Wednesday, March 01, 2006

From Secular Polity to Islamic Hegemony of the Nationalists Chauvinist


In the backdrop of the doctored constitutional provisions of secularism, political hegemony of the elite nationalists, proclamation of Islam as a state religion, rise of Islamic fanatics, export of Jihadi terrorists coupled with the attitude of the mainstream nationalists political parties, the paper*provides an insight of the situation of the minorities, ethnicity and their fundamental rights in Bangladesh.

It is evident from the series of amendment of the Constitution from a secular to Islamic trend portrays the hegemony of the majoritarian, the Islamic nationalist chauvinist of course, over the marginalized communities.

The u-turn from secular politics to political Islam has further deepened the racial problems of the Bangla speaking Muslims, Hindus, and other religious and national minorities.

It is indeed a losing battle of the proactive secularists entailed with the civil society and the human rights organizations. Possibly due to inability to forge a common platform. Let it be informed that the civil society is divided in thin lines and even partisan, this unable to make a dent in the society.

The only hope is the strong civil society among the rural population, specially the peasant society, particularly – women, who are apparently modest in observing religion and not strict Muslims as of the rural elites.

After the end of military hegemony in state politics in 1991, the consecutive elections to parliament, municipalities/City Corporations[1] and Union Parishad[2] have anchored confidence in the electoral system of the voter’s regime. The rural women, mostly beneficiaries of women’s empowerment initiatives, engaged by scores of social development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become soft target of the Islamist. Despite intimidation to abide by strict Muslim codes of hijab[3] and abandonment of interest-based micro-credit, the rural women have balloted for pro-secular and pro-democracy leaders. Which instead became a major threat to the existence of the Islamist in rural areas. Massive turn out of women in comparison to any Muslim or third-world countries in polling centres provides light in the end of the tunnel for achieving secularism, democracy and rule of law.

The research paper exposes the mindset of the majoritarian Bangalee Muslim nationalist population in Bangladesh. The political parties, politicians and military dictators in Bangladesh to consolidate their power base, have always used religion as a tool. The picture drawn in this paper may, nevertheless will raise eyebrows among many, especially with the policy makers.

Bangladesh or East Bengal[4] is a historical reality. In 1971 it has been curved out of political boundaries of what was East Pakistan after a bloody civil war by the nationalists, and of course the secular forces. The reign of terror unleashed in 1971, and the consequent persecution of the Bangalee masses in the name of defending Islam and the Islamic bond between the two provinces of Pakistan had already made the future of Islam as a basis of state-policy uncertain in the new state brought into being by the secular forces in the teeth of the fiercest opposition by the obscurantist elements.[5]

In reality the first partition of Bengal took place in 1905 under British rule and resulted in the amalgamation of East Bengal and Assam into a separate Muslim-dominated province. It was justified by the imperial powers on grounds of both administrative convenience and the separate interests of Bengal's Muslim from those of its Hindus, but it has also been interpreted as another example of British divide-and-rule tactics in India. The British scholars and historians, and those trained by them divided the ancient history of Indian sub-continent into Buddhist era, Hindu era and Muslim era. It was opposed by a combination of high-caste Bangalee Hindus whose landed property interests in East Bengal were directly undermined by the partition as well as of a common Bangla language, literature, history, tradition and way of life.[6]

Historically Bengal spearheaded racial politics, which ultimately led to birth of a theocratic Pakistan. Muslim League was born in 1906 at Dhaka by Muslim elites and landlords to promote loyalty to the British and "to protect and advance the political rights of the Muslims of India and respectfully represent their needs and aspirations to the Government.”[7]

The Muslim nationalist leaders from Bengal proposed the controversial two nations theory[8], separate homeland for Indian Muslims. All India Muslim League adopted the Lahore Resolution[9], 1940 that the Muslims are majority in the "North-Western and Eastern Zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states" shall be "autonomous and sovereign."[10]

Instead only one Muslim nation – Pakistan was born as a conspiracy of the British imperialist with the Muslim politicians. Thus Pakistan born in August 1947 from the concept of the leaders from Bengal has torn the Bangla-speaking communities apart. Broadly on the basis of religion – Muslim and Hindus.

