Religious minorities decry Govt non-cooperation

The religious minorities at a seminar on Wednesday in the capital, decried the non-cooperation of the government in receiving justice for religious persecution and repression in Bangladesh.

In the deliberation at a two-day seminar on Freedom of Religion in Bangladesh jointly organised by Odhikar and London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) at BRAC Centre agreed with the opinion that in general the people of Bangladesh have practised religious tolerance for centuries, but said the government's policy decisions caused them to face uncertainty.

The seminar was addressed by Barrister Moudud Ahmed, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, former Law Minister Abdul Matin Khoshru, while Jesmul Hasan, researcher of Odhikar presented the keynote paper. The discussion was moderated by Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum.

Others who raised the issues of religious persecutions were Ruma Halder (Hindu), Chua Prue (Buddhist), Mir Mubashar Ali (Ahmadiya) and Father G.S. Pishato (Christian).

In the keynote paper, it was said although the government describes the acts of violence against religious minorities as politically motivated and should not be attributed to religion, human rights activists claim that there has been a continued increase in religious violence.

The paper presenter confirmed that religious communities have been threatened and witnessed repression in the post-October 2001 elections on the plea that they supported the opposition Awami League. Though many of the reports have not been verified independently, the government failed to investigate the crimes and prosecute the perpetrators, he argued.

He further said the clashes between religious groups occasionally occur and in the recent years there were increasing incidence of violence targeting, religious communities that have resulted in the loss of lives and property, said Jesmul Hasan.

He further narrated the plights of the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadiya, ethno-religious groups in the Hill districts. In his recommendation, the state has additional responsibility in protecting the interest of other religious groups, on respect to access to public-sector jobs, increasing financial support to religious institutions, teaching of various religion in public schools, protection of property and ensure security against threat of violence.

Barrister Moudud Ahmed admitted that the incidents of conflicts in the country, as in the case of ethnic minorities elsewhere in the world.

The last religious conflict took place soon after the demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India. Since then there was no racial problems, he said confidently.

Responding to the statement of former Law Minister, Barrister Moudud said the post election period witnessed social injustice on religious minorities. He reiterated that there was "no incidents of communal conflicts based on religion."

All the incidents were politically motivated and some isolated incidents took place cannot be interpreted as policy of the government to infringe on the religious tolerance, he quipped.

Advocate Abdul Matin Khashru said, religions is abused by a vested group to make political and economic gains.

He said the state has constitutional obligation to protect its citizen's, specially the minorities. He lamented that the politicisation of the police and judiciary has further aggravated the problems of the minorities seeking justice.

The situation of Ahmadiya's have gone from bad to worse, and if the anti-Ahmadiya propaganda is not stopped they would be further marginalised as a Muslim sect, said Mubashar Ali. The government is yet to condemn the action of the Muslim fundamentalists, demanding to declare Ahmadiya's as Muslim, he remarked.

Sanjeeb Drong, once again raised the issue of recognition of the indigenous population in the constitution, which was earlier promised by the present government.