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Garment-workers unrest and state coercion to impede democratic protests on the month of victory

Rumana Hashem

An urgent update from Bangladesh on the latest development in labour movement and struggles for fair wage reached our inbox in the morning on Thursday the 22nd December, when I was catching up with last minute tasks to do before a go to winter vacation. A senior journalist and feminist from Bangladesh wrote:

 

Dear Comrades and Colleagues,

 For the past few days, garment workers from Ashulia Industrial Area, Dhaka , are engaged in all forms of protest to demand an increase in the minimum wage. 

 This morning around 11.30am Comrade Moshrefa Mishu of Garments Workers Unity forum was arrested from Topkhana Road in Dhaka. She was on her way to attend a press briefing on the current movement. Another labor leader Shoumitra Kumar Das was also arrested from Ashulia along with 5 other members of his organization, Garments Sromik Front. 

 What is worrying is that police has not confirmed either of the arrest. When asked about Mishu’s arrest, the Detective Branch police said, “she is neither arrested nor detained. She was invited to have a cup of tea.” So far, no words from the officials on Shoumitra and others arrests. 

 Meanwhile two police cases are filed against 219 workers, accusing of vandalism and assaulting factory officials. Two workers named in these cases are also arrested. http://www.newagebd.net/article/5292/121-workers-fired-200-sued  

 Please do what you think is needed for the immediate release of the arrested/detained workers and labor leaders.

in solidarity  [..]

 

Mosherfa Mishu is a grassroots feminist and a gifted organiser in the labour movement whose power of mobilisation has been proven for decades now. She was detained in late 2010 and was held for months in 2011 but she never gave in.  Mishu dedicated three decades for the workers’ rights and garments movement in Bangladesh. This time Mishu was kidnapped and held by police on an important day so as to isolate her from the workers who needed her most for their fight for fair wage.  Mishu was fortunately released afterwards as the purpose was already served and 26 key organisers were detained under special act – under the Industrial Law the government in Bangladesh could take any brutal action against any worker, without reasons, if she/he disobeys imposed rules in the industrial sector. Our friend from Bangladesh wrote on Thursday evening:

Around 5.30pm, the DB police has taken Comrade Mishu to her residence. With that ends the day long drama of inviting labor leaders to drink tea in police custody.

She is in good spirit, and thanked everyone for their concern and support. However, the following labor leaders are still in custody:

1)   Shoumitro Kumar Das, President of Garment Sramik Front Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee. 

2) Rafiqul Islam, President, Garment and Industry Sramik Federation.

3) Al Kamran, President of Shwadhin Bangla Garment Sramik Federation Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee.  

4) Shakil Khan, General Secretary of Shwadhin Bangla Garment Sramik Federation Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee.

5) Shamim Khan, President of Bangladesh Trinomul Garment Sramik-Kormochari Federation.

6) Md Ibrahim, Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity Coordinator (Ashulia)

7) Md. Mizan, convener of Textile Workers Federation. 

What we see in this update is that the garment workers who are key to Bangladesh’s growing economy, and on whose labour and dedication the Bangladesh nation lives as an independent nation-state today are the ones that are being brutally subjugated and silenced. This silencing is happening in the month of victory in Bangladesh. Indeed, the month of victory seems brutal itself this year. Earlier this month, we have seen how brutally religious minorities and indigenous people have been prosecuted and oppressed by law enforcement squads in Bangladesh. Now it is the garment workers who are faced with the adversity of neo-liberal progress in a state that struggles to uphold democracy to say the least.

 

Garment workers are the driving force of Bangladesh’s national development and economic growth, they should be in the heart of the nation . Last week, on 12 December 2016, tens of thousands of garment workers in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka, came out in a week-long strike. They were demanding a minimum monthly wage of 15,000 taka (£158) – a 300% increase on the current minimum wage. The strike is thought to have begun at the Windy Apparels factory, which had seen the gruesome death at work of an employee in October.

According to the Guardian (UK), the strike was provoked when 121 workers were sacked.  Their protests were declared illegal and 10 demonstrators were injured by rubber bullets. The strike then spread to other factories in the Ashulia area and by the 20th December, 59 factories were closed. Many were shut down by factory owners, who locked out the workers rather than face strike action.

The government has mobilised the notorious Rapid Action Battalion police force. Three officers from this same unit have just been sentenced to death after they were involved in politically motivated murders in 2014, in a trial which concluded 17 January this year. One of the three officers, Tarek Sayeed, is the son-in-law of a government minister, the BBC reports.

Fearing the garment workers’ strike would spread across the country, on this 21 December the government began to round up union leaders. This was despite the clearly spontaneous nature of the strike. In fact, the Clean Clothes Campaign, an NGO, reported that “none of the major trade union federations have endorsed the strike. At a number of press conferences, trade union leaders have instead urged workers to return to work.” Prosecutions swiftly followed and other union leaders went into hiding.

According to CWI report by Peter Mason, Around 5 million textile workers produce 80% of Bangladesh’s exports, and if successfully unionised they would have huge power. The continual attempts at unionisation made by the heroic textile workers constantly meet with police action and sackings. When the names of workers who wish to form a union are submitted to the government, as required by law, the government, with its many ties to the garment industry, simply turns the names over to the bosses, who then intimidate or sack them.

