Internal division and social isolation have led many Christians in Bangladesh to view their broader community as “dangerous”, according to Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University (ANU) Dr Joyce Das.
Speaking at the recent ANU India Update 2018, which focused on the place of South Asian minorities in a “majoritarian world”, Dr Das outlined the historical developments leading to the gradual Islamisation of Bangladesh.
Just 0.03 per cent of Bangladesh’s population identifies as Christian, though this amounts to approximately half a million people in one of the world’s most densely populated nations.
“The Christian community has always been apprehensive about possible state interference in the Church’s activities,” said Dr Das.
Dr Das coined the term “minorityness” to capture the complex experiences and dynamics of minority identity.
“The construction of ‘minorityness’ takes a complex form … Such construction not only involves external factors from the state and the majority [Muslim] community, but also several internal factors,” said Dr Das.
These factors include missionary activities, NGO-isation and division within the Church, she noted. During her fieldwork, Dr Das spoke to individuals who had been directly impacted in their youth by restrictions imposed by missionaries.
While these rules were intended to protect Christians, Dr Das said they may have had adverse effects.
“Instead of mixing with broader society, the Christian community limited itself into the mission-compound with the mentality that the state and the broader community were ‘dangerous’ for them and they would be safe within the mission environment,” she said.
The diversity of the Christian population in Bangladesh has further accentuated elements of “minorityness”, Dr Das added, noting this has far-reaching implications for Christians’ ability to gain political power.
“The community is divided into small groups that makes it difficult for them to unite and have one voice, which is particularly important given their minority status,” said Dr Das.
More information about the ANU South Asia Research Institute (SARI) please visit their website.
By CAP student correspondent Diana Tung