The inception of Bangladesh and its subsequent political history are marked by the blood spill and surviving struggle of the minority communities. The decades old anti-minority state policy and bureaucracy, communalisation of politics and social relations, and rise of religious extremism altogether have let the very existence of minority community at stake. National election and communal violence have become synonymous to each other. The gradual marginalisation of minority participation in politics, economics, public services, social welfare opportunities and religious cultures have placed them at the brink of extinction. Due to apathy of state apparatus the constitutional commitment for human dignity, equality and justice appears to have failed protecting minority rights. In this backdrop, creation of a minority protection regime has become imperative and to this end establishment of a National Commission for Minorities would be an optimistic move.
After the parliamentary election 2001 Bangladesh witnessed an outburst of widespread and systematic attacks on Hindus across the country. As per the UN High Commission for Refugees 2003 report, an unknown number of Hindus and other religious minorities from Bangladesh remained internally displaced or were asylum seekers in India due to post-election violence beginning in October 2001. The report says that nearly 7,000 Bangladeshis sought asylum elsewhere during the year, including more than 1,100 in Austria, more than 1,000 in the Slovak Republic, and nearly 1,000 in the USA. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, of the Norwegian Refugee Council in its report ‘Bangladesh: Minorities increasingly at risk of displacement – A profile of the internal displacement situation 28 March, 2006’ observed that the post-election (2001) violence compelled up to 200,000 Hindus to flee the country.
An empirical research of Shishir Morol published in Protham-alo on 22 September 2012 revealed that in ten years (2001 to 2011) nine lac Hindu people became untraceable whom the statistics officials termed as ‘Missing Population’. Researchers believe the post election violence and marginalisation of property rights are the main causes of mass exodus of Bangladeshi Hindu. If the Hindu population declines in this trend their obliteration in near future is almost certain.
Rape as a weapon for Land and Vote
Rabindranath Trivedi in his writing published in Asian Tribune on 19 January 2014 observed that fanatic groups use ‘rape’ as a weapon for land and votes of the Bangladeshi minorities. Rape is considered as a social stigma and in many cases rape of female family members made it impossible for the family to stay in their village – thus paves way for land grabbers. The communal onslaught of 1992 led to around 2600 rape incidents. The ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences’ published by UNCHR on 14 January 2003 reveals that the Special Rapporteur had received information that approximately 2,000 women in Bangladesh between the ages of 7 and 80 had been raped, gang-raped, beaten and subjected to persecution by fundamentalist following 2001 election. For casting vote in 2014 election, two Hindu house wives were raped at Monirampur, Jessore on 7 January.
To the minority people, every parliamentary election is a nightmare. Hate speech and rumours are frequently used to unleash communal terror on them. In Bangladesh ‘widespread and systematic’ communal violence took place in the years 1992, 2001, 2013 and 2014. The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council and other rights groups conducted independent research on those incidents. Atrocities uncovered in the press releases of the Unity Council (on 4 January 1993 and on 6 February 2014) and ASK Bulletin of December 2001 are below:
Following the notification of election schedule on 25 November 2013 leaders of the Unity Council met the Chief Election Commissioner urging security of the minority communities. Though the CEC assured no recurrence of 2001 atrocities, his assurance made no difference. After the atrocities of 2014 police lodged few FIR and GD with little or no subsequent progress in most cases. The local administrations and Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission visited few terror devastated areas followed by no adequate measures for confidence building or rehabilitation of the displaced minorities. The HCD on 15 January 2014 issued rule directing the Government to provide adequate security to the minorities. In absence of any positive political and policy move mere parliamentary debate on this issue let the minority communities await for further victimisation.
National Commission for Minorities: Recurrence of extensive and systematic communal atrocities necessitates a minority safety-net in Bangladesh. On 18 December 1992 the General Assembly of the UN adopted Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities to ensure effective implementation of international human rights instruments with regard to the minority rights. It is boldly echoed that the incumbent Government should establish a national commission for minorities to create an enduring safety-net in compliance with the 1992 Declaration.
In India pursuant to the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 a Commission has been established to look after the affairs of the minorities, namely, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis). Furthermore, to gain their confidence, the Commission is always composed of the minority people. Section 9 of the Act mandated the Commission to:
i. evaluate the progress of minorities’ development;
ii. monitor the effectiveness of the legal and constitutional safeguards;
iii. make recommendations for the effective implementation of safeguards for the protection of minorities’ interest;
iv. look into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of the minorities and take up such matters with the appropriate authorities;
v. cause studies to be undertaken into problems arising out of any discrimination against minorities and recommend measures for their removal;
vi. conduct studies, research and analysis on the issues relating to socio-economic and educational development of minorities;
vii. suggest appropriate measures in respect of any minority to be undertaken by the Government.
The Commission submits recommendations to the Government for action. The Government transmits the recommendations to the Parliament along with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, of any of such recommendations. In performing functions the Commission exercises all the powers of a civil court in respect of summoning and examination of witnesses and documents; discovery and production of documents and so on. The future commission of Bangladesh may carry these features.
Repeated victimisation, denial of justice and gradual marginalisation make the minority people frustrated. The sense of insecurity and uncertainty that have engulfed them would not be eliminated merely through assurance and speeches but through sensible realisation of constitutional and political pledges. To this end, a commission for minorities would at least be an impression that their agonies should not go unheard-of.