Vol. 4 Num 181 Tue. November 25, 2003  
Letters to Editor

Secularism: Constitution, Law and Representation

In his 11/19 response to my letter dated 11/14, Mr. Shibly Azad defends Bangladesh's record on secularism: "more than a dozen MPs from minority communities in the current parliament as well as the presence of minority cabinet members."

As far as I know, there are six minority MPs, not a "dozen". Dhirendranath Saha, Gautam Chakrabarty, Moni Swapan Dewan (CHT) from BNP; Suranjit Sengupta, Panchanan Biswas and Bir Bahadur (CHT) from AL. This makes a total of 6 out of 330. Direct demographic representation would be around 36.

There are no minority Ministers, only Junior Ministers. Chakrabarty is Junior Minister for Water Resources and Swapan is Junior Minister for CHT and Tribal affairs. Although CHT is 70% tribal (Pahari), a Pahari was given Junior portfolio, while the full portfolio went to a non-Pahari-- hardly anything to brag about.

Mr. Azad also writes, "Constitution of Bangladesh does not allow superiority of one religion at the expense of others, but grants equal status to all creeds"

In the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh, this was indeed the case. However, in 1977, Zia government amended the Constitution, replacing "Socialism" and "Secularism" with, respectively, "Social Justice" and "Absolute faith in God Almighty." They also inserted "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful" (in Arabic) into the preamble to the Constitution. Finally, the 1972 ban on religion-based political parties was lifted.

In 1988, the Ershad government passed the 8th Amendment to the Constitution, making Islam the "State Religion". Although a general protest strike paralyzed Dhaka, the Jatiya Party-dominated Parliament (most of the opposition had boycotted elections) easily passed the measure.

At present, the Bangladesh Constitution reads as follows: "8. Fundamental principles of State Policy: The principles of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy and socialism meaning economic and social justice, together with the principles derived from them as set out in this Part, shall constitute the fundamental principles of state policy. Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all actions. "(

Finally, do not forget the "Vested (Enemy) Property Act" (set up during '65 Indo-Pak war), which has yet to be repealed after four decades. According to "An inquiry into causes and consequences of deprivation of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act" (Abul Barkat, ed.., PRIP Trust, 2000), 2.1 million acres of land were confiscated from Hindu families (by GOB and individuals) since the VPA was enacted.