Members of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity council hold placards during a demonstration in Dhaka in this Oct 23, 2021 photo, to protest against religious violence against the Hindu community in Bangladesh. The council alleged on June 20 that there was discrimination against minorities in the nation’s budgetary allocation for the next financial year. (Photo:AFP)
A forum of religious minorities in Bangladesh has alleged discrimination against their people in the Muslim-majority nation’s budgetary allocation for the financial year 2023-24.
The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council said that the government has set aside 25 billion taka (about US$231 million) for the religious ministry in the record 7.62 trillion taka national budget unveiled on June 1.
Of this fund, the government allocated 22 billion (US$203 million) for the development of religious groups.
However, religious minorities will get only 1.4 billion taka, representing only 6.4 percent of the 22 billion development budget, the minority group claimed at a June 20 press conference in the capital Dhaka.
Religious minorities represent 9.1 percent of over 160 million people in Bangladesh, it said, citing the population and housing census released last year.
“We understand that the majority Muslim community will get more, but this is unacceptable,” Rana Dasgupta, the group's general secretary told UCA News.
Dasgupta also alleged that the allocation of 3 billion taka for religious minorities is not clearly specified in the budget, which will be presented before parliament on June 25 for its approval.
“We wanted to point out to our politicians that they are spending 98 percent of resources on the majority community,” said Dasgupta.
In the 2022-23 budget, only 2.07 percent of 3 billion taka was spent on minorities, and in the 2021-22 period, only 2.25 percent was used, Dasgupta observed.
The group has made four demands, including converting Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian religious trusts, which operate on fixed deposits, into foundations that run on budgetary allocations like their Muslim counterparts.
The Hindu Religious Welfare Trust runs on interest generated by a fixed deposit of 1 billion taka which earns an annual interest of 50 million to 55 million taka. Of this, 15 million taka is spent as office expenses, leaving only 40 million taka to meet other activities of the trust, catering to nearly 20 million people, Dasgupta said.
In the 2022-23 budget, the allocation for the Islamic Foundation increased to 18.17 billion taka compared with 17.58 billion taka, while the Hindu Welfare Trust received 668.9 million taka compared with 1.724 billion taka.
The Hindu Religious Welfare Trust has nine staff, including two Muslim employees.
“What is striking is that there is not a single employee from other religions with the Islamic Foundation,” noted Dasgupta.
Nearly 40 percent of employees involved in running temple-based education programs are from the majority Muslim community, Dasgupta said in a written statement at the press meet.
About 10 percent of people running the Hindu skill development project are also from the majority Muslim community, the statement added.
Educational institutions run under the Bangladesh Sanskrit and Pali Education Boards are on the verge of extinction, the statement said.
A teacher with the Sanskrit and Pali education boards gets a monthly salary of 179 taka, while a staff member earns 78 taka a month.
“One cannot survive on this tiny amount of money,” said Dasgupta.
The group also demanded the establishment of a ministry and national commission to implement the constitutional promise of equal rights to all religions.
The group also demanded a census to rightly determine the numbers of religious and ethnic minorities in the country.
It also wanted model temples, pagodas, churches and cultural centers at district and sub-district levels.
“It is high time Bangladesh ensured equal distribution of wealth for the socio-economic development of all communities,” the statement said.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in a report last month also pointed out the discriminatory budgetary allocations to religious minorities in Bangladesh.