to empower communities associated with our upazila team to uphold the values of pluralism, tolerance, and inclusion for redressing identity-based prejudice and promoting social harmony and religious freedom.
Our teams supported activities to build community resilience to extremism and religious bigotry. A group of 150 community people were mobilized and trained as volunteer catalysts. These volunteers mobilized the entire community with peace-building messages and sensitized against identity-based prejudice, hate speech, and hate crime. With high enthusiasm and festivity, people of Nasirnagar spent a whole day for the Interfaith Festival, featured by a grand rally for promoting reconciliation and a new beginning. At the rally, a local Hindu Priest and a Muslim Imam exchanged their holy scriptures: the holy Quran and the holy Bhagavata Geeta. Exchanging holy scriptures symbolized their willingness to eliminate ignorance and prejudice towards and respect each other. These very efforts produced very positive results to heal the wounds and bring the two communities together.
Later, on March 5, 2018, Babu Bijoy Das, general secretary of Bangladesh Awami League, and Hazi Titan Ali Fakir, President 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, which are the essential prerequisites of a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive society. It is believed that the efforts of PPG at Nasirnagar will have a ripple effect to restore social harmony throughout the country.
Case 2: Preventing sectarian violence in Bagerhat
On April 13, 2021, Ananya Biswas, a 3rd-year student from Bagerhat Medical Assistant Training School (MATS), posted a status in her own Facebook profile, saying “How can a man dream of having 70 angel companions, when he can’t even cope up with one girl’s mood swing”.
Right after publishing the status on her personal Facebook profile, some people saw it and started spreading propaganda that it was an attempt to defame Islam. Some students from her institution took screenshots of the status and spread it via Facebook and messages, creating a public outcry. People started demanding expulsion and other punishment of the girl. On 13 April 2021, at 10:00 am those who spread the propaganda made a banner for a gathering to raise their voices against this incident. Tensions began to build up, particularly among people in the surrounding area.
A THP-trained youth volunteer, Rony Mahmud from Jatrapur Union, contacted THP staff member Hafizur Rahman. Hafiz contacted our district team and requested them to contact the law enforcement agency. He along with some trained youths went to visit the school.
The team communicated with the school officials and requested to arrange a dialogue with the students. Later, the team gathered in the school hostel with those students who were leading the riot along with the representatives of the student wing of the ruling party, who were demanding stern punishment of Ananya Biswas. After a long meeting and acrimonious discussions, the team was successful in resolving the issue and diffusing the situation, averting a serious mishap. The students realized their mistake and promised to refrain from further activities that could create tension and cause trouble. They also promised to get involved with THP to prevent extremism and establish social harmony. This is how prompt action by the THP team prevented a small incident from getting out of hand and causing violent outbursts.
Case 3: Team recovers long-disputed crematorium land
The Hindu community had a long-running dispute over the land of the Daroga Bazar crematorium at Ukhia Upazila of Cox’s Bazar with Sahabuddin Gang, a local Muslim land-grabbing family. The 1-acre Daroga Bazar crematorium is the oldest traditional cremation ground of the Hindu community in Ukhia from the 12th century. But for a long time, the influential land-grabbing family of Sahabuddin forcibly occupied most of the land, making it extremely difficult to do the funeral in the crematorium.
Our Ukhia Upazila peace facilitator team got involved and helped the Hindu community to resolve the issue. They jointly held various programs, including human chains, demonstrations, and submitting the memorandum to local administration to realize their demands. Later, the matter was brought to the notice of the district administration, Upazila administration, Upazila Parishad chairman, and Upazila administration by the PFG members. The Upazila Parishad chairman provided the leadership in this effort.
Finally, due to the involvement of our peace facilitators, on 12 September 2021, the Upazila Nirbahi Officer set down with the parties and amicably settled the matter by providing 60 percent land to the cremation committee and 30 percent land to Sahabuddin Gang. Both sides accepted the settlement and signed the agreement in the presence of all.