But after the collapse of the Khilafat Movement[11], Hindu-Muslim antagonism was revived once again. Throughout their rule, the British consciously exploited Hindu-Muslim antagonisms in a divide-and-rule strategy. At first the British favoured the Hindus, distrusting the Muslim from whom they had seized the power.[12] But the nationalism took hold among the Hindu middle classes in the late 19th Century, the British tried to win the support of well-to-do Muslims by offering them more government jobs and educational opportunities. This strategy culminated in the 1905 partition of Bengal, creating the new predominantly Muslim province of East Bengal with Dhaka as its Capital. The partition exacerbated Hindu - Muslim tension since 1905.

Racial conflicts beginning in the twentieth century have become a reality in the region for the last sixty years of British Raj. Since politics came to be increasingly dominated by communal issues. There were racial tensions, hostility and ultimately violence. Since the countries were to be dominated on the basis of demographic supremacy of one nation or another, the people fearing hostility started to migrate.[13]

The mass racial-migration by the Urdu and Bangla speaking Muslim Indians to a promised homeland were never socially integrated into Pakistan. Neither did the migrants accept the customs, tradition and rituals of what was west and eastern province of Pakistan. The political recourse of the people of East Bengal has been tormented from the birth pangs of once Pakistan and then Bangladesh. Similarly, large population of Hindus abandoned their hearths & homes and left for neighbouring states of India due to lack of insecurity in East Bengal under Pakistan.

The two-nation theory, which created Pakistan, the homeland of the Muslim communities was born with strings of religion and racism. The inter migration was productive for some but for the poor who were the overwhelming majority on both sides, it turned out to be a disaster.

Political elites and bureaucrats described Bangla, as a language of the Hindus. Therefore, the state language of Pakistan was made Urdu, which was violently protested in 1952 by the Bangalee nationalists who favoured the state language of East Pakistan should be Bangla and not Urdu. However, the short-lived 1956 constitution acknowledged two official languages Bangla and Urdu separately for two-unit Pakistan. The 1952 language riot eventually sowed seeds of Bangalee nationalism, which culminated in the independence of Bangladesh.

Political scientist Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed maintains that the divisive nature in the organisation of linguistic unity need hardly be stressed, except for the fact that language, if politicised, could produce racism as well.[14] Despite a sentimental issue of the majority of people of Bangladesh, he further elaborates that once language is used to organize unity for political purpose, as in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in South Asia, and that again, in the light of the experience of the West, it ceases to be secular category.

The landslide victory in the 1970 election by Awami League in eastern province decided the fate the Bangalee nationalism. General Yayha Khan refused to hand over powers to majoritarian Awami League led by Shiekh Mujibur Rahman.

Bangalees, a non-martial race were thus coerced into guerrilla war in 1971. After nine months of armed struggle with marauding Pakistan troops, Bangladesh was independent from military junta of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This war brought the zeal of Bangalee nationalism, but the leaders were apparently Muslims. Remnants of Islamic nationalism of Pakistan.

In 1971 reign of terror during the conflict took a new turn as the entire population was considered seditious by the Pakistanis and the hostility went beyond communities and became a national issue. Thus disaster engulfed the entire people. The war caused exodus of nearly 10 million people. The Pakistan army particularly targeted Hindus. After the nationalist forces won the war they took revenge on the non-Bangalee migrants, armed militias for their loyalty to Pakistan army and their participation in eliminating Bangalee nationalists, apparently secular.

The new state of Bangladesh emerged as a secular polity with a constitutional embargo on religion in politics.

Muslim League leaders from Bengal, who dominated and dictated politics in Pakistan, persuaded their anti-secular believes. This phenomenon spilled over into post-liberation Bangladesh.

Unfortunately secularism began to decline within a few years of the birth of Bangladesh[15].

The first Constitution passed on November 4, 1972, abolished: (a) all kinds of communalism; (b) political recognition of religion by the state; (c) exploitation of religion for political purpose; and (d) discrimination on religious ground (Article 2 of the Bangladesh Constitution). The preamble of the Constitution emphasised secularism as one of the fundamental principles of state policy. It is obvious that Islam, or for that matter, any other religion, as an individual belief system was not interfered with, but its political use and or abuse was barred (Hussain, 1997, pp. 82).

Other religions are, however, recognised under Article 41 of the Constitution, which gives citizens the right to practise and promote religious beliefs. Further provisions of Article 41 guarantee in individual's right to refuse to practise a religion, or to be compelled to be educated in a religion other than their own.

Between 1946 (East Bengal) and 2001 (Bangladesh), there were scores of incidences of racial violence, which resulted in deaths and directly encouraged migration. Racial riots wrecked the traditional secular image of Bengal, on the eve of the second partition of Bengal in 1947. The racial violence is often blamed to the British colonialists, which tore the silence in otherwise quite Bengal. Abul Hashim[16] wrote in his book In Retrospection (pp 117) that peace-loving Hindus and Muslims had little or nothing to do with the riot. Trauma of racialism till bears in the mind of many, mostly political activists and thousands of families who fled into East Pakistan. Similar is the case of the Hindus migrating into India.

Since early 1970s, religion plays a significant role in the state system of today's Bangladesh.[17] General Ziaur Rahman (1975-81) rehabilitated the religion-based parties in politics, the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh soon began to advocate political Islam. To compete with the Islamist, the nationalist parties have rewritten their political strategy and adopted Islamic culture in mainstream politics, which irked the secularist and the de facto independent press.

Prof Syed Anwar Hussain says that the Islamic content in Bangladesh politics has been on the increase for some time past should sound normal to many because this happens in a country where the majority of inhabitants are Muslims.

The first government that took power in the new state of Bangladesh contained a dichotomy. On the other hand, Bangladesh appeared on the map of the Muslim world as the second largest state with a preponderant Muslim population. Rather paradoxically for other members of the Muslim `Ummah', it was a secular polity. Such a secular orientation was as much a matter of ideological mooring of the ruling elite in 1972, as it was of historical inevitability (Hussain, 1997, pp. 83).

Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, first President and founder of Bangladesh who was popularly recognised as Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal) revived Islamic Academy (which was banned in 1972) and upgraded to as Islamic Foundation (in March 1975) and increasingly attended Islamic gatherings. The recognition of Organization of Islamic Conference membership (February 1974), sudden decision to participate at OIC in Lahore, Pakistan (1974), diplomatic ties with Pakistan, unconditional pardon of the occupational forces of Pakistan short-listed for war crimes during the war of Bangladesh independence and their subsequent safe repatriation, securing the founder membership of Islamic Development Bank (1975), were interpreted by political critics that Mujib stood at a confused crossroads.

Several pro-Islamic measures were adopted, which undermines secularism in Mujib era. The post independence Bangladesh banned sale and production of alcohol, horse race gambling and import of playing cards.

Two social scientists and political analyst Dr. Talukder Maniruzzaman and Dr. Syed Anwar Hussain have similar views in separate articles explaining that Mujib had significantly shifted from secular practices towards sentiment of the majority.

Dr. Maniruzzaman made an observation[18]: “Towards the end of his rule, Mujib made frequent references to Islam in his speeches and public utterances by using terms and idioms, which were peculiar mainly to the Islam-oriented Bangladeshi - like Allah (the Almighty God), Insha Allah (God willing), Bismillah (in the name of God), Tawaba (Penitence) and Imam (religious leader). As days passed on Shiekh Mujib even dropped his symbolic valedictory expression Joy Bangla (Glory to Bengal) and ended his speeches with Khuda Hafez (May God protect you), the traditional Indo-Islamic phrase for bidding farewell. In his later day speeches, he also highlighted his efforts to establish cordial relations with the Muslim countries in the Middle East.”

After the bloody birth of Bangladesh, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, was officially celebrated at the expenses of the state in 1972. Thus Eid-e-Miladunnabi (Muhammad’s birthday) was the first religious event and a national holiday. The birthday is widely contested by Islamic historians and Muslim theologists.

The state-run media Bangladesh Betar (radio) and Bangladesh Television (BTV) sacked the directors, dubbing them as Communists (otherwise meaning anti-Islam) and soon the programmes began with recitation of Koran.

Possibly Mujib was the first head of state, who conceded to the intimidation of the Muslim zealots in 1974. The Islamic bigots demanded death to a young poet Daud Haider for publication of a poem in pro-socialist Dainik Sangbad, which supposedly maligns Prophet Muhammad having several wives. The young poet was forced to go exile and never returned to Bangladesh.

Thus Bangladesh polity during 1972-1975 was a peculiar dichotomy. It was certainly secular as the constitutional provision making Bangladesh untampered. At the same it was turning towards a pseudo-religious stewardship of Mujib himself. However, whatever religious ebullience could be seen, these were rhetoric, and not reality (Hussain, 1997, pp. 86).

The process of using Islam for leadership legitimating purposes gathered momentum during the military regimes of General Ziaur Rahman (1975-1981) and General H.M. Ershad (1982-1990). During the regime of Zia, the Constitution was doctored, scraped secularism from the four state principles and insertion of Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (in the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful). The principle of secularism was replaced by the words, "Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all action."

