A village in Bangladesh was burned down and dozens of indigenous people have been injured and driven from Ragipara in the mountain district of Rangamati. According to sources at the Catholic Diocese of Chittagong, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian ethnic minorities were beset by Muslim marauders over the last week.
According to the Commission for Justice and Peace operated by Bangladeshi Christians, more than 300 Muslim settlers on February 17 dispossessed the indigenous villagers and seized their crop land. The Muslim settlers were backed by local police who legitimized the violence. Other cases like this (of attacks on tribal members and private land) have been recorded in recent days in the area of Gulishakhali. The Muslims settlers subjected their indigenous neighbors to the dispossession under the pretext of revenge, following the still unresolved death of Ali Saber - a Muslim found death in Ragiparam.
Rampaging Muslims then entered the non-Muslim village. According to an eyewitness, "They set fire to our homes and our small shops.” An attorney for the dispossessed indigenous people, King Devasish Roy, wrote an open letter to the civil authorities and to the National Commission for Human Rights for Bangladesh, reporting the incident and noting “the complicity of the police.” The letter called for an investigation into the incident in Ragipara including the identification and punishment of the guilty, urging the Government to protect and safeguard the rights of citizens, members of ethnic or religious minorities.
Living conditions for ethnic and religious minorities in Bangladesh are very difficult and their human rights are continually denied and trampled on, states the Hotline Human Rights Bangladesh” (HHRB). The HHRB was established with the support of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic bishops of Bengal, as a monitor of human rights. A recent assembly held in Dhaka, organised in collaboration with the “Resource Centre for Christian Youth in Bangladesh”, sounded the alarm that ethnic and religious minority groups - including Hindu, Buddhist and Christian communities – suffer daily discrimination, abuse and violence from other Muslim citizens (a large majority in the country), and even from police officers and public administration.
According to the framework outlined by HHRB, minorities are often unduly defrauded of the land they have cultivated or houses they have lived in for centuries; women suffer rapes, kidnappings, forced conversions and marriages; the non-Muslim citizens are discriminated against in seeking work and education. “Their basic human rights are openly and continuously violated and no one intervenes,” notes the organisation.
The more than 100 participants at the meeting, from different districts, shared their common difficulties, also recalling abuses by police or government officers. For this they ask the Government that all Bangladeshi citizens, from any ethnic or religious group, enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities, that they stop the oppression and discrimination that “relegates non-Muslims to second-class citizens.”
In Bangladesh, of a population of about 165 million people, Muslims are more than 85%, 10% are Hindus, Buddhists 0.6%, and Christians 0.3%. Among the tribal minorities, the main ethnic groups are the Oroun and the Santal. The minorities, not given consideration or coverage in any way by the Constitution, have little chance of development and emancipation.