“National Election 2018 and Minority Security” discussion held at National Press Club

Today a roundtable discussion was held on “National Election 2018 and Minority Security” at National Press Club, Dhaka. On behalf of the organizer SHAREE (Self-Help Association for Rural people through Education & Entrepreneurship) Professor Mesbah Kamal, professor of History, University of Dhaka presented his keynote speech. He addressed a number of important issues and concerns in his speech; starting with Article 28 (1) of Bangladesh constitution where it articulated;

“The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race caste, sex or place of birth.”

and if that is the practice then no one should be afraid of their security, But what reality is reflecting us?”; he posed an open question to the civil society.

He said after 1975 the situation of Minorities has dropped drastically and no government was active enough to reduce their sufferings. referring to the statistics of Dr Abul Barkat he said after 2001 on an average 600 minorities are leaving the country. Furthermore, according to the National Statistics, the number of minorities has decreased from 23.1% in 1951 to 9.7% in 2011 despite the influx of population over time. He sadly recalled the memory of previous elections where minorities were targeted indiscriminately. He mentioned fundamentalists has three charismatics firstly, Play with blood secondly, oppression of women and the third one to take control over the property of oppressed people who were forced to leave and left everything behind.

The speaker welcomed the judgment of international criminal tribunal (Bangladesh) for their historic judgements but even that provoked the fundamentalists to further attack the minorities, he addresses that after the verdict of Delwar Hossain Saidi Jamiat Islam (party) and their other organization has attacked around 110 temples and attacked over 182 homes of minorities overnight, that incident has made 34 people severely injured and 4 more were  dead. Having the same situation year after year the speaker urged the state to take sufficient proactive measures to prevent such heinous crime. He requested the government to act according to Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, 1992 where it where it articulated ;

” [UN] Adopts the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the text of which is annexed to the present resolution;”

He further talked about the mindset of politics in Bangladesh and how the sufferings of minorities remain the same even when the known minority friendly liberal government is in power. as a reference, he addressed the event of Avoynagar, Jessore. On 5th January 2014 based on a simple issue minor family were attacked and each house was affected by that attack and the empowered was not helpful to rescue them as well as the administration was not prompt enough to prevent the attack. Moreover, these criminals remain outside of justice in the proceeding of law and bureaucratic procedure and the affected never get their justice.

At the last phase of the keynote speech, the speaker proposes to create a special tribunal (Law) consists of not less than a session (District) judge to give them proper justice due time. he also welcomed people of the all class to realise their possession and support them indiscriminately.

After the keynote, few victims shared their sorrows and thought about the present conditing and their concerns about the upcoming election, among them Ranjit Kumar Ray from Barishal, Pran Chandra Das, Kallayan Kumar from Ujirpur, Barishal, Ajharul Jual from Dinajpur presented their story shortly before the audience.

Then, Adv. Rana Dasgupta, Secretary, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council focused on few issues discussed, he informed the audience that the correction of the voter list as undertaken 2006-08 caretaker government 1 crore 25 lac was removed and 70 lac minorities were added at that list. he wondered what could be the reason behind this move. according to that calculating the percentage of minorities is 11.8 but the statistics of Bangladesh Government shows it only 9.7% in 2011 and 10.4% on 2001 statistics report. Afterwards, he took the audience to the legal limbo on a quest to find the justice for minorities in Bangladesh, he focused on the Shabuddin Commission report as formed and created by the order of the High Court division of Bangladesh Supreme Court on a case to investigate the torture and violent incidents of violence in different parts of the country after 8th parliamentary election. In that report, 29 MP’s were accused but no action has been taken so far. Mr Dasgupta also addresses the use of religion as a tool to evoke general people and create a conflicting situation during the election, he opined that those who use religion as a tool of provocation during an election must be disqualified at once.