There are campaigns by the Clean Clothes Campaign and other NGOs which focuses on and appeals to the government, the employers and the many high street brands that profit hugely from the poverty pay and long hours of the workers. While these are important campaigns, “it is nevertheless the independent class organisation of the workers that is the essential first step”, correctly notes Peter Mason, a Socilaist Party Activist.

This militant section of workers face a brutal regime of exploitation. The Guardian reported that up to 3,500 workers were sacked in what was the first widespread action since the Rana Plaza collapse fatally buried more than 1,138 garment workers beneath piles of rubble and injured 2500 more. At that time, the government declared a day of mourning but incredibly, some bosses kept their factories open. Protesting workers burned two of them down, such was their rage. The government was forced to introduce the present minimum wage but it is totally inadequate.

Windy Apparels, where the December strike started, was supplying a number of well known high street outlets such as H&M, Tesco, Arcadia and Debenhams. Employees routinely work a 14 hour day. 8 hours are paid at the normal rate, two hours overtime, and the rest is unpaid labour. Despite a legal entitlement to sick leave, workers are routinely verbally abused, publicly humiliated, or docked pay.

The treatment of a female employee, Taslima Aktar, caused a scandal. Management repeatedly refused permission for sick leave to her when she was ill and she continued working. She then died at her sewing machine of cardiac failure following “severe respiratory distress”. The employers took her to hospital but later, her co-workers,  leaving the factory, found her body stowed away by management near the factory gates. “This is how little they value our lives … We know the same thing can happen any day, to any of us.” (The Grind, 15 December 2016.)

We urge everyone to show solidarity and raise voices against fascism of government and subjugation of garment workers in Bangladesh. We call upon all community women’s blog readers – please stand up and raise your voices to free all detained leaders of garment workers. Feel free to reproduce any part of this blog. Please write to the government asking to end arbitrary cases against garment workers and labour leaders in Bangladesh.

For further news read:

Mishu briefly detained

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5374/mishu-briefly-detained

Negotiation, not coercion to ease labor unrest

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5451/negotiation-not-coercion-to-ease-labour-unrest

Police pick up 26 people, 157 more workers terminated

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5410/police-pick-up-26-people-157-more-workers-terminated


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What you can do about the recent atrocities against the Hindu & Santal community in Bangladesh

 

The situation of religious minorities, violence against Hindus  and atrocities on Santal indigenous people has not changed or improved in Bangladesh. Since late October, government has hardly acted against the identifiable  criminals and to prevent atrocities against Santals and Hindu minorities – let alone rehabilitation of the people who were faced with genocide in their ancestors’ land.  We stand with the victims and survivors in Santal villages. We echo the voices of Hindu victims and support the Santal resilence. We call upon everyone to take action by following the advice of our friends at Secular Bangladesh Movement and Swadhinota Trust. Below is a call out for action that we reproduced from Swadhinota Trust listserve, issued on 10 Dec 2016 World Human Rights Day by the Swadhinata Trust, Nirmul Committee with the support of the Network of Social Change.

 

Hunger Strike outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 23 November 2016. Photocredict: Atish D Saha

 

We are extremely concerned at the recent atrocities against Hindu community in Brahmanbaria in October and against Santals in Gaibandha in November. These attacks have provoked new fears amongst minority religious communities in Bangladesh.

It is beyond the capacity of the small groups of individuals or communities under sustained attack to assert their rights against very powerful political movements and land grabbers. We therefore need political, moral and, most importantly, immediate financial support from people from across the world who are concerned about this terrifying situation. We hope the vision of a common humanity will prevail over this terrible situation and that help reaches the beleaguered victims as soon as possible.

Things you can do to support

 

Speak out about the plight of religious minorities of Bangladesh with friends, families, neighbours and colleagues to increase awareness

Write to

 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister’s Office

Old Sangsad Bhaban

Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215

Bangladesh

Via facsimile: +880 2 8113244; +880 2 8111015

your local MP, urging the UK govt to take the issue up with Bangladesh government http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/

 

 

Contact lobbying organisations

Amnesty International

1 Easton Street, London, WC1X 0DW

Email: contactus@amnesty.org

Telephone: +44-20-74135500

Fax number: +44-20-79561157

Twitter: @Amnestyonline

 

Human Rights Watch

Audrey House
16 -20 Ely Place
London
EC1N 6SN
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7618 4700
https://www.hrw.org/contact-our-office-london

 

Support organisations working in Bangladesh

Secular Bangladesh Movement UK
Unit 1, Ground Floor Retail Unit, Fondant Court, Payne Road , London E3 2SP United Kingdom
Mobile:0044 7737828922
Nirmul Committee

International Forum for Secular Bangladesh, UK

iforum.secularbd@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/groups/173829836415586/

Swadhinata Trust

International Centre for Community Development

Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities

London Metropolitan University

166/220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB

admin@swadhinata.org.uk www.swadhinata.org.uk

Issued on 10 Dec 2016 World Human Rights Day by the Swadhinata Trust, Nirmul Committee with the support of the Network of Social Change

 


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Memorandum of Hunger Strike for the Prevention of Violence against Minorities in Bangladesh

A symbolic one-day hunger strike held outside Bangladesh High Commission-in London on 23 Nov 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

A symbolic one-day hunger strike held outside Bangladesh High Commission-in London on 23 Nov 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

 

 

A spontaneous and well-participated hunger strike against atrocities on and destruction of Santal villages and minority people in Bangladesh, led by Secular Bangladesh Movement UK, was successfully held in front of Bangladesh High Commission in London. The Below statement was handed over to Bangladesh High Commissioner in London on Wednesday, 23rd November 2016 by the hunger strikers for the prevention of violence against minorities and justice for Santal indigenous people in Bangladesh.

