Friday, December 26, 2008

Bangladesh Hindu & Non-Muslim Minority Election Prosect

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom800 N. Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 790Washington, D.C. 20002:

Subject : Public Hearing on Bangladesh: Religious Freedom, Extremism, Security, and the Upcoming National Elections

Thursday, Dec. 4, 10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2325

An Open Letter from a Hindu citizen of Bangladesh to USCIRF

Respected Sir,

It is heartening to note that USCIRF has been rendering a valuable service to the mankind and The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is holding a public hearing to focus attention on Bangladesh's upcoming national elections on December 4,2008..
USCIRF has rightly mentioned that “Bangladesh's last national elections, in October 2001, were followed by numerous reports of violence against members of religious minority communities, particularly Hindus. “Elections previously scheduled for January 2007 were postponed amid allegations that they would not be free and fair. Since January 2007, Bangladesh has been administered by a military-backed caretaker government, a state of emergency has restricted political rights, and there have been serious human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings and torture.” This hearing will explore the prospects for free, fair, and peaceful elections in Bangladesh, the development of a stable democracy, the threat to democratic values posed by religious extremism, and strategies for the U.S. government to promote democracy and respect for human rights, including freedom of religion or belief.
Our Views and Opinion:
The Hindu leadership in the Pakistan Constitutional Assembly conceived the historic State-Language issue in February 1948. 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 under Two-Nation theory on which Pakistan was achieved 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.
the Minority representation would be as BELOW:

Election Year Minority Pop % Total Seats %-wise % Minority Seats to be availed Minority Seats upon Election
Number Percent %
1954 23.0% 309 72 72 23.3%
1970 20.0% 162 24 2 1.23%
1970 300 45 11 3.66%
1973 15.0% 300 45 11 3.66%
1979 13.3% 300 39 5 1.6%
1986 13.1% 300 39 6 2%
1988 13.0% 300 39 4 1.3%
1991 11.7% 300 35 9 3%
1996 Feb. 15 11.5% 300 34 3 1%
1996 June 11.0% 300 33 8 2.6%
October 2001 11.0% 300 33 6 2%

Source: Election results of East Pakistan and Bangladesh

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%. 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.

Party nomination for general Election in 2008 for Hindus:

Leading minority rights activists and political leaders criticised the major political alliances for nominating a few religious and ethnic minority candidates for the December 29 general elections in violation of democratic and secular ideals reports New age. The parties field ethnic minority people only when the parties fail to find potential candidates, they said. This is, they said, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unfortunate’ in terms of democratic equality of majority and minority communities.
The two major political alliances, led by the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, have nominated only 19 minority candidates for the same number of electoral constituencies.The parliament has 300 seats. But only five have been nominated by the BNP. They are Gayeshwar Chandra Roy for Dhaka 3, Nitai Roy Chowdhury for Magura 2, Gautam Chakrabarty for Tangail 6, Sachinpu Zerry for Bandarban and Dipen Dewan for Rangamati.
The Awami League has nominated 14 minority candidates. They are Sukumar Ranjan Ghosh for Munshiganj 1, Ramesh Chandra Sen for Thakurgaon 1, Manoranjan Sheel Gopal for Dinajpur 1, Biren Sikder for Magura 2, Subhas Bosh for Narail 1, Ranjit Roy for Jessore 4, Nani Gopal Mandol for Khulna 1, Naraya Chandra Chanda for Khulna 5, Dhirendra Devnath Shambhu for Barguna 1, Suranjit Sengupta for Sunamganj 2, Bimal Biswas of the Workers Party for Narail 1, Pramod Mankin for Mymensingh 1, Jyotindra Lal Tripura for Khagrachari, Dipankar Talukder for Rangamati, Bir Bahadur for Bandarban. The Liberal Democratic Party nominated Moni Swapan Dewan for Rangamati. The BNP’s constitution says the party will take all-out, specific steps to create scope for the people of all walks of life… including members of the backward communities … to participate in nation-building activities. The Awami League constitution says the party will adopt appropriate measures ... ‘to ensure … the rights [of citizens] irrespective of religion, caste, sex, community, ethnic identity and so on.’ The minority rights leaders strongly resented the attitude of the political parties in question, especially when they nominate candidates for the elections, terming it religious chauvinism (New Age 2 Dec.08)
Out of 300 constituencies, there are 71 where minority voters are significant (ranging from 11% to 61%) and 50 where they are visible (5-10%). Minority votes are also determining factor straight in 153 constituencies. It appears from the Census reports of Bangladesh that the density of the Hindu population in 10 districts out of 64 districts is very high at 20% to 35%.,. these districts are: Gopalgonj; Moulavibazar; Khulna ; Narail ; Thakurgaon; Bagerhat , Magura; Satkhira; Pirojpur and Dinajpur . On the other hand from the serial number, 11 to 27 , these 17 districts bear the population of 10% to 19%,and the other 11 districts namely Nawabgonj; Luxmipur; Pabna; Shariatpur ; Mymensingh; Kushtia; Banderban; Sherpur; Chuadanga; Jamalpur ; and Meharpur bear Hindu population less than 5% .If we analyze the Hindu population in the light of 300 Bangladesh parliamentary constituencies. It appears that from 10.92% to the 35.13 % Hindu population live in the 115 parliamentary constituencies; from 16% to the 35.% Hindu population live in the 58 parliamentary constituencies and from 20% to the 35.% Hindu population live in the 43 parliamentary constituencies.
No Religious Minority Political Party in Bangladesh
Bangladesh Hindu League, a minority regional political party established in 1988 and contested last three consecutive parliament elections also denied Election Commission registration this year in 2008. UPDF (United Peoples Democratic Front) and PCJSS (Parbotto Chottogram Jonoshonghoti Samity) -- the only two large political parties representing the rights of the Pahari/Jumma people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Chittagong's regional paper Shuprobhat Bangladesh (27/10/08) first carried a detailed news item about this denial of election registration.
Few Minority nominations IN 9th Parliament Election-2008