In a subtler approach Ziaur Rahman regime, the school curricula by state-owned Textbook Curriculum Board came under increasing pressure from different quarters to Islamise the textbooks. "Islamiyat" was introduced as compulsory from classes I to VIII with options for minority students to take similar religious courses of their own.

Between 1982 and 1990, Ershad made systematic efforts to continue the policy of Zia, rehabilitating anti-liberation elements and the parallel Islamisation culminating in the disputable Eighth amendment to the Constitution declaring "Islam" as a state religion. Earlier short-lived government of Mustaque Ahmed (August 1975 - November 1975) brought to power at a behest of young military officers, declared Peoples Republic of Bangladesh as "Islamic Republic of Bangladesh" over the state radio, which fetched coveted diplomatic recognition of Saudi Arabia, Libya and China.

Political scientist Amena Mohsin argues that there was no room for accommodating the minorities within this new state discourse. After an amendment to the Constitution declaring Islam as state religion. The ethnic minorities found themselves to be minorities both in the ethnic and religious sense.

With the rise of Hindu extremism and religious strife’s in India, Bangladesh politicians found it convenient to counter it with their own brand of religious politics, which has made the Hindus very insecure (Chowdhury, 1998, pp. 214). This has been observed from the trend in the pseudo-Islamic political culture introduced by all mainstream political parties. Some radical and left politicians shifted from their traditional progressive doctrine and turned champion of political Islam. Reactive intellectuals and politicians advocate these views.

The Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami an ally of BNP attempted to move "blasphemy" law in the parliament in 1994 to victimise religious minorities – specially the Ahmadiyya Muslims sect and pro-secular sections for alleged trading of insults against Prophet Mohammed and Holy Koran. The blasphemy law was a copy of the law introduced in Pakistan.

The theory of political Islam came from Syed Abul Ala Maududi, a Pakistan born founder of Jamaat-e-Islami. The concept opposed secularism and were arguably wanted Islam to reclaim its former glory, a century after the British had defeated India's Muslim rulers.[19]

Maududi believed in the sovereignty of God over the state in Pakistan, which was a departure from secular democracy. After his death Pakistan military ruler General Ziaul Haque adopted Maududi’s doctrine and established Sharia law. Which cracked the otherwise secular fabric of Pakistan.

Jamaat-e-Islami advocates political Islam and implementation of Sharia law. Dominant nationalists have favoured the doctrine of political Islam, like BNP and Jatiya Party. This concept has radicalized the political base of the majoritarian Muslim population, which believes Bangladesh is a “moderate Muslim country”, which apparently describes a modern Bangladesh. The secular groups have rejected the moderate Muslim nation theory. The secularist argues it is yet another step towards Islamisation of Bangladesh.

The Islamist parties and Muslim zealots in Bangladesh believe Islam over the democratic institutions. It is direct contradiction to constitution and state polity. They advocate Sharia law to dominate state laws, which have been contested is Islamic theologists and experts on Koranic laws.

In September 1965, a war broke out between Pakistan and India. Pakistan authority declared the Hindus enemies.

The proclamation of independence and formation of the Provincial Government of Bangladesh took place at Mujibnagar on April 10, 1971 and the order named Laws of Continuance Enforcement Order, 1971 was promulgated on the same day purporting to keep in force all the Pakistani laws which were in force in the then East Pakistan on or before March 25, 1971. In other words, Ordinance No. I of 1969, which does not fit with the spirit of proclamation of independence of Bangladesh, automatically remained ineffective in the new state. Bangladesh was not a successor state of Pakistan[20]. On the contrary, Bangladesh established itself by waging a war of independence against Pakistan.

Research shows that the Vested Property Act, a continuation of the Enemy Property Order, which makes Hindu held property insecure because ownership has to be proven at various sorts and levels, is used extensively to appropriate property (Chowdhury, 1998, pp. 214).

The Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order under dreaded "Defence of Pakistan Rules Ordinance" was promulgated in 1965. All the large establishments including industries, trading centres, landed properties belonged to the Hindu community who were bracketed as abandoned were nationalized. The law says that the properties of Indian nationals residing in Pakistan or Pakistan citizens residing in India will be identified as "enemies of Pakistan".

