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Bangladeshi minorities bid for a political voice

Interfaith council wants guaranteed parliamentary seats

Bangladeshi minorities bid for a political voice

Minority groups want better representation in Bangladesh's parliament reporter, Dhaka

August 7, 2013

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Leaders of a prominent religious minority forum in Bangladesh have demanded 60 reserved seats for better representation of minority communities in the parliament prior to elections next year.

The interfaith Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council said in a press conference in Dhaka on Tuesday that minorities are concerned over rising political tensions ahead of national polls in January 2014. The parliamentary seats would help ensure their empowerment, and creation of strict laws against the abuse of religion.

“Minorities, especially Hindus, were attacked by fundamentalist political cadres after the 2001 polls,” said forum secretary Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu and Supreme Court lawyer. “A commission was formed to investigate the attacks, but its recommendations were never implemented. Ahead of national polls minorities again fear for their safety,”

In the past three years, religious militants have targeted minorities in various places and more recently over war crimes verdicts against Islamic radicals. The unrest left minority people killed and their homes and places of worship destroyed, he said. 

“Local lawmaker and administration were largely indifferent about attacks and justice was not done. We have seen abuse of religion for attracting voters during recent local government polls.  So, we feel reserve seats for us in the parliament and strict laws against abuse of religion in the polls is essential,” Dasgupta added.

Muslims make up 90 percent of country’s population and Hindus nine percent, while the rest belong to other religions, including Buddhism and Christianity. Bangladesh’s parliament, the Jatiya Sangsad, has 300 electoral seats and 50 reserved seats for women. Currently, about five percent of lawmakers hail from minority groups.

Ruling Awami League joint secretary Mahbubul Alam said that he respects minorities’ demands but that the idea for seats seemed unworkable.

“Not parliament seats but concerted efforts from people in the country against religious fundamentalism can ensure safety and security of minorities. Our government has worked its best to ensure the rights of minorities and stop religious fundamentalism in the country” said Alam.

“Opposition parties have targeted minorities to upset the government and to gain political interest. We have to resist these communal forces together to ensure religious harmony in the country”, he added.

However, Mujahidul Islam, president of Communist Party of Bangladesh, says the two main political parties, the ruling Awami League and the main opposition BNP, have failed to protect minorities because of political malpractices.

“Both parties cling to undemocratic and unlawful means to hold onto power, and even use religion to secure votes. That’s why fundamentalist forces have grown strongly and steadily. Both the parties need to change themselves if they want to ensure religious harmony in the country,” Islam said.

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