Nobel Laureat Charles Townes delivering the Keynote Address
Let me read some statements from the US State Department Report on Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a poor and disaster-prone country. Its annual income is US$380, about 1/2% of average annual income in the US-think about what that means to us. Economic growth of 6% is good and foreign investment has increased significantly particularly in the gas sector. However, slightly 1/2 of all children are malnoutish. Foreign aid remains an important source of national income. The country is racked by bureaucratic entanglements, vested economic interests, endemic corruption, political polarization, government's commitment to economic reforms is weak. But there are also many talented people in the Asian sub-continent. Tagore was mentioned earlier, a great writer and noted poet. There are also Chandra Shekar, C.V.Raman, Nobel Price winner in physics, and recently, Amartya Sen. They are very talented and wonderful people but they are having a hard time. As for the general situation, the government works in the areas of primary education, heatlh, nutrition supplemented by local and foreign support. However, there is still widespread poverty.
Bangladesh is in fact a parliamentary democracy but human rights record remains poor. The Human Rights Commission noted the following: discrimination and violence against women, including rape by the police, domestic violence, other killings, mutilating of wife and sisters through acid effect continue to occur in spite of the fact that there are laws that are supposed to protect them, violenxe is increasing. Thre are also serious pollution and environmental problems as in many parts of Asia. Now, there are of course religious differences and conflicts. The Wall St. Journal recently had a story about very worrisome rise in Islamic extremism and tensions between India and Pakistan. This extremism, we know of course that not all of people of Islam are extreme but there are some and that is causing the problem.
At the international level, there are international groups working to keep people together. Following the general election in October, which was won by the coalition led by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), BNP supporters reportedly attacked Hindu minorities because they were perceived to have supported the rival Awami League. Hundreds of Hindu families were reported to have been driven out of their homs, burn down their homes and rape their women. There appears discrimination against minorities and tribal people are also having very hard times.
The Amnesty International paid particular attention to the difficulties that Hindus experience and create a number of recommendations: immediate and decisive action is neeed by government to address the situation of Hindus in Bangladesh; must exercise action to protect the Hindu minorities against attacks; bring to justice the perpetrators who attacked regardless of their position in the society or any political parties; must ensure that the discriminating laws against Hindus or all other minorities are repealed.
We are here to discuss how best to help this situation. I've gove through some of these difficulties and I am sure many of you know more. But for us in the US and in this community, it is very hard to visualize and imagive the situation. Yes, these are all our human friends adn associates eventually as our world becomes more united and we want to make it better for them. We are so privilege here that we must be willing to share some of our privileges. We must help the people of Bangladesh and we can discuss what we can do. We want to talk about the problems, built a alliances and partnerships, we do not get political but dedicated to human welfare and to improving the social, cultural and economic conditions. Thank you very much.