A Proposal for Amendment in the Constitution: Secular Bangladesh

Pamelia Khaled:

Photo: iStock

On behalf of Secular Bangladeshis, this is a peacebuilding proposal to the Head of The State of Bangladesh. 

A Strong Dissent: but this is a kind proposition to the Bangladesh government, which is written for the country’s welfare. This piece aims to ensure Bangladesh as a secular democratic state, so secularists and minorities get back their rights. In 1971, Bangladesh was born as a socialist country. The constitution emphasized secularism as the guiding principle to ensure democracy, nationalism, and socialism. Although discrimination against non-Muslims was rife, freedom of worship was provided for in the 1972 Constitution (Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 2010). However, in 1988, Islam was declared as the state religion. At that point, the country lost its secular nation-state image and failed to maintain a peaceful democratic environment and the previously egalitarian aspects of society. Nevertheless, during the past and current regime, the intensity of violence has been increased, and secularism is undermined. To bring back justice and equality, we urge all secular Bangladeshi people to stand for the amendment of the constitution. 

 

This statement or assertion expresses a judgment or opinion from Bangladesh’s Honourable PM Sheikh Hasina. This is a proposition that all human beings are created equal, so about all Bangladeshis. The equality hinders when it ensures the dominant group’s will.  Therefore, it requires understanding peoples’ rights and free will. It necessitates common sense, which is useful for justifying a country’s identity, such as Secular vs Islamic.  

Idol vs Statue, since the last few years, it has become a debating issue in Bangladesh, but what is the difference in between. There is a difference between idol and Statue. Does it really matter in this 21st century in the modern scientific era? Once Bangladesh was known for its secular mindset and multiculturalism, but why it turned to a traditional conservative ideology. Unfortunately, during the military regime, Bangladesh changed its identity as an Islamic country through an amendment.

About an idol, it is a sculptured image or representation of anything revered or considered that bears supernatural power (spiritual power).

On the other hand, a statue is a three-dimensional work of art. It engraves lives such as persons, animals by many forms sculpting, carving, moulding, or casting. The key difference is that the idol is used for prayer, worship or reverence, but the Statue (symbolic) usually represents an individual, a group, and a nation. Nevertheless, in a multicultural country (although a particular group holds the majority), both commodities (products) should be respected and admired. For peacekeeping and peacebuilding, this broader worldview should be taught at home, in the classroom, and through textbooks. We wonder if this Islamist group can vandalize the founder’s father’s sculpture what they can do with the idols of Hindu gods and goddesses (the deities). The government had to nip the buds’ issue, but they nurtured this group for the sake of political sustainability. Now such conservative groups will imbalance the state power, including the social scene. The unfinished Bangabandhu sculpture is vandalized in Kushtia this Saturday, Daily Star and other newspapers reported.

About the Lady Justice statue, last time (February 2017) the protesters (the conservative Muslims) said the Statue (wearing a sari representing Bangladeshi women), was erected in December, it was holding the commonly known sword and scales of justice in her hands, that represents idolatry. Statues or any kind of idols are completely banned in Islam, the conservative group think. They think that there is no place for a statue in Islam. Hence, Muslims should not allow a statue in the Supreme Court premises. In this context, to resolve conflict and peacebuilding, I propose having two strategies by the head of the state and Awami League (AL) government. The first approach is, replacing the lady justice statue in the courtyard with the original form (not with a sari). And the second strategy is to announce Bangladesh as a Secular democratic country promptly speaking to the high AL High official and a cordial discussion with Bangladesh’s intellectuals. If PM Sheikh Hasina can actualize these two tasks in this critical time, she will be respected in the country (by the secularists and progressive politicians) and worldwide. Declaring Bangladesh as a Secular democratic country is the only alternative to pacify conservatives and Islamists. It will bring back peace for everyone (the secularists and minorities), change people’s mindset, help establish social justice and progressive belief, and stop violence in the country. 

Over the period, we observed that Bangladesh is gradually turning to a conservative Islamist, a Taliban ideology-focused country as Bangladesh’s current identity and its principles ensure that Bangladesh is an Islamic country, not a secular democratic country. To stop Islamists and ensure what Secular Bangladeshis aspire PM needs to discuss with her cabinet members’ (upper level) as soon as possible, and later on, she can consult with the top Bangladeshi intellectuals. Furthermore, to reduce conflict resolution through science, the country’s education policy must focus on science and scientific literacy removing the veil of ignorance and developing progressive minds, as I mentioned earlier. 

Thus, the honourable PM may reconsider this proposal for Bangabandhu’s namesake and the welfare of the country because there is no obligation for the PM to make the conservative group happy. The Islamists desire to turn this multicultural country into an arrested society, overly religious, a backward Islamic country after PM’s tenure. 

A question arose, then, during the War 1971, hundreds of thousands of Secular Bengali Muslims, Hindu women and men, gave their lives to liberate Bangladesh and lost their families, homes and wealth. For what and why? Indeed, not to see that a dominant ethnic community or a conservative Muslim group rules them as oppressors and feel oppressed. 

The resistance and controversy on idol and Statue, removing the lady justice statute under Islamists’ pressure, and vandalizing Founder Father’s Statue is an injustice to Bangabandhu. Because Bangabandhu dreamt of this country as a Secular socialist, at least her daughter, the honorable PM, can make it a Secular democratic country. If PM believes in people’s will, she needs to amend the constitution soonest to establish a “Secular Democracy” in Bangladesh. So, she can sustain and extend her regime peacefully; and build a legacy, a milestone, for her government and including a significant change in Bangladesh’s constitution.  

On 22nd March 2014, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that she would regulate Bangladesh, followed by the Medina covenant. We believe PM and her team did not explore enough what is written in the Medina charter or did not spend time to study if the Medina Charter is applicable in this modern-day or a multicultural country like Bangladesh.   Unfortunately, PM told Islamic scholars that “the country would be governed as per the Medina Charter and last sermons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and that there would be no law going against the Quran and Sunnah.” 

She further said, “There will be no law against the Holy Quran and Sunnah here ever.” The government stated clearly in the women’s policy that if any international law has anything against the Quran and Sunnah, it will not apply in Bangladesh” (Daily Star, 2015). However, the Medina Charter, rule number 14 suggests that Muslims should not kill other Muslims instead of disbelievers (Source: The first written constitution in the world, pp. 45 and 47, Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah). PM’s 2014’s statement probes us to ask: in this modern-day whether it is feasible to run a country based on the Medina covenant where a democratic country is committed to upholding each ethnic community’s rights, including women’s rights.

 

The writer is a Doctoral Candidate working on peace and conflict resolution through science at Curriculum Studies and teacher, Development department, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), Teaching Assistant, University of Toronto, and founder-president of Volunteer Association for Bangladesh-Canada.

 

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