Minority Oppression in Bangladesh

Report of the Public Inquiry Commission 

By Mukto-mona Dhaka Source

  1. The Background


The State “People’s Republic of Bangladesh” emerged in 1971 as an independent sovereign republic in the world map following a bloody war against the Pakistani occupation force. According provision of Bangladesh constitution (Articles 72/2-3, 119/1b) adopted in 1972 after every 5-years (or earlier if for any reason the parliament is dissolved) there will be a general election on the basis of adult franchise to elect a National Parliament (Jatiya Sangsad). Accordingly, the 8th general election was held on 1st October, 2001. The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) led 4-party alliance (other electorate partners : Jamaat I Islami, Jatiya Party-Naziur group, and Islami Oikya Jote) emerged victorious with three-fourth majority in the parliament after obtaining 220 seats out of 300. Awami League after gaining 62 seats emerged as main opposition party. (See Appendix 1, page 39)     


Although according to opinions of some local and foreign election monitoring organizations, the election was held in a relatively peaceful and normal atmosphere, the Awami League rejected the result bringing in allegations of large-scale malpractices and a large section of voters belonging to minority communities were barred from casting their votes.


It may be mentioned that in the last 7th parliamentary general election (June, 1996) the Awami League after obtaining largest votes (37.44%) formed the government under the leadership of Shaikh Hasina in cooperation with Jatiya Party led by General Ershad and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal led by ASM Abdur Rob. (See Appendix 2, page 39). The election was held in a free and fair atmosphere first time under a constitutional caretaker government. The Awami League Government completed its full 5-year term and handed over the power to care taker government on 15th July, 2001.  


Yet in an earlier election held in 27th February, 1991 (5th Parliamentary election) the BNP formed the government with the help of Jamaat I Islami on 29th April. (See Appendix 2, page 39). But because of political unrest and crisis the government led by Begum Khaleda Zia resigned before the completion of her tenure. Following a general election held without participation of major political parties held in February, 1996 BNP formed a government that passed in a hurry a bill for care taker government. Under mass movement the government step down and a caretaker government came into power under the leadership of retired chief justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman.  


In order to hold election of 8th Parliament the state power and interim administration was handed over to the caretaker government on 15th July, 2001, and accordingly the general election was held on 1st October, 2001. During the interim period of about two and half months, the news regarding deterioration of law and order, chaos in administration and over all increase of lawlessness & uneasy condition in the were being published.  

All most everyday the national dailies were reporting such news of violence and atrocities with facts and figures since the beginning of September, 2001 that created serious concern and doubts in the public mind if election could be held at all, and even if it was held would it be fare and peaceful ? The election commission itself identified 177 centres as violence prone constituencies and 70 as high-risk constituencies.


The election was held on 1st October and result showed that 4-party alliance won in three-fourth seats. It became apparent that government would be formed under the leadership of the BNP, the strongest party of the alliance and a single party with absolute majority. During the days before the newly elected government took over (2 – 11th October) reports of minority repression such as ‘forcible occupation of lands and houses of religious minorities, setting fires on houses, looting, and hair-raising events relating to raping of women from children to middle aged, married, widow or virgin’ were the news of everyday in the columns of all national dailies and other media. Repression of such ugly nature directed against a weaker section of the population created deep anxiety and fear among the people. Side by side reports of setting of fire on houses, of physical torture, even of killing etc. of workers and supporters of defeated Awami League found prominent places in news papers’ columns. In brief, a picture of total anarchism surfaced through the newspaper-media. A new government was constituted on 11th October, 2001.


During the interim period i.e. from date of completion of election to date of assumption of the new government although the care taker government existed, but reports of deterioration of law and order alarmingly, killing, raping, looting, setting of fire, etc as depicted in the news media clearly indicated that the care taker government was in effect powerless. Taking advantage of the situation terrorists, miscreants and supporters of recently victorious political parties enthusiastically took part in killing, raping, terrorism and other offence that were published in news papers.  When such news were published in national dailies A suffocating condition prevailed in the country because of such unscriptural incidents.


After the new government taking power under the leadership of Begum Khaleda Zia, the Prime Minister in a statement addressed to the nation assured that her government would take stern actions to eliminate terrorism and against the terrorists irrespective of their political affiliation. Unfortunately even after the formation of the government and PM’s stern assurance no good news of improvement of condition were reported in news papers. On the contrary, new and fresh news of atrocities and repression done by the supporters of the 4-party alliance were published in the press-media. Pictures of various kinds of repression on weaker section population of the society appeared in the press. It was noted that police as well civil administration failed to help effectively the victims and stand by the side of the oppressed people.


Although the pictures horrible repressions on minority communities found expression in the press, in the statements of political leaders, in the reports of many non-government organizations newly installed government at the first instant claimed that condition was quite normal. After some time the government however admitted that some isolated
incidents of minor nature took place. About the published reports the home minister in his statement commented that some were partially true, rests were exaggerated.


The published news of repression created reaction in the international circles including the aid giving groups. As some of the human rights organizations expressed their concern, the government admitted truth of some events and gave assurance for proper investigation.


Under this backdrop the government instructed district commissioners (DC) to send reports of minority repression to the government. It was further announced in November, 2001 that an inquiry committee consisting of high level officials had been constituted. The committee would submit a report concerning repression on minorities. But no farther details are yet known about it.


2. The background of constituting Public Inquiry Commission.


            The existing uneasy situation prevailing in the country, imperilment of people, inertness-insensitiveness-idleness on the part of the politicians, anxiety and disrespect to weakness of the administration on the part of the common mass etc. prompted the conscious citizens and the civil society to take some initiatives. Some respectable intellectuals-educationists, cultural personalities, and a few social organizations toured different places of affected areas to see for themselves the real situation. After seeing incidence of repression and visiting post-election situation in different places they found that the events appearing in news media had factual basis.


