Bangladesh must preserve Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s secular heritage
AK Abdul Momen, Bangladesh’s foreign minister, has tried to play down the recent communal violence in the country, accusing “enthusiastic media and individuals” of spreading “fictional stories” to embarrass the government. He denied that there had been any rape or destruction of temples and insisted that the government is “committed to religious harmony”.
It is true that more than 500 people have been arrested by the police and that actions have been taken against them. The government also compensates the victims. It is also undeniable that the condition of minorities like Hindus, Buddhists and Christians has been better under the regime of Sheikh Hasina. Representation of Hindus has steadily improved in Jatiya Sangsad in Bangladesh over the past three elections. Today there are 18 elected Hindu deputies, 17 of whom are from the ruling Awami League. Their representation in government services has also increased over the past decade. Minorities account for around 7 percent of civic jobs and 10 percent of police jobs. Several Hindus hold senior positions. Judge Surendra Kumar Sinha became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in 2015. He had to resign after three years for political and non-community reasons.
The mandaps of Durga Puja receive financial support from the government in addition to security for the most important. Sheikh Hasina gave the slogan “Dhormo jar jar, utsob shobar (Religion according to his own, but festivals common to all)”. As a result, the number of Puja mandaps has increased. There were over 30,000 Durga Pujas in 2017 and 31,272 in 2018. The numbers this year, after the Covid pandemic, are about the same. Sheikh Hasina also took special care in supporting the Dhakeswari Temple in Dhaka when the leadership faced challenges.
But there is also another side. Governments in South Asia tend to downplay community divides and their violent fallout. Bangladesh is no exception. There is ample visual evidence of the extent of arson and violence during Durga Puja. The fact that the violence spread to more than 70 neighborhoods proves that this was a well-planned attack. In addition to BNP and Jamaat cadres, many perpetrators also owed allegiance to the ruling party.
Hasina lashed out at the radical Islamists responsible for the atrocities committed during Bangladesh’s formative years. War crimes courts have ordered the execution of many Islamists responsible for brutalities committed during the liberation war, including senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and BNP’s Salauddin Quader Chowdhury. Hasina demonstrated her resolve against Islamic terrorism by swiftly punishing the perpetrators of the July 2016 attacks at the Holey Artisan cafe, in which 22 people, including 16 foreigners, were massacred. Seven Islamists were sentenced to death in this terrorist attack. But when it comes to atrocities against minorities, the Hasina government does not show the same determination, baffling many secular eminencies and emboldening radicals. A report by the human rights organization Odhikar indicates that between 2007 and 2019, 12 people belonging to other religions were killed, 1,536 injured and 1,013 properties and 390 temples attacked. Hindus have borne the brunt of this sectarianism. The human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) reported 3,710 attacks exclusively against Hindu communities (10 dead and 862 injured) between January 2013 and September 2021.
Islamist radicalism is on the rise in Bangladesh despite the efforts of the Hasina government. Madrasas are booming. According to government estimates, the number of Qawmi madrasas could be between 13,902 and 33,000. There are another 70,000 mosque-based Furqania maktabs and over 4,000 Hafezia madrasas in 2008 that were not included in the figures above.
There have been reports of the modification of the country’s “secular” educational program. In 2017, poems and stories by Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Humayun Azad and Rabindranath Tagore were quietly removed from textbooks and replaced with more “Islamist” pieces.
Bangladesh’s current challenge is not just about the security of its minorities. This is his greatest identity. There was a time when the expression “Bengali Muslim” was considered an oxymoron. But thanks to the efforts of leaders like Fazlul Haq during and after Partition, and Mujibur Rehman during and after the War of Liberation, such an identity was created – it had to be secular, socialist, nationalist and democratic. Fazlul Haq had refused to follow the Muslim League line in Bengal. He founded the Krishak Praja party, defeated the Islamist League strongman Khwaja Nazimuddin in 1937, opposed partition and, with congressional leaders like Sarat Chandra Bose, wanted Bengal to become a country. independent.
“Bangabandhu” Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the founder of the Awami League, instilled secularism as the founding principle of the constitution in 1972. Sheikh Hasina carries this legacy of a Bengali Muslim, which is constantly eroded.
General Zia-ur-Rehman and his successor General Ershad were primarily responsible for denying Bangabandhu’s vision. Zia had the constitution amended in 1979 to remove the word “secularism”. Ershad declared Islam as the “state religion” in 1988. Although Hasina restored “secularism” to the constitution through the Fifteenth Amendment in 2011, the country continues to maintain the strange distinction of simultaneously being a secular country and an Islamic state.
The challenge of Hasina, before passing the baton to her successor, will be to restore her father’s dream and legacy. Incidentally, this is a challenge for all of South Asia, since we are one people and communitarianism in one place has the potential to foment the same in another.