families in southeastern Bangladesh left their village Sunday under mounting
pressure by Buddhist extremists to give up their faith in
Sources told Compass
that 20 to 25 Buddhists brandishing sticks and bamboo clubs in Jamindhonpara
village, 211 miles southeast of Dhaka, began patrolling streets
on April 30 to keep the 11 members of the Lotiban Baptist Church from
gathering for their weekly prayer meetings. On Saturday, the Buddhist extremists
captured four men and beat one woman who had gathered in a home, threatening to
kill them if they did not become Buddhists within 24 hours.
Sunday, the Buddhist
extremists attacked the homes of the Baptists two hours before their 1 p.m.
worship service, sources said.
“Just two hours before
our church service, a group of people swooped into our houses and drove all of
us out so we could not attend the church service,” said one church member who
The Christians captured
Saturday night were released after the extremists, who ripped crosses off the
walls of their homes, threatened to kill them if they continued praying and
worshipping in the area. After Sunday’s attacks, all Christians in
Jamindhonpara fled, taking shelter in another village, source said.
Jamindhonpara is located in the Lotiban area, Panchari sub-district of
“When they come, they
do not listen to us,” said the church member. “They arbitrarily do whatever they
like. The situation is indescribable – they hunt us down the same way that one
hunts down a mad dog to kill it.”
On Saturday the
Buddhist villagers chanted anti-Christian slogans as they formed a procession
that snaked through the village.
“They chanted in the
demonstration, ‘We will not allow any Christian to live in this area,’ ‘We will
not allow them to build a church here,’ and ‘Christians cannot live in
Buddhists’ areas,'” said one source. “We did not inform the police or army.
Informing them is very dangerous. They could even kill us if we complained about
them to police and army or the local administration.”
Local Buddhists were
infuriated when Christians established a church in the Lotiban area in December;
since then, they have been trying to stop all Christian activities. In the
campaign to uproot Christianity, they have tried to expel the pastor of Lotiban
Baptist Church by means of various threats, source said.
One of the Christians
who fled yesterday, 65-year-old Biraj Kumar Chakma, told Compass that they would
not go back to Buddhism whatever pressure might come.
“We left everything,”
Chakma said. “We can go through any kind of ordeal, but we will not leave Jesus,
even in the face of death. I have not seen in my life a book like the Bible. To
stick to it, I left my ancestral house under huge pressure of the Buddhists.
They applied much force to give up our faith.”
Chakma said that since
his daughter became a Christian, she has not been able to live in the village.
“She is living in a
hideout for her safety,” he said.
The Rev. Sushil Jibon
Tripura, president of Khagrachari district Baptist Fellowship Church, told
Compass that the daily life of the Christian villagers has become intolerable,
as they have sacrificed their livelihood for their faith.
“Buddhists are not
giving them any work,” Tripura said. “They are not allowed to collect drinking
water from local deep tube wells. Nobody mixes with them. They are not allowed
to shop in the village market. So the Buddhist villagers have ostracized them.”
The United Nations Development
Program (UNDP) runs various projects in the
area for the development of tribal people, but most the committee members are
Buddhists who deprive the Christians of UNDP assistance, he said. The aid
includes financial help for ginger cultivation and small cattle farming and
cooperative money given through a committee selected from among the villagers.
“When they were
Buddhist, they used to get all the aid provided by the UNDP,” Tripura said.
“But when they became Christians, they started facing problems. Recently the
committee members took away eight passbooks from Christian villagers given by
the UNDP for getting financial help.”
Tripura said he
informed the district UNDP office, and officials there said they would look into
The United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), an armed group in
the hill districts
that is also a political party, is active in the area. Tripura said some area Buddhists have mobilized only
mid-level activists of the UPDF against the Christians.
“Being an inhabitant of
this area, I can say that the high-command of the UPDF is not involved here,” he
The tribal people of
the area share common ancestors and the same social/cultural milieu, he
“We are brothers. But
the undercurrent of the hatred is religion,” Tripura said. “We are trying to sit
with the Buddhist leaders along with the UPDF leaders for resolving the matter
in a peaceful manner.”
is one of two main tribal organizations in the hill districts, the other being
the United People’s Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (Parbatya Chattagram
Jana Sanghati Samiti,
or PCJSS). The PCJSS, formed in 1973, had fought for autonomy in the region for
25 years, leaving nearly 8,500 troops, rebels and civilians killed. After
signing a peace accord in 1997 with the Bangladesh government, the PCJSS laid
UPDF, founded in 1998 and based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, has strong and
serious reservations against the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord signed in 1997.
Claiming that the agreement failed to address fundamental demands of the
indigenous Jumma people, the UPDF has pledged to fight for their full
The Chittagong Hill Tracts region comprises three districts:
Bandarban, Khagrachuri and Rangamati. The region is surrounded by the Indian
states of Tripura on the north and Mizoram on the east, Myanmar on the south and