“The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and other religions.”

-Article 2A Constitution of Bangladesh

Bangladesh, a country that likes to label itself as a “secular state”, has been a witness to Islamic extremism since its independence in 1971. Having a history of inter-communal tensions, dating back to the partition of Bengal in 1905, many of these Bengali Muslims have found it difficult to do away with their radical mindset. Bengali Muslims constitute almost 90% of the total population of the country, leaving just 10% for all the other religions. Such a massive gap makes it easier for the majority to assert their dominance over the others. Accompanied by the migration of the minorities to neighbouring countries and the majoritarian politics in the nation, the persecution of these minorities is evident with the shrink of diversity in Bangladesh.

Persecution of Hindu Minority

Social stigma has been a cause of violence against minorities. The Hindu community was specifically targeted after the liberation war in 1971. They were the ones who were blamed for the secession. During the liberation war, The Operation Searchlight was launched by the Pakistani army which was aimed at eliminating the separatist elements in the Bengali nationalistic movement. This mainly consisted of Hindu students from Dhaka University. The Pakistani army along with the radical religious militias, the Razakars and the Al-Shams slaughtered these people. The tensions among these communities have risen ever since. Since independence, the total population of the Hindu community has come down from 13.5% (in 1974) to 8.5% in the last census, while the Muslim population has seen a steady increase from 85.4% in 1974 to 90.4% in 2011.

The political setup of the country has always favoured the majoritarian sentiments. “Ongoing political developments – in particular, the death sentences passed on a number of high-ranking members of the organization Jamaat-e-Islami for war crimes carried out in the 1971 War of Independence, including many aimed specifically at Hindu communities – have served to deepen social divisions, with minorities frequently bearing the brunt of the ensuing violence as they are assumed to be Awami League sympathizers.”[1] “Looting and burning of households, destruction of temples and religious idols, murder, rape, forced religious conversion, illegal occupation of the property, extortion, threats to family structures and other soft and hard intimidations are reducing well-to-do households to paupers and forcing this population across the border to India.”[2] There have been some major incidents of violence against Hindus in the past years. In 2013, when Jamaat-e-Islami’s vice president, Delwar Hossain was convicted for war crimes in 1971, the student wing of the party began a rampage against the Hindu community. They looted, burnt their homes and desecrated their temples. National elections too have contributed to the incidents where minorities are intimidated ahead of the voting. In 2014 after the 10th general elections of Bangladesh, the Bengali Hindu minority were subjected to violence by BNP and Jamaat-Shibir as the community refused to boycott the elections as imposed by these parties. Their houses were looted and vandalised in various districts. Months later in May, a large mob attacked Hindu families in eastern Bangladesh who had allegedly disrespected Prophet Muhammed in a post on Facebook. A similar attack on the minority community was undertaken by the Islamic extremists in Nasirnagar Upazila over a supposed anti-Islam post on social media. The attack resulted in obliteration of 19 temples, and many Hindu households. Several hundred people were injured in the onslaught. The most recent attacks against the Hindu Minorities, came in November 2020 when a teacher in Comilla District showed his support to a controversial Facebook post. “The households were vandalised and later set on fire after a Bangladeshi man, who lives in France, allegedly praised President Emmanuel Macron for taking steps against “inhumane ideologies” after a teacher in Paris was decapitated for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.”[3]

Persecution of other minorities

Similar to the Hindus, Buddhists and Christians have also been victims of this maltreatment. Both Buddhists and Christians constitute less than 2% of the total population of the country which makes them vulnerable against Islamic extremism. In 2012, a series of attacks were carried out in the Ramu Upazila in Chittagong, after a Buddhist man’s account was tagged in a post which had an “image depicting the desecration of Quran”. Various monasteries and Buddhist temples in Cox’s Bazar District were torched. Holy Buddhist text and Buddha statues were destroyed in the area. “Like other minorities, Christians have on occasion been targeted during periods of political upheavals, such as in early 2014 when Christians in some areas were attacked around the country’s national elections.”[4] “In other places around the country, several killings of Christians have been reported. Death threats from hard-line Islamist groups have also been reported over the years.”[5] Back in 2001, a catholic church in GopalGank village was detonated by the Islamic extremists resulting in 9 casualties and serious injuries to 20 others. “At the beginning of October 2015, alleged Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) members attempted to slit the throat of a pastor in Pabna. Around the same time, a number of priests were sent a series of death threats, purportedly from members of the outlawed JMB and IS. In November, further threats were issued anonymously to priests in Rangpur and another attack was carried out on an Italian priest in Dinajpur. On 10 December, three Christians were stabbed by unknown assailants in their home, leaving them in a critical condition.”[6] Minority Women are often exploited, both verbally and physically, at public places. Social exclusion has become a persistent but undesirable part of their lives.

