Participants of the triennial council and conference of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, held on April 7-8 in Dhaka, created a charter of demands to end violence against minorities in Bangladesh. (ucanews.com photo)
If Bangladesh is to ever create harmony between religions significant changes are needed, an interfaith summit has declared.
Minority leaders at the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council on April 7-8 in Dhaka created a charter of prescriptions to reduce violence against minorities incidents of which increased fivefold in 2016.
Minorities must have 60 out of 350 parliamentary seats, get 20 percent of jobs in public services, have a minority protection law and ministry and a separate land commission to solve land disputes, they said.
They also called for the removal of Islam as the state religion from the Constitution and to amend discriminatory legislation.
"In recent years, minorities have been pressed against the wall. We are not just deprived of our rights by the state but also face abuse and oppression from the majority community," Nirmol Rozario, a presidium member of the council told ucanews.com
"Bangladesh is turning into a dangerous place for minorities, similar to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Minorities can't survive here without these protective measures," added Rozario, a Catholic.
Sunni Muslims make up some 90 percent of Bangladesh's 160 million population, Hindus 8 percent and the rest belong to Christianity or Buddhism. Besides the dominant Bengali group, there are about 3 million tribal people.
In recent years, minority communities have seen a rising tide of violence from Islamic militants and radical Muslims.
There were 1,471 incidents of violence against minorities in 2016 up from 262 cases in 2015, according to report from the council published in January. It said that minorities have witnessed 71 killings, 29 mysterious deaths and 96 death threats. At least 875 people were injured in attacks, 17 women and girls were raped and 15 gang raped. Homes and assets were also targeted.
The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council on 7-8 April created a charter of recommendations to reform Bangladeshi policy on minorities. (ucanews.com photo)
Rana Dasgupta, a Supreme Court lawyer and council secretary general, said the country suffers from a "contradictory situation."
"Our Constitution accepts both secularism and religiosity. There is a commitment of zero tolerance against extremism but minorities continue to face intolerance, threats and violence," Dasgupta, a Hindu, told ucanews.com.
"We want to make sure minorities can live in peace and harmony without oppression and violence and it's now up to the state to ensure safeguards to protect them," he added.
Theophil Nokrek, secretary of Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission, said he supported the demands with some reservations.
"These are legitimate demands and the government needs to pay heed only if they are coming from the communities and the grassroots. I have doubts whether these are the brainchild of some 'ambiguous leaders' although the group has been vocal on rights of minorities time to time," Nokrek told ucanews.com.
"The church is backing them but is not involved officially. The council can only reap success if they can strengthen themselves by engaging grassroots communities and officials from various religious groups," he added.