“All beliefs deserve respect”: group rallies on Parliament Hill to support Bangladeshi minorities

“The situation of minorities in Bangladesh is less well known … We want to create awareness about it.”

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Dozens of people marched on Parliament Hill on Saturday to mourn growing communal violence in Bangladesh.

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The group of more than 60 people carried signs, some English, some French, some Bengali, which read “save Bangladeshi minorities”, “Protect Hindu Temples” and “Stop Religious Extremism”.

“All beliefs deserve respect,” said Ria Paul-Chowdhury, whose aunt and cousins ​​live in Bangladesh. Her relatives are Hindus, a minority in the predominantly Muslim country. In recent weeks, Hindus have been the target of a growing wave of violence.

“I’m really scared,” Paul-Chowdhury said. “I take care of them. My aunt told me she was afraid to go out when the sun went down because they were afraid for their own safety. ”

Ria Paul-Chowdhury, middle, has an aunt and cousins ​​who live in Bangladesh.  Her relatives are Hindus.
Ria Paul-Chowdhury, middle, has an aunt and cousins ​​who live in Bangladesh. Her relatives are Hindus. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

The recent violence began in October, during a major Hindu religious festival called Durga Puja, when accusations spread on social media that the Koran, the Islamic holy book, was being disrespected inside a Hindu temple. Local media reported that groups of Muslims attacked Hindu temples.

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The government responded with a militia response and the police clashed with mobs in several cities. The clashes left at least seven people dead and more than 100 injured, according to reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

But the roots of the conflict go back much further, according to Hasan Mahmud Tipu, a researcher who studied the situation in Bangladesh and who attended the Saturday march in Ottawa. He said the conflict had its roots in the 1980s, when a military government took power in Bangladesh and changed the country’s secular constitution, establishing Islam as the state religion.

Hasan Mahmud Tipu, a researcher who attended Saturday's march in Ottawa, says the conflict in Bangladesh has its roots in the 1980s, when a military government took power and changed the country's secular constitution, establishing Islam as the state. religion.
Hasan Mahmud Tipu, a researcher who attended Saturday’s march in Ottawa, says the conflict in Bangladesh has its roots in the 1980s, when a military government took power and changed the country’s secular constitution, establishing Islam as the state. religion. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

“Religion in the constitution – the state religion is Islam – implies power to the majority,” Mahmoud Tipu said. He took part in the demonstration although his family in Bangladesh is Muslim and is largely unaffected by the violence. “Everyone has the same rights,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any discrimination about religion, about customs, about anything.”

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There are almost 13 million Hindus in Bangladesh, a country with a total population of over 164 million people. They make up about eight percent of the population, but that number was previously higher.

“Over the years, it’s declined,” Paul-Chowdhury said. “Nearly 200,000 Hindus migrate from Bangladesh every year due to anxiety or too much fear to stay.”

Saturday’s demonstration in Ottawa was followed by others in cities across Canada, including Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg. The purpose of those marches, according to a man named Subrata, who came to Parliament Hill but preferred to be identified only by his first name because he feared professional retaliation for uttering a sensitive issue, was to raise awareness of the situation in Bangladesh.

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“If you think about the condition of minorities, you see a lot of coverage of minorities in a lot of places,” he said. “The situation of minorities in Bangladesh is less well known … We want to create awareness about it.”

A group gathered on Parliament Hill on Saturday for a solidarity walk to draw attention to the situation facing minorities in Bangladesh.
A group gathered on Parliament Hill on Saturday for a solidarity walk to draw attention to the situation facing minorities in Bangladesh. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

Subrata said not only Hindus needed support in Bangladesh. The signs he and his fellow protesters bore stood out as Buddhists and other minorities, including a number of smaller Muslim sects, have long faced discrimination and violence.

“It’s a matter of making an alliance of secularists everywhere and defending the minorities,” he said. “The most important thing is that 20 million people (Bangladeshi minorities) will feel at home. They will not feel like second-class citizens in their own homeland.”

The support of the global community could go a long way in helping Hindus and other minorities within Bangladesh, according to Sanjay Dash, a protester who also has a family in Bangladesh.

“Canada has a great partnership with Bangladesh,” he said. “We want Canada to talk about this. Then they can demand justice and security for these minorities.”

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