They were obstructed from casting their votes on the way to the voting center. Nature of these causes of frightening was –
( a) Threatening the minority voters for not going to polling booths and using technique of repression to create such atmosphere.
(b) Creating a state of uneasiness and panic in the minds of minority voters so that they leave their abodes to take shelter in safer areas.
In 2001, Amnesty International has urged the Bangladesh government to insure the security of the minority communities, to pay compensation to those who have been harmed and to punish those who had attacked and harassed members of the minority groups it has made a specific mention of rape of women as a way of repression and has strongly condemned this.
In 2001, the usual pattern of murder, rape and arson targeting Hindus happened on a very large scale.
A senior journalist Ataus Samad who wrote in 2001:”Political activists or not, the attackers should be treated as criminals. These criminals should then be brought to trial and punished. This has to be done. Only punishment to these criminals will bring some sense of justice being done to the sufferers in the minority communities and this will restore confidence in the government among the members of the minority communities, and the people of the country generally will feel better that something is being done to stop something which is shameful.” (Holiday, 7 December 2001)
Hindus have traditionally voted for the Awami League since an agreement between Hindu Leaders and Awami League just before the electorate bill provided for a joint electorate for East Pakistan and separate electorate for West Pakistan was passed on 10th October 1956.
The agreement was kept a secret. It was, however, known that the agreement included:
(i) a joint electorate system,
(ii) secular and democratic constitution,
(iii) ensure equal citizenship to all,
(iv) properties that had been snatched away from the members of the minority communities during the Muslim League regime would be restored to the respective owners and
(v) 23% quota of services and other privileges reserved for the minority communities would be honored. (Sen Gupta Jyoti, 1974 History of Freedom Movement in Bangladesh (1947-1973), Naya Prokash, Calcutta, P-84).
Three Hindu ministers were foisted with finance & minority affairs, health and cooperatives ministries in 1956-58. Hindu leaders mortgaged their votes and politics at the hands of Awami League.
After independence AL declined the old agreement and termed all are equal under secular constitution in 1972.
Minorities in Bangladesh have been facing woes of VP laws and its differential treatment upon them. The constitution upholds the fundamental rights of all citizens, but in practice unequal application of laws make it meaningless. However, the guarantee for ‘jaan and maal’ (life and property) is important for the survival of any people. They are not even empowered to sustain in crisis.
In February 2014, Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher, in his postmortem item writes: “These attacks began in February 2013 and continued throughout the year. I visited Hindu families who had lost everything, and they showed me the burnt remains of what used to be their furniture and belongings.
At least 300 Hindu homes and shops and more than 60 Hindu temples were damaged or destroyed between February and April 2013”.(DS,10 Feb 2014)
The post titled “Beyond Communal Attacks” by Muhammad Nurul Huq who straightway rightly opined: “recent attacks on Hindus and their property demonstrate the immensely sad but blunt reality that even after forty two years of democratic pluralistic existence, the religious minority of Bangladesh have not been able to save themselves from the deadly embrace of communal fire.. One can recall the Liaqat-Nehru pact- in April 1950 which was aimed principally to protect and save the minority from communal violence. Such violence, however, did recur later owing to socio- political factors both in India and Pakistan. The Hindus suffered again in terms of life and property in 1964 before suffering en masse in 1971. Prior to that, following the India-Pak war of 1965, the enactment of Enemy Property Act reduced them to the status of second class citizens; and in 1971 they were quite clearly victims of what in later time came to be known as ‘Ethnic cleansing.” (The daily star, 25 Jan 2014)
It may be recalled that Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 1950 is similar to other international agreements providing for the protection of racial, linguistic and religious minorities, e.g., peace treaties concluded after the First World War and the supplementary conventions. (The Genesis of Bangladesh, Barrister Subrata Roy Chowdhury, 1972, p- 229). Moreover, the pact is in effect following the proclamation of Laws Continuance Enforcement Order -1971 .We do appreciate his evaluation on the issue.
I do not want to go for describing why targeted violence happened in Bangladesh? My observation is different focusing on empowerment of religious minorities in Bangladesh. The situation of the minorities in Bangladesh in 2014 is now in focus internationally and particularly EU, the USA and Commonwealths. It is no longer an internal issue of Bangladesh nor a problem that may vitiate the relationship with neighbour India.
As a member of the religious minority Hindu, a freedom fighter in the liberation war and a retired civil servant, we have nothing to conceal that the widespread perceptions of discrimination among the minorities in Bangladesh need to be addressed. What has to be worried about is that minority issues are very sensitive whenever such problems exist. All these targeted violence are unending tale of Bangladesh Hindus. Enayetullah Khan in his editorial in Holiday opined:” Nineteen forty –seven is now history. Nineteen seventy-one is a distant past. The Hindu community must come out of the trap of alienation and refuse to lend itself as a pawn in politics” (Holiday, Friday, November 23, 2001)
So we want rights of Bangladesh Hindus for survival. It is obvious that security and safety of minority communities do not depend only on the goodwill of majority community and safeguard ensured in the fine paper of the Constitution. The confidence of the minority would be ensured in Bangladesh if due representation of the community in the field of all decision –making institutions of the Republic. I.e. representation of minority in the Parliament, Administration, Army, Police, Judicial and Foreign services as well as public offices at all level is effectively ensured. Only political high sounding words and platitude of the fine quoted decencies would not serve the interest of the minorities in Bangladesh. It is imperative that if the minorities have certain perceptions of being aggrieved, all efforts should be made by the State to find a mechanism by which these complaints could be attended to expeditiously.
It is our appeal that the Government of Bangladesh should ensure justice to the Minorities to uphold religious rights of minorities with broader perspective to help secure fair religious and equal access to justice, and Devuttur Property Bill-2013 (Endowment Act) which is lying with government over a year need to be tabled in the parliament. While equity in the implementation of programmes and better participation of the Community in the development process would gradually eliminate this perception of discrimination, there is a need to strengthen the legal Provisions to eliminate such cases.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO ) of Bangladesh should initiate the matter immediately by constitute a task force or committee with expertise minority leaders and academia for preparation of report on the Social, Economic, Educational and empowerment Status of the Minority Community of Bangladesh. And meanwhile the government by exercising of the power conferred by Article 55(6) of Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, may create a new specialized Ministry of Minority Affairs just to ensure a focused approach towards issues relating to the minorities and to facilitate the formulation of overall policy, planning, coordination, evaluation and review of the regulatory framework and development programmes for the benefit of the minority communities. Our great neighbor India has created minority ministry in 2006.
Rabindranath Trivedi is a Freedom Fighter, founder member of Bangladesh Secretariat, Mujibnagar Government in 1971, Retired Addl. Secretary (OSD), Additional Press Secretary to the Prime Minister (1997-1999) and Press Secretary to the President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (1999-2001). Secretary General, HRCBM- Bangladesh Chapter, An NGO in special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the United Nations.