Bangladesh: Still not safe for minorities

Posted on August 6, 2010

0


The advent of Sheikh Hasina Wajed in 2009 has not augured as well for the minority communities of Bangladesh, particularly the Hindus, who remain as unprotected as in previous years. The grim reality is that there are no sincere governmental efforts to prevent the grabbing of temple lands (or their restoration to the community, if grabbed by anti-social elements), grabbing of minority private lands and property, or seizure of cremation grounds.

On the other hand, rape and particularly gang-rape, remain the sad fate of Hindu girls who fall into the hands of miscreants, and even the tender age of six or eight years does not deter the evil-doers. There is forced conversion, especially of minor girls after abduction, and extortion from Hindu families – a kind of illicit Jazia tax, as the price for remaining Hindu.

The Bangladesh Minority Watch (BDMW), a Human Rights and non-profit organization based in Dhaka, working for the protection of the rights of Bangladesh Minorities specially destitute Hindus, Buddhists, other indigenous and Chakma groups, has consistently demanded their protection as per international protocols.

Among the most painful and persistent atrocities is the continued destruction of temples and illegal seizure of temple lands and properties. According to the law, temple properties cannot be transferred to individuals. But this has not deterred a roaring trade in illicit conveyance deeds executed by the so-called owners of the lands, who died a hundred or two hundred years ago (!), which are then used to usurp Hindu temple lands. This grabbing of Deity property is continuing currently at the hands of cadres of the ruling Awami League.

Sadly, I and my colleagues have over the years met the Indian Prime Minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee), Home Ministers (L.K. Advani, Shivraj Patil), even the Hon’ble President, but the Indian government has been less than forthcoming in its support to our legitimate cause. The discrimination against Hindus is rampant, and from once comprising 30% of the population of the State of Bangladesh, they are today barely 2% of the population. They have simply fled and melted into the neighbouring state of West Bengal, India, unable to bear the sustained atrocities. They have come here for succour, unlike the Bangladeshi Muslims who come to India for economic opportunities and the readily available ration cards and election I-cards!

The crux of the problem, in the opinion of Bangladesh Minority Watch, is the Eighth Amendment, whereby Gen. H.M. Ershad converted the country into an Islamic Republic and made Islam the State Religion. Another Black Law is the Enemy (now Vested) Property Act of 1965, which remains on the statute book and is being mis-used to confiscate the property of Hindus. This is a key reason for the continuous migration of Hindus from the country, though we do not want to leave our homes and hearths, and move only when totally disempowered…

Therefore, what we are sincerely demanding is the restoration of the Constitution of 1972, a Minority Rights Commission, and freedom of religion with the removal of Islam as State Religion, and a crackdown on the incidents of human trafficking. Government of India should raise its voice in support of our just cause. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord of 1997 has still not been operationalised, and people continue to suffer. How long will this go on?

The Bangladesh Minority Watch, which continuously investigates incidents of atrocities against the minorities – on the basis of reports in a largely free and fair press – has observed a sharp rise in communal atrocities up to 30 June 2010. We have investigated more than 40 incidents of repression, torture, persecution, land-grabbing, forceful conversion, gang-rape, and demolition of temples of Minorities in various parts of Bangladesh since Sheikh Hasina came to power. A potent form of discrimination and economic deprivation is the dismissal of minority employees from service without assigning any reason; lack of employment for newcomers in the employment market, deprivation of educational opportunities, and so on.

Rough estimates show that after the Awami League came to power in June 2009, to the present time:

  • 100 persons from the minority groups have been killed
  • 105 women/children from minority groups have been raped
  • 1200 minority persons have been physically tortured
  • 2050 minority families have been displaced
  • 100 religious places have been demolished
  • 105 business and dwelling houses have been set on fire and immovable properties looted
  • 306 minority persons forcefully converted

Some most recent examples include:

  • 17 Hindu men, women and children were sent to jail custody at Dinajpur while they were about to be trafficked from Bangladesh to the Indian border, without any tangible offence (The Daily Janakantho, 27 May 2010).
  • A Hindu girl, Archana Rani Rajbanshi, 17, was abducted and gang-raped at Manikgonj district on 24 June 2009 (Daily Samakal, 26 August 2009).
  • Six-year-old Hindu child, Beauty Biswas, raped on 11 March 2010 at Gach Baria, p.s. Lohagora, district Narail, Bangladesh (Purbanchal, 13 March 2010).
  • Hindu fishermen at Sitakunda, Chittagong, allege that cadres loyal to local Awami League lawmaker Abul Kashem Master are threatening them to leave their homes in order to extend the land of a industry run by his followers (Daily Star, 6 April 2010).

Another troubling reality is the menace of Extra-Judicial Killings. Persons are killed without any trial in crossfire. In several meetings, the overall political, social and human rights situation has come up for discussion with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). But the powers-that-be are of the opinion that the killings fall within the purview of law, and treat the matter lightly.

Hence, Bangladesh Minority Watch demands:

  • An immediate end to the discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous people of Bangladesh in all levels of government and non-government jobs, including the armed forces and police department.
  • A fair share of positions for ethno-religious minorities in the military, paramilitary, police, and civil and foreign services.
  • Guarantee security of life and properly of minority communities in Bangladesh.
  • Uphold basic human rights of all citizens enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Restore secularism in the Bangladesh Constitution and scrap the 8th Amendment.
  • Stop land grabbing and forced eviction of Minorities.
  • Completely repeal the Vested (Enemy) Property Act and implement it.
  • Implement the Peace treaty between Bangladesh and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
  • Prosecute criminals engaged in violence against minorities since 2001 and ensure that the verdicts of the courts of law are implemented.
  • Provide reparation to minority victims of all violence, including of 2001, and rehabilitate them fairly and equitably.
  • Rebuild all damaged temples and places of worship subjected to violence, and stop future attacks on places of worship.
  • Punish the perpetrators irrespective of political affiliation and religious belief.
  • Set up a Minority Human Rights Commission and a separate cell for Minority Welfare.


It is our sincere desire that Bangladesh, member of the United Nations, upholds the rule of law and endows upon its citizens the human rights and justice guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

By – Rabindra Ghosh

The author is President-Bangladesh Minority Watch (BDMW) and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh; he was on a visit to New Delhi recently to canvass support for human and minority rights in Bangladesh

Advertisements
Posted in: Bangladesh