Hundreds of people have protested in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, calling for an end to religious violence that has gripped the country for four days, leading to at least six deaths and several injured.
The demonstrations took place on Monday and come as attacks on Hindus and their temples intensified after a photo was posted on social media showing a copy of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple in the eastern district of Cumilla.
Several Hindu religious sites were attacked in recent days, which the country’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said were attacks aimed at destroying the communal harmony in Bangladesh.
The violence began on October 15, when hundreds of Muslims protested in the southeastern Noakhali district over the viral social media image of the Quran at the knee of the Hindu deity while the 10-day Hindu festival of Durga Puja was on.
Two Hindu men were killed following that protest, Mohammed Shahidul Islam, the police chief in Noakhali, told the Reuters news agency by phone.
“There is some confusion about whether they died due to the unlawful assembly, or otherwise,” Islam said, adding that police are investigating the deaths.
“They (the protesters) were miscreants, actually, that is all we can say.”
Islam declined to share further details.
New attacks took place on Sunday night in a northern village, where unidentified people burned more than 20 homes of Hindus despite a warning by the government that such attacks would be firmly punished.
Asif Hasan, a chief government administrator of northern Rangpur district, on Monday said attackers torched the homes of Hindus in a fishing village on Sunday night. They also stole cash, cattle and other valuables during the attack, he said, adding that 42 people were arrested.
On Monday, the Ministry of Home Affairs transferred seven police officials from troubled areas for failing to control the violence.
On Monday, the followers of the Hindu group International Society for Krishna Consciousness were joined by students and teachers from Dhaka University in blocking a main intersection in Dhaka to demand justice.
Several other Hindu groups also joined the peaceful protest at the Shahbagh intersection.
Hindus make up about 10 percent of the Muslim-majority country’s population.
The unrest is some of the worst in Bangladesh since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party came to power there in 2009. It poses a challenge to her party, which is seen as the more secular one of the two political groups that have alternated power in Bangladesh for most of its independent history.
The violence has prompted the United Nations to urge the government to take action to stop it.
Mia Seppo, the UN’s resident coordinator in Bangladesh, said in a Twitter post on Monday that the attacks on Hindus are against the values of the Bangladesh constitution and need to stop.
“We call upon Government to ensure protection of minorities and an impartial probe,” Seppo said. “We call upon all to join hands to strengthen inclusive tolerant.”
Some of those gathered to protest near the Dhaka University in the capital city on Monday held up banners that demanded the police identify the attackers and bring them to justice.
“Safety of minorities in the country must be ensured,” one of the banners read.