In its editorial New Age, a leading daily in Dhaka (3 Dec.08) noted:
“WE ARE disappointed that the major political parties have nominated so few candidates from ethnic and religious minority communities for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Even though more than ten per cent of the people of the country belong to the minority communities, this has not been reflected in the slate of candidates nominated by the major parties. According to a New Age report published on Tuesday, Dec 2, the two major parties have together nominated only 19 candidates who belong to the minority communities.
The Awami League has nominated 15 individuals from the minority communities and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party the remaining four. If we take away the candidates nominated for the three parliamentary seats in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the numbers are even more pitiful. This means that the make-up of the next parliament, like the eight previous parliaments, will not be reflective of our religious and ethnic plurality. This is not only unfortunate but is contrary to the very idea of a representative democracy. The fact that the major political parties are so reluctant to nominate candidates who belong to the minority communities suggests to us that these parties lack a basic commitment to secular-democratic ideals — the ideals that formed the basis of our country’s independence. Had the parties had a minimum commitment to secular-democratic ideals, we feel, they would have at least tried to make parliament truly representative of all people, not just the majority.
According to the New Age report, the parties in many instances nominated persons from the minority candidates because of a lack of other viable candidates in those constituencies. As minority rights activists have pointed out, that is indeed ‘disgraceful’. As a matter of fact, it is insulting to the minority communities to be treated in this way. While we understand that the political parties will always consider the electoral prospects of different candidates before handing out party nominations, we find it difficult to believe there were not more candidates from the minority communities who are just as viable as those given nominations by the major parties. Therefore, even if the much-hoped-for free and fair elections do take place on December 29, it will fail to produce a parliament which is truly representative. Instead, the parliament will represent and advance the interests of the majority. However, real democratic growth of state and society will not take place until all people, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, social and economic status, caste and creed, are given a voice and are able to participate in and affect the decisions of the state. The political parties ought to have facilitated that by nominating more candidates from the minority communities for the parliamentary elections. Their unwillingness or failure to do so, therefore, deserves the harshest condemnation.” ( New Age,editorial,3 Dec.08)
It may be recalled that a Hindu delegation on 8 October 2007 called on the Chief Election Commission (CEC) to reserve 15 percent of the parliamentary seats for the minority community and ensure their enlistment in the voter list . A seven-member delegation , in a meeting with the EC, also demanded that the EC reserve 33 percent of the parliamentary seats for women. “There are evidences that the minority, including the indigenous people, don't get enrolled in the voter list… Their enrollment and right to franchise should be ensured,” The WHF has submitted a memorandum to the CEC stating their woes regarding earlier elections. 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.
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. USCIRF could influence the US government to make Bangladesh understands the gravity of the issues.
- 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.
Thanking you
Yours faithfully
Rabindranath Trivedi, Dhaka
December 4, 2008

[Rabindranath Trivedi, retired Addl. Secretary & ex-Press Secretary to the President of Bangladesh Presently Secretary General Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities(HRCBM)-Bangladesh, e-mail:]

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