The advent of Sheikh Hasina Wajed in 2009 has not augured as well for the minority communities of Bangladesh , particularly the Hindus, who remain as unprotected as in previous years. The grim reality is that there are no sincere governmental efforts to prevent the grabbing of temple lands (or their restoration to the community, if grabbed by anti-social elements), grabbing of minority private lands and property, or seizure of cremation grounds.
On the other hand, rape and particularly gang-rape, remain the sad fate of Hindu girls who fall into the hands of miscreants, and even the tender age of six or eight years does not deter the evil-doers. There is forced conversion, especially of minor girls after abduction, and extortion from Hindu families – a kind of illicit Jazia tax, as the price for remaining Hindu.
The Bangladesh Minority Watch (BDMW), a Human Rights and non-profit organization based in Dhaka, working for the protection of the rights of Bangladesh Minorities specially destitute Hindus, Buddhists, other indigenous and Chakma groups, has consistently demanded their protection as per international protocols.
Among the most painful and persistent atrocities is the continued destruction of temples and illegal seizure of temple lands and properties. According to the law, temple properties cannot be transferred to individuals. But this has not deterred a roaring trade in illicit conveyance deeds executed by the so-called owners of the lands, who died a hundred or two hundred years ago (!), which are then used to usurp Hindu temple lands. This grabbing of Deity property is continuing currently at the hands of cadres of the ruling Awami League.
Sadly, I and my colleagues have over the years met the Indian Prime Minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee), Home Ministers (L.K. Advani, Shivraj Patil), even the Hon’ble President, but the Indian government has been less than forthcoming in its support to our legitimate cause. The discrimination against Hindus is rampant, and from once comprising 30% of the population of the State of Bangladesh, they are today barely 2% of the population. They have simply fled and melted into the neighbouring state of West Bengal, India, unable to bear the sustained atrocities. They have come here for succour, unlike the Bangladeshi Muslims who come to India for economic opportunities and the readily available ration cards and election I-cards!
The crux of the problem, in the opinion of Bangladesh Minority Watch, is the Eighth Amendment, whereby Gen. H.M. Ershad converted the country into an Islamic Republic and made Islam the State Religion. Another Black Law is the Enemy (now Vested) Property Act of 1965, which remains on the statute book and is being mis-used to confiscate the property of Hindus. This is a key reason for the continuous migration of Hindus from the country, though we do not want to leave our homes and hearths, and move only when totally disempowered…
Therefore, what we are sincerely demanding is the restoration of the Constitution of 1972, a Minority Rights Commission, and freedom of religion with the removal of Islam as State Religion, and a crackdown on the incidents of human trafficking. Government of India should raise its voice in support of our just cause. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord of 1997 has still not been operationalised, and people continue to suffer. How long will this go on?
The Bangladesh Minority Watch, which continuously investigates incidents of atrocities against the minorities – on the basis of reports in a largely free and fair press – has observed a sharp rise in communal atrocities up to 30 June 2010. We have investigated more than 40 incidents of repression, torture, persecution, land-grabbing, forceful conversion, gang-rape, and demolition of temples of Minorities in various parts of Bangladesh since Sheikh Hasina came to power. A potent form of discrimination and economic deprivation is the dismissal of minority employees from service without assigning any reason; lack of employment for newcomers in the employment market, deprivation of educational opportunities, and so on.
Rough estimates show that after the Awami League came to power in June 2009, to the present time:
100 persons from the minority groups have been killed
105 women/children from minority groups have been raped
1200 minority persons have been physically tortured
2050 minority families have been displaced
100 religious places have been demolished
105 business and dwelling houses have been set on fire and immovable properties looted
306 minority persons forcefully converted
Some most recent examples include:
17 Hindu men, women and children were sent to jail custody at Dinajpur while they were about to be trafficked from Bangladesh to the Indian border, without any tangible offence (The Daily Janakantho, 27 May 2010).
A Hindu girl, Archana Rani Rajbanshi, 17, was abducted and gang-raped at Manikgonj district on 24 June 2009 (Daily Samakal, 26 August 2009).
Six-year-old Hindu child, Beauty Biswas, raped on 11 March 2010 at Gach Baria, p.s. Lohagora, district Narail , Bangladesh (Purbanchal, 13 March 2010).
