Monday, 10 June 2013

Bangladesh Hindu charitable endowments law given final approval

The Hindu
Haroon Habib
 
June 3, 2013
 
The Sheikh Hasina Cabinet on Monday gave final approval to a draft law to ensure proper development and management of the “Devottar property” ( Hindu Charitable Endowments) and make the transfer of those property, donated to Hindu places of worship, completely illegal.
 
Once the law comes into effect all such property will come under effective control and opportunities will be created for their development, bringing benefit for the members of the Hindu community, said the government. Till now, such properties are managed by committees constituted locally.
 
The government would make a list of the property of charitable endowment of the Hindu community with the constitution of a management board.
 
Briefing the media, Cabinet Secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said a central board would be constituted to regulate management of the properties. The vice-chairman of the Hindu Religious Welfare Trust would be the ex-officio chairman of the board while a new post of an administrator equivalent to the rank of a joint secretary would be created to run it. The administrator from the Hindu community would act as the member-secretary.
 
The proposed law provides for fines upto Tk 5,000 or imprisonment for a year for irregularities in managing these endowed properties. But for misleading the Board with wrong information about these properties, the fines could be upto TK 50,000 or a year in prison.
 
 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Bangladesh Elections: Would the Shahbagh Upsurge Bring the Awami League Back?

Suvolaxmi Dutta Choudhury E-mail: misssuvo.dc@gmail.com
 
According to Article 123 of the Bangladeshi Constitution, it is mandatory that general elections should be held within ninety days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. This implies that the nation is set to go to polls no later than 24 January 2014. The imminent elections, set in the backdrop of the Shahbagh upsurge, will decide the fate of the arch rivalry between the ruling Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina and the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) of Begum Khalida Zia. It would also have a determining influence on the nature of the Bangladeshi state vis-à-vis the recently throbbing debates on secularism.

The crucial question that emerges here is, how has the Shahbagh movement impacted the prospects of the Awami League in the impending elections? Has the ostensibly non-political Shahbagh Square assumed a political colour by the close association of the Awami League with the upsurge?

Shahbagh’s Political Demands: Repercussions on the Upcoming Elections

The Shahbagh movement has surpassed its initial demand of death penalty for 1971 war crime convict Abdul Qader Mullah, to include banning the Jamaat-e-Islami party, many of the stalwarts of which have been convicted. Crucially, the upsurge has also called for the banning of economic and social institutions in sectors like banking, education, etc where the Jamaat holds the reigns.

In February 2013, the Parliament amended the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, which along with enabling an appeal against the war crimes tribunal verdict, also empowered the Awami government to try and punish any organisation for 1971 war crimes. This move could lead to nailing the Jamaat.

Pro-opposition media channels and newspapers are also not spared from the wrath of this movement. Offices of the Daily Amar Desh and Nayadigant, Daily Sangram, and Diganta TV were attacked and vandalised. Interestingly, these media networks had published stories portraying an anti-Islamic picture of the slain blogger and Shahbagh activist Ahmed Rajiv Haider.

Tracking the Electoral Game

The opposition BNP is in an electoral alliance with the Jammat. Despite the fact that in the 2008 elections the Jamaat had won only 2 of the 39 seats, it had contested for the 300 member National Assembly. The socio-economic clout enjoyed by the Jamaat is a cause of concern for the ruling party. Besides, the Awami League’s coalition partner in the 2008 elections, the Jatiya Party, which had won 27 seats of the total 300, has made it clear that it is going to fight the next elections alone. This could possibly weaken the chances of the ruling party to stage a come-back in the era of coalitions. In this light, it is crucial to recall that the Jamaat had pulled off a spectacular performance in the 1991 elections when it had bagged as many as 17 seats. For the Awami League, therefore, politically cashing in on the Shahbagh movement’s thrust is crucial.

The Shahbagh movement’s non-political image, at the same time, has suffered a loss of face because of its entanglement with the Awami League. Despite the fact that the furore at the Shahbagh Square has waned more recently, it is undeniable that the movement assumed a popular character. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the ensuing elections would bear an imprint of this massive upsurge.

Secularism: The Awami League’s Dilemma

The Shahbagh movement echoes secular-nationalist ideals in its outcry for the strictest punishment for the ‘rajakars’ (colluders of 1971 who resisted Bangladesh’s independence). While the Awami League inherits the legacy of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and the secular-nationalist liberation movement, the party has often had to comprise its secularist bent for political and electoral considerations in the overwhelmingly Muslim majority state.

