by Worthy News Staff
DHAKA, BANGLADESH (Worthy News) -- The wife of a pastor in Bangladesh was recovering Thursday, January 29, after after she was reportedly gang raped by local Muslims, the latest in a series of violent incidents against the country's embattled Christian minority.
Reverend Shankar Hazra, 55, of Chaksing Baptist church in the village of Vennabari, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Dhaka told reporters his wife Depali, 45, was raped January 6 by Muslims who also robbed their home on the church property.
He said the troubles began when he and his wife went out to a toilet, located outside their home. "Suddenly a man loomed up from the darkness and thrust the snout of a homemade rifle at my chest and told me to keep mum, otherwise both of us would be killed," Christian news agency Compass Direct News quoted Hazra as saying.
Hazra claimed about eight eight people attacked them and eventually "blindfolded my wife and took her inside the house." After the assailants left, the pastor apparently managed to untie himself and found his wife lying unconscious on the bed.
He alleged that police, influential villagers and local Muslim-owned media are trying to conceal likely anti-Christian motives for the crime, instead falsely accusing Christians and a Hindu for allegedly participating in the incident.
The reported rape came amid other reports of several violent incidents against Christians in Bangladesh in recent weeks, including news that Muslims in Kathuly village in western Bangladesh forced two brothers to expel their parents from their home for converting to Christianity.
Ishmael Sheikh, 70, and his wife Rahima Khatun, 55, were baptized on November 9 and are now in hiding, Christians said. In other incidents last month, Buddhist villagers in southeastern Bangladesh’s Rangamati district reportedly beat a young father and drove him from his house for converting to Christianity.
The Buddhists in Asambosti, in the Tabalchari area some 300 kilometers (186 miles) southeast of Dhaka, warned Sujan Chakma, 27, not to return to his home after beating him on December 18, rights investigators said.
Chakma, who converted to Christianity about five months ago, has come back to his home but some nights the likelihood of attacks apparently forces him to remain outside. He is often unable to provide for his 26-year-old wife, Shefali Chakma, and their 6-year-old son, as area residents opposed to his faith refuse to give him work as a day laborer, Christians said.
Chakma, his wife and son do not eat on days he does not work, he said. "I am ostracized by my neighbors since I became Christian," Chakma was quoted as saying by Compass Direct News, which investigates reported cases of persecution.
"They put pressure on me to give up my faith, saying otherwise I cannot live in this society. Nothing daunted me, I held firm to my faith in Jesus." He reportedly said that on December 18 four of his neighbors came to his home to beat him. "They slapped and punched on me. Later they forced me to leave my house. They threatened me that if I come back to my home, I will be in great trouble."
These are no isolated incidents. Earlier in 2008 in the country's Rangamati district, Bengali Muslim settlers killed a tribal Christian for defending indigenous peoples from illegal land-grabs in a widely published incident.
On August 19 Ladu Moni Chakma, 55, was stabbed repeatedly and his throat was cut at Sajek in Baghaichuri sub-district in Rangamati district after he reported to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission how a military commander helped settle Bengali Muslims on area lands, news reports said.
A pastor of the Bangladesh Baptist Church in the district was quoted as saying that Chakma was killed because he was a Christian who was an outspoken defender of minorities in the area.
In April, mainly Muslim Bengali settlers aided by the army and a local businessman reportedly burned 77 homes in four villages of the tribal people in Sajek, Cikonpudi Chakma told reporters in August.
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 east.
There has been international concern about reports of mounting pressure on Christians from Muslims and other groups in the country. The United States State Department said in a recent report, there have been "reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief of practice..." in the country, where the constitution has established Islam as the "state religion."
Bangladesh's government has said it wants to guarantee religious freedom. Yet, the U.S. State Department said that in practice, Christian, as well as other minorities have "experienced discrimination and sometimes violence by the Muslim majority." (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos)