Secularism and religious freedom are the part of four basic principles of the constitution of Bangladesh. Secularism means both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Bangladesh's constitution articulated that religion is an individual’s concern. Hence, the state should treat religion as an individual’s identity following the discourse of secularism. At the root level, a country has to respect and protect the human rights of an individual or a group. The state has to endeavour to fulfil the positive means of enjoying human rights by an individual or group. Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, solemnise the practice. In general, a state is liable to ensure security and protection for every individual in the state without the consideration of religious majority or minority, whereas a state with inharmonious religious sentiments and intolerance towards minorities requires special protection.
The Awami League is a non-communal political party. The party has a long history of fighting against communalism under the leadership of Great Leader Bangabandhu and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But unfortunately during the rule of the Awami League for more than 12 years, the minorities of Bangladesh are still being repeatedly attacked, religious hatred is being spread and terror is being created. When the country, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is proud of many positive achievements, such a heinous communal attack cannot be accepted since communal harmony is the pride of our national life. At any cost, that glorious ego must be protected.
Earlier on March 17 this year, when the birth centenary celebrations of Father of the Nation were being organised across the country, a disgusting incident took place in Sunamganj district. Simultaneous attacks, vandalism, and looting were carried out on 88 houses of Hindu families and five temples in the village. Some local freedom fighters were not spared from their attack. In 2016, minorities were attacked in Brahmanbaria. Although a case was filed, the miscreants were not punished; all of them were released on bail. There had been more horrific attacks on the Buddhist community in Ramu, Cox's Bazar a few years ago. Similarly, minorities were tortured in Dinajpur, Joypurhat, Natore, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Netrokona, and Pirojpur. After any incident of torture of minorities in Bangladesh, there is a lot of discussion and politics about it, but there is no punishment. As a result, the incidents of torture are not stopping. Allegations are there that they cannot be brought to book as the powerful have worked behind every attack. Religious issues have been used.
After the 2001 elections, there were widespread incidents of persecution of minorities in different districts of Bangladesh. It was observed that all parties’ opportunists and miscreants are the same in the persecution of minorities and seizure of property, no one is left behind. Opportunistic individuals, miscreants, under the umbrella of political parties, use the name of a political party to discredit or exert influence, torture and horror.
Observations show that in the case of persecution and harassment of minorities, terrorists resort to the same old tactics. Because the attackers are influential, the victims are often afraid of going to the police station. At one time, attempts were made to avoid liability for exaggerating media reports after any attacks on minorities. The present government has built burnt houses and temples in Ramu and Nasirnagar, distributed relief materials and rehabilitated victims in Sunamganj. But sadly, in almost all previous cases, it has not yet been possible to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Bangladesh emerged as an independent state in 1971 through a nine-month bloody War of Liberation. The Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians all fought together and made this country independent. Bangladesh's journey began with a commitment to establish communal harmony and social justice. Our liberation war was not for a discriminatory society. The Bengali nation took part in the War of Liberation under the extraordinary leadership of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to diminish religious and racial discrimination. The war was based on the desire to be free from inequality and to establish a democratic state. The people have fought for a state that, if born, would ensure equality and social justice for all citizens and would be of the Bengalis, regardless of religion or caste.
After the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu and his family on 15 August 1975, the state power changed dramatically. With this dramatic change, the country’s pursuit of a democratic secular constitution stumbled.
Many incidents can be avoided if the government, administration, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement agencies play a little more active role and take action at the right time. If the perpetrators could be brought under the law, the situation would have improved a lot. The onlookers would be afraid to commit these misdeeds. We have to ensure justice for all the people in our society and build a society of harmony. The minority people of Bangladesh now need to regain their sense of security.
To restore the faith and confidence of the minorities, it is imperative to bring the attackers and terrorists to book and ensure exemplary punishment for them. At the same time, departmental action against police officers involved in such human rights violations and failed administration should be taken. The government should arrange training on religious freedom and human rights for local leaders including administration. Determining the appropriate damage, they should compensate the victims accordingly. Take necessary steps to ensure that none can disseminate rumours on social media, especially Facebook, to victimise religious minorities. To uphold the non-communal consciousness and spirit of the great liberation war, the government must take necessary measures against the communal forces. We have to ensure equal rights for all.
It is said on behalf of the present government that they are trying to develop religious pluralism and protect the rights of minorities. They are working successfully to deal with any kind of violence and discrimination. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has brought a slogan – ‘Religion is for individuals while festivals for all’ – to build a secular and peaceful Bangladesh. By this slogan, the present government continues to inspire the common people of the country to show equal respect to all religions. She has again given clear instruction to the home minister to take stern actions against those who are behind the incidents Cumilla and Rangpur as soon as possible, completing investigations. Our responsibility is to advance the fight for equality and social justice, and human rights democratically. Therefore, the administration and the government have to do more to protect the security and harmony of the minorities, and the civil society irrespective of party affiliation has to come forward. We have to ensure equal rights for all to build ‘Golden Bengal’ for which Bangabandhu's has struggled and sacrificed his life.
The writer is a Research Fellow, BNNRC