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The Honourable Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi
The Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Mrs. Sheikh Hasina Wazed
RE: An open letter on the occasion of Mr. Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh
Esteemed Prime Ministers:
On the occasion of the historic visit of the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi to Bangladesh, we congratulate the prime ministers of both countries for working to bring Bangladesh and India to the threshold of unprecedented friendship. We note the current level of relationship and close partnership between India and Bangladesh reminds us of the days when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Mrs. Indira Gandhi were the leaders of these two countries. We hope the goodwill generated by this visit will take both governments and their people to the next level of prosperity and partnership.
On this occasion, we, the Bangladeshi religious minorities and ethnic indigenous people living abroad, would like to bring some issues to your kind attention with the hope that you will consider our appeal with the most serious scrutiny. A country is developed when its entire people, including the minorities belonging to all strata of the society, enjoy the rights guaranteed by its constitution.
The vision of a secular Bangladesh was compromised after the War of Independence, especially after the brutal assassination of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. In 1988, Islam was declared the state religion. The Hindu population dropped from 19.6% in 1972 to less than 10% in 2011. The current Bangladeshi Hindu population of about 20 million is much smaller than one would expect based on population growth rates. Soft and hard intimidation, extortion, threats to family structures, illegal occupation of property, threats of forced religious conversion, looting and burning of households and temples, and in some cases murder and rape are driving the Hindu and Buddhist populations across the border. The rate of minority population decrease has accelerated in recent years and several districts of Bangladesh are now witnessing the decrease of the Hindu population in absolute numbers.
The rise of Islamist militancy in recent years is fomenting communal disharmony. Extremists are finding it easier to provoke the general public into frenzy against religious and ethnic minorities by spreading false rumours. Over the last two years, hundreds of Hindu and Buddhist temples and properties have been burned, idols desecrated and families evicted from their ancestral homes. Islamic extremism is not only a major threat to the religious and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh, but also to all secular institutions of the region and to democracy in Bangladesh and India.
It is true that the current Bangladeshi Government, in 2012, abrogated a discriminatory law, known as The Enemy Property Act (and later as The Vested Property Act), which had been enacted during the Pakistan era and allowed the confiscation of Hindu property. The implementation of the revised policy has been irregular, however, and virtually no confiscated or illegally occupied properties have been returned to their rightful owners as of today.
Furthermore, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Peace Accord that was signed by the Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1997 has not been implemented according to its clauses. To date, internal migration by Bengali settlers, forcible occupation of lands of tribal people and acts of violence against them are still taking place. The Hill Tracts region is also becoming an Islamist training ground.
We appeal to the Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh with the following request: While India has a Minority Ministry and also a Commission for Minorities, Bangladesh does not have any institution that resembles either one of them to specifically address religious and ethnic minority issues. It is our recommendation that the Prime Minister consider enacting a similar Ministry or Commission in Bangladesh. We call upon both of you–as elected leaders of your respective countries–to work on a plan that would provide a safe environment in Bangladesh for minority communities to live in peace and under the protection of the laws of the land.
Yours most respectfully,
Sitangshu Guha, BHBCUC, USA
Tarun Chowdhury, BHBCUC, Europe
Arun Barua, Bangladesh Minority Forum, Switzerland.
Udayan Barua, Bangladesh Rights Group, France.
Swadesh Barua, BHBCUC, France.
Chitra Paul, Hindu Forum, Sweden.
Dr. Santayana Kabiraj, UK.
Dipeep Karmaker, BHBCUC, Canada.
Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, USA, Canada & EU & Bangladesh Rights Group International.