 

A delegation of hunger strikers led by Pushpita Gupta of Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK, handed over a copy of the manifesto to Bangladesh High Commissioner in London on 23 Nov 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

A delegation of hunger strikers led by Pushpita Gupta of Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK, handed over a copy of the  memorandum to Bangladesh High Commissioner in London on 23 Nov 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

 

 

We, concerned community members and cultural activists from Bangladeshi-British origin, along with representatives of human rights and indigenous rights organisations and other UK-based civil society members and supporters of peace and humanity, are outraged by the ongoing atrocities against religious minorities and indigenous people in Bangladesh that have been committed by identifiable perpetrators. We strongly condemn the widespread and systematic attacks on Santal and religious minorities in Bangladesh.

 

Over the past few years news of Hindus and Buddhists and their temples and shrines being attacked in Bangladesh has dominated Bangladeshi and international media. This year the news of atrocities in Santal villages, and attacks on temples and idolatries in Bangladesh started since the onset of Diwaali, an annual religious festival of Hindu communities. Following an allegedly defamatory Facebook post by a Hindu community member who removed the post and apologised rightaway, systematic attacks on Hindu people and Santal villages by hardliner-Muslim protesters, demanding the death of the concerned young man, took a form of ethnic cleansing.

 

The young man denied sharing the post and was arrested by Bangladeshi police.  Nevertheless, the atrocities on Hindu and Santal people continued while authorities appeared as ineffective as silent in relation to prevention of atrocities and prosecution of those responsible for the organised violence against religious minorities in a supposedly secular state.

 

Hindu people have been persecuted and Santal citizens including Hindu priests in Bangladesh are being attacked, by sharp weapons, over and over. Their homes were burned down, temples and idolatries were broken down, and they were brutally persecuted across countryside of Bangladesh – from Nasirnagar to Chattak.  The organised atrocities are similar to 2012 when 2,5000 Muslim rioters burnt Buddhist temples. It has been reported that ongoing attacks on Hindu homes and Hindu temples have seen over 17 temples while hundreds of homes burned across the country. Some claim that over 300 homes were destroyed. Words cannot describe the brutality of organised violence against innocent women and men belonging to Santal and Hindu communities.

 

Today we stand in solidarity with the victims of the ongoing atrocities in Santal villages. We join this one day ‘hunger strike’ outside Bangladesh High Commission in London because we wish to express our profound concerns about religious violence.  We are here because we wish to be heard by the Bangladeshi authorities that this widespread violence cannot be tolerated.  We demand the concerned authorities to take immediate action to prevent violence and prosecute those responsible for atrocities. We call upon the Bangladesh High Commissioner to join us in asking the government to take immediate action to prevent violence against religious minorities in Bangladesh.

 

Bangladesh had been one of the largest democracies in the world, which has a secular (non-religious and non-communal) constitution. Although it has a large Muslim population, it is not only a Muslim country. Along with Muslims, Bangladesh had large number of Hindus, Ahmedias, Buddhists, some Christian population and 45 other indigenous communities who were there when the nation-state was born in 1971. The country is one of the fastest growing economies in South East Asia. It’s fight to be an independent nation-state based on democratic principles of freedom and justice was hard won 45 years ago.  We believe Bangladesh will not give this fight up to any religious hardliners.

 

Religious extremists hate Bangladesh’s secular position and have been trying to destroy the nation’s secular values and space long since. For a country that prides in its secular democratic vision, in practice very little is done to bring about unity and cohesion and tolerance in Bangladesh. A successful secular nation is one where people of different practices should be able to stay safe and in harmony. Every evil in the Human world seems to stem from the intolerance of difference which often renders injustice to the minorities. Bangladesh should be able to overcome intolerance and malevolence. As progressive nations work toward harmony, Bangladeshi administration should work harder to ensure everyone including religious minorities to live in harmony, with their own beliefs and with equal dignity. All perpetrators of religious atrocities in Hindu and Santal villages must be brought under the rule of Law with immediate effect.

 

We stand with victims of ongoing violence against religious minorities in Bangladesh. This Hunger Strike and Solidarity Vigil has been joined by Bangladeshi community organisations of all cultural, religious and ethnic background. It is time for us to stand united against religious violence. It is time to forget all of our differences. It is time for the concerned authorities to act with honesty and with courage to ensure safety of people and social cohesion. Bangladesh must not fail to confront religious violence. We demand the authorities to act audaciously.  The fight for secular values, equality of all, and social cohesion in Bangladesh is necessary to regain our diversity and democracy.

