Communities face discrimination and oppression amid a lack of laws and mechanisms for their protection, leaders say
Members of religious minority communities join a mass hunger strike for the rights and protection of minorities in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on Oct. 22, 2022. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
Thousands of religious and ethnic minorities joined a march from Bangladesh’s second-largest city of Chittagong to the capital Dhaka this week to call on the government to formulate laws to protect them from discrimination and oppression.
Following the march, their leaders submitted a petition with a list of demands to the office of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Jan. 7 and urged the government to fulfill them before the next general election scheduled for next January.
The march was jointly organized by the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), the largest religious minority organization, and the United Front of Ethnic-Religious Minorities in Bangladesh, a group representing 32 ethnic and religious minority organizations.
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The petition contained a number of pledges from the ruling Awami League government made to minorities before the last national election in 2018, which the minority leaders claimed were still to be accomplished.
Among the demands were the formulation and implementation of a Minorities Protection Act, Anti-Discrimination Act, Vested Property Transfer Act, Intestate Property Conservation Act, a national minorities commission, a special land tribunal to deal with land disputes involving minorities, and a minority affairs ministry.
The groups also demanded proper implementation of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord to ensure the end of violence and the protection of tribal people in the hills.
"Hindus faced various forms of oppression and discrimination"
“The ruling Awami League government promised to implement these demands in their election manifesto, but we do not see any possibility of it fulfilling them,” Kajal Debnath, presidium member of the BHBCUC, told UCA News.
Debnath warned that if the government does not fulfill their demands then their organizations will wage a tougher campaign across the country.
Muslims make up about 91 percent of Bangladesh’s population of more than 165 million, according to the 2022 national census. Hindus make up about 8 percent and the rest belongs to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.
Hindu group, Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance, says Hindus faced various forms of oppression and discrimination from state and non-state actors last year.
In 2022, some 36,317 hectares of land belonging to minority communities, mostly Hindus, were grabbed, 572 families were evicted from their homes, and 445 families were forced to migrate within and outside the country, the group claimed during a press conference in Dhaka on Jan. 6.
The group also said 154 members of minority communities, including Hindus, were killed and 360 injured in attacks last year, while vandalism on minority houses, worship places and businesses cost 220 million taka (US$2.15 million).
"I think it is very important to introduce a protection law"
Last year, 39 women and girls from minority groups were raped and 27 were gang-raped, the alliance said.
UCA News contacted several key Awami League figures for responses but they declined to comment.
Father Anthony Sen, convenor of the Justice and Peace Commission of Dinajpur Catholic Diocese, said the government is reluctant to offer protection to minorities out of fear that it might displease the majority, resulting in a loss of votes in the election.
The priest said Catholics in many places like his parish Queen of Fatima Church in northern Thakgurgaon district face land disputes with Muslims.
“Muslims attempt to grab their land. I think it is very important to introduce a protection law and land commission for the safety of minorities,” Father Sen told UCA News.
“The Catholic Church also now needs to take on a strong role in ensuring security and justice for minorities, and for this, we need direction and leadership from our top leaders,” the priest said.
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