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Minorities voice concern for their rights

Activists want to see a completely secular constitution, 'not a confusing one'

Veteran parliamentarian Suranjit Sengupta speaks to the gathering of minorities on May 27 in Dhaka Veteran parliamentarian Suranjit Sengupta speaks to the gathering of minorities on May 27 in Dhaka
  • Uttom Stephan Rozario, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • May 30, 2011
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Some 4,000 people including Hindus, Buddhists and Christians from Bengali and ethnic tribal communities have voiced concern for their rights as the country's constitution is reviewed to take it back to its original form.

“The original constitution ensured the secular nature of the state but later it was taken away. Now time has come to correct the charter and grant equal rights for all,” said Sanjeeb Drong, a tribal Garo Catholic and secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous People’s Forum at the national press club on May 27.

“We want to see a completely secular constitution, not a confusing one”, said Hindu advocate Rana Dasgupta, secretary of a major minorities forum.

He said it was a bad sign that a parliamentary special committee for charter change is proposing to keep the Islamic phrase Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (in the name of Allah the most merciful) in the preamble and Islam as the state religion.

Both the amendments were inserted by rulers who wanted to gain political achievements, said Dasgupta.

The leaders also demanded the removal of the Vested Property Act, a controversial law that allows the government to confiscate property from individuals it deems an enemy of the state.

Before independence in 1971, when the country was part of Pakistan, it was known as the Enemy Property Act and is still commonly referred to as such.

It is officially estimated that about 75 percent of all Hindu land in Bangladesh has been seized using this act.

David Baidya, 59, a Protestant and joint secretary of Bangladesh Minorities Group recalled that when his brother left home to go abroad his properties were confiscated.

“If reinstatment of the 1972 constitution not ensured and the vested property act is not removed, we the minorities will refrain from voting in next general election,” he said.

Special committee co-chairman and veteran parliamentarian Suranjit Sengupta, a Hindu, told the meeting he hopes that if they continue pressing the government, it will consider their demands.

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