AN ALARMING increase in attacks on religious minority groups in Bangladesh raises a question about the ruling party’s much celebrated commitment to establishing a secular society. The minority rights situation has, as a Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Unity Council report says, significantly deteriorated in 2016. The organisation recorded 1,471 cases of minority rights violation which is five times higher compared with the previous year’s. The incidents included murder, rape, death threat, and eviction from homesteads. There are also series of attempts to desacralise idols and vandalise temples. Religious activities are, as New Age reported on Friday, at a halt in at least 365 temples now. No legal cases filed after each of these reported attack on religious minorities have yet to see any conviction. It is obvious from the situation stated above that the incumbents, despite their historical claims to be ideologically oriented towards secularism, lacks political will to ensure the rights of religious minority in Bangladesh.
Leaders of minority community blame the rise of Islamic militancy and successive governments’ failure to bring perpetrators of such crime to book. In times of heightened violence, militant groups are seen attacking Hindu neighbourhoods. However, the reasons behind the oppression of religious minority is complex and primarily rooted in the way mainstream political parties try to gain political benefits from creating communal tension. Both the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party conceived religious and other minority groups as their ‘vote banks’ and reduced their rights to nothing but their voting rights. After the victory of the BNP in the October 2001 parliamentary elections, Bangladesh witnessed unprecedented violence against Hindu community that testify to this problem of restricted acknowledgement of minority rights. In addition, Hindu communities are also targeted for their lands. The enactment of new Hindu property restoration act may have disabled the vested property act, the social and political discourses and practices are still guided by the heinous act. These attacks often happen under the patronage of ruling party and state forces. In recent times, the mastermind of the attack on ethnic minorities in Gobindaganj and the communal violence in Nasrinagar are proved to be linked with the Awami League. It will, therefore, be mistaken to blame the Islamic militants alone for the carnage on religious minorities in Bangladesh.
Taking into consideration, the fear and uncertainty in which religious minority citizens are living today, the government must abandon its empty rhetoric of secularism while fanning the flame of communalism in partisan interest. The government should immediately acknowledge its failure and discharge its responsibility to protect the rights of the religious minority groups by punishing those responsible for committing the communal crime. To bring the government to task of ensuring minority rights and establish a secular society, citizens also have a significant role to play. Citizens should raise their voice at every instance of such violence and act against their own majoritarian bias, if any.
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