Minority communities in Bangladesh are anxious about their security during the polls, as their past experiences have not been pleasant
The Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad (Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council) has opened a help desk to ensure that spontaneous action can be taken if communal violence breaks out ahead, during, or after the upcoming general election.
Minority communities in Bangladesh are anxious about their security during the polls, as their past experiences have not been pleasant.
The Election Commission, after scrutinizing nomination papers on Sunday, set December 9 as the deadline to withdraw one’s candidacy.
Minority groups may face pressure and intimidation during electioneering before the polls, and may face direct or indirect obstacles when casting votes for candidates of their choice on the polling day. They may even be targeted even after the election.
Leaders of the council have already urged the government and Election Commission to ensure their security during the election period.
More than two hundred people carried out an attack on the Hindu community at Malopara in Abhaynagar upazila of Jessore district on January 5, 2014, the day of 10th parliamentary election. Attackers burnt 12 and vandalized more than 130 houses in the attack. They also used 10 to 15 crude bombs, leaving several injured.
Pointing to the heinous attack on Mukul Sarkar of the Dhaka Tribune on the day, the council leaders said they are still traumatized by the attack.
Sarkar said: “We want peace but we are the victims of election related violence.”
He hoped that law enforcement agencies will take proper action if any such situation arises this time, and save them from any kind of violence.
Sanjoy Dey, a resident of Banshkhali Upazila in Chittagong, said: “Minority communities are not victims of election-related violence, but various factions fulfill their own agenda by taking advantage of the situation.
“During the election, these evil forces try to create fear among minority communities, and even attack them sometimes,” he added.
Sanjoy urged the authorities concerned, including law enforcement agencies, the Election Commission, and political parties, to take appropriate action to protect minority communities from these vested quarters.
Not only in Jessore, minority communities in Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi, and Lalmonirhat also came under attack after and before the election in 2014. They also faced serious political attacks across the country after the 2001 election.
According to the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, around 380 people from minority communities were attacked as of August this year.
However, the number of attacks and incidents of violence came down from 1,471 in 2016 to 1,004 in 2017.
The council has identified 40-50 areas mostly inhibited by minority communities as at high risk of election related violence, and 80-85 other places as risky.
The council has also formed committees with young people in the identified areas, to tackle violence against minority communities, especially election-related violence.
Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council Presidium Member Kajal Debnath told the Dhaka Tribune over phone that people from minority communities become victims of polls related violence even though there is no connection between the two.
He said: “We have already discussed the matter with Rapid Action Battalion, Bangladesh police, and political parties, and expressed our concern over the violence. They said they will take necessary measures to protect minorities from election-related violence.”
A warning from the council leaders
Terming the issue as serious, the council’s leaders warned that they would urge human rights organizations and activists to ensure their security, if law enforcement agencies failed to provide proper security to the minority communities.
The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council has opened a central monitoring cell and helpline to take immediate action against violence of any kind.
In a meeting between with the Awami League-led 14-party alliance, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council President Rana Das Gupta urged the ruling alliance to take strategic measures to prevent violence during the election period.
Awami League Presidium Member and 14-party Alliance Spokesperson Mohammad Nasim said law enforcement agencies have already chalked out various steps to tackle the situation.
“It is our duty to ensure the safety of minorities,” he added.
The Election Commission has already directed the Home Ministry to ensure the security of minority communities and a peaceful atmosphere during polls.
In a letter to the Home Ministry, the Election Commission directed the law enforcement agencies to recover illegal arms, ensure communal harmony, stop the entrance of outsiders to constituencies, and ensure a level playing field during the election.