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Bangladeshi minorities seek scripture readings in state programs 

Recitations from four major religions seen as a symbolic gesture to promote pluralism

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Bangladeshi minorities seek scripture readings in state programs 

Christian leaders join the national council of Bangladesh Christian Association in this 2016 file photo. (Photo: Robin Bhabuk)

Bangladeshi religious minority groups have urged the government to introduce the reading of scriptures of all four major religions at the beginning of parliamentary sessions and state ceremonies.

Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), the country's largest minority group, made the call during a virtual conference this week.

Parliamentary sessions and state programs in Muslim-majority Bangladesh now begin with a recitation from the Quran.

BHBCUC leaders say introducing readings from the holy books of the four major religions would be a significant symbolic gesture to behold pluralism in Bangladesh on the eve of the country’s golden jubilee of independence from Pakistan this year.  

Advocate Rana Dasgupta, a Supreme Court lawyer and BHBCUC secretary, said that such a move is important as it recognizes the equal dignity and rights of minorities. 

“Our constitution has given equal rights for all religions but only a recitation from Quran is done in the parliament and in various state functions. We hope that by introducing the reading of all scriptures we can fill a void that the spirit of the constitution has enshrined,” Das told UCA News on Jan. 8.

Das said the group will hold a press conference and submit a memorandum to the parliament speaker to press the government over their demand.

Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, supported the move.

“In Bangladesh, it is part of our culture when we hold any program in our schools, colleges and secular institutions, we recite from four religious holy books. Since our constitution guarantees equal status of all religions, we can introduce the same practice in parliament and all state programs,” Father Gomes told UCA News.

The practice of reciting texts from all four major religions was introduced in Bangladesh’s parliament in 1972 after the country gained independence from Pakistan.

The system was dropped following the assassination of the country’s founding leader and first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on Aug. 15, 1975, in a military coup that led to political upheavals and military rule in Bangladesh until a return to democracy in the 1990s.

Muslims make up 90 percent of Bangladesh’s population of more than 160 million. Hindus comprise about 8 percent and the rest belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity. Christians are estimated to be less than half percent or about 600,000.

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