Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bangladesh to be a secular nation?

Bangladesh may soon cease to be an Islamic nation. According to Sayeda Sajeda Chowdhury, MP and deputy leader of Bangladesh Parliament, efforts are on to embrace the basic tenets of the 1972 constitution of the country which advocated secularism, democracy and socialism. More importantly, the constitutional amendment will ensure that religion keeps away from politics.

"Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had given us secularism. We still believe in Bengali nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism which were the basic tenets of the country's constitution that was adopted in 1972. Later, this constitution was amended and Bangladesh was converted into an Islamic nation. We are trying to ensure that Islam, or for that matter any other religion, ceases to be a state religion. Those who kill in the name of religion and torture women do little else but drag a nation backward. The military junta had promoted fundamentalism in the country to suit its own needs. We can't allow a military junta to return. We shall stop the involvement of religion in politics and discrimination against people of other faiths," Chowdhury, who was in Kolkata for a seminar on 'Role of Women in the Movement of Human Secularism in South Asia' said. The seminar was organised by the Bharat Bangladesh Maitri Samiti to mark the birth centenary of poet Sufia Kamal.

Journalist and human rights activist Sahariar Kabir noted how Sufia led the secular and democratic forces in Bangladesh even during Gen Ayub Khan's regime. During her stay in Kolkata, she was commended by Rabindranath Tagore for her writings. According to him, if Sufia is to be shown respect, Islam should not remain the state religion of Bangladesh.

"We are planning to go to court unless the present government takes steps to convert Bangladesh from an Islamic state to a secular one. When Tagore was baned in Bangladesh (East Pakistan), Sufia led the movement against this. In a meeting, Ayub Khan had called all Bengalis haywans(animals). None of those present dared protest save for Sufia. She told Ayub Khan to his face that if all Bengalis are haywans, he is the president of haywans. She strove to make the country secular, democratic and socialist. One must keep in mind that society in Bangladesh wasn't very advanced in 1972 but the constitution of a Muslim-dominated country adopted secularism. Before framing the constitution, our leaders had gone through the Constitution of India as well as other constitutions. What was important is that our leaders took a 'revolutionary' step by banning religion from politics. No other country had this in its constitution. This was very important as we had witnessed genocide and torture," Kabir said.

Referring to how Mujib was assasinated a few years after the liberation of Bangladesh, he admitted that it is extremely difficult to do away with fundamentalism. "Not only was the word secularism removed from the constitution, from 1975, efforts started to convert Bangladesh into another Pakistan and later into a Taliban-ruled state. The people were never in favour and this is where Sufia played an important role as a lighthouse. She even led the committee that identified the people involved in war crimes. These people are being tried in Bangladesh now," Kabir said.

Saugata Roy, MP and president of the Bharat Bangladesh Maitri Samiti said that Bangladesh has several impediments. "Fundamentalists are not only trying to spoil relations with India but also prevent women from progressing," he said.

Alarming decrease in Hindu population in Bangladesh

In past ten years, in comparing to the growth of the total population in Bangladesh, there is an alarming decrease of Hindu population in the country. According to statistics available with the government sources, the proportionate decrease in Hindu population is around nine hundred thousand. The statistics show almost elimination of Hindu population in fifteen districts in the country. Most of the Hindu families in those districts were forced to leave the country. In 2001, the total number of Hindu population in Bangladesh was 116.83 million, while the population was expected to be 132 million in 2011. But the latest statistics available with the government shows the total number of Hindu population at 123 million, which is nine hundred thousand less than the expected rate of growth. Currently 8.5 percent of the total population of Bangladesh is Hindus, while in 2001, it was 9.2 percent. The proportion of Christian, Buddhist and other religious minority population did not see any decline in the past. Currently the total number of Muslim population in Bangladesh is 90.4 percent. The district-wise statistics of population sees "huge decline" or "almost elimination" of Hindu population in fifteen districts, though the statistics terms the decline of Hindu population as "missing population".
He said, "Though some of the Hindu rights groups are falsely claiming that the forceful migration of Hindu families had decreased since Bangladesh Awami League came in power, the reality is actually just the opposite. Even during this present government, which came in power in 2009, there had been numerous attacks on Hindu families and temples in the country as well as alarming rise in the forceful abduction and religious conversion of Hindu girls and boys throughout the country."

Citing example of Gopalganj district in Bangladesh, which is considered to be the exclusive vote bank of Bangladesh Awami League and safe heaven for the Hindus, Gobinda Chandra Pramanik said, "In 2001, the total Hindu population at Gopalganj district was 371,000, while now it has gone down below fifty thousand. This statistics will prove the fact of repression on Hindu population even in the district, which is wrongly considered as 'safe heaven' for the Hindus in Bangladesh."

He said, "The burden of 'Enemy Property Act', which later was changed into 'Vested Property Act' has already caused hundreds and thousands of Hindu families in leaving Bangladesh either by selling their properties at token price or simply abandoning their ancestral properties into the grips of the greedy Muslim influential figures belonging to Bangladesh Awami League, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and Jatiyo Party. Though a large proportion of the Hindu populations consider Bangladesh Awami League as their own party and almost as guardians of protecting the rights of Hindus, in the past, very unfortunately, Awami League never kept its promises in protecting the Hindus."

Seeking anonymity, a Hindu community leader in Gopalganj district said, "Bangladesh Awami League though proclaims to be a party totally committed to protecting rights of Hindus and religious minorities in Bangladesh, unfortunately their political behavior is no different than any other political party in Bangladesh. No Hindu has ever been placed into top most posts in the Central Committee or district level committees of Bangladesh Awami League. Though it is very unfortunate, but this is the ground reality."

BY :   Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.