Leaders speaking at press conference in Dhaka yesterday
Activists are demanding the government make public a report on violence against religious minorities following elections in 1991 and 2001 and punish those responsible, and Catholic leaders support them. The demands were made yesterday at a press conference in Dhaka organized by an interfaith forum called the Bangladesh-Hindu-Buddha-Christian Oikkya Parishad. “People from all walks of life and religions have offered their lives and utmost respect for this country since independence. But over the last forty years minorities have been subjugated as the whole nation was during Pakistani rule,” said Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu and the forum’s secretary. Religious minorities were subjected to violence from party activists following elections in 1991 and 2001, but violence in the latter was more organized and extreme. Since then justice for victims has not been forthcoming, he said. The High Court ordered the government in May 2009 to investigate the violence, which resulted in a three-member committee headed by retired district judge Mohammad Shahabuddin submitting a report to the government on April 24. The report has yet to be made public. “We have demonstrated and pressed each government to ensure the rights of minorities many times. We’ll continue our protests for justice and democracy until we get them,” Dasgupta said. The forum also demanded that all discriminative articles in the constitution be removed and replaced with new ones akin to Bangladesh’s first charter in 1972 that was based on secularism. The constitution should recognize ethnic minorities as “indigenous groups” and ensure the preservation of their language and culture, a forum statement said. Bangladeshi Catholics said they agreed. “The nation should go back to 1972 constitution ... the rulers who included Islamic phrases and status of Islam as state religion were politically motivated,” said Archbishop Paulinus Costa of Dhaka. Archbishop Costa, president of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh
, “Political parties in the country with poor and less educated people trade religion for political gains. Religion and politics should stay separate; I fully comply with proposals of intellectuals of the country.” Chayon Rebeiro, 41, Episcopal Commission for Laity secretary, said he feared that if religion-based politics is not banned, the fundamentalists will exploit religion and if they come to power they will impose blasphemy laws like that of in Pakistan. Among over 160 million people in Bangladesh Muslims account about 90 percent, Hindus 9 percent and other religions 1 percent. Christians make up 0.03 percent.