The demand raised by the Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad, Chattogram chapter, for equal rights can no way be a subject for debate as the Constitution itself guarantees all citizens of Bangladesh equal rights without any discrimination on grounds of religion, sex and caste.
So, being a citizen of Bangladesh every Hindu is entitled to enjoy equally all fundamental rights including the freedom of religion.
But when the Hindu community has raised such a demand 50 years after the country's independence, this raises concerns as something must have gone wrong. Attacks on their temples and idols during Durga Puja in some districts are clear evidence that their right to freedom of religion has been infringed.
The attacks carried out by fanatic mullahs have a bigger impact on the country's image and the rule of law. The barbaric attacks undermine the supremacy of the Constitution, exposing the failure of all organs of the state to uphold and protect the Constitution.
Deployment of a large number of security forces including BGB members in 35 districts could not hide the failure. Hindus were in fear of being attacked when they were celebrating the festival. And in some places they came under attacks.
Is this the right to freedom of the religion Hindus are entitled to? No. This is not.
In Article 41, the Constitution defines the right to freedom of religion. The supreme law of the land clearly says, "Every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion; every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions."
Aren't Hindus entitled to this above right? Yes. Without any question.
And the state, according to Article 2A of the Constitution, shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions although the state religion of the Bangladesh is Islam.
Such communal attacks have raised a most important question: Is this the secular Bangladesh that the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman dreamt of? Take note that the country is celebrating the 100th birth centenary of Bangabandhu.
His Bangladesh was a real secular country.
No religion had been given the status of state religion. That had upheld the high ideal of secularism. Moreover, in Article 12, the Constitution provided procedure to realise the principle of secularism by eliminating communalism in all its forms, the granting by the state of political status in favour of any religion and the abuse of religion for political purposes.
In Article 38, the Constitution also imposed a ban on formation of political parties or organisations based on religion.
But Bangladesh lost its way with the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu and overthrow of his government. Secularism and Article 12 were removed from the Constitution during the first martial law regime. The constitutional ban on communal politics was also lifted. And later in 1988, another military dictator Gen Ershad, through an amendment to the Constitution incorporated Islam as the state religion. He did it to exploit the people's religious sentiment for his political gains to cling to power in the face of vigorous street movements against his regime.
The present state of secularism is chaotic to some extent. In 2011, the constitutional amendment brought back secularism, Article 12 also reinstated the ban on use of religion for political goals. But Islam still enjoys the status of the state religion and religion-based political parties and organisations that mushroomed after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu are still carrying on with their activities. Even the present administration has been accused of maintaining "good relation" with a particular fundamentalist force – Hefazat-e-Islam.
In such a situation, ensuring equal rights to minority communities, including Hindus, appears to be a daunting task for the state. But the state has no alternative. It has to ensure equal rights of Hindus and other minority communities to uphold the spirit of the constitution. None of the state organs can shrug off the responsibility.
As long as they are citizens of Bangladesh, the state is constitutionally obliged to ensure their equal rights including the freedom of religion. This means they must be given an environment free of fear to profess, practise or propagate their religion.
If minority communities cannot enjoy equal rights they have been given by the constitution and if they are under attack during religious festivals, their confidence and belief in the Constitution may be weakened.
This can be treated as a grave offence in light of Article 7A of the Constitution, which was included in the supreme law book in 2011.
According to this provision, if any person, by show of force or use of force or by any other unconstitutional means "(b) subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert the confidence, belief or reliance of the citizens to this Constitution or any of its article, his such act shall be sedition and such person shall be guilty of sedition".
Against all odds the preamble of the Constitution always remains as a source of re energising the spirit to protest wrongdoings and do good.
The preamble says, "Pledging that the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in the national liberation struggle, shall be the fundamental principles of the Constitution.
"Further pledging that it shall be a fundamental aim of the State to realise through the democratic process a socialist society, free from exploitation, a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens.
"Affirming that it is our sacred duty to safeguard, protect and defend this Constitution and to maintain its supremacy as the embodiment of the will of the people of Bangladesh so that we may prosper in freedom and may make our full contribution towards international peace and cooperation in keeping with the progressive aspirations of mankind."
Lest we forget the pledge we, the people of Bangladesh, made in the preamble of the Constitution. No disclaimer, please.