Hindu fishermen at Sitakunda, Chittagong , allege that cadres loyal to local Awami League lawmaker Abul Kashem Master are threatening them to leave their homes in order to extend the land of a industry run by his followers (Daily Star, 6 April 2010).
Another troubling reality is the menace of Extra-Judicial Killings. Persons are killed without any trial in crossfire. In several meetings, the overall political, social and human rights situation has come up for discussion with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). But the powers-that- be are of the opinion that the killings fall within the purview of law, and treat the matter lightly.
Hence, Bangladesh Minority Watch demands:
An immediate end to the discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous people of Bangladesh in all levels of government and non-government jobs, including the armed forces and police department.
A fair share of positions for ethno-religious minorities in the military, paramilitary, police, and civil and foreign services.
Guarantee security of life and properly of minority communities in Bangladesh .
Uphold basic human rights of all citizens enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Restore secularism in the Bangladesh Constitution and scrap the 8th Amendment.
Stop land grabbing and forced eviction of Minorities.
Completely repeal the Vested (Enemy) Property Act and implement it.
Implement the Peace treaty between Bangladesh and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Prosecute criminals engaged in violence against minorities since 2001 and ensure that the verdicts of the courts of law are implemented.
Provide reparation to minority victims of all violence, including of 2001, and rehabilitate them fairly and equitably.
Rebuild all damaged temples and places of worship subjected to violence, and stop future attacks on places of worship.
Punish the perpetrators irrespective of political affiliation and religious belief.
Set up a Minority Human Rights Commission and a separate cell for Minority Welfare.
It is our sincere desire that Bangladesh, member of the United Nations, upholds the rule of law and endows upon its citizens the human rights and justice guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The author is President-Bangladesh Minority Watch (BDMW) and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh; he was on a visit to New Delhi recently to canvass support for human and minority rights in Bangladesh; his website is www.bdmvv.org
New Age, Dhaka. 27 May 2010
RULING PARTY MEN IN SPREE OF GRABBING MINORITY PEOPLE’S LAND
Religious minorities in Bangladesh remain subjected to repression by the ruling quarters which appear to be in a spree of grabbing their land, leaders of a coalition of religious minorities said. The Hindu-Buddhist Christian Unity Council recorded 150 incidents of repression on minority people in different parts of the country in six months, the organisation’s general secretary Rana Das Gupta told New Age on Wednesday. He said least three people were killed because of repression while many houses were burnt and families were driven out from their homesteads. The assailants carried out attacks, looted valuables and tried to drive away families to take control of the land of minority communities. The minorities account for about 15 per cent of the country’s total population. Incidents of arson and extortion were reported from some places. Most of the land grab incidents took place in Natore, Pirojpur, Chittagong, Narsingdi, Bagerhat, Barisal, Madaripur, Tangail, Satkhira, Pabna, Manikganj and Munshiganj, according to the organisation report. Many of the families are under constant threats by influential people, according to complaints lodged with police stations. ‘Politically powerful quarters are involved in most of the case of repression and there has been hardly any remedy,’ Rana said, adding that the administration did not care much about the cases if ruling quarters were involved in the incidents. The police carry out investigation only of the cases having no direct involvement of political quarters, he said. ‘We have been witnessing repression on minority communities for a long time. During the previous regime, it was a minority cleansing and now we see ruling party activists in a land grabbing spree,’ the organisation secretary said. The president of the organisation, CR Dutta, also a veteran freedom fighter, said it was a fact that the minorities were repressed during the tenure of the present government. ‘We have informed the government of the atrocities. All should understand that the people do not take such persecution easily. The people responsible for such persecution will not be spared,’ he said, reminding the government of its electoral pledge to ensure safety and security of the minority communities. New Age correspondents from outside the capital said the activists of the ruling Awami League and its front organisations were mostly involved in such grabbing of or attempt to grab the land of the minorities. Some of the complaints were sent to the Prime Minister’s Office seeking government’s intervention against such incidents. The New Age correspondent in Natore said local Awami League activists were extorting money from the minority people, mostly belonging to the Hindu community. On his failure to pay extortion money, Narayan Chandra, a resident of Natore, was forced to give his colour television set to the local goons at Lalpur. Another man, Bacchu, was forced to pay Tk.1.85 lakh he received by selling his property to a local government representative in the same upazila. At