A 2016 file image of a Bangladeshi Hindu offering prayers as she prepares to break her fast during the Rakher Updbas religious festival in Dhaka. (Phoot by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)
Religious and ethnic minority leaders in Bangladesh have called on the ruling Awami League government to fulfill its pre-election promises by forming a special commission and making laws to ensure justice and rights for minorities.
Before the national election on Dec. 30 last year, the Awami League (AL) said in its election manifesto that a “National Minority Commission will be formed, and special laws will be enacted for the effective protection of the rights of the minority.”
Since then AL leadership have been silent on the issue, testing the patience of religious and ethnic minority leaders.
“A minority commission and special protection law are absolutely essential because existing laws of the land are failing to ensure justice and rights for minority communities,” Sajeeb Drong, an ethnic Garo Catholic and secretary of the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, told ucanews.com.
In the absence of a functional commission and law, which exist in neighboring India, minorities continue to face various forms of violence and injustice with impunity, he said.
Drong was speaking to ucanews.com at a June 23 press event in Dhaka organized by the Bangladeshi Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, the largest minorities rights forum in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
The council’s secretary advocate Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu, said that despite the country being a secular state constitutionally, the reality is there has been an increase in abuse and discrimination against minority communities.
The council released a report in May that showed a rise in violence against Bangladeshi minorities during the first quarter of this year. The report said there were 250 incidents including 23 murders.
There were 806 incidents of violence against minorities in 2018 including 104 forced conversions and 29 attacks on places of worship used by minorities.
In 2017, there were 1,004 cases of violence against minorities. The number was 1,471 in 2016.
Supreme Court lawyer Govinda Chnadra Pramanik believes existing laws cannot protect minorities because the political will is missing in the country.
“Even lawmakers from minority communities turn a blind eye when their own people face abuses and injustices,” said Pramanik, secretary of the Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance.
Pramanik said that along with a commission and a law for minorities, there should be a separate fully fledged ministry overseeing all issues related to minorities.
Nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million people profess to be adherents of Sunni Islam. Hindus make up about 8 percent and the rest belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.
More than 99 percent of people in Bangladesh belong to the ethnic Bengali community. However, an estimated three million are from more than 45 ethnic indigenous groups, mostly Buddhists, Hindus and Christians.