Christians only make up a tiny part of Bangladesh’s Muslim-majority population. Historically, Christians have lived in peace in Bangladesh, but report feeling under increasing threat by surging Islamic extremists. This growing fear has led many Christians to leave Bangladesh, especially after several Christian converts were targeted and killed last year by extremist groups operating in the country. As the country prepares to receive its first visit from the pope in more then 30 years, will the fears of the Christians community be recognized and addressed by both Bangladesh and the international community?
11/28/2017 Bangladesh (Japan Times) – As a young man Bidhan Kamol Rosario left his Catholic village to fight for Bangladesh’s independence. Now he questions his future in the country after a rise in Islamist extremism that has left minorities living in fear.
As Bangladesh’s small Catholic community eagerly awaits the first visit by a pope in more than 30 years, many say it has never been more difficult to practice their faith in the Muslim-majority country.
Christian leaders say many have left Bangladesh in recent years as the community increasingly finds itself targeted by Islamists.
Last year, two converts from Islam were murdered and a Catholic grocer brutally hacked to death during a campaign by Islamist extremists that also targeted Hindus and other minorities.
“In the war of liberation, we wanted a beautiful Bangladesh which embraced all types of people from all races, faiths, creeds and religions,” Rosario, 65, said of the 1971 war that brought independence for the former East Pakistan.
“I never wanted advantages or favors for myself, only that there be equal rights for all. … But now I do not believe there is any equality for us.”
Christians make up less than 0.5 percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million people, but lived for centuries in harmony with the local Muslim majority.
They have played a prominent role in the country’s history and even today, schools and hospitals run by Catholic missionaries provide a lifeline for poor communities.
Rosario is part of a small Catholic community descended from Portuguese traders who settled in Nagori, a small cluster of villages near the capital, Dhaka, in the 17th century.
The area remains a bulwark of Catholicism and is home to a small shrine where hundreds of thousands gather every February to celebrate the life of St. Anthony.
Local Catholics there say they feel increasingly under threat after a spate of attacks by hard-line Islamists targeting religious minorities, foreigners and secular bloggers.
Tensions with Bangladeshi authorities have also risen, they say, boiling over in March when villagers accused plainclothes police of raiding the home of a local widow and stealing money.
When a group of villagers tried to prevent the plainclothes officers leaving, armed police were sent in, leading to a violent standoff in which at least 20 people were injured. More than 100 villagers were later charged with obstructing police work.