Baraigram, ruling party activists set on the fire the house of a minority family as the family refused to withdraw a criminal case filed against the activists who chopped one of the family members, Pradip Kumar. The correspondent in Khulna said four incidents of repression took place in the district after the Awami League-led government had assumed office in January 2009. According to the Dumuria police, Kamalesh Mistri, a resident of the area, filed a case with the police on November 17, 2009 against 8 people alleging that his niece, Shampa Mistri, 15, had committed suicide on November 13, 2009 as some young men used to harass her on her way to and from school. The family said most of the accused were activists of the Awami League and they had pressured the family to withdraw the case. The investigation officer of the case, SI Golam Rasul, said he had submitted the final report on the case as the complainant was unwilling to proceed. The homesteads of 14 Hindu families were levelled to the ground at Deuatala of Batiyaghata on November 24, 2009 by a group of musclemen, who were relatives of a local Awami League leader. The family of Anil Maitra at Kotla of Dighalia in Khulna were attacked, the house was looted and five of the family were injured early April 15, 2010. Anil’s son Amrita Maitra reportedly protested at the harassment of a teenaged girl by a local Juba League man. The Dighalia police said a case of robbery had been lodged in connection with the looting and attack on the family and the house. The Khulna district and city units of Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council at a meeting in its temporary office in Khulna on May 14, 2010, said brother of a Dumuria
Awami League leader had recently set up a brickfield by encroaching on the land of a religious minority family at Dumuria. In Bagerhat, at least three incidents of oppression on religious minorities were reported. The allegations are grabbing of 130 bighas of shrimp enclosure at Bakultala of Rampal by a local influential person in February, felling of 40 trees belonging to a Hindu family at Bandhkhali in the sadar upazila in March, and grabbing of the Arpara Bazar temple land in the sadar upazila in the second week of May 2010. At Bamna in Barguna, schoolteacher Shyamal Chandra Karmaker said an influential quarter on May 26, 2010 had removed the boundary pillar and red flags put up on a court order demarcating his land. In a petition filed with the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council, a group of Hindu community people of Chitalmari in Bagerhat sought protection against repression by a group. They said more than 100 people had migrated from the vicinity after felling prey to repression by Surat Ali Sheikh and his men during the previous BNP-led alliance government.
They said the same group hand changed its colour and committed atrocities on the minority people. In Chittagong, failing to grab a piece of land of a Hindu family, a gang demanded Tk 5,000,000 from Manoj Kumar Barua in April 2010. As the land owner refused to pay the money, the gang attacked Barua’s house on Harish Dutta Lane. A real-estate company has allegedly taken a project a piece of land of the Hindu community at Raujan. The residents of Pahartali union a year ago urged government steps against the project but there had hardly been any progress, the leaders of the community said. In Munshiganj, a group has been out to grab 1.73 acres of land belonging to a temple used by 50 Hindu families at Dighirpar of Tongibari.
A local Awami League leader has allegedly built five houses on the temple premises. A minority community girl was abducted from her house at Sultanpur of Harirampur in Manikganj by a group of local goons in June 2006, the victim’s father said in an application filed with the home ministry. The complainant said the goons had left the girl near a marshland after rape. The incident was reported to the local police station but the police were unwilling to extend cooperation while the accused continued to threaten the family asking not to take up the matter with court. In June and July 2009, schoolteacher Akhil Chandra Saha in Rajshahi and businessman Suman Goala and a young man, Asish Sarker, in Jamalpur were killed by miscreants.
Repression of minority people continues: CR Dutta Abdullah Juberee and Moloy Saha The president of Bangladeshi Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad, Chitta Ranjan Dutta is unhappy with the ruling Awami League’s treatment of the minority communities although it was their hard work that helped the party gain overwhelming majority in parliament. ‘I would like to say 90 per cent of us are supporters of the Awami League as it believes in four guiding principles of the state — secularism, democracy, socialism and nationalism. Now, I think the time has come for the Awami League to realise the situation and take our issues into consideration,’ Dutta said in an interview with New Age on Monday at his DOHS residence.
Dutta lamented the continued suffering of the minority people, even during the tenure in the Awami League-led government, and demanded ‘some action’ against the oppressive acts. ‘Lands of our people are being gabbed. Even the lands of the national temple Dhaleshwari Mandir has been occupied by giant corporate houses and multi-storey buildings are being erected there,’ he said. ‘We have told the prime minister about it, we told [the deputy leader of the house] Sajeda [Chowdhury] and they said they would look into the matter. They are not saying anything negative, but they have to show us some action,’ he added.