Rahima Beoa, who was planning to be baptized on February 13 in Muslim-majority Rangpur district, 248 kilometers (154 miles) northwest of the capital Dhaka, suffered burns on 70 percent of her body, reported Compass Direct News, a Christian news agency investigating reports of persecution.
The attack apparently happened January 7 while she and her 9-year-old grand child were sleeping at home. Unknown attackers set their home, made from bamboo and wood, ablaze, local villagers said.
“The boy managed to escape the fire, but the elderly woman was injured and got 70 percent burnt on her body…The cattle and other stuff of the house were incinerated,” said Khaled Mintu, a regional supervisor of the Rangpur district of the evangelical Isha-E-Jamat Bangladesh denomination in published remarks.
"The unknown people wanted to burn alive the elderly woman because they came to know that she would be a Christian in the next month,” Mintu added. “It was a devilish conspiracy to stop her being a Christian," he was quoted as saying.
No relatives or neighbors came to put out the fire, he told reporters. A "quack doctor" later allegedly treated the elderly woman’s burns in another house, because the family cannot afford hospital treatment. Beoa is the mother-in-law of Ashraful Islam, who along with his wife became a Christian two years ago. Close relatives and neighbors were said to be angry with the couple for their conversion from Islam.
The 40-year-old Islam lives in Cinatuly village, located near Bangladesh’s major Tista river, with his three children and mother-in-law. During the arson attack Islam, his wife and two smallest children were attending a service of the Isha-E-Jamat church explaining the meaning of baptism, while his mother-in-law stayed behind with his son. There are some 50 Christian families living in the area.
"Generally local people become baptized going to the capital city, Dhaka, so that nobody knows anything about the new believers,” Compass Direct News quoted Mintu as saying. “Beoa is so geriatric that it was not very easy to bring her to Dhaka for baptism. Otherwise she would have been baptized long ago."
The latest attack underscored international concerns over the plight of Christians in Bangladesh. Open Doors International, which investigates the plight of Christians facing persecution, said recently there was an increase in attacks against devoted believers in the mainly Islamic nation.
"Since 1988 Islam is the state religion [and] pressure from Islamic fundamentalists has caused the government to make concessions to Muslim sentiments." It warned that this could further "drastically affect the rights of non-Muslim citizens." Over eight out of 10 people in Bangladesh are Muslims, while Christians comprise less than one percent of country’s 150-million people.