Awami League hasn’t kept their commitment, claims minority leaders

Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad general secretary Rana Dashgupta (L) and chief coordinator of AL’s election steering committee Kabir Bin Anwar

The leaders of minority communities have alleged that the ruling Awami League hasn’t kept their election-time commitments over ensuring the safety and the rights of the community. The people of the minority community are disgruntled with this. They have been in a movement for a long time to realise the promises made by the ruling party before elections.

Leaders of religious and ethnic minority communities raised concerns over their security as the government didn’t keep their word.

The term of the incumbent Awami League-led government that came to power for the third consecutive term winning the 11th general elections in December 2018 will end on 29 January next year.

As per the constitution, the next election must be held within 90 days before the end of the parliament’s current term on 29 January. The countdown for the national polls will start from 1 November. The people concerned feel that if another parliamentary session sits before the polls and the commitments are not realised, then there is no hope left.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former cabinet secretary and chief coordinator of AL’s election steering committee Kabir Bin Anwar said, “Works are underway to execute the commitments made by the Awami League. For instance, works are underway for the legislation of the required laws. Some of these are at the parliament, some are at the law ministry and some are placed as bills. It can’t be said that there has been no progress at all. We are working on it.”

However, religious and ethnic minority leaders alleged that none of these laws mentioned by Kabir Bin Anwar has been passed by the parliament as yet.

Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad (Unity Council) general secretary Rana Dashgupta told Prothom Alo, “There will be another session of the current parliament before the election. We are looking forward to it to see what role the government plays.”

What were the commitments?

Awami League’s election manifesto for the 11th general polls titled “Road to Prosperity” had a section with the title – “Ethnic groups, religious minorities and backward communities”. This section included various commitments for the minority communities.

Reinstating the rights of the rightful owners through the amendment of the Vested Property Act was one of the ruling party’s top-most priorities.

The then government declared the properties of the people of Hindu community, who fled to India during the India-Pakistan war in 1965, as enemy properties. After independence, these properties were declared vested properties.

The Vested Properties Act was passed in 2001 which took effect in 2012. Although the Awami League promised to return these properties to the rightful owners in the election manifesto in 2018, there has been no effective initiative from the government regarding this.

The minority communities demand for returning these assets to the actual owners by settling the relevant cases in the shortest possible time through issuance of a notification from the Prime Minister’s Office. The manifesto also contains commitments regarding formation of a national minority commission and legislation of a “special law for effective protection of the rights of the minority”. However, these pledges are yet to be realised.

The ruling party’s manifesto for the previous election also contained commitments of taking up special initiatives and continuing the activities of the Land Commission “to protect the rights of the small ethnic communities’ lands, water-bodies and forestry in the plain lands”.

However, the ruling party is yet to take any special initiative to ensure the rights of the small ethnic communities in the plain lands. Rather, the people of the minority community have lost lands, water-bodies and forestry over the last five years.

There are also instances where government initiatives have endangered the properties of the ethnic people. For instance, the project to dig a canal in the Madhupur Bhawal Forest in Tangail has been stalled in the face of protest from the minority community. The government hasn’t taken any initiative for the ethnic people living in plain lands.

The AL also made commitments to continue the special quota facilities in education and the job sector for the children of the backward and underdeveloped small ethnic communities, Dalits and tea plantation workers.

The quota reform movement took place in early 2018 before the declaration of this election manifesto. Although it was not in the demands of the protesters, the quota facility in the first and second class jobs for the small ethnic groups was cancelled due to this movement. Despite being in power, the ruling party didn’t do anything to reinstate the quota facilities for the ethnic minority in government jobs. The ethnic minorities are falling behind for this.

The manifesto also called for an end to all discriminatory laws and unlawful practices against religious and ethnic minorities. However, no initiative has been taken in this regard.

The AL’s last commitment was about recognising the rights of the ethnic groups and other communities and taking up projects to protect and develop their languages, literature, culture and lifestyles distinctive of the small ethnic communities and other minority groups and to develop them in a balanced way that will be launched and implemented on a priority basis.

Relevant people say majority of these commitments would have been realised, had the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord been in effect. Besides, the government didn’t implement the priority based programme for the ethnic group either.

Successive movements

Several organisations working on the rights of the minorities have been protesting for long for the implementation of the commitments made by the ruling party. The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad and several organisations of different minority communities under it are notable among them. Apart from holding programmes, including rallies and road marches, these organisations also have placed a memorandum with signatures of some 250,000 people to the prime minister after a rally at the Suhrawardy Udyan in the capital on 7 January this year.

Leaders of the Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad and other minority groups under its leadership met the prime minister on 12 April, Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader on 19 February and chief coordinator of the AL’s election steering committee Kabir Bin Anwar on 17 July with the same agenda.

The Minority Oikya Morcha (Unity Front) staged hunger strikes and mass sit-in programmes in different parts of the country from 8 to 24 September.

Now the Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikkya Parishad have postponed its previously announced mass rally on 6 October to 4 November hoping that the government will amend the laws as promised in the last session of the current parliament, which means the minority leaders will decide the next course of their movement based on what the government decides about the minorities.

What are the reasons for not implementing promises?

Despites the continual movement of the minorities, the Awami League is yet to do anything to keep their commitment. AL’s election steering committee chief coordinator Kabir Bin Anwar could not provide any answer when asked about the reasons behind this.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Aroma Dutta, MP of the ruling party and member of the parliamentary caucus on ethnic and minority affairs said, “The prime minister is sincere about implementing the commitments, but the technical committee, who are working on the legislatives, couldn’t finish the work yet.”

Workers Party president and one of the top leaders of the AL-led 14-party alliance is regular in the programmes demanding implementation of the commitments made to the minority communities.

He said, “The government often procrastinates in case of legislating a law. I think this is the main reason. They haven’t implemented the promises, which should have been done a long time ago.”

However, the minority leaders have raised questions regarding the sincerity of the government. Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad general secretary Rana Dasgupta claims that the promises are not being implemented due to a mind-set of neglecting the minorities and not counting them as citizens.

He said, “The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies think if they (minorities) leave, it’s good for both country and religion. And the Awami League and its associates think the minorities are their vote bank and if they leave, the property is mine. We can no longer have confidence in the government.”

However, leaders of both - ruling Awami League and BNP, refuted the claim of Rana Dasgupta.

*This report appeared on print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu