Speaking at a discussion yesterday, they claimed that the state does not protect the rights of minority communities, even though they are entitled to it as citizens of the country.
The discussion, titled “State of minorities in Bangladesh: Role of state, social discrimination and land rights,” was organised by Committee for the Protection of Fundamental Rights at the auditorium of Bangladesh Institution of Law and International Affairs (Bilia) Centre in Dhanmondi, Dhaka.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra, 180 houses were burnt to ashes, 185 temples-monasteries-statues were vandalised and looted and 67 people were injured in a number of attacks on minorities between January and November in 2016.
Several speakers accused the state of using state instruments against minority communities, a prime example of which is the attack on Santals on November 6.
Around 1,000 Santal families were displaced from their ancestral land when members of police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) evicted them from Sahebganj-Bagda sugarcane farmland of Rangpur Sugar Mill Ltd in Gobindaganj of Gaibandha.
Some local Bangalis loyal to local Awami League lawmaker also took part in the eviction, looting and burning hundreds of houses to the ground. Three Santal men died in the clash and 30 others were injured, including nine policemen.
Prof Dr Swapan Adnan, a researcher, claimed that the state lied about the law enforcement agencies’ involvement in the attack.
“This was not a sectarian attack; a sectarian attack would be different. This was deliberate to serve evil purposes, and law enforcement was misused for that,” he said.
“Now the state is grabbing the land [evicted by the Santals] for a corporation by preparing legal instruments. The government is also planning to build an economic zone and a tourist spot there.”
Human rights activist Sanjeeb Drong said the state was not sympathetic to the plight of indigenous people. “After more than two months of the attack, Santal people are still living in fear,” he said.
Lawyer and rights activist Jyotirmoy Barua said: “Three state elements – judiciary, legislative and administration – were involved in the attack on Santals. We have proof of it.”
Swapan also referred to the heinous attack on Hindus in Nasirnagar upazila, Brahmanbaria on October 30, where a mob vandalised some 17 temples and puja mandaps and ransacked 58 houses in retaliation of an alleged defamatory Facebook post against Islam by a Hindu man named Rasraj.
More than 100 people were injured in the attack, and the victims blamed local influential people linked tot the ruling party and some Islamist groups for inciting violence.
“This, too, was less of a sectarian attack and more of a political move using religious sentiments,” he said. “The ICT Act was used as a tool here. Minority people are now being attacked and are perceived as ‘the enemy of religion.'”
He said minority people were only used as vote bank for political parties during elections.
Swapan further said the state does not treat everyone equally, even though the constitution gives equal rights to every citizen.
But anthropologist Prashant Tripura disagreed. “Marginalisation starts with our constitution, where we only recognise Bangla as the state language. But there are many communities in the country who have their own mother tongue; this is marginalisation of minorities.”
Sanjeeb Drong urged for judicial interference to ensure justice for minority communities and formation of a minority commission to this end.
The discussion was addressed by lawyer Sara Hossain and rights activists Tapan Choudhury and Mizanur Rahman Khan, among others.