 

Secular Bangladesh Movement UK and Alliances

#HungerStirkeforthePreventionofViolenceAgainstMinorities #JusticeForIndigenousPeople

 

Pushpita Gupta – a community women’s blog member and representative of minority rights hunger strikers stood with a placard for Santal people outside Bangladesh High Commission in London on Wednesday 23 November 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

The last hunger strikers outside Bangladesh High Commission in London in black masks light candles for victims of violence against minority Santal people in Bangladesh in the evening of 23 November 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

The last hunger strikers outside Bangladesh High Commission in London in black masks light candles for victims of violence against minority Santal people in Bangladesh in the evening of 23 November 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

Media contact:

Ansar Ahemed Ullah: +44 7956 890689, philipchand@hotmail.com

Ms Pushpita Gupta, Convenor of Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK:pushpitagupta@gmail.com

Dr Rumana Hashem , Spokesperson of Community Women’s Blog: +44 7936 047597, rowshonrumana@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunger Strike outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 23 November 2016. Photocredict: Atish D Saha

Hunger Strike outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 23 November 2016. Photo credict: Atish D Saha


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Minorities, Why can’t you be like us?

By Piya Mayenin 

 

Extreme views have seen deaths of  freethinkers in Bangladesh since 2013. Over the last few years news of Hindus and Buddhists and their temples and shrines being attacked in Bangladesh has also dominated Bangladeshi and even international newspapers. Earlier this year a shocking atrocity where foreigners and foreign born children of Bangladeshi citizens were hacked to death in a café in ISIS fashion killings is perhaps the most chilling and terrifying of its sort to ever happen in Bangladesh.  From the onset of Hindu Diwaali  this year news of temples and idolatries destroyed dominated newspapers once again. Then, last week  was the news of a young man  that has allegedly shared a face book post that some believe has denigrated the Masjid- Al-Haram, the great mosque of Makka, a holy site for Muslims.

 

Islamic group protesters gathered in Nasirnagar in protest and demanded the death of this young man who was hurting religious sentiments.  The young man denied sharing this post and the police arrested him.  However, this did not quell the angry mobs who were given permission to gather repeatedly. They gathered and used mosque loudspeakers to gather more and more people. They attacked Hindu people with sharp weapons including Hindu priests, burned down Hindu homes in the Brahmanbaria district of Eastern Bangladesh temples and idolatries were broken down throughout many parts of Bangladesh from Nasirnagar to Chattak.  It is reminiscent of 2012 when 25000 Muslim rioters burned Buddhist temples. It has been reported that the current and ongoing attacks in Hindu homes and Hindu temples has seen over 17 temples and 100 homes burned across Bangladesh. Some claim it is as much as 300 homes.

 

The shocking part for me was the news that a Minister allegedly reacted to this young man by publicly saying something equivalent to ‘get those Malauns‘. I have not read that report however I have read many media defending the Minister  stating that members of the Awami League ( Ruling party in Bangladesh) had stated that it is perhaps a word he used in private not in public. I have also read reports of the Minister stating ‘I will resign if anyone can prove I have said Malaun‘.  I believed this Minister has said this and in protest of this ongoing attacks on Hindu population in Bangladesh I changed my profile ID to a slogan ‘Ami Malaun‘, meaning I am a malaun in support of friends, brothers sisters of Bangladeshi origin who have been subject to these atrocious and this slur word throughout their lifetime.  Since then another thing that has happened is that I have had unsolicited approach from unknown people (who were on my face book list but not known to me personally) telling me to ‘Take it off’ and that I ‘should be mature about it’. On seeing the same message on my ID, I replied there that it was in protest of what the Minister allegedly said and even if he didn’t it was in support of this ongoing hatred against the decreasing Hindu population of Bangladesh since 1975. However I continued to get private in-box messages that were ‘educating me’ from the same individual and others who were asking me if I knew what Malaun meant and that I should take it down without asking my reasons for putting it up in the first place.

religious-persecution-following-minister-of-animal-well-being-called-hindus-name-malaun-4-nov-2016-jpg-3-source-ajanta-deb-roy

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as 'malaun'. Source Ajanta Deb Roy

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as ‘malaun’. Source Ajanta Deb Roy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a human being,  I felt it was utterly disrespectful the tone and manner of ‘educating’ me. As a mother of three, two that are teenagers and as an educated individual, I found it alarming, surprising and patronising. As a woman I knew that a large male population feel that they are entitled to educate the woman,  the lesser being,  in this patronising manner.

 

If I was approached respectfully I would have had the mindset to communicate the following:

The word Malaun is a term derived from Arabic which means ‘accursed’  or ‘deprived of God’s mercy’.  It is commonly used by Bangladeshi Muslims and Muslims of Bengal to ethnically slur a Hindu.  If this is said by a Minister of a Country, be it in a slip of tongue or to incite violence then it must be protested.

 

There are some who suggest that this is a manipulation by the current government in order to create tensions and communal violence, while it flies over my head why any government would do that we should remember that attacks on minorities in South Asian countries are not unknown and religious sentiments are incensed to provoke atrocities on minorities. In Bangladesh Hindus are the second largest religion although only 8% of the population. Further please recall the communal violence that has a history of thousands of years in these countries.