In political terms the properties were confiscated by the state because they were Hindus. However properties of Christians and Buddhists were not seized by the government. Properties belonged to Indian Muslims residing in Pakistan or exchanged properties illegally with fleeing Hindus to India were not listed as abandoned or enemies of Pakistan. The discrimination was deliberate and obvious to deprive the Hindus who have made an exodus to India or elsewhere. There were hundreds of India Muslims who migrated to East Pakistan and never bothered to take domicile certificate, therefore they were not registered as Pakistani citizen where not declared as enemies.

Those so-called enemy properties seized were later gifted to "tabedars" (stooges) of the government. The autocratic government and beneficiaries were locked in "client and patron relationship" for decades.[21] Though most of them formerly belonged to Muslim League, and later the turn-coats joined Awami League, BNP and Jatiya Party, according to two in-depth studies titled "Impact of Vested Property Act on Rural Bangladesh: An Exploratory Study" - 1995 and "Vested Property Act: Towards a Feasible Solution" - 1997 by Dr. Abul Barkat et al.

After the war of liberation, the Hindu and of course the freedom loving people thought that the discriminatory law will be scrapped in matter of time in the war-torn Bangladesh and return the properties to the just owners. Surprisingly two new laws were adopted in the parliament which was tabled by a senior politicians and Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs who was a Hindu.

Despite a popular mandate, Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the first President of Bangladesh to advocate of a secular nation and a true homeland of the Muslim, Hindu and Christian Bangalee’s, he surprised many by keeping the hated law with an amendment. In 1974 two laws were adopted, "The Enemy Property (Continuance and Emergency Provisions) [Repeal] Act" and the other one was "The Vested and Non-Resident Property (Administration) Act". Since 23 March 1974 the controversial Enemy Property Order seized to exercise.

There was no strong protest, criticism, or disagreement against new wine in old bottle formula, which deliberately discriminate the Hindus. The new law enacted in 1974 also holds rights to properties, either abandoned or left behind by Pakistani and Indian owners. Nevertheless, many of the properties the Pakistani's who petitioned the court for redress, got back their properties in 1980s. There are several instances that the Pakistan citizens obtaining false citizenship documents, bought a section of government officials and won the litigation. Later all the properties were sold at a fetching price to influential persons who would able to retain the ownership legally. Such case of a Hindu property is rare in the history of Bangladesh.

General Ziaur Rahman in 1976 amended the Vested Property law and rested the ownership right to the government as administrator and controller of the abandoned properties. The same year, the second law has been scrapped. The government issues notices in favour of the vested properties by a judgement of the Appellate Division, Supreme Court of Bangladesh. The law is itself illegal as it does have a locus standi and it is contradictory, describes Dr. Abul Barkat.

The Bangladesh parliament was told that on 4 July 1991 that there were a total of 827,705.28 acres of land listed as vested property.[22].

Several months after the riot (1990-1992), in mid -1993, the popularly elected government of Bangladesh Nationalists Party issued two orders, which were interpreted as government policy of persecution of the religious minorities. The Home Ministry asked the commercial banks to control withdrawal of substantial cash money against account holders of Hindu community. The commercial banks were asked to stop disbursement of business loans to Hindu community in the districts adjoining the India-Bangladesh border.

The same government of Begum Khaleda Zia in 1993 initiated a survey of vested properties, human rights organisations treat these as alibi to persecute religious minorities, especially the Hindu community (State of Human Rights, 1993). Corrupt government officials at district level were listing properties whose owners are alive and still living in Bangladesh.

It is evident from practices and customs evoked by the state machinery and the government which has turned into unwritten laws, that the religious minorities could not be given sensitive positions, like head of state, chief of armed forces, governor of Bangladesh Bank, Ambassador in a Bangladesh Mission, secretary in the ministry of Defence, Home, Foreign Affairs and Finance. Minorities are deliberately discriminated in recruitment in civil and military jobs, business and trade, bank loans and credit.[23] The mainstream political parties equally failed to demonstrate that their leader could be from among the minority community. It is rare to find a religious minority at the helms of affairs in Bangladesh.

Nation, for them thus constituted a culturally homogenous population. In this formulation the political elites chose the dominant/majority community as a model of nation, while the minority/weaker communities were expected to assimilate themselves with the 'mainstream' i.e. the dominant majority community (Mohsin, 1997, pp. 2).

According to Bangladesh government 1991 census, the religious and ethnic minorities stood at 12.6 per cent. The Hindus are 10.5% (12.5 million), Christian (0.3%), Buddhist (0.6%) and other religious minorities (0.3%) in Bangladesh. Hindus, mostly Bangla speaking is the biggest religious minority community and they are scattered all over the country. Similarly Christians are also scattered all over the country, except for the Buddhist population, which largely concentrate in Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts and Patuakhali.

