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Tributes to Bangladesh’s minority rights champion

People from all walks of life have paid homage to a former army general hailed as a hero of Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Independence and a champion of secularism and minority rights in the Muslim-majority country. Tributes poured in for Major General Chitta Ranjan Dutta, popularly known as C.R. Dutta, as his cremation was carried out following state-level honors in capital Dhaka on Sept. 1, a day after his body was flown back to Bangladesh from the United States. Dutta, a Hindu, died in Florida on Aug. 25 at the age of 93. He is survived by two daughters and a son. Draped in the national flag, the coffin containing his mortal remains was kept at Dhakeshwari National Temple to allow people to pay their last respects . A military contingent gave him a guard of honor and gun salute before his body was taken to Sabujbag Crematorium for funeral rites. Dutta was born in Shillong of British India on Jan. 1, 1927, and later moved to his ancestral home in Habiganj district of East Bengal (now Bangladesh).

In 1947, the year the British partitioned India and Pakistan on religious lines, he joined Pakistan’s military. Despite being a Hindu officer in the Muslim-dominated Pakistan army, his excellence in service earned him great honors, especially his heroics during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. During the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence, Dutta was the commander of Sector 4, one of 11 sectors of liberation forces that battled the marauding Pakistan army before claiming victory on Dec. 16 of that year. For his gallantry during the war, Dutta was conferred Bir Uttam, the highest military honor in Bangladesh. He was the founding director general of Bangladesh Rifles (now Border Guards Bangladesh), the paramilitary border forces. From the highest levels of government to various political, social, cultural and religious organizations, tributes were paid to Dutta. President Abdul Hamid hailed Dutta as a hero of the nation. “The nation will remember C.R. Dutta with respect forever as a war hero,” he said. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also paid tribute. “C.R. Dutta’s great contributions during our liberation war will live forever in the nation.” A champion of secularism and minorities Following his retirement from active service in 1974, Dutta became a central figure in upholding secular principles in Bangladesh, which has seen a series of military coups and counter-coups in the aftermath of the assassination of the country’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members in 1975. From 1975 to 1990, Bangladesh was ruled by military dictators who attempted to change the nation’s principles by removing secularism, one of four pillars of the 1972 constitution, which Dutta strongly opposed. In 1988, Dutta protested when military ruler H.M. Ershad introduced Islam as the state religion in the constitution. He and leaders of minority groups formed the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), a leading minority rights forum. He served as president of the group until his death. He also advocated for trial and punishment of Islamist collaborators with Pakistan’s army who committed war crimes including abduction, torture, mass murder, rape, arson and looting during the 1971 war. Rana Dasgupta, a Supreme Court lawyer and secretary of the BHBCUC, termed Dutta “a great patriot.” “C.R. Dutta performed every duty with great patriotism and sincerity. He has always taken a strong stance against all forms of injustice, inequality and communalism. His life is a guiding light for us,” said Dasgupta, a Hindu. Nirmol Rozario, president of Bangladesh Christian Association, hailed Dutta as a secular icon. “C.R. Dutta dreamed of a secular and liberal Bangladesh, and he worked tirelessly until death for the cause. He also advocated for rights and justice for oppressed minorities. His contributions will be remembered forever,” said Rozario, a Catholic.

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