 

Initially the invaders brought trade and the spread of Islam to Hindu and Buddhist region, not to mention the other tribal religions that existed and still exist in those regions.  Then invasion in a  the temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh when Mahmud of Ghazni came down the Indus plains from Afghanistan and plundered Hindu temples of  gold jewellery and money. By 1024 he  returned and went all the way to somnaath, now known as Gujrat and plundered more with feeble resistance from Hindus who thought that the lord Shiva had punished them. According to historians 50,000 Hindus were killed and temples were destroyed to the ground.  Then came the Muizzu’Din of Turkey in 12th century and the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century and Tughluqs in the 14th, and Timur in 1398 who is said to have seen 5 million deaths. Other names not to forget in Bengal is Alauddin Khilji the early 13th century and Hazrat Shahjalal from Delhi who arrived in Sylhet in 1303 with 360 disciples. A dispute with Gaur Gabindh created a fight which he won. The tensions continued in the Mughal era being the descendants of Timur and Genghis Khan. It was the 16th century Akber the Great who brought a long and ushered Golden Age. He married a Hindu princess and appointed Hindu ministers and this golden era was somewhat undone by Aurangazeb 1658- 1707.  However, even during these times Hindus and the growing Muslim population managed to live, on the whole, harmoniously. It is reported by Indian psychoanalyst and author Sudhir Kakur that ‘It was a multicultural co-existence rather than any merger into a single, composite culture.’  I explain that as Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and other religions were getting along with each other and accepting each others ethnic similarities and their religious differences.

 

The modern violence and it must be said that no other violence that flared up was the one that did during the British rule in India.  Despite of Mahatma Ghandi’s attempt to unite, the demand to split up Pakistan and India on the basis of religion from Mohammed Ali Jinnah giving it a two state solution was never a solution as communal violence continued between India and Pakistan. What more West Pakistan  which was over a 10000 miles away from East Pakistan and very intolerant and non accepting of Bengali people who were culturally linguistically different. Bengali’s had a history and language of thousands of years and thus were not ‘Muslim’ enough and not clean enough for the rulers of Pakistan based on religion. This was the backdrop of the independence of East Pakistan which is now Bangladesh.

 

The point of this extremely brief history is that this attitude has not changed. Generation after generation an inherent ignorance and hatred of each others’ religion has continued. The same loot and attacks over religious rhetoric. It is astonishing that large groups are given permission to gather in this way in full knowledge of communal violence of south Asia and which is increasingly happening in Bangladesh. A Hindu person commented that even in 1971 Nasirnagar was a safe place for Hindus.

 

It is the responsibility of the leaders of a nation to change this rhetoric and to change this scene and to change it now. It does not happen overnight but the permission to gather over communal rows must be stopped. It is despicable that a Minister is implicated in all this and that is why whether he said it or not he should resign. The use of slurring word such as ‘malaun’  must be banned and a fine imposed so that eventually people learn to live within the law.

 

History of other developed nations has demonstrated that within time peoples attitudes and vision change. Allowing communal tensions to fester and giving in to violence is an easy and an extremely dangerous option which is hovering over the head of every Bangladeshi person especially Hindus.

 

For a country that prides in its secular democratic vision, in practice very little is done to bring about unity and cohesion and tolerance in Bangladesh. A successful nation is one where it is fine to be different. Every evil in the Human world seems to stem from the intolerance of difference which often renders injustice to the minorities. When it is truly learned in Bangladesh that progressive nations work toward harmony though allowing everyone to live under the rule of Law with their own beliefs and with equal dignity.

 

Ends.

 

The author is a solicitor, a women’s rights activists and a member of community women’s blog who speak for the rights of all community women and men.


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Protest and Charity Event for Victims of Violence against Religious Minorities

Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK will hold a protest and signature campaign against recent attacks on Hindus and systematic violence against religious minorities in Bangladesh. The protest and petitioning will be followed by a cultural event and fundraiser, which Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK will host in partnership with RadhaRaman Society.  Both events will be held on Sunday 13 November in London, and will be joined by prominent Bengali and Bangladeshi-British cultural activists, music artists and singers.  You are invited to join us and help us to raise awareness against persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh.
Venue: The Ripple Centre, Ripple Road, BARKING IG11 7FN.
Show starts at: 6pm, ends at 8.30pm on Sunday 13th November.
Tickets will be available on door £10.
Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.
All funds raised will go directly to help victims of violence and rape against minority women who deserve justice.
Under the political unrest and increasing extremism in Bangladesh,  women and men of religious minority have been facing unending religious persecution, which is often launched by Islamists and Muslim hardliners.  About a week ago, on Sunday the 30th October, a horrific attack on Hindus was launched in which at least 15 temples and at least 12 pavilions holding Kali Puja were destroyed. In the afternoon of Sunday, several hundred Muslim hardliners carried out the attack after an announcement was made in front of Rail Mosque in Montola area by some local supporters of Jamaat and its radical student unit Islami Chhatra Shibir.  The brutal attack by some 3,000 radical Muslims destroyed at least 12 temples and 100 houses in Nasirnagar area leaving over 100 Hindus injured. Media reports suggest that the local leaders and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami played a key role behind the planned attacks on Hindu houses and temples at Madhabpur in Habiganj on Sunday as a result of the communal attacks in Nasirnagar area of Brahmanbaria over a fake blasphemous post on Facebook.

religious-persecution-following-minister-of-animal-well-being-called-hindus-name-malaun-4-nov-2016-source-ajanta-deb-roy-jpg-2

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as 'malaun'. Source Ajanta Deb Roy

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as ‘malaun’. Source: Ajanta Deb Roy

