The result of the sixth population census of Bangladesh came out on July 27. It has offered a window into the demographic changes taking place in the country. According to the latest census conducted this year, the population of the country is now 16.51 crore (excluding the expatriates). Majority of the country’s population (91.04%) are Muslims. And, the number of people belonging to minority religions has decreased. The census shows that the ratio of Hindu population and Buddhist population stands at 7.95% and 0.61% of the whole population. Hindus comprised 8.54% of the population and Buddhists 0.61% according to the 2011 census. The ratio of Christian people also decreased from 0.31% in 2011 to 0.30% this year. Proportionately, the decline of the Christian community is marginal. Their overall number grew, albeit not as fast as the overall population.
According to the Population and Housing Census-2022 report, the Hindu population decreased by 0.59% in the past 11 years. The report cites two reasons for the decline in the country’s Hindu population. Firstly, there is out-migration of Hindus, i.e. Hindus are leaving the country. Secondly, relatively low total fertility rate among the Hindu population. That is, Hindu couples give birth to relatively fewer children. It is true that lots of people migrate for a better life in developed countries. Hindus, Christians and Buddhists go abroad for a better lifestyle. Many of them do not return to the country. The trend can be attributed to human mobility.
The majority community is under compulsion to ensure that no harm is done to members of the minority so that they can live with dignity, honour and self-respect. This is essential if a society desires to be regarded as a civilised one. If the majority does not protect the minority, and instead oppresses or persecutes them, then ultimately it turns out to be disastrous. Pluralism is our inheritance. Religious pluralism is deeply rooted in Bangladesh. We should not turn our back on our history and heritage. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, hundreds of minority people fought and suffered, shoulder to shoulder, with their Muslim brethren. None can forget the glorious contribution of minority people who have enriched our society. Other faiths have been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding in 1971. Members of minority communities are part of the fabric. We are a multi-religious nation. All citizens practice their respective religions freely and peacefully, a right guaranteed in the Constitution of Bangladesh. Religious liberty is an integral factor of Bangladeshi life. An essential component of religious liberty is the right of people of all faiths to participate fully in society without facing discrimination based on religions.
Acts of violence or discrimination against minority people are contrary to Bangladeshi principles. Such acts will never be tolerated. This has been and remains the policy of the pro-liberation government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also the worthy daughter of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangladesh is a land of communal harmony where over centuries the streams of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity have intermingled to form the intricate web of a close-knit social fabric that has nurtured the sapling of nationhood. The religious co-existence of people from all faiths enjoys both societal and political endorsement since long. Deeply rooted in this culture of tolerance is the old tradition of non-violence and peace. The practice of peace, non-violence, social harmony and tolerance founded the very core of Bangladesh’s nationhood. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared, “I am a human being, I am a Bangalee, I am a Muslim.” These very words reflect the multiple identities of a Bangalee. As a Bangalee, we believe in our secular identity as well as in our global commitment to ensuring respect for Human Rights and protecting fundamental freedoms including freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
This has taken yet another upward turn under the leadership of the Mother of Humanity, Sheikh Hasina. With a view to ensuring the constitutional rights of the people of all religious communities in observing their religious festivals and programmes, the incumbent government has given due importance to the promotional activities of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Islamic Foundation, the Hindu Welfare Trust, the Buddhist Welfare Trust and the Christian Welfare Trust have been working across the country to this end. While actively promoting non-communalism and peaceful coexistence, the incumbent government maintains a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to any form of violence and discrimination against the religious minorities, under any pretext. Traditionally, the people of all religions and communities have been living in peaceful coexistence and communal harmony in the country. The Constitution of Bangladesh has incorporated ‘secularism’ as a ‘fundamental principle of State Policy’ which “shall be realized by the elimination of- a) communalism in all forms; b) the granting by the State of political status in favour of any religion; c) the abuse of religion for political purposes; d) any discrimination against, or persecution of, persons practicing a particular religion.” It also states that “the State shall endeavour to ensure quality of opportunity to all citizens.” While the ‘fundamental rights’ stated in the Constitution ensure, “all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”
Thus, the provision of ‘non-discrimination on the ground of religion’ is guaranteed as a fundamental right under the Constitution. The Constitution also provides that every citizen of Bangladesh has the freedom to adopt a religion or belief of his/her own choice. Moreover, every citizen of Bangladesh has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion. Every religious community has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions. As per Constitution, all the citizens of the country can resort to the courts on any ground of discrimination, including on the ground of religion or faith. It is true that bigotry occurs in Bangladesh, just as it does in each corner of the world. But this is only a small part of the story. A more accurate view of Bangladesh can be found in everyday actions of the government, faith leaders and members of civil society who denounce discrimination and support their fellow citizens belonging to other faiths. This is the true story of Bangladesh. This is why it is the sacred duty of the majority to protect the minority.
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