Protect minorities, save Bangladesh
Dhiraj Kumar Nath
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne Kalidas Sarker had to jump into the Bhairab River at Abhoynagar, Jessore in the afternoon of polling day on 5 January with his 15-day-old baby for the safety of life. Like him about 600 people had to follow suit on that afternoon as they were chased by ‘political activists’ all equipped with firearms, crude bombs, machetes, iron rod and sticks. Possibly, the fault was that they voted for a particular party.The post poll violence with communal frenzy was such a scenario as observed from 5th January throughout Bangladesh especially in the districts of Jessore, Satkhira, Gaibandha, Dinajpur, Netrokona, Jaipurhat, Rangpur, Thakurgoan, Panchaghar, Rajshahi and some other places. The wave of violence on Hindu community was unprecedented and thus heartening heavily conscientious and civilized citizens of Bangladesh at large.
This was similar like the criminal assault and persecution as done in 2001 at Ramshil and Agailjhara after the election held on October 01 during the regime of caretaker government headed by Justice Latifur Rahman. In 2008, such a situation was not visible since miscreants observed the presence of an army backed non-party caretaker government. Public at large expected this time, an alertness from the government since it was a regular continuant government with the experience of the past and not a caretaker government to escape the burden of blame. Nevertheless, the government totally failed although these innocent people had to suffer to cast vote in their favour to see them again in power governing the state affairs.
The representatives of civil society of the country have expressed their serious resentments on these occurrences. Former Chief Justice ABM Khairul Haque observed, “As a senior citizen, I feel ashamed at this type of violence” and he called upon the Government to bring the offenders to justice and punish them under the penal court.
Prof. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the Human Right Commission has observed, “The Government is giving assurances to take action against the criminals but it is failing to proof its competence.” This type of persecution has started since 28 February, 2013 at large scale after the verdict of death sentence of Delwar Hossain Sayedee. Thereafter, the Hon’ble High Court on April 4, directed the government to form a high-powered committee to investigate into the incidents of violence and attacks on religious minorities. However, the Government has not done anything yet.
There is no doubt that the state has responsibility to protect minorities, their places of worship, houses and properties moveable or immovable. The common belief is that the Government failed to take any precaution or any serious efforts to protect minorities from large-scale vandalism. Very recently, the voters of Falda village of Bhuapur of Tangail districts submitted application to the returning officer to arrest the chief accused belonging to the Awami League involved in burning of a temple of Hindu community failing which they promised to refrain from voting. It was really a riddle to find real culprits and collaborators of such a large-scale violence while law enforcing agencies were very much on duty throughout the country.
About 2500 houses and temples were burnt since 5 January 2014 as estimated by different quarters. It was necessary to identify persons or parties responsible for such violence in broad day light. The party in power accused Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP whereas both parties denied their involvement. Jamaat openly denied their involvement in the persecution of minority and claimed their innocence in a Press Release issued on 8 January condemning and protesting the pre-planned attack on minority establishments and urging to form an independent inquiry commission.
The reasons for such violence need to be ascertained and identified very carefully. There are political, social and economical backgrounds for such violence-taking place frequently. Some political parties are in view that Hindu voters are acting as vote bank of Awami League and making the difference significantly and therefore they should be threatened and debarred from casting votes. The social and religious reasons are also there as observed in 1992 after the Babri Mosque incident.
This time two reasons were identified very much distinct, such as, a) Firstly, participation of minorities in judicial proceedings of war criminals as witnesses. Madhusaudhan Gharami, Sukharanjan Bali and others appeared before the ICT that resulted some accused sentenced to death. b) The second reason was the introduction of Vested Property Repeal (Amendment) Act 2011 gazetted on 11 December 2011 to return properties to legal heirs and genuine claimants of minority living continuously in Bangladesh.
Government prepared schedule KA and KHA and established tribunals to hear the legal cases. There were more than six lakhs of suits instituted in the country and rivalry developed afresh with the inclusion of new list of vested property as “KHA” schedule. This was serious issue while legal fight started throughout the country claiming on the right and title on houses and agricultural property so long enjoyed by Muslims for years together. This election was an opportunity to retaliate in the name of politics.
How to overcome such a serious situation is now a big question. There could be many options like formation of speedy tribunals to find out the offenders and punish them but this might be a temporary measure and could be considered as politically biased. There could be a judicial inquiry to identify reasons and bring the offenders to task. It might be recalled that the recommendations of the Shahabuddin Commission constituted on such incidents after the election of 2001 were not considered for implementation. There could be a law enacted in the name of “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to justice and Reparation) Act. This proposed Act might help prevent and control targeted violence against minorities and thereby update secular democracy with fair and equal access to justice and protection to vulnerable groups.
Another option could be the establishment of the office of Ombudsman as provided under the Article 77 of Bangladesh Constitution with immense power to investigate any action of public statutory authority. It should be so empowered that an ordinary citizen could complain before the Ombudsman against any authority including the Prime Minister for discrimination and violation of the law of the land.
In precise, there must be some legal and executive measures and initiatives to protect the minorities from frequent violence as provided under the Article 19 of the Constitution. Minorities should not be used as a tool of politics to play blame games and gain benefits. Courtesy: bdnews24.com
The writer is a former secretary and adviser to the caretaker government.