The vanishing minority population is understood from researching the census documents published the government. Fifty years ago in 1941, 28.3 per cent of the total population was minorities. The population of Hindu was 11.88 millions, while 588 thousand was other religious and ethnic minorities (Buddhist, Christian and animist). Evaluation of government statistics of 50 years, from 1941 to 1991, indicates a large drop in the figure for minorities. A comparative picture shows that the number of the Muslim majority increased 219.5 per cent while the Hindu community increased by 4.5 per cent.

If normal increase rate prevailed, the number of the Hindu community in this country would have been 32.5 million, but the Hindu population in Bangladesh stood at 12.5 million in 1991 Census.[24] Therefore the missing population is 20 million.

Afsan Chowdhury, a historian and social justice activist describe low intensity violence against religious and ethnic minorities as silent disaster. He writes that the independence of Bangladesh has not bought much peace for Hindus who numbered about 10 million in Bangladesh.

The Hindus are experiencing low intensity violence situation as their life, property and peace have all been made to feel insecure by the lack of security and existing state policies and public action which are forcing them to exit to another land.

Hell broke loose upon the Hindus during the post-2001 election. The election, which swept Begum Khaleda Zia led four-party coalition of Islamic nationalists and Islamist parties. A series of attacks were deliberately targeted against the Hindus blaming them for voting for opposition Awami League. Most of the repression occurred in the southwest caused wide scale exodus to neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal.

Subrata Chowdhury, human rights activist claimed that an average 570 Hindus are migrating into neighbouring Bangla-speaking states of India since Care-Taker Government took charge of the country in 2001.[25]

Chowdhury joint secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council urged the government to repatriate 5 million Hindu refugees languishing in India.

Newspaper, rights groups and civil society decried, as the government continuously denied any violence against Hindus or any religious minorities. Well, the government ultimately had to succumb to international pressure and specially after a High Court ruled that a probe be initiated and victims get justice.

Hindus were the victims of violence as an echo of the Babri mosque demolition incident but the incidents were sporadic despite political patronage. This illustrates how low intensity violence against the minorities can push millions into a state of silent disaster (Chowdhury, 1998, pp. 214).

Apart from the threat perception of the Hindus, the Christian community came under attack several times. In 1991-1992 during the Gulf War, supporters of Saddam Hossain, the authoritarian leader of Iraq, Muslim fanatics in Bangladesh attacked foreigners and Christian community, as if responsible for attacking Iraq during the Gulf War. Several churches were attacked, they demonstrated in sensitive places in Dhaka and elsewhere. Panicked and bewildered Christian community petitioned General Ershad and later met Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to express their grievances. However, the racial tension defused after Bangladesh troops joined the United Nations for peacekeeping in the Gulf.

The second group in slow exodus are Santals from the Barind area of Rajshahi region for oppression and uprooting them from their ancestral lands.

An exclusive monthly magazine "Shorgomarta" in Bangla for the Christian community regularly carries incidence of attacks, looting, property grabbing and prejudicial writings. Also couple of books have been published in both English and Bangla on the atrocities, persecution and hegemony upon the Christian communities, especially among the converts in the ethnic minorities.

The "ethnic" problem of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is another example of the minorities being marginalized and forced to take up position of confrontation. The Kaptai Hydro Electric Project, which benefited the plain land majority but it, swamped the lands of the ethnic communities destroying their very foundation of living and livelihood. It showed how callous state power could be when it handled problems of the indigenous people (Chowdhury, 1998, pp. 215).
Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), a regional political party of ethnic Mongoloid in Chittagong Hill Tracts which ended two decades of bush war demanding autonomy for the ethnic communities in Chittagong Hill Tracts in their publications often refers to the rule of the "Bangalee Muslim" state in CHT as "internal colonialism".

Government administrative and law enforcing agencies remain mysteriously silent in rural Bangladesh and district towns, when complaints were lodged by religious minorities or killings, extortion, rape, arson, forceful eviction from properties, raiding places of worship such as "Mandirs", destruction of idols and other statues, disrupting, religious festivals, "Pujas" or "Melas"[26] since 1993 (State of Human Rights, 1993, pp. 78). The sustained racial tensions were accompanied by death threats, pressure to sell or abandon properties of mostly Hindu community. In most case the victims remained silent in fear of further persecution.

