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Dhaka city polls: Hindu community leaders move SC as protests continue

  • Published at 11:14 pm January 16th, 2020
DU Protest
Dhaka University students protest demanding rescheduling of Dhaka city polls, at the base of Raju Memorial Sculpture on the campus on Thursday, January 16, 2020 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Atiqul urges EC to reschedule the polls

Efforts were on until on Thursday for a rescheduling of the polling date of the two city corporations in Dhaka, with a fresh appeal being filed with the Supreme Court amid protests and criticism.

Supreme Court lawyer Ashoke Kumar Ghosh, who had filed the previous petition, moved the appeal to the apex court two days after the High Court rejected a petition seeking deferment of the city polls.

The polls date, January 30, coincides with Saraswati Puja, one of the biggest religious festivals of the country’s Hindu community, leading to repeated appeals and growing protests among students for a change in the polls schedule.

The High Court order left the petitioner and people from the Hindu community and experts aggrieved. It sparked protests several hours later at Shahbagh, leaving thousands of citizens trapped in massive gridlocks on the connecting roads.

Moreover, the Election Commission on Wednesday said it was determined to hold the elections on January 30 as there was no chance to defer it. 

On December 22 last year, once the EC announced the schedule, the Hindu community voiced its opposition to the decision immediately as it was set to celebrate Saraswati Puja on January 29-30.

Matters became more complicated with the school holiday calendar sanctioned by the government marking January 29 for the Hindu religious festival.

Many Hindu religious groups, including the Puja Udjapon Parishad and Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), had urged the commission to move the date to facilitate the community in celebrating the festival.

25 DU students on fast-unto-death 

DU students continued their protests on the university campus for the fifth straight day on Thursday, with at least 25 of them going on a fast-unto-death to demand that the polls be rescheduled. 

Under the banner of 'General Students of DU', the protests got underway at 2pm near the base of Raju Sculpture. However, the students refrained from blocking off Shahbagh intersection unlike their action in the previous two days. 

Meanwhile, the DU Teachers Association, in a press note on Thursday, urged the authorities concerned to reschedule the election considering the overall situation.

It claimed that the EC’s decision to stick to the polls date had hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus and created an adverse reaction among the masses.  

Chhatra Dal protests at DU

Around a hundred Chhatra Dal leaders and activists staged a demonstration on the DU campus when they gathered at Madhur Canteen in the morning on Thursday.

Later, they marched towards Raju Sculpture, and stayed there for around 20 minutes, before leaving the spot around 11:50am.

Chhatra Dal President Fazlur Rahman Khokon, General Secretary Iqbal Hossain Shyamol, among other central and university committee members, were present there.

Protests, criticism, and urges pour in 

Expressing his disappointment over the court verdict and the EC’s decision, BHBCUC Secretary Rana Dasgupta on Thursday said a leave to appeal would be filed today as the organisation had received the certified copy of the High Court order. 

“According to the religious calendar, all the Pujas are organized by Tithi And Khon (logno). This puja has to be celebrated on the fifth Tithi and just after sunrise,” he said. 

But the fifth tithi will start at 9:10 am on 29 January and will finish at 9:50 am the next day, meaning that the puja has to be offered on January 30, he maintained. 

But the government fixed the Saraswati Puja time considering the starting time of the fifth tithi on January 29, not on the basis of the `khon (logna)' in violation of Hindu rituals, Rana Das Gupta said. 

“Casting votes and celebrating on the same day will be an uphill task for us,” he said, adding fixing the date of the puja in the interest of the election was completely contradictory to the constitution and proclamation of Bangladesh’s independence.  

'Minority groups were not enjoying freedom'

Rights activist Sultana Kamal said the outrage and protests of Hindus proved that minority groups were not enjoying freedom to celebrate their religious festival in Bangladesh properly. 

Since Bangladesh has a history of post-polls violence against the minorities, the government should have been sympathetic to them, Sultana Kamal added.

Meanwhile, Awami League-endorsed mayoral candidate for Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Atiqul Islam has also urged the commission to reschedule the upcoming city elections due to Saraswati Puja.

In the course of his election campaign at Mirpur-12, he said: "People of all religions live in Bangladesh and everyone has the right to celebrate their own religious festivals. I think if it is required, the Election Commission has to do it."

In another development, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said the government was not interfering with the elections to Dhaka south and north city corporations.

Responding to the BNP’s allegation of influence being exercised on the Election Commission, the minister dismissed the charge, saying: "The commission is not working as per the government's order and it never will. It is therefore working independently.”