New Year of uncertainty for Bangladesh Christians

Story By: Rosaline Costa (Matters India)

Dhaka — This year I faced continued challenges in human rights work. Considering the whole scenario of human rights situation in the country and in many other countries I feel lucky and grateful. I have enjoyed my work but I don’t know how much I could endow to the victims whose human rights have been grossly violated.

We all know that sufferings and happiness are the two inseparable twins. But sometimes sufferings seem severe and lengthy whereas happiness occupies less space in our life. In reality it is contrary.

This year I had gone to the United States in June and in September. The September trip was to attend a conference in Philadelphia. The conference was for the Women groups who are seeking Women Ordination in the Catholic Church which is women’s equal rights. The organisation is called “Women Ordination Worldwide.”

There were more than 500 women present from all over the world to participate in this conference and to discuss the issue of “Equality of women and men” in the Catholic Church. It was a wonderful experience to see how many priests and married men supported the cause and how strongly they demanded the present pope for bringing the change and respect equal dignity and rights of women and men in the hierarchical level.

This year was more troublesome than last year regarding the protection of human rights of the people. The government of Bangladesh blatantly ignored the freedom of speech, thoughts and writings. The beginning of 2015 was marked by political violence just like that of 2014. The largest opposition coalition led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) called a rally for January 5 demanding fresh national election by

cancelling last year’s January 5 polls that were boycotted by them. The government adamantly denied the permission in stead confined the chief of the party at her office. As a result her party called for indefinite blockade across the country which continued for 66 consecutive days. During this time unprecedented violence occurred when at least 70 people died in bomb attacks.

Women, children and elderly people were affected most of who were non-political innocent people. Education institutions, vehicles carrying textbooks, bus drivers and their helpers along with the passengers, Shiait Muslims and their traditional culture and mosques, etc. were target of attacks. Many were killed and numerous innocent people were injured. Intolerance of the government and the Islamic extremists was very visible through actions during the whole year.

The law-enforcers also exerted excessive force and as per daily reports, 47 people were subject to enforced disappearance between January and October. As of November 153 people were killed in so-called encounter or crossfire, majority of these victims belonged to opposition parties. The family members of the victims claimed that the victims were picked up by the law enforcement agencies. Lawlessness and intolerance existed between the opposition and the government, and the victims were ordinary people.

One of the very recent issues was rise of Islamist extremism against the freethinkers, bloggers, writers,publishers, religious places and religious hierarchies. At least five bloggers were hacked to death, three survived and many injured from their attacks. These incidents apparently turned the country into a death valley for freethinkers, authors, publishers and various professionals including religious leaders. During the year many such victims left the country in silent.

During August and on December 10, a Japanese and an Italian were killed, a Christian pastor, an Italian Catholic priest and three Catholic young people (two brothers and their sister) survived from attempt to be killed by Islamists, 12 priests and pastors including a bishop, 14 University teachers, law practitioners, social and human rights activists and media personnel got death threats through mobile phone messages and postal letters. The government failed in tracing out any of the criminal but police arrested few “suspected” criminals.

In stead of finding out the criminals the government repeatedly tried to control the media by introducing Sec.57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ITC) Act, which contains elements that attempt to curb dissenting opinions and curtail freedom of expression. The government also blocked the social media channels like Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Twitter, Skype, Imo, Line and Tango, etc. for 24 hours to 22 days.

One other issue was torturing and killing children brutally and mercilessly. Seven children were killed in 7 days between July 29 and August 4. Government action was limited against the perpetrators. All the victim children were child labors who used to sell their labor for survival. Thousands of people left the country for Malaysia and Thailand seeking safe life and economy. Many of them lost their lives in the boat in the sea and thousands remained stranded.

Among other human rights violations were sexual harassment, rape of young women by unruly youths, child marriages increased in number due to lack of justice and lawlessness. Tribal peoples’ lives were made miserable, religious minority people were under continued eviction threats by the land-grabbers and ruling party perpetrators. The rise of religious extremism and intolerance is a concern for us all. It was for the first time in the Bangladesh history that foreign nationals were attacked and killed and such a big number of Christians attacked.

Despite of such sad incidents and reality people have hoped to see the end of the year in peace with their near and dear ones. Christians, the tiniest community in a Muslim majority country contribute vastly in education,development and promotion of justice, peace and human rights for the poor needy. They are peace loving and patriotic people but if things continue at this rate, the New Year will begin in uncertainty.

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