The year 1993 can also be termed as the first year of organised protest from the Hindu community against unabated repression and oppression. During the biggest religious festival of "Durga Puja", the Hindu community demonstrated in anger and protest by hoisting black flags in all religious temples and places of worships. No deity or idols were set up, no decoration was made. The call was given by Hindus performed the Puja without any religious fervour.

Subsequent regimes of Begum Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina, who came to power through popular mandates of free and fair elections under two consecutive neutral governments (in 1991, 1996 and 2001) continued with the policy and dichotomy of previous government which they rejected on political stage. Amena Mohsin writes:[27] Though General Ershad was looked as usurper, and his regime was termed as undemocratic and autocratic by both Khaleda Zia led Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP) and Shiekh Hasina led Awami League, yet none of these parties even after assuming power had been, or it is posited here would be able to retrench the Islamisation measures taken by Ershad.

The Constitution of Bangladesh, despite Awami League in power for five years, remains an Islamic one, argues Dr. A. Mohsin. It is then logical here to assume that democracy is a prerogative of the dominant majority only of the Muslim population.

The u-turn from secular politics to political Islam has further deepened the racial problems of the Bangla speaking Muslims and Hindus.

The situation of minorities in Bangladesh is a human rights issue. Status of minorities all over the world has demonstrated a pattern of discrimination and insecurity. Bangladesh is no exception. However, the example of minorities in Bangladesh has a typical trend (Shaha, 1998, pp. 5). Overall situation of the minorities in Bangladesh will not improve unless total fundamental rights laid down in the state constitution as well as by United Nations Human Rights Declaration are not implemented. With out the political will of the government, it would be difficult to see a society of racial harmony.

As Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed describes, it is rule of the majority, which evolved from Bangalee nationalism, Bangladeshi nationalism and Islamic nationalism by enigmatic national leaders. It is obvious that the dominant factor is enshrined in the state Constitution.

A Hindu rights activist and lawyer Rabindra Ghosh urge that unless the Enemy/Vested Property Acts are abolished and properties returned to rightful owner, the harassment of Hindu citizens of Bangladesh would be a never-ending process.

Religion has been used as a tool by the political parties and politicians in Bangladesh to consolidate their power base. It is time that our elected representatives take cognisance of the fact that Bangladesh is not homogenous state rather it is a multi-national state, this reality ought to be incorporated into the Constitution.

Security specialists at a recently concluded Intelligence Summit[28] conference at Washington DC during 17-20 February 2006 that Bangladesh will become the next epicentre for terrorism, unless Bangladesh authority takes steps to contain the eminent crisis.

The conclusive remarks was made not on the basis of home-grown Islamic vigilante’s recent countrywide bombings, but from credible information of dreaded military intelligence (DGFI) in Bangladesh to use the Jihadist to establish links with the terror-network. Foreign security and intelligence blames Bangladesh for allowing Islamic militants establish training camps in treacherous hill forest terrain near the international border with Burma in the southeastern region.

With abrupt emergence of radical Islam from political Islam, the country has plunged into a national crisis. Bangladesh in the past was exporting terror (Jihadist) for more than a decade to Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Egypt and other Muslim countries.

Therefore it seems a one-way ticket to era of terrorism. With gloomy pictures painted by security specialists and investigative journalists, the religious minorities will not see peace in their life.

Dr. Amena Mohsin urges the society that we must practice a culture of tolerance and respect towards each other. Bangladesh is not a land of the Bangla speaking people alone. The Hindus, Christian, Buddhist, Garos, Malos, Santals and all the other communities have contributed and participated in their own ways towards building up this society. Their contribution and sacrifices during the war of liberation also need to be recorded and acknowledge in our national history (Mohsin, 1997, pp. 104). #

* SALEEM SAMAD, an Ashoka Fellow is a Bangladesh based journalist. Presently in exile in Canada for his articles published in TIME Asia, Indian news portal (now defunct), Pakistan-based Daily TIMES, newsweekly Dhaka Courier & political weekly Holiday on conflict, terrorism & Islamic militancy in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh. He has written extensively on the insurgency & peace in Chittagong Hill Tracts since 1980. email: * efax: 1-703-940-5862

* Paper presented the 6th International Conference on Religious & Ethnic Minority Cleansing and Terrorism in Bangladesh and organized by Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) USA, at New York, on 25 February 2006. The information in this article has largely been quoted from my co-authored book: Shrinking Space: Minority Rights in South Asia, ed. Sumanta Banerjee, published by Vedam Books, New Delhi, 2002:

