Ahead of next year’s general election in Bangladesh, an interfaith forum has accused the ruling Awami League of failing to implement its past election promises to protect religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation.
Attacks on houses, shrines and businesses belonging to minorities, land grabbing, abduction and rape of girls, forced conversions and verbal threats have become a daily occurrence, leaders of the Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) said at a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka on March 22.
“No matter what the government says about the security of minorities, no visible initiative is being taken sincerely by the ruling party or the government,” the group's secretary Rana Dasgupta said.
The national election will be held at the end of December 2023. The Awami League won the 2014 national election unilaterally, while the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) did not take part.
In 2018, another election was held under the Awami League government. This time the BNP participated but the Awami League again took power. However, there were widespread reports of vote rigging.
The ruling party made several promises to protect minorities before the 2018 polls, including enactment of the Minority Protection Act, formation of the National Minorities Commission, enactment of the Inequality Abolition Act, implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord and the setting up of an independent commission for plain land indigenous people.
“Needless to say, the current ruling party has completely failed to deliver on its promises to our minorities,” said Nim Chandra Bhowmik, one of the three presidents of the BHBCUC.
“The promises they made were our demands. As long as they do not meet our demands, we will continue our movement on the streets with the minority community and civil society,” Bhowmik told UCA News.
According to the BHBCUC, 2021 was a year of concern for religious minorities. There were incidents of vandalism and arson of 204 idols and temples of the Hindu community. In addition, 184 houses and 50 businesses were attacked and vandalized. Three members of the Hindu community were killed and at least 300 were injured in attacks. In addition, a house belonging to the Buddhist community was vandalized.
“Over 3,600 attacks on religious minorities took place between 2013 and 2021. These attacks included the vandalism and arson of 559 houses and at least 1,678 temples, idols and places of worship,” said Bhowmik.
Despite the persecution of minorities, Bhowmik feels that the ruling party has some good policies and the council will wait until the election to decide who to support.
“As a religious minority, we fully support the demands of the BHBCUC,” said Hemanta Corraya, general secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association.
“We, the Christian community in Bangladesh, are very small, so it is not possible for us to implement any demand. In this situation, we along with other minority communities want to put pressure on the government to meet our demands,” Corraya, a Catholic, told UCA News.
About 90 percent of more than 160 million people in Bangladesh are Muslim, about 8 percent are Hindu and the rest belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.