Associating itself with the Shahbagh movement has not entirely been a smooth ride for the Awami League. It has had to maintain a tough balancing act between its secularist proclivity and the rising ride of Islamism in the country. The government had arrested four bloggers on charges of blasphemy in early April this year. This move by the government has been severely criticised by Bangladesh’s liberal civil society circles for mollifying the Islamists.

In this light, the Shahbagh upsurge has opened a Pandora’s Box for the Awami League, wherein the party has to spell out its disposition more clearly than ever before, given that the elections are knocking at the door. Also, for the Awami League, the fecundity of associating itself with the upsurge is yet to be tested on the electoral battleground.

An Unfinished Story

A report by the Indian intelligence organisation RAW, in February 2013, has a dismal forecast for the Awami League in the forthcoming elections for its inconsequential performance while in government, massive corruption charges, etc. Awami’s traditional warmth with global and regional players like the US and India imply that these powers would seek its return. Begum Khaleda Zia’s BNP, on the other hand, has linked the Shahbagh upsurge to New Delhi in recent months.

For the Awami League, the fact that it could associate itself with a popular movement of a massive scale has arguably brightened its prospects and given it a fresh lease of life ahead of the elections. However, the electoral arena is laden with many diverse complexities and scoring high on the Shahbagh platform is not a sufficient credential of the Awami League to pull off a second consecutive term.
 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Voiceless Hindu Minorities Suffer Indignity and Injustice, HAF Deplores at National Press Club

Washington, D.C. (June 7, 2013) -- "All they want is peace," said Samir Kalra, Esq., the Hindu American Foundation (HAF)'s Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights, while describing his conversations with Pakistani Hindu refugees to a standing room only audience at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. The Press Club event marked the formal release of the Foundation's ninth annual human rights report, entitled Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights 2012, intended to give voice to Hindu minorities that have "suffered indignity and injustice in silence" in many countries around the world. 
 
The report provided detailed accounts of human rights violations in the areas of: violence against women, forced conversions, mass violence, temple destruction, socio-political ostracization, economic and political marginalization, and discriminatory laws in nine countries and one state in India. 
 
HAF's latest report marked a departure from previous years and featured a new and revamped format, categorizing countries based on the extent of their human rights violations, while including expanded coverage of Hindu refugee populations from Bhutan and Pakistan. 
 
"This year's report represents an evolution of HAF's human rights work and a new focus on providing direct humanitarian assistance to Hindus displaced from their countries of origin," said Kalra, who visited Pakistani Hindu refugee camps in Jodhpur, India earlier this year. "While advocating on larger systemic human rights issues is vital, it is equally important to address the basic needs of these refugee populations." 
 
Kalra was joined at the briefing by Professor Ved Nanda, a world-renowned expert on international law and the Thompson G. Marsh Professor of Law at the University of Denver, and Professor Sachi Dastidar, Distinguished Service Professor in the Politics, Economics and Law Department at State University of New York, Old Westbury and an expert on the plight of Hindu and other non-Muslim minorities in Bangladesh.
 
During his talk, Professor Nanda noted the growing importance of human rights within the international legal framework and praised HAF for its commitment to consistently raising these issues with U.S. policy makers. Similarly, Professor Dastidar provided an overview of violence against minorities in Bangladesh and the country's slide from secular democracy to one with increasing extremism and intolerance. In addition to Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Pakistan garnered the greatest censure from the Foundation and were labeled as Egregious Violators for engaging in or allowing rampant and systematic violations to take place against their minority Hindu populations. 
 
"It's critical that human rights concerns are not ignored in light of our larger geopolitical interests in these countries," said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF's Executive Director and Legal Counsel. "We cannot achieve our national security objectives in South and Southeast Asia without addressing the lack of religious freedom and fundamental civil liberties that exists in the region." 
 
Other countries or regions covered in the report included Bhutan, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and Sri Lanka, which were labelled as Countries of Serious Concern for committing severe human rights violations against their Hindu minority, but not rising to the level of Egregious Violators. And the last category, Monitored Countries, encompassed those nations with a history of violations against the Hindu community, such as Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago, but where conditions had improved in recent years. The one exception was Saudi Arabia, which only has a small population of Hindu migrant workers and lacks available data on violations against Hindus to appropriately assess the situation. 
 
The Foundation also featured its new documentary film on Pakistani Hindu refugees at the press briefing, entitled "Victims of History: The Untold Story of Pakistani Hindus in India."
 
For media inquires contact, Samir Kalra, Esq. at samir@hafsite.org or 202-223-8222.