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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 60
March 15 , 2008

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Law opinion

Democracy, the highest form of human rights

Prof. Quazi Faruque Ahmed

The achievement of democracy being the highest form of human rights, is the ultimate consequence of struggles for it through ages. The boastful declaration, “The State? I am the State” made by Louis the 14th, seems to have relevance to Bangladesh context where difference between the state and government is not taken into consideration, or considered very little. Naturally this is a negation in both the letter and sprit of good governance. This is a reflection of the mindset of the ruling elites, no matter whether in power or outside it at the moment, but desperately craving for it.

To a student of political science, the state is a people organised for law within a definite territory. Again the concept of law itself has developed gradually through continuous practices and customs, made for man by man (i.e. for and by human beings irrespective of gender) for achievement of their aspirations within reasonable limit fixed from time to time. Law underwent many changes to reach this present shape and pattern, while the state, practically an 'idea' in human perception, does not change very often like periodical changes of government, or the mode of governance. However, it is very much true that as anthropological-national entity, Bangalees have experienced several changes in the last couple of centuries. This is uncommon with other nations of the world. So to draw a parallel with Bangalees and other peoples of the world will not be very much appropriate.

To go back to the establishment of human rights or the will of the people within the framework of the present state of Bangladesh, Professor Muzaffar Ahmad Chowdhury, the renowned political scientist popularly known as “Mac”, taught his students in the classroom of Dhaka University, that democracy did not mean holding of election alone, nor was the rule of the majority only. In the absence of the willing consent of the minority or numerically minority opinion holders, rule of the majority cannot be termed as democracy.

After removal of the civilian rule by imposing martial law, for the first time in the early part of the second decade of Pakistan, the military dictator Ayub Khan formed an Inquiry Commission on “The Failure of Democracy” under the Chairmanship of Justice Asiruddin. So far I recollect, in an interview with the Commission, the East Pakistan politician and former Chief Minister Ataur Rahman Khan challenged the very attitude of the dictatorial regime making it abundantly clear that democracy never failed in Pakistan. Rather it was never allowed to function. The most important point in his interview Ataur Rahman made was that the “ the fear of being unseated” in the ruling circle, lacking popular support, contributed to the notion of the “failure of democracy” in the mindset of the ruling vested interests.

Tolerance is the cardinal essence and feature of democracy. The very statement “I may disapprove of what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it” may not sound very pleasant nor practical, to many. This is very true that self-restraint and self-criticism is not found habitual with many. However, it is also unfair to equalize and put at par the “people” responsible for this and those who become victim of it.

My arena is particularly human development and education. I have experienced both the positive and negative aspects in this field for the last three decades. All the regimes irrespective of their political hue and colour, deceived and also repressed, both the education givers and the education receivers. However, this is true that the last four-party alliance government surpassed all in that. Admittedly, the present government has brought some apparent changes in the process of depoliticisation of education, at least by making some amendments in the fabricated history of Bangladesh liberation war in the text books. But the residues still there are pinching. But what is unfortunate, is decision on vital aspects of education are taken as before. In allocating fund and resources glaring disparity and discrimination continues as before. The larger slice of resources is awarded depriving the vast majority living in the rural areas as before.

But I am not of the opinion that the authorities lack sincerity of purpose in regard to bringing positive reforms in the crisis-ridden education system. I have reasons to believe that there are good number of well-meaning, efficient people in the Education Ministry. Still, due to legacy of the past, time-constraint of the present government and a tendency of some people to do something extraordinary within a short span of time, and absence of interaction with the stake-holders may have contributed to all this.

In this connection, however, it is heartening to note that the Chief Adviser Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed very recently has observed: “The emergence of a widening difference between urban and rural schools is a serious problem. Over the last several decades the problem has become worst….We have to find out the solution to the problem as soon as possible”. He made this observation while inaugurating the 3-day conference on “ Governance in Education: Accountability and Effectiveness” jointly organised by UNESCO, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, in association with the BRAC University. Not only in education, in every sector, democracy; the highest form of human rights, should play its part to the maximum benefit of maximum people.

As a matter of fact, a non-partisan, pragmatic national approach with firm conviction in the rule of the majority protecting and preserving their genuine interests, confidence in the consultative and democratic practice accommodating opposing views, no matter major or minor, is the need of the day. Exception to this is neither desirable nor it will benefit anyone in the long run. We should not forget that democracy is the highest form of human rights both from the point of its ideal and practical content.

The writer is Chairman, Initiative for Human Development (IHD) and Secretary General, Bangladesh Federation of Teachers' Associations (BFTA).


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