DHAKA, Bangladesh (ChurchMilitant.com) - Five Christian villages in rural Bangladesh are virtually extinct now owing to persecution by Muslims.
Some 400 Christians once lived in five villages near Dhaka's Nawabgonj area and were spiritually tended by the Hasnabad Catholic parish of Dhaka. But now only one Christian woman remains living. Virgin Margarat Gomes, a former schoolteacher, is now the only inhabitant at Nagerkanda in Nawabganj.
The 65-year-old woman now only has the company of 13 cats and five dogs. She has been living alone in the village for the last 24 years, but without the fellow villagers she knew, she has become anguished.
Gomes told her story to Church Militant, explaining that persecution by Muslim "land grabbers" not only decimated her immediate family but became the last straw for other villagers who, already struggling, fled for safer communities instead of fighting to improve the living standards locally.
In Bangladesh, 90% of the people are Muslim while most of the remaining 10% are Hindu and Buddhist. Christians are nearly invisible in the country, comprising less than one-half percent of the population.
It had become commonplace, Gomes explains, for Muslims in her community to take neighbors' property by force, largely acting with impunity.
Frequently, she said, even if Muslims did not completely take over a neighbor's property, they picked fruits from their orchards and took bamboo from their gardens. One particular plot of land was seized by Muslims who used it to build a madrassa — a college for Islamic instruction.
So Gomes sensed there would be trouble when the "land-grabbers," as she calls them, took an interest in her brother.
"My younger brother was a bright student, but Muslims did not want my brother to become educated. They had envy, and it seemed they could not grab our land if my brother remained alive. So they got him involved with drug addiction. They fed him poison with drugs, and he died," she explained.
But more turmoil was around the corner.
Her father died of an illness. And while she visited her maternal aunt's house, her mother was attacked by Muslim marauders.
"My mother was home alone. Our neighbor Muslims killed her and robbed our house," she recalled, saying a fisherman explained what he saw that night.
But she thought better of trying to report the crime.
"I am surviving alone. So for my life's security, I didn't file any case," she rued.
Afterward, the robbers claimed her mother signed a document so they could usurp the family's land. "But my mom did not do it," she emphasized.
Realizing the vulnerability of what little she had left, she decided on June 13, 2018, to donate her land — 1.3 acres — and her home to the local parish.
"I have donated my all land to Dhaka archdiocese for praise of the Lord and to preserve memories of my siblings and parents. May Almighty God grant them rest and peace," she said.
The archdiocese erected a building on the site. She is now living in a tiny nearby house with no lavatory and no security.
But Gomes is thankful to be alive, and she clings to what she says are countless good memories with her parents, siblings and other relatives. All of her late relatives have been laid to rest in the village, so she says she cannot leave, despite the risks to her own security.
"For the rest of my life, I want to live at this house," she proclaimed.
Like Gomes, a similar tale of violence and oppression has either killed or caused to flee around 400 Christians from five different villages — Nagerkanda, Sahaberchar, Jamalchar, Horichondi and Chorkushai.
They also were persecuted by Muslims. Many of them moved to India, Dhaka city and other parts of the country in hopes of living peacefully.
Thomas Rozario, a local leader from a neighboring parish, told Church Militant that many Christian villagers have migrated abroad.
"They are not only persecuted, but also want a better and more prosperous life. In those remote villages, they did not have any church, school or hospital, so gradually they are moving to other places," he explained.