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Religious minorities under pressure

Religious minorities under pressure

Author: Rafiq Hasan and Shameem Mahmud, Ctg
Publication: The Dailystar
Date: May 6, 2005
URL: http://www.thedailystar.net/2005/05/06/d5050601033.htm

Religious minorities are allegedly facing threats and intimidation by the ruling four-party alliance men ahead of the May 9 Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) polls.

Polls campaigners for the BNP-led alliance's mayoral candidate are asking voters in the minority-dominated areas not to turn up at polling centres on the voting day, minority people alleged.

The alliance's target is to keep over one lakh and fifty thousand minority voters (mostly Hindus, making about 15 percent of total voters) away from polling centres as they are generally considered vote bank of the main opposition Awami League (AL), many of them pointed out.

During visits to a number of minority-dominated localities it was found that alliance loyalists have caused mental pressure on minority voters saying there will be violence on the polls day.

"Their strategy is to keep Hindu voters, mainly females, off the polling centres and cast fake votes in their names," an elderly voter said. Many others echoed him.

Leaders of Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Unity Council have already demanded that the authorities deploy army and Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) three days before and as many days as needed after the polls in the minority-dominated areas.

There has been no move as yet for such deployment.

Alliance leaders and the administration have denied intimidation and threat to minority voters, and said no-one has created any pressure on them for not casting votes.

"The upcoming polls have not created any enthusiasm among the minority voters, rather, it has created panic in their areas," said Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of the unity council's Chittagong unit.

Of the 11,38,318 CCC voters, leaders of minority communities said, 1,51, 281 are from different minority groups and 78 polling centres out of the 577 are located in the minority-dominated localities. Of the centres, 70 have been declared 'highly risky'.

Describing the importance of minority voters in the election, a local leader of Hindu community said, "In Jamalkhan area, minority community voters number 10,022 while the total number is 25,162. Of the 22,535 voters in Dewanbazar, 8,334 are from minority groups."

A number of shopkeepers at the city's Bakshirhat Bazar said sale of 'shankha and sindur' has increased recently. They believe these will be used by 'hired females' who will cast vote for Hindu women voters.

A minority voter at Enayetbazar alleged that supporters of Abul Hashem Bakkar, president of city Jubo Dal (BNP's youth wing), are asking Hindu voters not to go to the centres.

A number of male and female voters in Malipara area said their names were not found on the fresh voter list.

On the allegations of minority voters, General Secretary of city BNP Dastagir Chowdhury said, "These are propaganda by (AL-backed mayoral candidate) Mohiuddin Chowdhury."

He went on, "We are seeking their (minority) votes and many frontline leaders of minority communities are with the four-party alliance and have been campaigning for it."

Returning Officer for the polls Golam Quddus also ruled out any intimidation of the minority community people.

On the demand for deployment of the army, he said the additional divisional commissioner said the authorities have to go by some rules and regulations for this.

"We cannot take any decision without specific allegations but there are no such allegations so far," he added.

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