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Minority protection act- why and what do we need?

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Nobody is committing major crimes; so, the police’s job must have become quite easy! Jhumon Das is in police custody again for “hurting(!) religious feelings”. Nabaratna Hindu temple is at Sirajganj’s Hatikumrul, and this beautiful architecture was made in 14th century. I would also be angry if a mosque donation box was put up at its gate. Jhumon became angry and wrote few words in Facebook.

That was enough. He was booked under Digital Security Act for the writing! My take – why choose an iconic temple to put a mosque donation box? Jhumon’s writing was Hindu complain to keep the sanctity of temple-correct? Whoever put the box, police could force the same person to remove it. The latest of this incident-he is on bail with promise of not writing such things.  

But how minority protection act is related to this incident? Successful implementation of the act will focus on justice for persecuted minority instead of these mundane “hurt feelings”.

Readers will agree that in Bangladesh and in other countries, groups of people of different identities were and are being oppressed. Untouchables for being untouchables. Women for being women. First nation peoples for being first nation peoples. Hindus for being Hindus.

Outside Bangladesh, Jews for being Jews (In 90s, we heard slogans like “Golam Azam Saeidi, Jews of Bangla”; as if being Jew is a crime by itself! People who studied history even a bit, knew that Jews were oppressed for thousands of years). Blacks for being blacks. Again, women for being women. First nation peoples being first nation peoples. Homosexuals for being homosexuals. Hindus for being Hindus. Christians at times and places for being Christians. And Muslims for being Muslims are oppressed at some places.

Think for few moments. Just for identity, in long human history, one group oppressed another group. These persecutions are for religious, racial, gender and sexuality identities. One thing goes through all these persecutions. Hate. With hate, one commits crimes against a completely unknown person for having a different identity other than the one that fits their ideals. That nobody can fan such hatred, create an environment of hate by incitement and commit crimes in such environment falls fairly and squarely on the state.  

Is there any need for the minority protection act at all? Minority Hindus are unprotected and in an existential crisis for a long time in Bangladesh. Hindus were 13.5% of the population in 1974 census and became less than 8% in 2022. In the last 48 years, Muslim population increased by 90 million, however, Hindu population by only 3.4 million! If nothing done, Hindus will be extinct from their birth country in another 30 years. Let’s look at few major reasons. 

Enemy/Vested property act. In its long tenure, this was used and misused legally to dispossess Hindus from their properties. 

How many well-designed, one-sided communal riots against Hindus in Bangladesh? I will say many thousands. A lot of those riots happened with the excuse of “Islam was in danger”, or “religious feelings were hurt” for events nearby or half-way around the globe. No justice delivered to Hindus for these persecutions was another big reason we needed this act. 

Did you read/hear the following headlines before? “Bangladesh is practicing communal harmony for thousands of years”, “For their religious identity, never ever a single Hindu was oppressed and left Bangladesh”. I heard thousands of times. Politicians, media, and intellectuals regularly avoid the reality of minority persecutions and focus instead on “harmony” slogans like the above-this false narrative and their propagation is another major reason for creating existential crisis for Hindus in Bangladesh. 

In the minority protection act; for every crime where hate is the motivation for persecution, the punishment will be more than the same crime where hate is not the motivation. Meaning, for arson to a Hindu house, if it is proved that hate to Hindus was the motivation for the crime, punishment will be higher than the arson where such hatred is absent. For this crime is not against just a person, but it is against a specific community. Magnitude of the crime is higher, and punishment should be proportional.

I bring a different topic now. Parents and other relatives all pay close attention to a small child when it is growing up. Making sure that the weight, height, and brain development-everything is going well. Don’t measure and we don’t know. We need a way to measure in this act also. Let us call it minority hate statistics act. If a crime is committed, is it due to minority hatred? The crimes can be listed and published periodically. Assume you are a police officer. Why and how shall you book the perpetrator against this act?

Because, if you take the hate away, it looks like a regular crime. One tried way of coming out of this situation-organizations which work for the minority Hindus, they publish report of minority persecutions. They will ask the police, why minority protection act was not used for such and such crimes? This probable issue is not fictitious. When the federal and state hate crime laws were being made in the USA in 80s, this was how the issue was addressed.

The other premises of this writing-hate motivation for committing crime against an unknown person because of their group identity, higher punishment because the community is targeted, and hate crime statistics-all came from the work done during the implementation of hate crime laws in the USA.

To investigation and trial. Let us make this act a successful deterrent and deliver some justice to persecuted Hindu victims. A separate, small, special police department and special court are needed. For systemic communalism and political influence, most of the police investigation of minority persecution crimes are not completed as intended, in time and victims are not satisfied with the outcome.

New chosen recruits who just joined police with the high ideals of serving the people and experienced, efficient, and honest officers should be in this special force. We also need a special court to implement the act, since most courts have lot of backlogs. We will need special care in hiring the judges who are sympathetic to hate crime victims and experienced in identifying the motivation of hate criminals.

I will favor mobile court here-it reduces the burden on the victims who need to go to courts to seek justice. I will also argue that fact finding is easier for the judge at the crime scene. Lessons learnt from this special force and court experiment can be used for regular police forces and courts.

Small incidents of minority oppressions can be mutually resolved locally. But the act should have detailed direction about it. To put criminals with hate on notice and reassure Hindus that Bangladesh is with them, government should publicize the act well in newspaper, temple, mosque, TV and Facebook.

Government should also establish minority ministry and this special police force should report to the minority minister. To make sure, the force doesn’t suffer from political influence, Prime Minister should be the minority minister and set precedence for the ministry.

By abolishing the enemy property act, government accepts that it was a black act. By passing and making amendment to women and children repression prevention act, government accepts that women and children are repressed, and it needs to be stopped. Before creating an act, government accepts certain things. If it accepts that minority Hindus are oppressed and don’t get justice in most cases, only then it will do something to stop it.

Minority protection act was in Awami League’s election manifesto in 2018, but for whatever reason, they didn’t fulfil it. Human rights and minority organizations are very passionate about this act, and they were protesting to have it for a long time.

In the end, everything depends on the earnestness of the government. People of Bangladesh didn’t believe that war criminals would be tried and that there would be the Padma bridge. Government was serious, persisted and Bangladesh is prospering for those hard, difficult decisions. Government should pass this act, make special police forces and mobile court. If found oppressing Hindus, it should try some top political leaders quickly under this act. With that Hindus will feel safe in Bangladesh. And the government will have a clear conscience and can say to the international community that they did what they could.

References:

1. https://www.prothomalo.com/bangladesh/capital/pp7egu660r

2. https://www.anweshan.news/freedom-of-speech/158

3. https://www.anweshan.news/freedom-of-speech/168

4. Making Hate a Crime by Ryken Grattet and Valerie Jenness

Tapash Dey, [email protected]

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