The next day, another Christian in a nearby village was beaten and robbed in related violence in southwestern Bangladesh.
Aynal Haque, 63, a volunteer for Christian organization Way of Life Trust, told Compass that his brothers and relatives along with Muslim villagers beat him and his son, 22-year-old Lal Miah, on Oct. 9 when they refused to recant Christianity. The family lives at Sadhu Hati Panta Para village in Jhenaidah district, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of the capital city, Dhaka. It is in the jurisdiction of Sadar police station.
Haque’s relatives and villagers said that he had become Christian by eating pork and by disrespecting the Quran, he said.
“I embraced Christianity by my own will and understanding, but I have due respect for other religions,” Haque said. “How can I be a righteous man by disrespecting other religions? Whatever rumors the villagers are spreading are false.”
At a meeting to which Haque was summoned on Oct. 9, about 500 men and women from several villages gathered, including local and Maoist party leaders.
“They tried to force me and my son to admit that we had eaten pork and trampled on the Quran to become Christian,” Haque said. “They tried to force us to be apologetic for our blunder of accepting Christianity and also tried to compel us to go back to Islam. I told them, ‘While there is breath left in our bodies, we will not reject Christianity.’
“When we denied their allegation and demand, they beat us severely. They ordered us not to mix with other Muslim villagers. They confined us in our house for five days.”
Haque has worked on his neighbors’ land for survival to supplement the meager income he earns selling seeds in local markets, but the villagers have now refused to give him work, he said.
“Every day I earn around 50 taka to 100 taka [70 cents to US$1.40] from the seed business,” he said. “Some days I cannot earn any money. So, I need to work villagers’ land for extra money to maintain my family.”
His youngest son also worked in neighbors’ fields as a day-laborer, besides attending school.
“We cannot live if we do not get farming work on other people’s land,” Haque said.
Haque, his wife and youngest son received Christ three years ago, and since then they have faced harassment and threats from Muslim neighbors. His other grown son and two daughters, as well as a son-in-law, also follow Christ but have yet to be baptized. There are around 25 people in his village who came to Christ under Haque’s influence; most of them remain low-profile to avoid harassment from the villagers, he said.
The weekly worship service in Haque’s shanty house has been hampered as some have been too fearful to attend, and the 25 members of the church fear the consequences of continuing to meet, Haque said.
Officials of Way of Life Trust tried to visit the area to investigate the beating of Haque and his son but were unable due to security risks, said Jatish Biswas, the organization’s executive director. They informed the district police chief, who instantly sent forces to provide safety for the Christians, Biswas said.
Villagers thought that if they were able to get Haque to renounce Christianity, then the other Christians would quickly return to Islam, according to Biswas.
Hearing of the incident in Sadhu Hati Panta Para the next day (Oct. 10), Muslims in Kola village about five kilometers (nearly three miles) away beat a Christian friend of Haque’s and robbed his seed shop.
Tokkel Ali, 40, an evangelist in one of the house churches that Way of Life Trust has established, told Compass that around 20 people arrived at his shop at about 11 a.m. and told him to go with them to Haque’s house.
“The presence of so many people, most of whom I did not know, and the way they were talking, seemed ominous to me, and I refused to go with them,” Ali said. “I said, ‘If he wants me to go to his house, he could call me on my mobile.’”
One person in the crowd pointed toward Ali, saying that he was a Christian and had made otherwise innocent people Christians by them feeding pork and letting them disrespect the Quran, said Ali. Islam strictly prohibits eating pork.
“That rumor spread like wildfire among other Muslims,” Ali said. “All of a sudden, a huge crowd overran me and started beating me, throwing my seeds here and there.”
Ali said he lost consciousness, and someone took him to a nearby three-storey house. When he came to, he scrambled back to his shop to find his seeds scattered, and 24,580 taka (US$342) for buying seed had been stolen, along with his bicycle.
Accustomed to earning just enough each day to survive, Ali said it would be impossible for him to recover and rebuild his business. He had received loans of 20,000 taka (US$278) from Grameen Bank (Nobel Peach Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus’ micro-finance entity), 15,000 taka (US$209) from the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee and 11,000 taka (US$153) from Way of Life Trust to establish the business. Ali ran a similar seed business in Dakbangla market in Kola village.
“How can I pay back a weekly installment of 1,150 taka [US$160] to the micro-credit lending NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations]?” he said. “I have already become delinquent in paying back some installments after the looting of my money and shop. I’ve ended up in deep debt, which has become a noose around my neck.”
Ali said he has not dared filed any charges.
“If I file any case or complain against them, they will kill me, as this area is very dangerous because of the Maoists,” he said, referring to a banned group of armed rebels with whom the villagers have links. “Even the local administration and the law enforcement agencies are afraid of them.”
Ali has planted 25 house churches under Way of Life Trust serving 144 people in weekly worship. Baptized in 2007, he has been following Christ for more than 10 years.
“Whenever I go to bazaar, people fling insults at me about that beating,” he said. “Everyone says that nothing would have happened if I had not accepted Christianity, an abhorrent religion to them. People also say that I should hang myself with a rope for renouncing Islam.”
Since the beating, he has become an alien in his own village, he said.
“Whatever insinuation and rumors they spout against me and other believers, there is no language to squash it,” he said. “I have to remain tight-lipped, otherwise they will kill me.”
He can no longer cross the land of one of his neighbors in order to bathe in a nearby river, he said.
“After that incident, my neighbor warned me not to go through his land,” he said. “Now I take a bath in my home from an old and dysfunctional tube-well. My neighbors say, ‘Christians are the enemy of Muslims, so don’t go through my land.’ It seems that I am nobody in this village.”
Biswas of Way of Life Trust told Compass that Christians in remote villages lack the freedoms guaranteed in the Bangladeshi constitution to practice their faith without any interference.
“Where is religious liberty for Haque and Ali?” Biswas said. “Like them, many Christians in remote villages are in the throes of persecution, though our constitution enshrined full liberty for religious minorities.”
Way of Life Trust has aided in the establishment of some 500 house churches in Bangladesh, which is nearly 90 percent Muslim. Hinduism is the second largest religion at 9.2 percent of the 153.5 million people, and Buddhists and Christians make up less than 1 percent of the population.
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