Then Dr Meghna Guhathakurta (Member NHRC & Executive Direct RID) presented her well-thoughted view on this discussion,  she said the religious fanaticism has woke up once again in this country, we have lost the identity of our secularism, we are now labelling ourself as minorities. But as per the constitution of Bangladesh, we all are Bangladeshi; minority is not our identity. We are so afraid that the secular identity of our country is lost now the aesthetically present it a country of communal harmony. She boldly added if the majority is in a crisis whether they are Bengali or Muslim they should solve it by themselves, minorities should not be affected for their identity crisis. furthermore, she said, being a minority group and as a targeted group who are considered a vote bank and that plays as a double-edged sword for us, we got effected every time whether any party wins or looses in the election blames and oppression follows from one party or another. though we are often bound to provide “lip service” with the country. She proposed proactive meeting both within the community and with the administration, she said the minorities should focus on their strengths, they must communicate with politicians to make a culture of positive speech in opposed to the hate speech and we should change the oppression culture during the election.

Among others, Bivu Ranjan Sarker, Nirmal Rosario, Kajol Debnath shared their opinion on this regard. Kajol Debnath (Founder, Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council) draws the attention of the chairman of National Human Right Commission Bangladesh (to Kazi Reazul Hoque) whether they should bring back the reserved seat system of 1947 to provide the value of oppressed 11% where less then one per cent is considered especially while formed as a political party but that 11 % left behind for political play. He presents the history of Bangladesh and how they declined those special reservations and presented as Bangali to the formation of present Bangladesh.

Afterwards,  Kazi Reazul Hoque chairman NHRC took the floor he discussed the action he has taken as the chairman of the commission. He told that he has already discussed the issues to concerning authority and has started campaigns to the district level to get the trust of minority groups. he also said that he already proposed a special protection law for minority groups to the concerned authority and hoped that the next national election will not convey the past tradition of violence and suppression.

Khandakar Moniruzzaman editor of Daily Sangbad opined that the mandate of 71 has yet to be fulfilled as the present government and their activities and active support to the fundamentalist is a sign that they have deviated from their path as present government has patronage Hafazat and fulfilled their baseless demands.

Prominent figure and Human Right activist Sultana Kamal from Ain o Salish Kendra was also there, she focused on the oppression of the women especially on the minority during and after an election and shared a few inhuman stories of oppression around the country. She added, politicians always come before the election, some of them pretend that they conceive the spirit of liberation war, they beg to vote them to give a chance to serve the country but soon after the election, they turn their face around. It has been noticed those party who were in the root of our liberation war and known as the minority-friendly party are not an exception, in the meetings and seminars leader agrees with the human right defenders but out in the open, they are afraid to even to show the simple sympathy. the speaker also opined that she believes that our present Prime Minister deeply holds the sprite of our liberation war and she should be more careful to nominate his candidate this time (election) considering the minority concerns. She pointed out that there must be a Minority protection act like India (1992) and other countries to protect the minority community and provide justice in due time. She also regarded the idleness of Vested Property Restoration Act, 2001 which has come to existence after a long battle but so far has not served its purpose yet.

The chief guest of the programme Rashed Khan Menon, Minister of Social Welfare of Bangladesh give his opinion before the last discussion, he remembered and shared the violent past and struggle of minorities that he observed over time in his political carrier. The Minister also agreed that religion is being used as a tool of election thus creating further complication on that vulnerable situation. Mr MP added that in the election manifesto of the political parties they must address the minority issue and their problem and it the responsibility of the government to ensure a proper and peaceful election. He wished to be supportive of the minority community and hoped that the next upcoming election will not be the same like before.

At last, Priyo Bala Bishash, the secretary of SHAREE thanked all to be there and wished that in future all the civil society and media will help them to make their voice heard. She also said the people there who supported them and continue to support them are there hope to fight against the odds. she especially thanked the chair of the programme Samal Datta to arrange such a participative arrangement.

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Rayhanul Islam

Advocate Rayhanul Islam is the founder and Editor in Chief of Law Help BD. He is also a researcher. Critical thinking is his main focus. He is on a quest to bring positive change to the legal sector of Bangladesh. He promotes legal knowledge and human rights concept to the root level. e-mail: [email protected]

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