|Volume 5 Issue 08 | August 2011|
State Religion for Whom?
The people of Bangladesh want a secular state, stresses DR. ANISH MONDAL.
The four principles of democracy, socialism, secularism and nationalism in the Constitution of Bangladesh had been established through a ceaseless struggle of the people. The people of the then East Pakistan started to realise their discrimination by the religion-mongers of Pakistan and their first realisation came into being when the East Pakistan Jubo League was established as a secular youth organisation in 1951.
Following the historic language movement in 1952, the East Pakistan Chhatra Union, a non-communal students' organisation and Ganotantri Party, a non-communal political party were established. In the process of non-communal trend, East Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League dropped the term Muslim from the name of the organisation and afterwards East Pakistan Awami League waived the term Muslim from the party's name.In 1954, the coalition-front (Jukto-Front) adopted 21 points resolution in which there was no promise of Islamisation.
While in 1956 during the formation of the first Constitution of Pakistan, Awami League opposed the naming of Islamic State.
At the same time Awami League took the resolution to the joint electorate system for East Pakistan and thus the party gave its final stroke to the root of two-nations theory -- a theory of the state on the basis of religion.
Awami League, National Awami Party and different students' organisations started to spread a secular trend across the country. In 1969, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman warned the whole nation of the abuse of religion in politics.
In 1970, General Yahiya Khan, President of Pakistan, imposed the legal framework order where it said that Pakistan would be an Islamic State and the president of Pakistan must be a Muslim. East Pakistan Chhatra League strongly opposed this communal trend in the state machinery and the organisation demanded repeal of the law.
In February 1971, a front-line students' organisation named Chhatra Union proposed that the state would be a secular, democratic people's republic.
During the emergence of Bangladesh, during the Liberation War, the leaders of Bangladesh always spoke of secularism. During the War of Independence the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the Prime Minister of Mujibnagar Government Tajuddin Ahmed, the acting President Sayed Nazrul Islam, the Home Minister AHM Kamruzzaman, the Foreign Minister Khondokar Mustaque Ahmed at different times in their speeches declared repeatedly three state principles: democracy, socialism and secularism.
Freed from the imprisonment of the Pakistani gaol, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman clearly stated that the foundation of Bangladesh would be democracy, socialism, secularism and nationalism. The four principles of democracy, socialism, secularism and nationalism were accepted in the Constitution of Bangladesh in 1972. It is needless to say that the four state principles neither came to us overnight, nor were they injected by anybody into the Constitution of 1972, rather, it was the people's aspirations for which they laid down their lives. The acceptance of the four state principles was not in the interest of any vested quarters but for the people of Bangladesh.
During the autocratic rule of General Ershad, the introduction of state religion to the Constitution dealt a severe blow to the basic structure of the Constitution of Bangladesh. The establishment of state religion divided the people of Bangladesh into two: Muslims and non-Muslims.
This new law created a kind of separate identity among the non-Muslims. For example, after the declaration of state religion bill, the non-Muslims in Bangladesh launched their own organisation named Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad. The outcome of state religion was obvious. Communal persecution against the non-Muslims in 1990, 1992 and 2001 were burning examples in this respect.
State religion caused a loss of confidence among non-Muslims. As a result, a silent exodus of the religious minorities continued to occur. A new dimension was added to the politics of Bangladesh. A reality of separate electorate system for the non-Muslims and a reservation in the parliament for the non-Muslims came into being.
When the state is biased in favour of a particular religion, drift and discrimination must come up. Many of us oppose it and they put forward an example of the United Kingdom where religion of Anglican Church is state religion.
History showed that after the emergence of free and sovereign states in Europe, separation of state and religion took place. It was the state that took the responsibility of all citizens for welfare and prosperity.
It is true that in Europe not all countries separated religion from the state. In some Scandinavian countries like Ireland, Italy and Spain, particular religions prevail but the state never patronises any particular religion, the state never shows any discrimination towards its religious minorities.
France is a secular state though Catholicism prevails there; the USA is a secular state though Protestantism prevails there. In spite of this, neither of these countries discriminate against their religious minorities. We know that half of the member states of the OIC (major organisation for Islamic countries) do not have anything like state religion. Countries like Indonesia, United Arab Emirates and Syria do not have any existence of state religion. Turkey is not only a secular country but its Constitution embeds secularism in such a position that it is beyond amendment. In Turkey, women enjoy property rights, their freedom in line with the principle of secularism.
The French Revolution taught the French to be secular; the Liberation War in 1971 taught the people of Bangladesh to be secular. We were right. We took secularism in 1970, we were bathed with secularism in 1971 and again we placed secularism in 1972 in the Constitution. We had a bitter experience in Pakistan in the name of religion. We got enemy property act in the name of religion. We got the Hindu exodus during the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Nearly 10 million Hindu people, innocent, hungry and helpless, tortured and damned, had been rooted out from their motherland in the name of religion. During the Liberation War we got the brutal Hindu genocide in the name of religion. And Pakistan did all these killings, rapes, lootings and above all battered Bangladesh in the name of religion. Now the world is seeing how the present day Pakistan is being crucified in the name of religion. Today's Pakistan is a state of blood, death, terrorism and conspiracy.
We were right because we separated religion from the state. We prohibited politics in the name of religion. We learned something from history.
But now history repeats itself.
A people-loving party Awami League used to indulge in politics in the name of its people. Now the party has started its politics in the name of religion.
People are not blind. People realise quickly but they express themselves slowly. They have millions of eyes to observe. They are observing everything. In this day of globalisation and rapid transportation people will understand easily what to do with the Awami League. Who demanded state religion? The people of Bangladesh never demanded state religion. They demanded peace and prosperity. But the autocratic ruler gave them state religion instead of peace and prosperity. As a result, the people of Bangladesh gave an exemplary punishment to the autocratic ruler. They ousted and buried autocracy through a mass upheaval of protest in 1990.
Is it necessary for Awami League to retain state religion? For whom? Awami League made the 15th amendment to the Constitution on June 30, 2011 and the amendment retained state religion, permitted the religion-mongers to indulge in politics with religion against secularism.
But Awami League has not managed to make them happy. Fazlul Haque Amini, chief of Islami Ain Bastobayon Committee and chief of Islami Oikkya Jote, a component of the BNP-led four party alliance, raised his fierce voice: “It is very urgent to pass and implement a law on hanging persons who want to change the holy Quran, the constitution of Allah, in a Muslim majority country. Under the leadership of the present government, a deep conspiracy is going on to change and overthrow the Quran. And it is natural when an anti-Islamic party like Awami League is in power.”
Fazlul Haq Amini questioned how Islam and the Muslims could be safe under the party whose spokesperson Syed Ashraful Islam can claim to be neither a Hindu nor a Muslim and minister Raziuddin Ahmed Razu can dare to say our children should practise music and dance to get rid of Hizab (The Daily Star, July 19, 2011).
Some other Islamic parties have started to allege that the present government has worked against Islam. They blame the Awami League because they have realise its weakness. They also know that rulers take shelter in religion when they lose trust of the public.
History forgives none. Today Pakistan is burning. What went around has come around to Pakistan. We cannot burn down ourselves. The people of Bangladesh no longer want state religion but a secular state free from any kind of discrimination.
Dr. Anish Mondal is an assistant professor of English at Amrita Lal Dey College, Barisal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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