Thursday, 9 December, 2021
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Religious Harmony, Bangabandhu and Bangladesh

Recalling Glorious Past for Glorious Future

Hassan Ahmed Shovon

Recalling Glorious Past for Glorious Future

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Bangladesh, historically an example for the world in terms of diversity and peaceful co-existence, has suffered the darkest scars of communal violence in its recent history. Since October 13, the country that was born in 1971 on the basis of secular principles rejecting the legacy of ‘religious lines’ of partition in 1947, witnessed a mob of fanatics unleashed on its sacred land. Communal violence and incidents of vandalism erupted at Hindu temples and households across the country, denting the holy spirit of the biggest religious festival of the Hindu community – the Durga Puja. Though, this year, the Durga Puja came to an end amid tension and violence across the country; it is not the proper representation of Bangladesh’s culture of religious harmony.

 Reminiscing our harmonious past

 Bangladesh is a unique example of communal harmony as people of different faiths have been living in this soil with harmony for thousands of years. Even, the sanguine birth of Bangladesh in 1971 was an antithesis to communal politics of the then Punjabi-military dominated Pakistani regime. Bangladesh’s entire liberation struggle was based on ‘secular Bengali nationalism,’ overriding the ‘orthodox religion’ centric approach of erstwhile Pakistan.

Thus Bangladesh, since its inception, leaped forward to become a secular democratic nation where there would be no place for religious fanaticism and violent extremism. With rare exceptions, Bangladesh has incorporated ‘secularism’ as a cornerstone to its fundamental state principles and banned politics in the name of religion. However, the country which was a by-product of the communal legacy of the 1947 partition and religious orthodoxy of erstwhile Pakistan, couldn’t be free from lingering ‘roots’ of communalism. Therefore, time and again, religious orthodoxy and fundamentalism resurfaced to tarnish our secular principles.

Addressing recent scars

Regrettably, the ensuing turbulence since October 13 led to at least eight deaths, scores of injury cases, and hundreds of arrests across the country. According to official estimates, amid puja celebrations more than 28 cases have been filed against the perpetrators, 9,525 people have been alleged and 4000 are arrested. In response, the Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina has rightfully pledged that “the religious freedom of Hindus would be protected.  Nobody will be spared. It doesn’t matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished to prevent any recurrence of such incidents.” Instead of plunging into a state of denial about what was happening in her country, the Bangladeshi Premier chose to address the problem and speak of justice. This was an exceptional move by the Hasina government to reiterate its commitment to ‘zero tolerance’ against terrorism and violent extremism and leaders of other South Asian countries need to learn from this.

According to experts, the vandalism of Hindu temples were “pre-planned by the evil communal forces” to “destabilise” the communal harmony of Bangladesh. More importantly, the recent escalation of political oppression, state-sponsored violence, and structural discrimination against Muslims in some countries has certainly played a ‘retributive’ role in inciting religious tensions in Bangladesh. Thus, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh has urged others to remain ‘vigilant’ about acts that might cause repercussions in its neighbouring countries, especially in Bangladesh.

With a more significant move, political leadership, law-enforcement authorities, civil society, academicians, and university students have come forward to denounce these deplorable communal acts. There were protests arranged to condemn communal vandalism and demand punishment of the perpetrators. Promptly, an investigation committee has been formed to unravel the Cumilla incident and the subsequent violence against the members of the Hindu communities. In the meantime, the Bangladeshi government promptly deployed paramilitary forces in 22 districts to contain the spread of violence. Furthermore, significant changes were brought in the administration to respond to the crisis in a robust manner. All these actions led us to reverberate the words of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – “there would be no place of communalism on the soil of Bengal.”

Restless neighbourhood

This deplorable communal episode in Bangladesh leads to the inquiry: who are the perpetrators, what are their underlying motives and who benefits from such acts? Many observers opine these acts are part of ‘coordinated sabotage’ of domestic Islamist extremist groups or international sponsors committed to ‘destabilise’ the communal harmony in Bangladesh.

In this regard, firstly and understandably, one of the key perpetrators behind these sacrilegious incidents are the Islamist fanatics and extremist groups who bear the legacy of religious orthodoxy, which has its roots in communal politics of the then Pakistan and the Partition periods. Secondly, it is too early to rule out the conspiracy theories that there may be some ‘invisible foreign hands’ at work in a bid to destabilise the current government that has been successfully maintaining a prudent and calculated balancing approach amidst escalating geopolitical tensions in this part of the world.

Thirdly, lately fake news, propaganda and rumours have become the ‘mainstay’ of social media in Bangladesh. We have fathomed the power of information in the case of the ‘Shahbagh Movement’ back in 2013, where social media played the most significant role to organise pro-secular mass movements to demand capital punishments for the ‘War Criminals’ of our Liberation War. However, we have also realized the draconian power of misinformation in the case of rumours about the human sacrifices for the completion of the Padma Bridge, which inflicted tremendous costs for our society. Thus, extremist forces in the country and their international patrons are always in a smear campaign in the terrains of social media to spread rumours and misinformation to manipulate the psyche of the common people who have no idea of social media engineering.

Finally, the resurgence of populist and right-wing governments and movements across the globe poses severe repercussions and challenges by creating socio-political vacuums and subsequently inflicting harm on the stability and peace of the nation. The rise of communal turbulence, riots and ethnic violence especially against Muslims in certain countries has contributed to the spread of communal violence and hatred in Bangladesh.

Recalling Bangabandhu amidst crises

 In this critical moment, let us remember the memorial words of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, “There are Hindus, Muslims, Bengalis, non-Bengalis in this Bengal. They are our brothers. It is our responsibility to protect them so that we are not discredited.” This reflects the commitment of the government and people in Bangladesh against communalism are unbroken and indivisible.

 In conclusion, we hope the Bangladesh government should continue to flag its secular political culture of – Dharma Jar Jar, Uthshob Shobar by overcoming the extremist and chauvinist forces in the society. Simultaneously, people must understand the wisdom behind the Qur’anic dicta of ‘la ikraha fid-din’ (there is no compulsion in religion) and ‘lakum deenu-kum waliya-din’ (to you is your religion, and to me is mine).

 

The writer is a Research Assistant at the Central Foundation for International and Strategic Studies (CFISS