Hiren Pandit: Ahead of the 12th National Assembly elections, Awami League’s manifesto has announced a special commitment to protect the interests of minorities. The slogan of this year’s manifesto is ‘Smart Bangladesh: Development will be visible and employment will increase this time’. Bangladesh Awami League has prioritized 11 issues by promising to build a smart Bangladesh. Creation of employment, keeping the price of goods within the purchasing power, establishing consistency between incomes, keeping the youth and youth society involved in the transformation and development of the country, taking measures against capital smugglers, eliminating bribery and corruption, bringing debt-tax-evasion and confiscating the illegal assets of the corrupt, the party promised.
Apart from this, in agriculture, service, economic and industrial production sectors, ensuring the fundamental rights of third-gender people have also been given importance. The slogan of Awami League’s 2008 manifesto was `Charter for Change’, 2014 ‘Bangladesh is moving forward’, and 2018 manifesto was ‘Bangladesh on Prosperity and Progress’. It contained 21 special pledges. Awami League president Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the manifesto on December 27.
Awami League president presented the summary of the election manifesto. Regarding the transition from digital to smart Bangladesh in the manifesto, she said that technological capability is necessary to survive in the world competition in the era of the fourth industrial revolution. For this reason, it is announced to build ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by combining the four pillars of ‘Smart Citizen’, ‘Smart Government’, ‘Smart Economy’ and ‘Smart Society’. Implementation of Smart Bangladesh mentions work in each area.
It has been promised to make Bangladesh a hunger-poverty-free Smart Sonar Bangla by 2041 if elected by the people. The 11 issues that the Awami League has given special priority in the manifesto are to make every effort to keep the price of goods affordable for everyone; Ensure vocational education and youth employment; Build smart Bangladesh based on modern technology; Increase investment in integrated farming systems, mechanization and processing for profitable agriculture; Expanding industries by leveraging visible infrastructure and increasing investment; Increasing efficiency and capacity in the financial sector including banking.
Making health care affordable to low-income people; Inclusion of all in the universal pension system; Ensuring the effectiveness and accountability of law enforcement; Preventing communalism and all forms of terrorism and militancy and promoting the protection and practice of democratic systems at all levels. Awami League, which has been in power for three consecutive times with the conviction of building a ‘Smart Bangladesh’, has highlighted its plans for small ethnic groups, and ethnic groups and religious minorities in its election manifesto. The manifesto has made it clear what steps the Awami League will take if it can form a new government.
At present, more than 3 million people of about 45 small ethnic minority groups are living in the hills and plain land of Bangladesh. Their lives, traditions, culture, history, and aspirations are closely related to Bangladesh. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman recognized the equal rights and dignity of people of all communities including ethnic groups, and religious minorities in the constitution of Bangladesh. In that light Bangladesh Awami League put an end to the discriminatory behavior towards ethnic groups and religious minorities; Various activities have been continued on a priority basis to protect their lives, property, places of worship, and dignity and to improve the quality of life. Communalism should not rise with its head. Bangladesh is a secular state. Everyone shall practice his religion freely and no one shall interfere with it.
Bangladesh is a shining example of communal harmony to the whole world. In Bangladesh, religious events such as Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha, Eid Miladunnabi, Janmashtami, Durgapuja, Buddha Purnima, and Christmas, etc. are not limited by the boundaries of any particular religion, they are celebrated in harmony and cordial atmosphere with the participation and presence of people from all walks of life irrespective of caste-religion-caste-group. Motivated by the national spirit and the spirit of peace, the people of all religions, castes and groups celebrate each religious festival with dignity and with the slogan `Religion is for individuals while festivals for all’ in front of the slogan of the Prime Minister, maintaining cordial relations.
This year Puja was celebrated in a very peaceful atmosphere in 32 thousand temples (pujamandop). Our Prime Minister said that the people of all religions of our country have made the country independent by fighting the liberation war, so everyone will live in this country with equal rights. Protection of lands, habitations, places of worship, forests, wetlands, and other resources of religious and ethnic minorities has been provided.
The Land Commission continues and will continue to protect the rights of the minority communities in land and forest areas. Various programs including social security programs are being implemented to bring the minority people into the mainstream of society and development. Children of disadvantaged and underdeveloped ethnic groups and tea plantation workers continue to have special quotas and facilities in education and employment.
Education and health services for minority people have been extended to remote areas. Roads, electricity and other infrastructural facilities have been increased. The government is encouraging to preserve and showcase the diverse customs and traditions of the minority communities. The government has taken positive steps to increase the participation of ethnic minorities in the decision-making process to ensure greater political representation and social inclusion. According to the various clauses of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, various matters have been entrusted to the Regional Council and the District Council.
As a result, development activities are being formulated and implemented taking into account the local, geographical, and socio-economic environment. Special measures have been taken to develop the tourism industry, small and medium industries including food processing, and traditional cottage industry in three hill districts. People-oriented measures like the cultivation of high-value spices, coffee-cashew nut cultivation, cotton cultivation, solar power etc. are being implemented. Donations and development activities continue for the development of temples, crematoriums, pagodas, churches, and cemeteries. Through Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Religious Welfare Trusts, regular activities are continued for the overall welfare of the respective religions.
