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Bangladesh Minority Council welcomes India’s pressure on safety of minorities

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Bangladesh

By Kamran Reza Chowdhury

Religious minorities may flee Bangladesh if attacks on them continue, the spokesman of a minority coalition group warned Friday.

Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council, applauded a statement from India’s foreign minister earlier this week that Dhaka must punish the perpetrators of such attacks.

“My organization welcomes the call of Sushma Swaraj. She rightly pointed out the plight of the minorities in Bangladesh. The attacks on the minorities must stop,” Dasgupta told BenarNews.

India has reason to be worried about the attacks on minorities in its neighbor, Muslim-majority but constitutionally-secular Bangladesh, Dasgupta said.

“If the attacks continue, the minorities will leave the country and take shelter in India. The government must take measures so that the minorities do not leave the country,” he said.

Nirmal Rozario, general secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association, also welcomed the diplomatic pressure from Bangladesh’s giant neighbor.

“Sushma Swaraj’s call will expedite the government move to protect the minorities who have become the common targets of the radicals. In the age of globalization, every country is impacted by the events in its neighboring states,” Rozario told BenarNews.

‘Secular, progressive and liberal’

India’s minister of external affairs (EAM) brought up the matter during a meeting with Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali of Bangladesh in New Delhi on Wednesday.

“Referring to recent incidents of attacks on minorities in Bangladesh, EAM sought swift action against the perpetrators of the crimes by the Bangladesh authorities,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday about the discussion.

“FM Ali assured that [the] Government of Bangladesh was conscious of the importance of checking the activities of radical forces in the country and expressed the commitment of his Government to safeguarding Bangladesh’s secular, progressive and liberal character,” the statement said.

On Feb. 21, a priest was slain and two devotees were wounded in an attack on a Hindu temple in Panchagarh district, in northern Bangladesh.

It was the first killing of a member of the country’s small Hindu community since militants issued threats against religious minorities last year. Two Hindu temples were bombed in Dinajpur district of northern Bangladesh in December

Hindus currently make up about 10 percent of Bangladesh’s 168.9 million people.

On Jan. 7, attackers stabbed to death an 85-year-old Christian convert and doctor in the southwestern district of Jhenaidah. Two Christian priests have been attacked, and at least 30 other members of the tiny Christian minority have been threatened, since mid-2015, church leaders say.

On Dec. 25, a suicide bomber targeted an Ahmadiyya mosque in northwestern Rajshahi district.

On Nov. 26, militants sprayed bullets inside a mosque of the minority Shia Muslim community in the northern district of Bogra, killing a muezzin who was in his 70s. In October, militants bombed a procession of Shiites in Dhaka, killing two.

‘No space in Bangladesh’

Following the killing of the Christian doctor in January, the country’s home minister vowed to go after people who attack religious minorities.

“The people of Bangladesh are pious but they are not radicals. So, the militants will get no space in Bangladesh,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews.

The Middle East-based Islamic State group claimed responsibility for many of the attacks, but the government has denied its presence in Bangladesh, saying local militants are using the IS brand to “add value to their names.”

Militant attacks this year have targeted intellectuals and foreigners as well as members of religious minorities.

In late September, Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella was gunned down in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone. Less than a week later, Japanese agriculture expert Kunio Hoshi was shot dead in the northern city of Rangpur.

Four secular bloggers and a publisher were brutally murdered in 2015 in machete attacks by suspected militants. Four other people were injured in those attacks.

Maulana Farid Uddin Masud, a top Islamic cleric, stressed that such violence is contrary to the tenets of Islam.

“Islam has not allowed anyone to carry out attack on the minorities. Islam strongly promotes peaceful coexistence of all faiths,” he told BenarNews.

“So, the government must protect all minorities from the attacks on the militants who have been misinterpreting the peaceful religion Islam.” (Published with permission from BenarNews)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)