The failing of government to prevent systematic religious persecution is apparent. It has been reported by local media that instead of protecting the people who deserved security, a minister of Bangladesh called Hindus names, as Malaun, which means ‘cursed’. This alleged derogatory comment on Hindus  provoked further violence and followed further attacks on the minority Hindus by extremist Muslims. Although there is no published evidence on whether or not any minister has made such comment, the violence has increased and the many lives of minority people belonging to Hindu religion are at risk.
On Sunday evening cultural activists and Bangladeshi musicians of all religious backgrounds will stand together in one stage to say no to violence and persecution of religious minorities. The protest will be followed by a charity evening of Bengali Music, Poetry and Dance performance to support and raise funding for the victims of ongoing violence in Bangladesh. The event will be performed by prominent musicians, dance-performers, singers including poets and singers Imtiaz Ahmed, Gouri Chowdhury, Sanjoy Dey, Amith Dey, Farzhana Sifat, Laboni Barua, Anushua Paul, Manash Chowdury; musicians Ustad Yusuf Ali Khan and London DC; dancers Sharmishtha Pandit and Shreya Dey; musical groups; Robika, Soyttsen School of Perfoming Arts and Udichi.
secular-bangladesh-flyer-for-minority-rights

The entertainment will be seasoned with short presentations and speeches by community activists such as Mihir Sarkar, Ansar Ahmed Ullah and Sushanta Das Gupta.  Our aim is to support campaign and raising awareness against persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh.

Please join us. Stand with the cause this Sunday.
For further information please contact:
Pushpita Gupta, Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK: secularbangladeshmovement@gmail.com, 07737 828922
TM Ahmed Kaysher, Radha Rahman Society:ahmed.kaysher@gmail.com
For news coverage on religious persecution in Bangladesh visit:
Jamaat men fuelled Madhabpur rampage : Dhaka Tribune 03 November, 2016
Video of destruction and attacks in Santal villages  by Muslim-hardliners http://youtu.be/0HFJzFXP7cQ


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Report on My Bangladesh visit in March 2016

Pushpita Gupta

I am the Co-founder and President of the pressure group called the Secular Bangladesh Movement UK(SBMUK). In December 2015, I was also elected President of the Campaign for the Protection of Religious Minorities in Bangladesh (CPRMB).

In March 2016, I visited Bangladesh on a fact finding trip to see for myself the victims of the atrocities committed against Hindu minority community. During my tour of the country, I visited a number of places to better understand the recent situation of Hindu minorities and victims tortured in the name of religion. This report provides a detailed description of my tour and will give an insight about the current difficult situation faced by the Hindu community.

My trip was jointly supported by the SBMUK and CPRMB who covered the expenses of all travel and modes of transport.

 

Background, political context

Bangladesh is a country where the majority 90% of the population follow the Muslim faith. After the partition of India in 1947,the Hindu population became an endangered community in their motherland, Bangladesh. Through time and changing political situations, pressure on this community has accelerated at an increasing rate.

During the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, Hindus were one of the main targets of the killing and rape by the Pakistani military and their local militias, simply because of being a Hindu. After independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the percentage continued to dwindle with time through persecution and oppression on a mass scale. Only for the reason of religion, the community has faced large scale brutal attacks by Islamist fanatics in 1991-1992, 2001-2002. Atrocities include murder, rape of women and children, forcefully acquiring Hindu property, destruction of religious idol and temple.

Current context

In recent years, with the rise of Islamism, atrocities against Hindu minority community has increased to an ever more alarming rate. In the last 12 months alone, people have been murdered, raped and forced to leave their property and leave the country becoming refugees in neighbouring countries.

It should be mentioned with the secular government led by Awami League that came to power in 2008 and the formation of International War Crimes Tribunal in 2010 the attacks on Hindu minority has increased. Amnesty International in its 2013 report said, ‘The attacks come in the context of large scale violent protests that have been raging across Bangladesh for weeks over the country’s ongoing war crimes tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT).’

Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher at the time said, “The Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk, in particular at such a tense time in the country. It is shocking that they appear to be targeted simply for their religion. The authorities must ensure that they receive the protection they need. (Amnesty International:2013)

Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2015: Bangladesh stated, Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party threw petrol bombs to enforce strikes and economic blockades. Before and after the election (referring to 2014 election), attackers also vandalized homes and shops owned by members of Bangladesh’s Hindu and Christian communities. (HRW:2015)

This trend seems to be continuing as Bob Blackman MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on British Hindus observed in a debate at the House of Commons on 8 Sept 2016. He said the widespread and persistent violations of human rights and the persecution of minority religious groups—Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other tribal communities in Bangladesh—by the extremist armed groups are deeply worrying to all concerned within the country and in this country.

In late September and early October 2015 two foreign nationals were shot and killed. Since then and as recently as July 2016, attacks against religious minority groups including the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Shia and Ahmadiyya communities, have killed several people and injured many more. Previous methods of attack have included crude explosives, grenades, shootings and knife attacks.

 

The trip

I went to Bangladesh on 28thMarch, 2016 for a three week visit, returning to the UK on 19th April 2016. In this period, I had visited different places of Bangladesh with a high ratio of minority attacks and families, who had faced atrocity.

Whilst in Bangladesh, SBMUK and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) provided support for me to visit different places and they made arrangement for various local facilities.
 

