Why Sheikh Hasina stands as only hope for minorities

By Sahidul Hasan Khokon

A gang of BNP Jamaat supporters abducted her right from the eyes of her parents. They took her at a distant place and then raped her in turns just because they thought her parents belong to hindu community and deemed them as voters of Awami League. Her mother was beaten and their homes were vandalized—all at the cost of being a hindu.

“Tarique Rahman, the acting chief of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is a disease.. How can he talk about humanity????” when Purnima shill, a gang-raped survivor lashed out at the fugitive politician she was clearly pointing not only the  trauma, and subsequent stigmatization but also how BNP’s top leaders ensured impunity for those BNP activists who violated her, like the Pakistan army right after the BNP-Jamaat government ascended to power in 2001.

Purnima was bold enough to publicly take on the patrons who put her life in jeopardy but the last regime of BNP Jamaat, between 2001 and 2006, saw rapists, belonging to BNP Jamaat, of hundreds of minority girls roam scot free with full scale impunity.

At the crux of this menace lies a largest state sponsored pogrom orchestrated against minorities, endorsed by highest echelon of BNP Jamaat led government, between 2001 and 2006, that witnessed at least 28000 incidents of rape, killing people alive and burning down and looting of houses., as documented by several rights bodies. The objective behind this nefarious plot is to force the minorities leave the country, as a decline in their numbers would help the radical stream that seeks for another Afghanistan or Pakistan style communal rule for the country.   

When it comes to stand for the rights of minorities, Sheikh Hasina’s AL stood apart, defying all the odds posed by radicals and fanatics while the opposition still bears the burden of the past as the founder of BNP General Ziaur Rahman spearheaded the communalization of the country, turning the clock back to Pakistan.

But gone are these days of horror and agony for minorities, thanks to the return of Sheikh Hasina in power with a sweeping majority back in 2008 and since then her continuation for the straight third term, no more state sponsored pogrom against minorities have been set in motion.

The longest serving female head of the state, Sheikh Hasina who is very much a torch bearer of her father’s ideals for a secular country, turns 77 on Thursday.

Ironically, now voted out of power, the opposition cadres still reportedly indulged, though faced hurdles from law enforcers, in a scheme to upend the communal harmony through attacking the minorities. Between 2013 and 2015, BNP Jamaat combine carried out riot like situation in the country with calculated attack on minorities in as many as 32 districts. But the chilling plot did not end there.

“You should not need to consider yourself as minority.. we believe religious festivals are universal regardless of religion”, the reiteration of this appeal by the premier clearly crafted for injecting a sense of equality and security among people.

Already made her mark as the longest serving female head of the state, Sheikh Hasina’s raw courage, having survived at least 19 assassination attempts, sets her apart from Angela Merkel or Jacinda Arden or any other western Iron ladies, can only be compared to late Indira Gandhi.  

Not to be outdone at the grueling massacre of her father ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, mother, brother and almost all family members, she, in defiance of military rule, returned to the country, ushering a hope among the masses and minorities as well.

Owing to her unshakable commitment to ensure rights of the minorities, a grisly spell of attacks on temples during the biggest hindu festival across the country carried out in 2021 but the trauma did not haunt the minorities for long.

As the last year saw Durga Puja celebration at a record 32,168 mandaps across the country, another manifestation that she delivered on her pledges given last year witnessed highest security arrangement while Awami League leaders and activists have reportedly taken guard at the temples to stop recurrence of another 2021, in sync with the promise of their leader.

But still for turning the country into a Sonar Bangla, as dreamt by her father, a long way lies ahead as a number of demands of minority leaders still not implemented but with a return of Sheikh Hasina for another term would surely make these dreams a reality.

Her conviction that the best of long term vision can be ruined if law and order suffers and terrorism driven by religious madness takes root is the only way forward makes her and rest of family members who are survivors of 1975 the best hope for the country and its people.

(Sahidul Hasan Khokon is a Bangladeshi journalist living in Dhaka. He has been working for over 15 years in various print and electronic media. His reporting areas witnessed political and investigative subjects. Besides, he is relatively researching with the liberation war of Bangladesh and fundamentalists' politics.)