A meeting in Westminster this week focused on drawing attention to the current situation of religious minorities in Bangladesh. Hosted by MP Bob Blackman and supported by cross party MPs Virendra Sharma, David Burrows, David Bowles, Anne Main, Rushanara Ali, Rehman Chishti, Jim Fitzpatrick and Jim Shannon, the meeting was held under the initiative of human rights lawyer Samir Kumar Das. Widespread violations of human rights and persecution of minority religious groups including Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and tribal communities by extremist armed groups in Bangladesh persists and the recent ISIS-inspired jihadi attack against innocent diners at the Dhaka Holey Artisan Bakery in Bangladesh’s capital highlight the seriousness of the threat to peace and security in Bangladesh.
The UNGA Special Rapporteur on freedom of beliefs, Heiner Bielefeldt, the British High Commission in Dhaka, the UK Home Office, the US State Departments Spokesperson Jen Psaki, the United States Representative for Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard and Amnesty International UK have all condemned the abductions, rapes, evictions, land grabs and forced conversions. Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed by the Bangladesh Constitution. But it appears that international systems are powerless to stop these atrocities.
The audience heard that the recent wave of savage killings of minorities, especially Hindus, began following the death of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi in February 2013. Countless numbers of ordinary citizens and innocent foreign citizens have been brutally killed because of their religious belief or for secular thinking. The violent rapes of whole families and minor girls are diabolical. Justice is promised but there is no progress of the delivery of justice. The crimes perpetuated in the name of the religion are going visibly unpunished. These crimes are committed by small autonomous terrorist cells, whose principal common link is a millenarian ideology and dedication to the destruction of secular government. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh is often attributed to the growing influence of ultraconservative interpretations of Islam stemming from the Gulf region, importing a toxic brand of political Islam; and evicting Hindus ensures that political Islam will succeed. A handful of determined killers, influenced by intensifying extremist ideology in their country of origin and the right to visa-free travel, as EU or US nationals, will create an additional nightmare for national security agencies.
Mihir Sarkar, campaigner for the Protection of Religious Minorities of Bangladesh and a survivor of the 1971 genocide, explained the religious demography in Bangladesh has changed in recent decades, mostly as a result of migration but Hindus are still the largest minority. In 1974, they numbered 13% of the population, today it is only 7%. Professor Mizanur Rahman, chairman of National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh, predicts Hindu numbers to be nil in 20 years. There is a perceived allegiance of Hindus to the Awami League. It has been alleged that Hindus never vote for BNP or Jamaat and members of all political parties are benefiting from the evictions and abandoned businesses. Hindus feel like second class citizens in Bangladesh, the political representation is below the percentage of population, with only 12 MPs out of 350, only one woman out of 30. Hindus hold few top posts in the security forces. A lack of commitment to combat this discrimination by any major party is pushing Bangladesh towards a failed state, in which religious minorities have been eliminated; whatever the atrocities committed on Hindus in Bangladesh there is no emotional or moral response from neighbouring West Bengal. The appalling Saradha Group scandal that exposed how funds related to the Ponzi chit scheme were made available to Jamaat-e-Islami suggests that money raised in India may be funding atrocities against Hindus in Bangladesh.
Many suggestions were put forward including help from India, restoration of the 1972 Constitution, international sanctions, representation that guarantees proper representation of minorities at government and non-government level, education reforms with a curriculum based on the value of independence and secularism taught as a compulsory subject at primary and secondary level and that organisations representing minorities need to beunited.
The amount of British aid given to Bangladesh was questioned and Bob Blackman will write to Priti Patel, UK’s new International Development Secretary, about this. In April 2016, UK’s Department for International Development allocated £224,500,000 to BRAC, a development organisation in Bangladesh.