“While the majority of Muslims are Sunni, a small proportion is Shi’a and as such represents a sectarian minority. Similarly, the Ahmadi community – who self-identify as Muslim – have for decades been stigmatized by extremist groups who have called for the community to be formally designated as non-Muslim. While this briefing does not examine their situation in detail, Sufi Muslims have also been subjected to violent attacks.”[7] The Ahmadi community has always been looked down upon by the Sunni Muslims. This has made them a major target of religious radicalists. Ahmadi Muslims are one of the most exploited minorities in Bangladesh. A series of attacks were launched against the community in 1991 after the BNP came in power which called for the ban of the Ahmadi faith. In 1991 an Ahmadi mosque was bombed by the extremists which led to 6 deaths and injuries to many. In 2013, a mob on ambush caused damage to worth millions when they set fire to the venue which was to organize centenary celebrations. “Enraged, anti-Ahmadiya extremists in their thousands stormed a large stadium in Gazipur District that had been hired to celebrate Islam and the 100-year centenary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Bangladesh.”[8]

“Hindus, Christians, and members of other religious minority communities, who are also sometimes members of ethnic minority groups, reported several property and land ownership disputes and forced evictions, including by the government, remained unresolved. According to religious minority associations, such disputes occurred in areas near new roads or industrial development zones, where land prices had recently increased. They also stated local police, civil authorities, and political leaders sometimes enabled property appropriation for financial gain or shielded politically influential property appropriators from prosecution”.[9]

Current challenges & way forward

“Although militant interpretations of Islam may not resonate widely in a society generally characterized by a long tradition of interreligious coexistence, the influence of extremists has become a matter of much concern, not only for the Government but also for civil society organizations and religious communities.”[10] The most prominent cause of this oppression against minorities is religious radicalism. Organisations like the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda frequently plan attacks on other communities in Bangladesh. Muslim youth are becoming more and more intolerant and aggressive. Even though their constitution grants freedom of religion to all but the ground reality is in stark contrast. The law of the state has somehow failed to protect its minorities against the extremist elements. The implementation is far from effective and they culprits roam around freely. Representation of the minorities is minimal in the state which makes it even more difficult to raise voice against any wrong. All this demand real change and this change will take its time.

“Arbitrary or one-off measures are not sufficient in themselves to achieve transformative change. As the challenges facing minorities are multidimensional, the efforts to bring them to an end must also be wide-ranging, including continuous monitoring of human rights abuses and awareness-raising through education, seminars and other forms of outreach.”[11] A robust judicial system is the need of the hour which would ensure fair prosecution of the perpetrators. The higher representation of minorities in Bangladesh’s parliament and civil services would be another positive step ahead. Educating the Muslim youth of the country in regards to human rights becomes very essential here. “The violation of minority rights are being very inhuman one and only strict action can tackle it. To ascertain the interreligious harmony and diverse social promotion of this domain, minority rights should be accepted in equality and with mutual respect.”[12





[1] Minority Rights Group International, “Under threat: The challenges facing religious minorities in Bangladesh”, 5, November 2016

[2] Mr. BARUA, S Arun Jyoti, “Minority Youth: towards inclusive and diverse societies”, Forum on Minority Issues, 10th session, November, 2017.

[3] Hindu homes attacked in Bangladesh over rumours about alleged Facebook post slandering Islam available at: https://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2020/nov/02/hindu-homes-attacked-in-bangladesh-over-rumours-about-alleged-facebook-post-slandering-islam-2218305.html (Last visited on November 26, 2020)

[4] Supra note 1 at 13

[5] For Bangladeshi Christians, a long road to communal harmony available at: https://thewire.in/south-asia/for-bangladeshi-christians-a-long-road-to-communal-harmony (last visited on November 24, 2020)

[6] Ibid

[7] Supra note 1 at 9

[8] Bangladesh: Ahmadiyya persecution overview available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20131005005426/https://www.newreligion.eu/2013/02/sectarianism-in-bangladesh-must-be.html (Last visited on  November 25, 2020)

[9] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note Bangladesh: Religious minorities and atheists, October 2018, Version 2.0, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/5bd98de24.html [accessed 24 November 2020]

[10] Preliminary findings of Country Visit to Bangladesh by Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16399 (Last visited on November 25, 2020)

[11] Supra note 1 at 25

[12] Sikder Monoare Murshed, “Democracy and minority rights in Bangladesh” (December 2014)