Case 4: Resolving the Long-standing intra-religious conflict of the indigenous Christian community in Rajshahi
About 70 families of Christians live in the tribal villages of Mahipara Christian community in Pananagar Union of Durgapur Upazila under Rajshahi district. There was a long-standing conflict between two groups over establishing dominance. The well-to-do group of Christians looked down upon the poor Christians and prevented them from praying in the church. As a result, unrest broke out, leading to violence and a potential lawsuit. Our upazila team intervened and prevented the lawsuit from being filed. Mr. Prodyut Kumar Sarker, accompanied by Peace Ambassador and Awami League leader, Binoy Sarkar, met with both groups. After many meetings and marathon negotiations, the dispute was finally resolved, and the poorer Christians were allowed to pray in the church. Since the resolution about a year ago, there has been no tension or violence between the groups.
Case 5: Renovating the Crematory and establishing communal harmony
Almost 150 Hindu households live in the Sutia village which is very adjacent to Gopalpur Upazila Parishad, Gopalpur under Tangail District. They have only one crematory for funerals, the Kirtonkhola Great Crematory, which has an access road that was damaged due to heavy rain and became totally unusable. Due to heavy water flow, big holes were created and flooded. People used to carry dead bodies on their shoulders crossing over the big holes to hold funerals.
For the probable solution, Uday Paul, Teacher of Gopalpur Govt. College, Niranjan Paul, a Businessman, Karuna Kanti Paul along with other 10-12 persons on behalf of village residents met with Peace Ambassador, Sontosh Kumar Dutta and stated the sufferings. Mr. Dutta took them to upazila chief executive, Mr. Parbhej Mallik and the Mayor, Mr. Raqibul Islam Chana. After talking, they visited the site. At the site, a wooden bridge was made through a joint financial initiative by local community people and the Gopalpur town council. Working together, they repaired the road on both sides of the bridge. When they were working to solve the crematory problem, they noticed a Muslim graveyard nearby which also has no road. It was decided to construct a connecting road for which both Hindu and Muslim community worked together to ensure access to the burial place. By connecting two biggest communities, Hindu and Muslim, they established an example of social harmony.
It was a very sensitive village problem but did not get any attention from others and was neglected by the concerned authority.
In addition, the Hindu crematory did not have a place to put dead bodies prior to cremation. The Mayor has now constructed such a room, investing 100,000.00. They have also created a plan to pave the new road with concrete.
Case 6: Initiative to halt violence across the country during Hindu festivals
Every year, people panic when religious festivals commence. Trouble makers attempt to tarnish the joys of the festivals by creating unwanted fatal incidents.
In late 2021, peace facilitators all over the country were vigilant at the start of the biggest religious festival of the Hindu Minorities. Peace ambassadors reached out to local officials and requested that they ensure safety and security of the puja mandaps.
News of the desecration of a Holy Quran spread in Comilla on Wednesday morning, October 13, sparking tensions and clashes there. As many as 30 temples in 10 districts were attacked. idols were vandalized and set on fire on October 14 in different parts of Bangladesh. On the same night, violence spread in Hajiganj of Chandpur and four persons died.
There is a risk of major violence after the Mosques hold friday prayers, especially during periods of communal unrest, Peace facilitators organized online meetings and took practical decisions to address the situation. Decisions were made to prevent violence in the respective areas:
- Meeting with the administration and submitting memorandums and requests that local officials ensure the security of the puja mandaps. (Hindu prayer altars).
- Visits to puja mandaps, and meetings with puja committees.
- Meetings with Imams to reduce violence.
- Ensuring the safety and security of the area through creating unity among prominent people of the area.
Peace Facilitators called for a united front to stop the destruction of communal harmony. As a result of immediate implementation of their decisions, unwanted incidents could be avoided though 3 out of 72 upazilas of PAVE got affected by the Muslim fanatic’s attack. At those places PFGs became more vigilant immediately and initiated visits to Puaja Mandaps, meetings with Puja Committees, submitted memorandums to local administration etc.
On the 14th October, 2021 afternoon, an emergency meeting was conducted by Adv. Abdus Samad, Coordinator, Rajshahi PADN, Saiful Islam and Joint-Coordinator Rajshahi PADN. “We need to be more vigilant in implementing the non-communal spirit of the liberation war,” he said by the Leaders of the forum.
Agaijhara, Jhalokathi Sadar, Babuganj, Nalchiti and Kathalia PFGs conducted meetings with Puja Committees to ensure protection of Puja Mandaps. As per the decision of the meeting, they met local administration and visited the Puja Manadaps.
Mymensingh Sadar, Tarail, Gopalpur, Bhuyapur Upazila PFG submitted memorandums to UNOs and OCs. They organized a meeting with Imams