Published: Sunday, June 2, 2013

Secularism vs nationalism and communalism

Century old idols of a Krishna temple at Kuleshwari Bari lay in ruins after criminals attacked the temple.  Photo: Banglar Chokh

Century old idols of a Krishna temple at Kuleshwari Bari lay in ruins after criminals attacked the temple. Photo: Banglar Chokh

THE Daily Star on its May 30 issue reported of a communal attack upon a 150-year-old Kuleswari temple at Hossainpur upazila of Kishoreganj. Its Editorial urged the government to ‘act decisively’, and said, ‘The government cannot any more just watch; while the scandalous attacks against religious minorities continue.’ The words can only mean that the government just keeps watching and does not act decisively and it doubts whether we can ‘be called a civilised society’ while it continues. Why does it continue, after all, in the independent Bangladesh?

Bangladesh aspired to be a socialist country after it gained independence, but there was no favourable condition or competent leadership for it. The liberation war of Bangladesh was not a war of Bengali nationalists though Bengali nationalism was the dominating force behind it; it was a war of all nationalities living in the then East Pakistan. Bengali nationalism did not work in 1905 and 1947; then the splitting force of religion seemed to be stronger than the uniting force of nationalism. Again, the splitting force of language proved to be stronger than the unifying force of religion in 1971. Ahmed Sofa refuted the projection of the liberation war as a rectification of the two-nation theory on the basis of which Pakistan was born. To Ahmed Sofa, it was more than that. [Bangladeshe Rajnoitik Jotilata, 1977]. Therefore, 1971 was not to go back to pre-1947; it was to go farther than that. This one step forward was the aspiration of the working people of Bangladesh for equality and justice, who are the chief architects of this independent country (Ahmned Sofa, Buddhibrittir Notun Binyas, 1972). This was on the basis of secularism which is a higher philosophy than narrow nationalism. Later, for the sake of going two steps back, Bengali nationalism was sneaked into the constitution by the people who had been elected to prepare a constitution for Pakistan. By gripping the hand of Bengali nationalism, first came Bangladeshi nationalism then a state religion in the constitution.

This has served the interests of Awami League, BNP, Jatiya Party, Jamaat — every party in Bangladesh. When Hindus, Buddhists, adivasis and other minority peoples are threatened, harassed and attacked in Bangladesh all these parties and party leaders get busy in pointing their fingers to one another without taking a practical step of protecting them. Time passes away in the game of pointing fingers, yet the culprits who are a few in numbers can never be caught red-handed. Why don’t you catch a single culprit and put him on show and say which camp he belongs to? Why can’t even the ruling party with all the state force at its disposal do it? Why, an opposition party whose cadres have been notorious in beating and killing some policemen in the country in front of TV cameras can’t put a single scratch on the body of a culprit bent on the barbaric act of attacking people of other faiths, ransacking their property and desecrating their gods? Why doesn’t a single member of the heroic police force who can enter an opposition party’s head-office and ransack it, who can size up former powerful ministers on the road, can lathi-charge a peaceful procession, and some of whom get mutilated and even killed in keeping peace in the stadium of politics, receive a single scratch when the lives, properties and gods of people of other faiths are at stake? It seems that when the question of protecting the minority people comes up, every one of the parties mentioned above are more helpless and need more protection than the victims.

Philosopher John Stuart Mill put forward a reason about why and how a state is formed in human society. He wrote in his essay On Liberty, ‘To prevent the weaker members of the community from being preyed upon by innumerable vultures, it was needful that there should be an animal of prey stronger than the rest, commissioned to keep them down. But as the king of the vultures would be no less bent upon preying upon the flock than any of the minor harpies, it was indispensable to be in a perpetual attitude of defence against his beak and claws.’

What happens if a state force is not stronger than the vultures preying upon weaker members in a state? It was Ramu last year. This year it is Hindus with 71 of their temples and 1,500 houses burnt down and looted away in 32 districts. [Prothom Alo, 25 March 2013]. After 154 years of J. S. Mill’s remark about the role of a state and the civil society, Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, deplored that both the state and the civil society of Bangladesh have utterly failed to protect the interests of the minority people in this country. [Prothom Alo, 29 March 2013]. Have we made any progress or gone backwards with the lack of a stronger force to protect the weaker members and the lack of any arrangement to protect ourselves against the beak and claws of the king of vultures?

The writer is Research and Publication Officer, Centre for Development Innovation and Practices (CDIP).