Last Updated: Friday, 29 August 2014, 11:25 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Bangladesh

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Bangladesh, 16 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a66d9c037.html [accessed 29 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The landslide election victory of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in December 2008 raised prospects of a stronger democracy and respect for the rule of law, following two years of emergency rule by the army-backed caretaker government. Just two months after being sworn in as Bangladesh's new Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina had to deal with a mutiny of border guards that left 74 people dead and hundreds missing.

While international attention focused on political change in the country, attacks on minority and indigenous communities, and violations of their human rights, were neglected.

Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities in the Muslim-majority Bangladesh faced violations. Odhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights organization, reported a total of 131 incidents against religious minorities, including one killing, 90 injuries and one assault during 2008. According to a Bangladeshi-Hindu blogging site in December 2008 and January 2009 there were three violent attacks by Muslim groups against a Hindu political activist, a union member and a journalist. In Keraniganj-Dhaka, also in December, armed gangs attacked people, and looted and demolished a 200-year-old Hindu temple. Odhikar reported 24 incidents of attacks on non-Muslim religious properties during the year. A survey in December reported that 38 per cent of some 1,500 Hindus polled said they felt insecure because of being part of the Hindu community, while 36 per cent said they were considering leaving the country.

Through the year there have been several reports of threats, attacks and forced conversion against religious minorities, including incidents of rape. Media and human rights organizations have reported at least 10 incidents of rape against religious minority women and girls.

Incidents of forced evictions and land grabbing by the state and individuals remain a major problem in ethnic minority and indigenous areas. Ethnic minority and indigenous areas remain heavily militarized resulting in incidents of human rights violations. On 20 April 2008, 132 houses belonging to Bengali settlers and hill people were set ablaze in an arson incident; 53 of the houses belonged to hill people. According to Odhikar statistics, in 2008 there were a total of 75 incidents against ethnic minorities including 8 killings and 57 injuries.

Ain o Salish Kendro (ASK), a human rights resource centre, reported that the arson attack occurred despite nearby army camps, and that Forest Department officials were complicit in evictions resulting in displacement of ethnic minority groups in the plains as well.

In January 2008 the Bangladeshi government banned indigenous Jumma people from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) from holding a large gathering at a Buddhist religious temple. The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) called the incident a 'microcosm of an ongoing and long-established State policy to establish a homogenous Bengali Muslim society'. In April UN experts wrote to the Bangladeshi government querying the illegal seizure of the traditional lands of Jumma indigenous communities in Barbadan, Khagrachari and Merung districts, in the CHT. Since March 2007, an estimated 4,500 acres of land have been taken away from Jumma individuals and communities in at least 16 villages.

A survey released in May 2008 by the Jatiya Adibashi Parishad and Jahangirnagar University's Department of Anthropology found that in the last few years a total of 1,983 ethnic minority families in 10 north-western districts lost control of 1,748.36 acres of land. The Forest Department grabbed the largest area of 1,185.76 acres. Meanwhile, Bangladesh's much anticipated Land Commission for ethnic minorities failed to get off the ground in 2008.

Bangladesh, together with India, is on track to reach the target of over 97 per cent enrolment rates (NRE) in primary education by 2015, according to UNESCO. However, about 50 per cent of primary and 80 per cent of secondary level students drop out of school in Bangladesh, according to a report by the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), a Bangladeshi NGO. 'We are not at present on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal for 2015', the report warned.

On 25 September 2008 Bangladesh Adivasi Odhikar Anlodon (BAOA), a support group of civic forums for indigenous peoples, called on political parties to include indigenous people's concerns in their manifestos for the 18 December parliamentary polls. One demand was to provide education for indigenous people in their respective mother tongues. Indigenous children in Bangladesh have a far higher drop-out rate at primary level, which is attributed by indigenous activists to the failure of the Bangladeshi education system to provide mother tongue education that takes greater consideration of indigenous culture.

At the UN Forum, submissions made by minority activists from Bangladesh also warned that children from religious minorities were increasingly affected by growing Islamization of the education system. There have been cases where questions on Islam have been included in key state-level exams, putting non-Muslim children at a disadvantage.

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