Attacks on Minorities in Bangladesh An Endless Story By -Salman Riaz
The oppression on minority is nothing new. They are dominated by some civilized people, who are also the so-called progressive white men and the local Zamindars and also educated, developed and technologically advanced. From British era, they are oppressed from such man. Historically minorities are drastically oppressed by majority community in our Country. At a recent Santals minorities are oppressed by the Government in the issue of their ancestral land, where they cultivates sugar cane. On November 6, Gobindaganj upazila administration evicted around 600 Santal families from their ancestral land in Sahebganj-Bagda Sugar Mill area. Three Santals were killed and about 30 others were injured in the clash. A fourth Santal minority victim’s body was found later. The eviction was carried out by police, RAB and BGB members who were joined by people allegedly loyal to the local MP. After the incident, police filed cases against the Santals for obstructing the law enforcers from carrying out their duty. Police carried out their duty to arrest 3 injured Santals and handcuffed them during their treatment going on. They are Bimal Kisko, Charon Shuren and Dijen Tudo, who are injured by police’s bullets.
However, the sense of dignity in Santals is nothing new. They have borne their legacy of pride and honor, along with a history of oppression, for ages. And who have been oppressing Santals over all these years? Yes, the so-called “civilized people.” In the British era, they were the educated, technologically advanced, and the so-called progressive white men and the local Zamindars; and now, the native ruling class, the privileged group of the society. Thus, the fate of the Santals remains unchanged, even though the imperialists have long been driven away from our lands. Interestingly, the nature of these civilized people have not changed either the same brutality, the same greed over money, property, and power, the same cunningness, fraud, and so on, though the world has advanced in the field of science, technology, and education. It indicates that the existing institutionalized education system has failed to remove the darkness within our minds.
I recently observed that all the malice and vice in the world have been invented by the so-called civilized groups, who, in the name of “development,” have pushed our very planet to the brink of destruction. On the contrary, those who they still call “uncivilized” or “savage” have done no such harm to our mother earth. They live maintaining the harmony of the eco-system. They do not think of themselves as superior to all other species on Earth. But, paradoxically, the so-called under-privileged, uncivilized people have proven themselves superior to the educated, civilized people in terms of morality, humanity, and many other qualities; qualities which are very much needed in today’s world to save us from extinction.
The largest officially estimated at around 8.5 percent, is the Hindu population, followed by Buddhists 0.6 percent and Christians 0.3 percent, lives in Bangladesh. In addition, some indigenous peoples, such as Marma, Garos, Santals, Mro and practice animism lives in the Country. However, while the majority of Muslims are Sunni, a small proportion is Shia and as such represent a sectarian minority. The country also has a growing number of atheists who, despite the risks they face, have become increasingly vocal in recent years in expressing their beliefs. Bangladesh’s trajectory in the decades since independence has seen a shrinking in its religious diversity reflected in the relative decline of religious minorities from 23.1 per cent of the population in 1971 to 9.6 percent today – a contraction largely due to the mass migration of its Hindu population. This has been accompanied by the emergence of a majoritarian politics that has sidelined religious minorities from public life. Nevertheless, the particular challenges and threats vary from community to community.
The oppression of Hindus in Bangladesh has been a constant feature in its history, both when it was still East Pakistan and since independence. They were particularly targeted during the Bangladesh Liberation War as many Pakistanis blamed them for the secession, resulting in targeted executions, rape and other human rights abuses against Hindu communities. Today, though distributed across Bangladesh, the Hindu population is particularly concentrated in the north and southwest of the country. The violence was spread out across the country and Hindus living in almost all the divisions of Bangladesh were affected. More than 50 temples were attacked and over 1,500 homes reportedly destroyed. Hindus were subjected to threats and attacks to intimidate communities ahead of the vote. In the wake of the AL’s electoral victory, Hindus and other minorities continued to be targeted, with a large number of Hindu temples burnt down, vandalized and looted.
Bangladesh’s Buddhists, who represent less than 1 per cent of the national population, are mostly concentrated in the Chittagong Hills and northern areas of the country. The Chittagong Hill Tracts are home to 11 culturally and ethno-linguistically diverse indigenous peoples, collectively referred to as the Jumma. Of those that make up the Jumma, the Chakma and Marma represent the majority of those who identify as Buddhists. Historically, sectarian clashes between Buddhists and the country’s majority Muslim population have been rare. However, Buddhists have long been subjected to discrimination, violence and displacement due to ongoing tensions over land and political participation, particularly in the Chittagong Hills. However, violence against the country’s indigenous communities is also widespread elsewhere. In the north and north-eastern plains, for example, according to figures compiled by the National Adivasi Forum, more than 140 indigenous people have been killed, dozens of women raped and an estimated 10,000 forced to migrate to India.
Like Buddhists, Christians also make up less than 1 percent of Bangladesh’s population, concentrated primarily in Barisal, Khulna and Gazipur. Sectarian clashes between them and the majority population were until recently infrequent. However, their lives in Bangladesh have often been characterized by discrimination in many areas of their lives, including employment or housing. There have been reports of some Muslim landlords refusing to rent apartments to Christian families, for example, and Christians and other minorities typically work disproportionately in the most marginalized, poorly paid jobs such as street sweepers. Like other minorities, Christians have on occasion been targeted during periods of political upheaval, such as in early 2014 when Christians in some areas were attacked around the country’s national elections.
Minorities are facing serious challenges
For many extremely poor people, a lack of jobs forces migration to find work in neighboring areas, with some even taking temporary residence in other districts and sending money back to the household. Minority adivasi workers tend to migrate less than their Bengali counterparts because of worries–based on past experiences of discrimination. If they leave their living place to find work, their land or homestead might be occupied by others illegally and they might end up homeless. Certain cultural beliefs also play a part; namely that their ancestors lie with them in their homestead so that if they leave their home the ancestors will be displeased and migrants will suffer dire consequences. This means extremely poor adivasis are less able to move to find better wages, making their situation even more perilous.
Adivasi communities face distinct political barriers to their development. While the extreme poor across Bangladesh rarely attain significant positions in local-level politics and power structures, the adivasi are particularly affected by political marginalization. Even in areas where they make up a reasonable proportion of the population, they generally struggle to compete for political representation, lacking the necessary money, education, experience and political networks. While in recent years, some adivasi leaders are coming forward to run in Union Parishad elections — with the support of some NGOs and Christian Missions — this is not enough to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable adivasi are mainstreamed in the local political agenda.
Towards extremism Community
The severity of communal violence in Bangladesh varies from year to year, its manifestations linked to a range of factors including domestic and regional politics, but also social and economic factors. Nevertheless, the recent increase in extremist violence showed little sign of waning in 2016, with numerous attacks carried out during the year. While the most high-profile attack took place on 1 July on a café in Dhaka that killed 20 hostages, the majority foreigners, there has also been a series of deadly attacks against religious minorities throughout the year. More recently, the Ansarullah Bangla Team has gained notoriety for its attack on bloggers, beginning in 2013, as well as its release of a lengthy ‘kill list’ of secular writers and activists in September 2015.
However, many commentators have highlighted evidence suggesting that Regardless of their authorship, there has been no apparent slowdown in attacks carried out against minorities during the year. These included, on 11 February 2016, the beheading of a Hindu trader, the murder on 21 February of a Hindu priest in Panchagarh, the murder on 25 May of a Hindu businessman in Gaibandha and the killing of a 70-year- old Hindu priest in Jhenaidah on 7 June, followed by another lethal attack on a Hindu monastery worker on 10 June– all attacks reportedly claimed by IS. Other deadly militant attacks included the murder of a Hindu tailor on 30 April outside his home, and the killing of a Hindu monastery worker on 1 July in Jhenaidah.
Silent mood of Government
Government administrative and law enforcing agencies remain mysteriously silent in rural Bangladesh and district towns, when complaints were lodged by religious minorities or killings, extortion, rape, arson, forceful eviction from properties, raiding places of worship such as “Mandirs”, destruction of idols and other statues, disrupting, religious festivals, “Pujas” or “Melas”. The sustained racial tensions were accompanied by death threats, pressure to sell or abandon properties of mostly Hindu community. In most case the victims remained silent in fear of further persecution. The year 1993 can also be termed as the first year of organized protest from the Hindu community against unabated repression and oppression. During the biggest religious festival of “Durga Puja”, the Hindu community demonstrated in anger and protest by hoisting black flags in all religious temples and places of worships. No deity or idols were set up, no decoration was made. The call was given by Hindus performed the Puja without any religious fervor.
The problem of impunity
There have been some notable attempts by activists to call the government to account for its failure to protect the rights of religious minorities. In 2013, following a series of attacks on religious minorities in Bangladesh, particularly the Hindu community, a writ was filed in the Divisional Bench of the High Court Division by a consortium of rights organizations, highlighting numerous documented cases of violence and abuses carried out against minorities. But while the court ruled that a high-level investigatory committee should be established, vulnerable areas identified and measures taken to boost security for minorities, the government reportedly failed to respond. Addressing political inaction, then, is as necessary as any legal reform.
The situation of minorities in Bangladesh is a human rights issue. Status of minorities all over the world has demonstrated a pattern of discrimination and insecurity. Bangladesh is no exception. Overall situation of the minorities in Bangladesh will not improve unless total fundamental rights laid down in the state constitution as well as by United Nations Human Rights Declaration are not implemented. Without the political will of the government, it would be difficult to see a society of racial harmony. It is evident that the true spirit and essence of democracy remains an illusion for the minorities in Bangladesh. In the name of majoritarian rule or democracy they have been marginalized politically, economically as well as culturally.
The state constitution extends guarantee for the majority, the Bangla Muslims. The Bangladesh Constitution does not reflect the existence of the cultural and ethnic minorities. Religion has been used as a tool by the political parties and politicians in Bangladesh to consolidate their power base. It is time that our elected representatives take cognizance of the fact that Bangladesh is not homogenous state rather it is a multi-national state, this reality ought to be incorporated into the Constitution.
The writer is journalist and geopolitical analyst.