Places Visited

 

The following table chronicles the tour:

Place Date of visit Incident
Feni  is a district located in the South-Eastern part of Bangladesh 3rd April,2016 A Rabindra Das and his family was asked to give money by the neighbouring Muslim family for permission to celebrate the Hindu festival of Lakshmi Puja. When Mr Das refused to give money, the Muslim family attacked on 29th October 2015, the day of Lakshmi Puja. At one point Mr Das’s wife Tulsi Rani Das, who was 5 months pregnant came to protect her husband and was beaten up badly. As a result she lost her unborn baby. Doctors said she might not be able to have a baby in future. After the incident Tulsi has become mentally traumatised.
Jhinaidha, a southern district of Bangladesh 4th April,2016 This is an incident of property grabbing.  One Hindu community’s fishing area has been forcefully grabbed by a powerful local Muslim family. Mr Nikhil Dutt is one of the Malos (fishermen) who is losing his traditional profession of farming and catching fish in the local water bodies of Maheshpur Kathgora Baor. The Hindu family went to court and got the verdict in their favour, but are still being restricted from fishing there. At least 30 to 40 families depend on this piece of land for their livelihood. They live under threat of losing their land and property, and even their lives are in the hands of the powerful locals who have told them to look for alternative means for surviving. Corrupt people in the local administration are also against the fisherman.
Khulna, Khulna Division  is one of the seven divisions of Bangladesh and is in the south-west of the country. 5th April, 2016 In March 2016,during the local government elections in Bangladesh, Hindu families have been widely tortured for voting their own choice of party by the opponent party. Suvash Das and his family was attacked for voting in favour of the ruling party whose candidate lost. For being in the minority they could not protect themselves. After election violence took place all over the country in 2016, and the Hindu minority community faced extensive damage to homes and businesses.
Habiganj District is in the north-eastern part of Bangladesh 12th April, 2016 On 14th January 2016, Dipali was getting ready to join the religious festival in the nearby temple. Her family members left the house earlier and she was alone at home. By taking this opportunity one of the Muslim neighbours took advantage of the opportunity and came in to the house and raped her. Dipali reported the incident to the police to file a general diary against that person. When that rapist came to know that, he came again on 16th January with few of his friends and was repeatedly raped by the gang, in front of her husband and children who were threatened with weapons.

The main culprit is the younger brother of a local Awami League (ruling party) leader. After the first incident, therapist was caught by the villagers, but his brother came and rescued him. When Dipali went to the police, the rapist came back and raped her again and threatened her family.

District: Sylhet   is  in northeastern Bangladesh 12th April, 2016 A renowned blogger and online activist, Ananta Bijoy Das was hacked to death on his way to office by some Islamist extremists. The incident happened in the middle of the road 12thMay 2015.

I went to their house to see his family and show condolence to them. Ananta’s father is still in shock and unable to come to terms with the family’s loss.

District: Sylhet 12th April, 2016 A 14 year old school girl Poly was teased daily by a local furniture shop worker on her way to school. One day, the man forced himself on her, but fortunately she escaped. She let her family and school know about the incident as she stopped going to school. Her uncle, Biplop confronted the man and requested him to stop harassing his niece. After couple of days, the owner of the furniture shop called her uncle Biplop to see him. Biplop went to talk but the shop owner and the furniture shop worker stabbed him. Polly’s uncle Biplop later died in hospital. He was newly married.

After the death of Biplop, Poly and her family started getting threats constantly and had to flee from their home and are in hiding in a rural area.

Pabnais a district in north-western Bangladesh 15th April, 2016 In Pabna, Papri was locking up to go next door where the rest of the family where attending a religious musical programme. Papri was the last to leave and whilst she was locking up, she was attacked by three men and dragged to the nearby jungle where she was gang raped. Student of Edward’s College in Pabna, Papri has not attended class since the incident.
Bograis a northern district of Bangladesh 15th April, 2016 Suchi, a 20 year old newly married lady went to a religious festival with her husband. They were taunted by a few local Muslim men. When her husband protested and asked the men to stop, he was stabbed and killed on the spot.

With the main source of income for the family taken away, Suchi has to now support her elderly mother-in-law and her blind father-in-law.

Suchi was only married for 18 days after only knowing her husband for the past 4 years.

 

Conclusion

In all cases, the perpetrators were known and their crimes were reported to the police, yet no charges have been filed.

Community leaders and local police officers are handling the cases of rape, but assailants generally buy their way out of the charges.

As a result, the entire community has been terrorised and feels very insecure. The minority community is not seeing any active role by the political parties or the government to find solutions to these problems that the religious minority of Bangladesh are facing.

In addition, with the rise of Islamist radicalisation in Bangladeshit has caused a mass migration of Bangladeshi minority communities, including Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, who believe their lives are in danger as non-Muslims.

The global community has a stake in engaging with Bangladesh to combat religious extremism, which is a serious threat to Bangladesh as well as others in the age of globalisation.


Recommendations

I would like to remind Bangladesh Awami League of their 2014 election manifesto which stated that the religious rights of every people would be ensured and the state would treat equally with every citizen irrespective of their religion, culture, gender and social status.

With that in mind I would like suggest perpetrators of minority atrocities are brought to justice, specific laws are enacted for the protection of minorities, such as minority protection act, and for the protection of places of worship. A minority rights commission should be created to safeguard the rights of minorities.

