Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina’s assurance to Hindus has lessons for Indian leaders
Violence against Hindus in Bangladesh shows no signs of abating, but Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, seems to have her heart in the right place. With reports of Hindu temples and Durga Puja pandals vandalized, people killed and injured, she deployed paramilitary forces to 22 districts to contain the spread of violence. She sent a clear message that the religious freedom of Hindus would be protected in Bangladesh under her leadership.
Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim country. The violence began in response to the circulation of doctored images on social media showing the Holy Quran at Hanuman’s feet during a Durga Puja pandal. Anyone who has been to a Durga Puja knows that Hanuman is not worshiped there. Only Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh, Kartikeya and Shiva are present at the pandal.
Hasina has publicly stated that those who incite violence against Hindus will be tracked down and will be appropriately punished to prevent such incidents from happening again. Instead of plunging into a state of denial of what is happening in her country, she chose to tackle the problem and talk about justice. The leaders of other South Asian countries must learn from this.
Exchanging greetings with the Hindu community in Bangladesh, she said, “This land is yours; you have your rights. Don’t think of yourself as minorities; you should have that confidence. While Hasina’s statement can be seen as an empty gesture with no real-world implications for those being persecuted, this recognition of minorities as equal citizens is significant.
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It should be remembered that unlike Pakistan, created according to religious criteria, Bangladesh was created according to linguistic criteria. A Bengali linguistic and cultural identity is what binds the citizens of Bangladesh to one another. Islamist extremists in Bangladesh are working to undermine this, and Hasina’s government has not had the greatest difficulty in dealing with their attempts to instigate violence.
Putting out the fire that is burning now is crucial, but a long-term strategy is also required, and Hasina does the preparatory work. During a press conference, his Deputy Minister of Information, Murad Hassan, announced that the government of Bangladesh has decided to revert to its secular constitution of 1972. When this development takes effect, Islam will cease to exist. be the official state religion of Bangladesh.
Hasina is a leader whose father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president of Bangladesh, was assassinated, and she also survived several assassination attempts. She knows what it means to live in fear. Yet she stands up to the Islamist extremists in her country, making the citizens of Bangladesh understand that they cannot afford to curl up in terror and allow themselves to be divided along religious lines.
Hasina announced, “People of all faiths will live together in Bangladesh. As India presses Bangladesh to tackle violence against Hindus, it is also time for our leaders to take inspiration from Hasina and publicly address the wrongs caused by communitarianism. and bigotry in India. Violence against Muslims in India sparked violence against Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
We already have a secular constitution in India. But appreciation for this wanes, especially as the word “secular” itself has been politicized and associated with narratives of appeasing minorities rather than seeing it as a recipe for coexisting with differences. The South Asian brand of secularism does not expect individuals to give up their faith, and it forces us to respect the faith of others.
While we hope Hasina will back up his words with swift action, we must remember that Bangladesh has not had the most glowing human rights record in recent times, thanks to enforced disappearances and attacks on human rights. freedom of press. Hasina’s characterization of Rohingya refugees as a threat to the security of Bangladesh has also been heavily criticized as an attempt to evade responsibility.
That said, his decision to revert to a secular constitution is indeed a courageous one. She may already be anticipating a reaction from Islamist extremists in her country, but that hasn’t stopped her from doing what needs to be done. Giving up the official state religion in favor of secularism is a very unusual step for South Asia, where religious extremism is on the rise everywhere, be it India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, in Bhutan, Sri Lanka or the Maldives.
(Chintan Girish Modi is a writer based in Mumbai)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of their authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DH