`Secularism' as a concept appears to be so complex when applying in the context of Bangladesh that any potential misrepresentation of it in any official capacity could lead to chaos. The People's Republic of Bangladesh was founded as a secular state and the emergence of this state stems from the efforts and sacrifices of people from all the faiths that are practiced within the country. Yet, this foundational principle is subjected to criticism by proponents of an Islamic state and by extremist views that the politically unschooled masses of the country tend to harbor. This ultimately begs the question: has this core foundation of our constitution, which was designed for the relief of all people, been sabotaged for political leverage?
Since our Liberation War, secularism has been increasingly neglected over the years. The recent attack on the Hindus of the Noagaon village in ShallaUpazilla of Shunamganj highlights the threats that the minorities as well as the very concept of secularism face in our country. Many may misjudge the threat as an oppression of a single religion but these acts of bad faith have been practiced on other minorities as well, leading to serious consequences for the tribal populations and their respective freedoms. For instance, the 2015 gang rape of a Garo woman and the subsequent delays in recording of the FIR and the delay in sending her for medical examination indicate that it is already considered as the norm. It is clear that the basis of secularism is not well established among the population and recent data on the reduction of population percentages belonging to minority groups proves this.
On the 22nd of October 2020, a group of people from Uttarasent an application to the Police Commissioner requesting police resistance against Hindus who wished to perform their sacred rituals and their puja. In 2020, in the Chandibarapur area of Narail, people were attacked and left injured for celebrating Durga puja, a religious practice for the Hindu people. Surely, this wasn't what the Father of the Nation had in mind when he established this sovereign nation on the principles of secularism, where people of various faiths could coexist harmoniously. Does not the fact that so many people avoid decorating their households and prayer quarters in fear of mob violence highlight a dramatic digression from our foundational vision?
The word 'Secularism' is enshrined in the Fundamental Principles of State Policy but it is high time we realized that it is also crucial for maintaining civil order and the rule of law. Every Bangladeshi should, whether at school or at home, be taught that this land does not belong to any one group. Developing and raising an empathetic citizenry of tolerant, understanding, and inclusive-minded human beings is the collective responsibility of all groups and individuals.
Article 2A of the Constitution clearly states that "The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions." It has been emphasized that the State religion Islam is not the only religion that needs to be protected but other religions are also important for achieving peace and harmony. Oppression under the guise of religion is, in essence, a form of extremism that we can no longer afford to sweep under the rug. It is high time we accepted that our constitution has been misrepresented for the purposes of radicalizing vulnerable sects of our population or for political gain by religious extremists; and it is high time we reestablished our understanding of the pillars of modern civilization: tolerance, inclusivity and strength in diversity. The rights of citizens cannot be categorized under ancient systems followed by any particular group's ancestors. It should be recognized that the policies of welfare and growth are not contingent upon gender, religion, caste, or groups but rather on the functionality of society as a whole.
Secularism should not remain simply a term for the books; it should be brought into practice. The youth of the nation must engage in learning about sustainable peace that can be brought only through safeguarding human rights, practicing inclusivity in society and countering the rise of extremism. Education and progressive thoughts may prove to be powerful tools in the reestablishment of our secularism, which in turn may bear fruits greater than those discussed above: economic development and overall prosperity of a nation which have been directly linked with the economic health of a nation overall.
The educational system should assume a greater role in shaping the minds of our future leaders in order to counter much of the outmoded xenophobic, misogynistic, and outright regressive norms and customs that plague our youth and send them toward paths shrouded in radicalism, nationalism, and intolerance.
Anisha Alam Tahsin, Student, (L.L.B 2nd Year) University of London. Abraham Junaid, CMgr., is a social entrepreneur and independent researcher invested in the long-term economic and social development of Bangladesh through education reform. Afnan Salim, Student,(LL.B. 3rdYear) Metropolitan University, Sylhet
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