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Minority groups call for new ministry

Minorities also seek more parliament seats reporter, Dhaka

September 4, 2012

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Minority leaders have urged the government to establish a new ministry to oversee religious and ethnic minority issues. At a press conference in Dhaka, the leaders also called for the allocation of 50 seats in parliament for minority legislators. “Without state backing and political empowerment it’s tough to claim lawful rights. Minorities are often disadvantaged and tortured because the majority takes for granted that they are weak,” said advocate Govinda Chandra, secretary-general of the Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance. “If we had a separate ministry like those of India and Pakistan, we could have a forum to express our pains and grievances,” he said. Nur Khan, acting executive director of the national rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra, said violence against minorities – particularly Hindus – has increased in recent months. Khan said the rights group has documented five cases of rape against minority women, 37 incidents of land grabbing, dozens of instances of vandalism against homes and businesses, and 30 attacks on temples in the last eight months. “In total, five minority people were killed and 91 were injured in the attacks, while 23 people have suffered enforced disappearance,” Khan said. Chandra said that existing minority leaders have not been effective in fighting for the rights of their constituents. “The ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party have leaders from minority communities, but they care too much for the parties and too little for their communities. It is because they belong to the privileged class,” he said. There are now 16 minority lawmakers in parliament: 14 Hindus, one Christian and one Buddhist. The parliament, or Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad, has a total of 300 seats. In addition, it has 45 seats reserved for women, which are elected by the 300 parliamentarians. Nirmol Rozario, secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association, said a new ministry and more parliamentary seats remain longstanding demands from minorities. “Without empowering minority groups, a nation can’t prosper,” Rozario said. Ajit Ranjan Barua, president of the Bangladesh Buddhist Association, said that despite some problems, the minorities' lot is improving. “Their lawful rights in education and jobs are being met. The violence has slumped, but there are some isolated incidents that could be better addressed with a new ministry,” Barua said. Dr. Nurul Amin, professor of political science at Dhaka University, said greater representation for minorities was an important step for Bangladesh “to become a true democracy.” But Suranjit Sengupta, a Hindu and senior Awami League parliamentarian, said the government is doing enough to protect minorities without creating a new ministry. “The present government is very sincere about minorities. To secure their life, property and rights, it is working it all out,” Sengupta said, but added that future proposals can be discussed. Related reports Rally protests new Hindu marriage law Minorities hope for true land reform Minorities denounce charter changes
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