In this perspective a few socially conscious men called upon the countrymen on 3rd November to come forward to stand by the side of the weak minority community with a view to save them from inhuman condition and to create pressure on the government for redress of the affected persons. They were Professor Salahuddin Ahmed, Professor Sardar Fazlul Karim, Professor Musharraf Hosen, Professor Anisuzzaman, Professor A M Harun ar Rashid, Professor Anwar Hosen, Professor Khan Sarwar Murshid, Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, Professor Rehman Sobhan, Professor Sirajul Islam Choudhury, Professor Hayat Mahmud and Professor Ahmed Kamal. Their appeal reads as follows :


“ Recent incidents of minority repression at different places of the country created a deep concern among every conscious citizens of the country.  Many had protested against these happenings, some visited extensively the affected areas, exposed their terrible experience to the public and criticized vehemently Government’s inaction and attitude. In spite of these steps taken by the civil society, there are lots to be done to revive the confidence of the minority communities and to stand by their side in this distressed condition. In order to decide what could be done on behalf of the civil society we want to assemble in the auditorium of Museum of war of liberation (Muktiyudha Yadughar) at 4 pm on Tuesday, 6th November, 2001 for preliminary discussion. (See Appendix 3(a), page 40).

Accordingly, a large number of honourable members of the civilians of the country met at the appropriate place on 6th November. A Committee for Preservation of Civil Rights and Prevention of Communalism emerged with unanimous consent. A 10-member Executive Council with Professor Anisuzzaman as convenor was also formed. Other members of the council were Professor Musharraf Hosen, Professor Ajoy Roy, Professor Sirajul Islam Choudhury, Dr. Khalikuzzaman Ahmed, Mrs. Ayesha Khanam, Shri Ajoy Roy, Professor Hayat Mahmud, Mr. Mahfidul Haque, and Ziauddin Tariq Ali. A draft-declaration to be issued on behalf of the assembly was also approved. (See Appendix 3(b), page 41)


The assembly of the elites also felt necessary that a non government Public Inquiry Commission be constituted with respectable and learned personalities in order to probe into alleged reports of minority repression appeared in columns of news papers as well as incidents learned and gathered from people’s mouth. The Executive Council was given the charge of forming a three member Public Inquiry Commission.


3 (A). Formation of “Public Inquiry Commission”


The Executive Council constituted a three member Public Inquiry Commission with the following personalities :


Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, Chairman

Barrister Shafiq Ahmed, Member

Advocate Tobarak Hosain, Member-Secretary.


The Executive Council also set a time limit for the Commission and its terms of reference.


3 (B). Terms of Reference for “Public Inquiry Commission”


In order to find the truths of alleged minority repression before the election and after the election following terms of reference were set forth:


A) To determine if there are factual basis of the alleged minority repression committed immediately before and after the general election of 2001 such as - attacks on residences, mass scale lootings, setting of fire, sexual violence and physical harassment on women, physical torture and even killings.


B) To determine if those reports on minority repression were mere propaganda and or exaggeration of political opponents of the present government or of the news media.


C) If repression on minorities did take place then to determine its dimension, spread, degree, nature and character.   

D) If the incidents of minority repression were true, then to establish the identities, social and political, of the persecutors.


E) If there were factual basis of minority repression then to determine motives behind it and the following points to be taken into account: 


1.      Family or Professional jealousy or competition;

2.      Economic interest including grabbing of property;

3.      Communal frenzy and, 

4.      Role of political ideologies.


G) If the reported minority repression had factual basis then to find out what steps and procedures, political and administrative, were taken to prevent its recurrence and the nature of those activities.


H) To find out the mental conditions of victims of torture


I) To make some recommendations suggesting ways and means of preventing recurrence of such repression on weaker section(s) of the population.


4. Modus operandi followed by Public Inquiry Commission


The following terminology used to mean :


‘Commission’ means the Public Inquiry Commission;

‘Civil committee’ means Committee for Preservation of Civil Rights and Prevention of Communalism

‘Terms of reference’ means terms and conditions set by the Executive Council within the framework of which the Commission would work.

Executive Council means the executive body of the Committee for Preservation of Civil Rights and Prevention of Communalism.


The Public Inquiry Commission started its work from 11th January with in the framework of the terms of reference.


Public Inquiry Commission is a non-government and voluntary Commission, and all its members are very busy in their professional life. And the Civil Committee i.e. Committee for Preservation of Civil Rights and Prevention of Communalism that constituted the Commission is also a non-government voluntary organization. Both these organizations have, therefore very limited financial resources and manpower. For this very reason the Commission adopted the following modus operandi. 


  1. As it were not possible for the commission to collect facts by visiting every affected areas, it was therefore decided that Commission would collect relevant information from the published reports, news and features appearing in major
    national dailies covering the period from September 1, 2001 to at least December    31, 2001.
  2. Commission or its representatives would visit some selected oppressed localities.
  3. Interviewing those victims from the affected areas present themselves before the Commission.
  4. To take into consideration of Reports on Minority Repression prepared by the non-government organizations and human rights organizations.
  5. To take into account other documentary evidence.


The Commission by the end of April, 2002 completed its investigation-mission. It then summarized the facts and figures to prepare its report. The sources of these acts and information were given in the bibliography. Commission after several sessions completed analysis of the collected information, facts and figures, and finally prepared a document on minority-repression in the form of a Report by the end of the year 2002 and submitted its Report with its Recommendations to the Executive Council of Committee for Preservation of Civil Rights and Prevention of Communalism to make it public.


5. Summary of facts, figures and information (See Appendix 4, pages 42-88)

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