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Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Bangladesh treatment of minorities sparks spat in Britain

Thursday June 30, 11:30 AM
By Dipankar De Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service

London, June 30 (IANS) An attempt to highlight the alleged persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh has snowballed into a raging row, pitting two leading members of the House of Lords against Bangladeshi diplomats in London and an Islamic editor.

The spat arose from a conference on Bangladesh organised last week by a steering group patronised by Lord Navneet Dholakia, the Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords, and chaired by his party colleague, the veteran rights campaigner Lord Eric Avebury.

In an address to the House of Lords Tuesday, Lord Avebury accused the Bangladeshi High Commissioner in London, A.H. Mofazzal Karim, of lying and heckling at the July 17 event held at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

According to Lord Avebury, the steering group invited the Bangladesh high commissioner and four other representatives of the government led by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) to participate in the event titled "European Human Rights Conference on Bangladesh: Extremism, Intolerance and Violence".

Avebury informed the House of Lords that Karim was heckled when he claimed that there was no violation of human rights in Bangladesh; that many BNP MPs were assassinated during the 1996-2001 Awami League government; and that the rise of [the minority] Ahmadiya Muslims "was not so important because there were only a small number of them compared with the majority Sunni population".

"But, in spite of those provocative remarks, order was maintained by the chair and the high commissioner was allowed extra time to compensate for the interruptions," Lord Avebury said.

However, when a Bangladeshi government speaker exceeded his allotted 10 minutes and refused to obey the chair's ruling that he should sit down, "the high commissioner and his group - twice as many as the number that we had officially invited and in spite of being told in writing three times that we could not accept the additional nominations because of the limited capacity of the hall - created a disturbance and then walked out," Lord Avebury said.

"He (Karim) subsequently issued a false statement claiming that the meeting had broken up in disarray, when, in fact, it continued peacefully until 18:00 hours as scheduled."

"By walking out, the high commissioner's group forfeited the chance to participate in the afternoon workshops, which were very useful in focusing on particular aspects of the problem; namely, human rights in general, the persecution of minorities; the rise of religious extremism and the threat to secular democracy; and international aspects, including the role of donors and international NGOs," Lord Avebury added.

He accused the Bangladesh government of colluding with extremist groups in spite of repeated pleas by Britain, the US and the European Union and warned that the "bigotry and hatred" in Bangladesh, if allowed to fester, could spread to the rest of the world, including Britain.

Separately, Lord Dholakia was told by the editor of an Islamic affairs magazine that he was acting like "an Indian and yet more a Hindu communalist" after the Liberal Democrat leader raised the Bangladeshi human rights situation in the House of Lords.

In his speech, Lord Dholakia said religious persecution in Bangladesh against Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Ahmadiya communities was having devastating effects on their freedom to practise their faith, damaging their culture and uprooting them from their place of birth.

"There are serious allegations that this is the direct result of the religious cleansing of indigenous Bangladeshi Hindus. Why is there a deafening silence from the authorities in Bangladesh?" Lord Dholakia asked in his speech, copies of which were emailed by him to London-based journalists.

The email sparked off a response from M.H. Faruqi, chief editor of Impact International, an Islamic affairs magazine.

"Thanks for your PR," Faruqi said in his 'reply to all' message emailed Wednesday.

"Sometimes one wonders whether you are more an Indian and yet more a Hindu communalist than the chair of the Lib Dem.

"Your views are your business but I must say it is not fair to the party when someone mixes his ethnic and communal prejudices in dealing with any issue."

Calling Lord Dholakia's intervention "rather ill-informed and not objective at all", Faruqi added, "I therefore deplore your biased use of parliamentary privilege to make a mountain out of what was not even a mole hill. The Hindus of Bangladesh can do better without friends like you."

Faruqi's email brought a swift rebuke from the Fiyaz Mughal, chair, Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD), who said Lord Dholakia has for decades raised rights issues for "ALL minorities."

"I know that he brought up the issue of the killings of Muslims and non-Muslims in Gujarat with the relevant authorities, has been vocal on the stop-and-search of black and minority youth in Britain as well as the treatment of black and minority prisoners in Britain's prison systems.

"The list is very long and if the attacks on minority communities are taking place in any country, then I believe it is our right as people (irrespective of our nationality, cultures, faiths and backgrounds) to look into the issue and stand up for their basic human rights," Mughal added.

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