[1] Municipalities and City Corporations are local government’s for administration of cities and towns.
[2] Union Council, lowest tier of local government for administration of few villages, which makes a union
[3] Hijab: The headscarf worn by Muslim women, sometimes including a veil that covers the face except for the eyes
[4] The first constitution of Pakistan in 1956 had mentioned five provincial governments, East Bengal, Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)
[5] Hussain, Dr. Syed Anwar. 1997, pp 83. Bangladesh Politics: From Secular to Islamic Trend, in Barun De and Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), State, Development and Political Culture: Bangladesh and India. New Delhi: Har Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd.
[6] Kabeer, Naila. 1997,pp 53. A thrice-partitioned history, in Ursala Owen (ed.) INDEX on Censorship 6/1997. London: Index on Censorship.
[7] Source: U.S Library of Congress,
[8] A. K. Fazl-ul-Haq, the then Chief Minister of Bengal, moved the historical resolution at the All India Muslim League conference at Lahore in March 1940. Which is popularly known as Lahore Resolution.
[9] "No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign".
[10] Hashim, Abul. 1974, pp 169. In Retrospection. Dhaka: Subarna Publishers.
[11] Under the leadership of the Ali brothers, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, the Muslims of South Asia launched the historic Khilafat Movement. Gandhi linked the issue of Swaraj with the Khilafat issue to associate Hindus with the movement. The ensuing movement was the first countrywide popular movement against notorious British rule.
[12] Hartmann, Betsy and Boyce, James. 1983, pp 15. A Quiet Violence: View from a Bangladesh Village. London: Zed Press.
[13] Chowdhury, Afsan. 1998, pp 213. Disasters: Issues and Responses, in Philip Gain (ed.) Bangladesh Environment: Facing the 21st Century. Dhaka: Society for Environment and Human Development.
[14] Ahmed, Dr. Imtiaz. 1997, pp 86. Indo-Bangladesh Relations: Trapped in the Nationalist Discourse, in Barun De and Ranabir Samaddar (ed.) State, Development and Political Culture: Bangladesh and India. New Delhi: Har Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd.
[15] Prof. Islam, ibid
[16] Abul Hashim was General Secretary of Bengal Muslim League. He quite his party in protest of division of Bengal. In 1950 he migrated to East Bengal. Hashim was one of the architects of the failed scheme of the United Bengal Movement in early 1947. In 1960, he was appointed the first Director of the 'Islamic Academy'.
[17] Prof. Islam, Sirajul, 2000. State and Religion, Banglapedia, Asiatic Society, Dhaka.
[18] Talukder, Dr. Maniruzzaman. 1990. Bangladesh Politics: Secular and Islamic Trends, in Rafiuddin Ahmed (ed.), Religion, Nationalism and Politics in Bangladesh. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers.
[19] Devichand, Mukul. 10 November 2005, BBC Radio Four's Analysis programme, How Islam got political: Founding fathers, BBC Radio, London.
[20] Gosh Rabindra, 2002. Organiser (Vol. LI, No. 39)
[21] Barkat, Dr. Abul, Dr. Sharif uz Zaman and Dr. K.M. Akbar Hossain. 1997. Vested Property Act: Towards a feasible Solution, presented at a seminar organised by Association of Land Reforms and Development (ALRD).
[22] State of Human Rights 1992. 1993, pp 22. Dhaka: Coordinating Council for Human Rights in Bangladesh.
[23] Shaha, Prof. Dr. S.S, 22 July 1998, p 5. Manabodhikar O' Bangladesh’er Sangkhalogud’er Shamasya, Dainik Ittefaq, Dhaka
[24] State of Human Rights 1994. 1995. Father R.W. Timm, Brother Jarlath D'Souza, et al (ed.). Dhaka: Coordinating Council for Human Rights in Bangladesh.
[25] Interview with Shatahik Thikana, Vol. 17, Issue: 02, 24 February 2006, New York
[26] State of Human Rights 1995. 1996, pp 128. Father Dr. R.W. Timm (ed.). Dhaka: Coordinating Council for Human Rights in Bangladesh.
[27] Mohsin, Dr. Amena. 1997, pp 98. Democracy and the Marginalisation of Minorities: The Bangladesh Case, in Prof. B.K. Jahangir (ed.), The Journal of Social Studies (# 78, October 1997). Dhaka: Centre for Social Studies.