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Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, A/HRC/31/18/Add.2, 22 January 2016: Bangladesh

VIII. New issues for further exploration

B. Freedom of religion or belief of hijras and other sexual minorities

92. Transgender persons — biological males who identify as female — are also known as “hijras” in South Asia. They are usually accepted in their societies, including Bangladesh. However, by their difference, people reportedly believe that they own a different set of religious practices — quite similar to some Hindu rituals — developed just for their community. Indeed, many hijras actually participate in mainstream religious life, for instance, by attending the Friday prayer or participating in church services.

93. Unlike the case of the hijras, other sexual minorities do not find much acceptance in society and often experience verbal or other abuse. The idea that individuals belonging to sexual minorities should be able to exercise their freedom of religion or belief like everyone else may strike many people as unusual or even unthinkable. It seems to be a widespread perception in Bangladesh that persons belonging to sexual minorities must be “non-believers” since their conduct is seen in breach of traditional interpretations of religious ethics. However, many individuals belonging to sexual minorities in fact identify themselves as believers of different faiths.

94. Freedom of religion or belief of persons belonging to sexual minorities is a very much underexplored issue that warrants more international attention. Diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are a reality in every society and not an invention imposed from abroad, as some may be inclined to think.

95. The only question is whether and how to recognize this reality. An opening-up in this regard helps to overcome prejudices and unsubstantiated anxieties, thus giving more breathing space to human beings who otherwise would be forced to conceal important aspects of their personal identity. The Special Rapporteur would like to stress that the right to freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed for every single human being, so no one should be deprived the right on the basis of sexuality, gender, ethnicity or caste. He has heard of encouraging initiatives by representatives of sexual minorities and religious community leaders in South Asia, including some from Bangladesh, who met to discuss and better understand these issues.

Link to full text of the report: Report-SRReligion-Bangladesh-2016-eng