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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Minorities, Women and Elections in Bangladesh - Part-II

Rajen Thakur - from Dhaka, contributing for Asian Tribune


Dhaka, 17 October, ( It may be recalled that the crux of the political problem was the Hindu-Muslim divide in the sub-continent, including Bengal, not evaded. The Hindu leadership in the Pakistan Constitutional Assembly in February 1948 conceived the historic State-Language issue. It was the Hindu leadership (1947-54), as the Leader and member of the opposition that led the nation to the definitive direction to the constitution, parliament and democracy. Hindu leadership had abandoned the separate electorate system and their advocacy for the joint electoral system was a milestone in our national history. If there were no joint electoral system in 1970, Bangladesh would not have her genesis as a Republic in 1971.

On the contrary, it is really irony and most pathetic to observe that the representation of minorities in parliament declined remarkably starting from the election 1970. The poor representation could not even gain a minimum healthy status at any election during this long period of 36 years. It is interesting to note that the Hindus from erstwhile East Bengal to Bangladesh to-date in 2001 have been maintaining an unaltered figure of population of 1.5 crore but declining in respect of percentage from 28% to 10.5%. This may be a subject of thesis for Minority Politics in Bangladesh. In his article published in the daily Star on 14 January 05, Senior Attorney of the Supreme Court Dr M. Zahir rightly observed “ Democracy and election, Bangladeshi style is unique and may be a subject matter of a ph.D thesis so far as its novelty is concerned, but have we achieved its true essence, namely, the dignity of the common people which calls for a fair election, rule of law, economic justice and an administration that runs on ability rather than political beliefs?”

There was a pause only upon the independence of Bangladesh from 1972 to mid 1975 while one of the main pillars of state policy was secularism. The migration process again got momentum due to thrown out of secular characteristics of the country after 1975. Withdrawal of reservation system for the minorities in Bangladesh is the number one reason was not secured percentage -wise proportionate number of their seats in the parliament.

Secondly, all most all-competent personalities having political careers, wealth and leadership capabilities migrated from the then East Pakistan and the present Bangladesh since 1947. However, before that time, the minorities were rich in all respects here in possessing and controlling the wealth and economy, educational and cultural advancement and socially and politically.

Having had political debacle, they became psychologically weak and at the same time were threatened by the majority community by virtue of the political decision to leave their (mainly the Hindus) homes of thousands years and relations rooted to the deepest of their birth-land. Their only fault is why they love their homeland and why they not leave that forever.

Yes, a section of the majority community was successful at all times to kill and conquer the lives of innocent minorities, their wealth and women. In such graveyard situation, very few minority activists in Bangladesh are directly involved in politics irrespective of political party affiliation. Even the few minorities who are involved in politics fail to attain quality in order to be set as candidates due to their financial support to run in the costly election or they are too weak to maintain lobby with the party high commands. Also the political parties do not value much the minorities to be good candidates to win the election.

During the Government of interim period, of about two and half months, in 2001, the news regarding deterioration of law and order, chaos in administration and overall increase of lawlessness and uneasy condition of the minority voters was being published. If one scrutinizes published reports of minority repression during pre-election days it becomes evident that members of minority communities in 30 districts were under severe threat and pressure.

The principal districts are: (a) Rajshahi Division (4-Districts) ---: Dinajpur; Rangpur; Naogaon and Natore.(b) Khulna Division (7-Districts )---: Bagerhat; Narail; Jessore; Magura; Jhenaidah; Satkhira and Khulna. .(c)Barisal Division (4-Districts )---:Perojpur, Jhalokanthi,Barisal;Bhola. .(d) Chittagong Division (5-Districts )-:Chittagong; Cox’s Bazar; Feni; Noakhali and Lakshipur . (e) Sylhet Division (2-Districts): Habigonj and Sunamgonj.(f) Dhaka Division (8-Districts )---: Manikgonj;Tangail; Jamalpur; Mymensingh; Netrokona; Narsingdi; Faridpur and Rajbari. In the last election in October 2001,the partisan election commission also itself identified 177 centres as violence prone constituencies and 70 as high –risk constituencies. In October 2001 election, the incidence of violence was the highest against Hindus.