I would also like to appeal to the UK Government to give careful consideration to minorities who are already in United Kingdom and have applied for asylum on the basis that they are seeking refugee status for their protection.

 

Sources

Blackman, B (2016) Bangladesh Religious Minorities, London, House of Commons

Faiz, A (2013) Bangladesh: Wave of violent attack against Hindu minority, London, Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch (2015) World Report 2015: Bangladesh, New York, HRW


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Memorandum of the Solidarity Vigil for the Victims of Dhaka Attack

Hand-paint flags and the names death has handcuffed at Traflagar Square . Photo by Araje Tomso. Copy right @Gonojagoron Mancho

Copy right @Gonojagoron Moncho, UK.

At Trafalgar Square Solidarity Vigil for Victims on 3 July 2016

Trafalgar Square Solidarity Vigil for Victims

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 3rd July, 2016, Trafalgar Square, London

We, concerned community members and activists from Bangladesh and internationally, along with representatives of human rights organisations and other civil society organisations and supporters of peace and humanity, are horrified and outraged by the terrorist attack that was perpetuated by extremists in the name of Islam on Friday, the 1st of July, in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka. We strongly condemn the terrorist attack in Dhaka for which ISIS has taken responsibility.

Following the ongoing and systematic murders of bloggers and academics – variously identifying as humanist, rationalist, atheist, secularist, and variously writing about science, humanist values, against Islamist extremism, or in favour of human rights and justice – for the last three years, the religious extremists perpetuated a horrific attack on peaceful and unarmed Bangladeshi and international citizens in the Holly Artisan, a cafeteria previously known as a harmonious and progressive space at a (known as) pleasant town called Gulshan.  While the exact numbers of victims are not yet known, there were at least 22 people killed on Friday’s attack.

No word is sufficient to express the brutality of the slaughtering of innocent and unarmed women and men. The murderers and their ideological supporters are of course to be condemned and must be brought to justice without delay.

Poster at Solidarity vigil on Sunday 3 July 2016. Copy right @Gonojagoron Mancho

Poster at Solidarity vigil on Sunday 3 July 2016. Copy right @Gonojagoron Mancho

Today we stand in solidarity with the victims of the brutal attack in Gulshan. We are joining with the Gonojagoron Moncho in a rally against religious violence and terrorism at Trafalgar Square, London, in solidarity with the victims of Gulshan Attack. We call upon all concerned humans and well-wishers to Bangladesh to join us in the protest against terrorism and extremism.

Bangladesh is one of the largest democracies in the world and has a secular (non-religious) constitution. It has a largely Muslim population, along with a large number of Hindus, Ahmedia, Buddhist ,and some Christian population who were there since the birth of the nation. The country is one of the fastest growing economies in South East Asia. It’s fight to be an independent nation based on democratic principles of freedom and justice was hard won 45 years ago.  Bangladesh will not give this fight up to any terrorist group. But religious extremists hate this position of Bangladesh and have been trying to destroy the nation’s secular space.

Community Women's Blog's Founder, Dr Rumana Hashem, at Sunday Solidarity Vigil for Dhaka at Trafalgar Square on 3 July 2016. Copy right@ Gonojagoron Mancho

Community Women’s Blog’s Founder, Dr Rumana Hashem, at Sunday’s Solidarity Vigil for Dhaka at Trafalgar Square on 3 July 2016. Copy right@ Gonojagoron Moncho, UK

We will not tolerate this. Bangladeshis everywhere will fight against fascism and religious violence and terrorism in the name of religion. It is time for us to stand united against terrorism in the name of religion. It is time to forget all of our differences. It is time to condemn unreservedly the brutal murders and violence in the name of Islam.

This protest and solidarity vigil has been joined by Bangladeshi community organisations and many human rights organisation concerned to the ongoing killings of humans in the name of Islam. Unconditional solidarity has been extended by the British Humanist Asscoiaiton, the Centre for Secualr Space, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Humanitarian Ethical Union, Council for Ex-Muslims. Among the community organisations, Community Women’s Blog, Jubo Union, Nari Digatna, Udichi Shilpi Goshti and many cultural and civic rights organisations have expressed unreserved solidarity with the Gonojagorn Moncho and Bangladeshi people protesting the heinous attack in Dhaka.

 

We stand with humanity and victims of inhuman killings in the name of religion. Bangladesh must not fail to confront and fight ISIS, will mark the beginning of the end of Bangladesh as a free and democratic country.

Gonojagoron Moncho UK activist, Ajanta Deb Roy, stood with a poster questioning the brutality of religious persecution

Gonojagoron Moncho UK activist, Ajanta Deb Roy, stood with a poster questioning the brutality of religious persecution

#WeAreDhaka #StandForDhaka

Gonojagoron Moncho and Alliances, United Kingdom

Here is a short video of the Sunday’s Solidarity Vigil at Trafalgar Square:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QPqcx38gic&feature=youtu.be

Further published news:

গুলশান হত্যাকাণ্ড নিহতদের প্রতি শ্রদ্ধা জানিয়ে যুক্তরাজ্যে গণসংহতি প্রকাশ: Bangla Tribune

‘আমরা বাংলাদেশের পাশে দাঁড়িয়েছি’: পরিবর্তন ডেস্ক