Article 23(a) of the Constitution states that the State shall take measures to preserve, develop and develop the unique characteristics of regional culture and heritage of various tribes, ethnic minorities, ethnic groups and communities. Efforts to protect this section of the constitution will continue During the tenure of the Awami League government, the Jatiya Sangsad has amended the Vested Property Act and measures have been taken to resolve the issues related to vested property. Obstacles to law enforcement will be removed. To protect the interests of minorities, the National Commission for Minorities will be formed and the Special Protection of Minorities Act will be enacted. Awami League will continue to take necessary steps to ensure the security of life and livelihood of religious minorities, small ethnic groups and disadvantaged communities.
The religious minorities and small ethnic groups of the country were subjected to violent attacks and discrimination under the ‘ethnic cleansing’ policy of the BNP-Jamaat alliance government. Countless men and women of religious minorities and small ethnic groups have been killed; Countless women have been victims of rape; Their houses, lands, and businesses were seized and looted. Awami League will complete the trial of these inhumane incidents and will not allow them to be repeated. Bangladesh Awami League will continue the policy of ending terrorism, discriminatory treatment and human rights violations against religious minorities, minor ethnic groups and laborers working in tea plantations, protecting their lives, property, dignity, and dignity and ensuring equal rights in all aspects of state and social life.
Balanced development of all the backward areas of the country including Basti, Char, Haor, Baor, Coast, and improving the quality of life of the people of those areas will be given priority. Dalit, Harijan, and Bede communities form a part of the total underprivileged population of Bangladesh. This population is extremely neglected, isolated and neglected in society. Awami League is committed to the implementation of programs to improve their quality of life and bring them into the mainstream.
Flats have been constructed in Dhaka South City Corporation for Awami League Dalit, Harijan communities. Financial assistance is being given to Munda, Hijra leprosy patients. A house has been built on 2 acres of land. In the financial year 2012-2013, through a pilot program, the life improvement program of the Bede and backward communities was started in 7 districts. In the fiscal year 2015-16, this program has been extended to a total of 64 districts. In the financial year 2019-20, the Living Quality Improvement Program of the Snake Carmer Community and the Living Quality Improvement Program of the Backward Community is divided into two separate programs. Both programs have been expanded. The number of beneficiaries has increased to 82 thousand 503 under the program of improving the quality of life of disadvantaged communities.
The number of special allowance beneficiaries has increased to 54 thousand 300 people. Scholarships are provided for students. Social safety net programs will continue to improve the quality of life of the poor and disadvantaged sections of society. Vocational training will be done to enhance the skills of the backward sections of society. So that they can join the mainstream of society by engaging in income-generating activities. Financial assistance and housing programs for disadvantaged sections of society will be expanded across the country. The Hijra community is a small part of the total population of Bangladesh. Since time immemorial, these people have been living an inhumane life, isolated and neglected from society and state life.
The Awami League government has taken various welfare programs aimed at preserving the basic rights of the Hijra community and ensuring social justice to involve them in the mainstream of society. Under the social security program, the implementation of the program to improve the quality of life of the Hijra population began in the fiscal year 2012-13. The number of beneficiaries of Hijra community was 1,12 in 2006, which increased 6 times to 6,884 in 2022-23. 5 thousand 620 people get the special allowance. In 2014, the transgender community was recognized as a ‘third gender’. In 2019, people from the transgender community gained the right to vote with a distinct gender identity. From the 2015-16 financial year, the Hijra community allowance, education stipend and training programs are being implemented in 64 districts.
From the financial year 2021-22, the cash assistance of allowance and education stipend of this program will be given as mobile to the beneficiary. Hijras will be included in the mainstream of society and their fundamental rights will be preserved, social justice ensured, education, housing and quality of life improved and social security ensured. Cash assistance and accommodation programs for the Hijra community will be expanded across the country. Bangladesh Awami League has highlighted the issues of equal rights and dignity in the election manifesto.
Everyone believes that after the formation of the new government, the promises made to protect the interests of minorities will play an important role in protecting the overall interests of the minority community. Rising prices of essential commodities are a serious problem for the poor and low-income people. Awami League’s election manifesto has also hinted at taking various timely steps to ensure their social security. Much has been said about ensuring social security for the middle-class, lower-class, and low-income people. The prices of daily commodities are increasing gradually. Commodity price controls alone are not enough to restore stability in the domestic market.
In the election manifesto of Awami League ahead of the 12th National Parliament elections, the words of low-income marginalized, and underprivileged people have come up again and again. The rights and facilities of underprivileged people have come up. The issue of empowering the elderly, socially disadvantaged people and even ethnic groups has come up. It is especially important to form a separate commission for people belonging to ethnic minorities. This commitment will play an important role in empowering the disadvantaged communities of the country.
Hiren Pandit is a columnist and researcher