Minorities were violated in 2,685 villages in the country. Minorities were debarred from casting votes in the election -- a fundamental right of any citizen of Bangladesh. 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.

Liberation Seminar: Violation of Human Rights and the Future of Democracy in Bangladesh Tuesday 16TH October 2007 in UK

We welcome the lifting of indoor politics in Bangladesh . We also appreciate the speech of the Head of the interim Caretaker Government, where he mentioned that the parliamentary elections can happen before the end of December 2008. It is essential for the Caretaker government and the Election Commission to honour its pledge. We also call upon the Caretaker Government to address the democratic and secular issues in a future Bangladesh in their current dialogue with the political parties. The world community does not want to see the fundamentalists taking advantage due to any political vacuum. The world community supported the present interim government to build a secular and democratic Bangladesh.

There are concerns regarding violation of human rights in Bangladesh. This seminar has been organised by Liberation to identify those concerns of the international community and make recommendations to the present Caretaker administration in Bangladesh to address these issues.

Jeremy Corby MP, Chair of Liberation and member of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group and All Party Parliamentary group for Bangladesh will chair the seminar.

The Speakers:Lord Eric Avebury, Chairman of the International Bangladesh Foundation and Vice Chairman of the Parliamentary Group for BangladeshBaroness Pola Uddin, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Bangladesh (Invited) Speaker from Human Rights Watch Speaker from Amnesty International Violation of Human Rights and the Future of Democracy in Bangladesh Tuesday 16TH October 2007.7.30pm At Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House Embankment , Westminster, SWI, (opposite Big Ben). Nearest underground Westminster-Victoria, Circle and District line For further information, please contact Maggie Bowden at Liberation on 0207 435 4547

There will be tremendous benefits if the voting rights and proportionate representation from minorities and women can be ensured in the parliament of Bangladesh. Following certain benefits will be attainable:

? Around 48% population in Bangladesh consist of women and 15% (48% of them women) religious minority and indigenous populations with a total population of 56% in Bangladesh are unrepresentative in parliament, will be saved with empowerment and social atrocities on women, religious discrimination on minorities before, during and after the elections in Bangladesh .Minority and women representatives in Bangladesh will be able to raise their voice against humiliation in the parliament.

? Minorities in Bangladesh would not demand reservation of seats in parliament, if the secular-democratic Constitution of Bangladesh-1972 gets back its original status. Otherwise, following the amendment of 5th and 8th during the two martial law regimes. Bangladesh terms into a theocratic country as before its status in 1971

? The plight of minorities and migration would not stop otherwise they are empowered. India constituted a committee for minorities, commonly known as Sachar Committee;but Bangladesh ignored the rights of minorities, only the United Nations could do the needful in this regards.

? A large section of Bangladesh population with rich historical backgrounds of civilization and cultural heritage will be saved from being diminished. But have they achieved its true essence, namely, the dignity of the common people, which calls for a fair election, rule of law, economic justice and an administration that runs on ability rather than political beliefs?

? Women in Bangladesh with 33% seats and Minorities with 15% seats in the parliament will be able to cast their votes to elect representatives of their choice.

? Democracy in Bangladesh will be strengthened which will ultimately lead it towards achieving the socio-politico-economic goals.

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 Administration ,Army, Police, Judicial and Foreign services as well as public offices at all level is effectively ensured. Beside those the so-called amendments to the Constitution under the name of Fifth and Eighth Amendment, has been an impediment to the socio-economic and political development of the Community. Political high sounding words and platitude of the fine quoted decencies would not serve the interest of the minorities in Bangladesh.

We demand impartial enquiry in every case of violation of human rights We have been receiving news of violation of human rights in the form of grabbing lands, religious temples and cases of hindu and adibashi girls’ rape and killing. We don't find any difference of behavior, particularly on minority issues, in administration and the nature of humiliation whether democratic regime or autocratic regime or Caretaker Government run by Emergency backed by Army rules in Bangladesh.

Our fragile democratic structures are again under severe threat and we have witnessed electoral success when muscle power has been used. So the Hindus in Bangladesh need to speak up even if they are further stating something old and obvious.

Rajen Thakur, is a researcher and columnist.

- Concluded -

- Asian Tribune –

Also Read:

Minorities, Women and Elections in Bangladesh

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