Christians protest following an attack by local thugs on a church last Saturday in which three men were injured and the building was damaged. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Christians protest following an attack by local thugs on a church last Saturday, in which three men were injured and the building was damaged. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Portuguese Christians, initially merchants and later also missionaries, arrived in Bangladesh 500 years ago and started communities. Today Bangladeshi Christians form a tiny group in the Muslim-majority nation and face various challenges because of their faith.

According to Fr. David Bipul Das, a Catholic priest in the diocese of Barisal, 240km south of the capital Dhaka, Bangladeshi Christians, a 0.5% minority group among a population of almost 165 million, face discrimination from both their Muslim neighbours and the government.

He told the Catholic news agency Fides of prejudices and “land grabbing” but also how “Muslim extremists continue to harass Christians, with pretentious reasons, to foment a quarrel and to incite religious hatred in society”.

He says, however, that society in general appreciates the Christian community, “as a community that loves peace, and is bearer of a high sense of moral and spiritual values, very visible in the witness of life” because of their contributions in areas like education, healthcare, and social development.

The 500–year anniversary is celebrated by the Catholic Church in Bangladesh with a year-long programme that started on 17 December and is themed ‘Heritage, Celebration and Renewal’. Archbishop Moses M. Costa of the archdiocese of Chittagong, told UCAN: “We look back … at what we have received from the missionaries. What are the reasons we need to celebrate? At the same time it gives new inspiration to be a new church”.

Pressure

Meanwhile, last Saturday (20 January), three Christian men were beaten up by thugs from a local political group. The attack happened at the St. Mothumath Assemblies of God Church in Gopalganj district, southwest of Dhaka.

The altercation was part of a long-running dispute over a fish pond that belongs to the church, reported UCAN.

A local source told World Watch Monitor that the fishes “are a source of income and the local political group has been trying for years to grab it but failed”.

After the attack the church filed a police report at the local police station for the injuries of three men: the pastor, Anakul Biswas, 55, Mitul Bala, 45, and Nathoniel Ray, 57, as well as damage that was done to the building when the attackers entered. Christians in the village also organised a rally to protest against such violence, the source said.

According to local priest Fr. Mintu Boiragi, “attacks against Christians over disputed property is nothing new”.

“In southern Bangladesh, Christians face pressure from influential locals, as churches own property in many areas. Christians are a minority and powerless, so they are vulnerable to violence as they cannot do much against their aggressors,” he told UCAN.

Conversion

In another attack during the same weekend, a 23-year-old man was assaulted by some local youths in the town of Tangail, 83km northwest of Dhaka.

The incident happened on Sunday (21 January) and the victim, Rajib, was allegedly attacked because of his conversion to Christianity from Islam, and the fact his father is a pastor.

World Watch Monitor has reported regularly about other attacks against Bangladeshi Christians, such as in June 2016 when Christian shopkeeper Sunil Gomes was hacked to death. The police said in November that they had charged 12 Muslim militants with his murder, but four of them were still at large at the time of the announcement.

Bangladesh is number 41 on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult for Christians to live.