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2008-06-21
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Religious minorities in Bangladesh complain about their “second-class” status
An inter-faith forum in Bangladesh criticises the country’s growing Islamisation, demanding a return to the original separation of state and religious established in the 1972 constitution. Violence is up against non-Muslims; the latter want a return to “Peace and harmony.”

(AsiaNews/Agencies) Bangladesh’s religious minorities want a return to the separation between state and religion that was recognised in the country’s original constitution, and an end to the abuses non Muslims have to endure in this predominantly Muslim state that has turned them into “second-class citizens.”

For the Bangladesh Hindu Buddha Christian Oikya Parishad (Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian unity council) 9 June 1988 is a “black day” when the constitution adopted in 1972 right after independence from Pakistan was amended. Under the new dispensation “The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic.”

In practice though the new article has led to increasing Islamisation with religious minorities subjected to a harsh campaign of repression, a situation the 200 activists at the inter-faith forum condemned.

For Hindu forum leader Sabittri Bhattacharja the oppression of minority groups has worsened since the 2001 general elections, with rape and murder of women on the rise. Hindus are sometimes targeted because they are associated to the Awami League, the leading opposition party headed by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Moderate Muslim voices have also expressed their support for minority demands.

“The constitution of 1972 was the symbol of unity following our 1971 independence war," said Shahriar Kabir, a Muslim writer and journalist. “But the government today does not include any members of the minority communities.”

Rosaline Costa, coordinator of Hotline Human Rights Bangladesh, agrees. For her then president and military chief Hossain Mohammed Ershad had the 8th Amendment (making Islam state religion) adopted “to divert the attention of his critics” thus taking advantage of the country’s low levels of education to promote an Islamic state.

"Islam is the state religion," she said but "the state is not an Islamic state.”

Despite the rise in Islamic fundamentalism, Costa said many Muslims in the country believe in secularism and could help re-establish the 1972 Constitution.

Source: AsiaNews, Rome/Italy
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