Zila Parishad (District Councils for Hill Tracts)
Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim country and in 2013, the population data was estimated at 160 million. About, shows 87 percent of the country’s population is Muslim, and the remaining 13 percent consist of religious and ethnic minorities. Of the religious minorities, the Hindus are the largest group with 12 percent of the population. The Buddhists are the third largest group with 1 percent and Christians the fourth largest group with only 0.5 percent of the population.
There are also several small factions within the Muslim population – the Biharis (Urdu-speaking), the Ahmadiyyas, Ismailis, Shias, Memons etc. While the Bihari population numbers about 800,000, the Ahmadiyyas are only about 100,000. It may be noted that the former mostly migrated from Bihar to Pakistan after partition, except those employed by the British, whereas the Ahmadiyyas are mostly local Bengalis. Other factions are relatively small.
Bangladesh has historically refused to recognize the Adivashis (ethnic minority group). According to the Fifteenth Constitutional Amendment, “The People of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation and the citizens of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis” [Article 6(2)]. However, in Article 23A, the new Amendment states, “The State shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities.” There are also a significant number of physically challenged and differently abled groups. By some estimates, their number amounts to about 5.6 percent of Bangladesh’s population.
Although Bangladesh does not provide constitutional recognition of Adivashis, it recognizes the uniqueness of the people of the Hill districts, namely Rangamati, Khagrachori, and Bandarban. As part of this recognition, The Parbatya Zila Sthanio Sarkar Parishad Ain, 1989, which was renamed as Parbatya Zila Parishad, under The Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997, provides for three District Councils. The Parbatya Zila Parishads are to be headed by a chairman of ministerial rank. Each Parishad is consisted of 30 members, with ethnic Bengali participation limited to one third. Unfortunately, the elections of those Parishads have not been held, and they are now being run by unelected individuals.
Inclusion of Minorities
Although Bangladeshi laws do not require a reservation of seats for religious minorities or other disadvantaged groups, there is a long established practice of nominating certain number of individuals from ethnic and religious minorities to run from regular seats. As mentioned earlier, in most cases these nominations have been symbolic.
Inclusion of Disabled
Bangladesh was one of the 20 countries that ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as well as the Optional Protocol. Bangladesh, therefore, enacted laws in accordance with the CRPD. However, the policies are not properly implemented.
Around 8 million of the country’s voters are with disabilities and they continue to face obstacles that would enable them to equally exercise their political right as citizens. They have limited participation as voters, candidates and campaigners mainly as a result of poverty, poor literacy and lack of organization affiliation and support.
Positive changes regarding persons with disabilities (PWDs) have somehow taken shape such as the inclusion of their issues in the election manifestos of major political parties. In 2007, the Election Commission (EC) included a provision to identify voters with disabilities in the registration form. However, those with mild or moderate disabilities are excluded as recognition is given only to those with severe disabilities. The Action on Disability and Development and various Disabled People’s Organization also aided the EC in compiling information on PWDs which helped enhanced the identification of voters with disabilities, increasing the number of registered PWDs.
Despite that, several concerns are still being raised. Those with severe disabilities, together with the elderly and pregnant women, have limited access to registration as well as polling centers. Those with visual impairment are concerned about the secrecy of the ballot. The deaf voters had limited access to information about the candidates and the voting process. Discrimination have been reportedly experienced by PWDs from poll workers and voters alike. Moreover, they have no representative in the democratic decision-making institutions.
The right to vote is the most important political right of a citizen; and no citizen can be hindered or restricted in the exercising of his or her political right on the ground of disability.
Reference Minorities and Inclusive Electoral Processes in South Asia, Country Reports of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Asians for Human Rights, 2011 http://www.southasianrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/IEP-SOUTH-ASIA.pdf https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Bangladesh Promoting Economic and Social Rights and Electoral Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Bangladesh. (2013).
Retrieved from Action on Disability and Development (ADD): http://add.org.bd/our-programmes/promoting-economic-and-social-rights-and-electoral-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-in-bangladesh/ Sara, H. (Ed.) (2008). Human Rights Report. Dhaka: Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).
JPG : Poster by Action on Disability and Development (ADD: 2001) – Poster from Bangladesh developed by IFES’ local partner organization, Action on Disability and Development (ADD) for the October 2001 Parliamentary election.