Examining sectarian violence in Bangladesh during Durga Puja, journalist, author and human rights activist Shahriar Kabir, the country’s most resolute and renowned secular fighter, called for a complete separation between religion and politics.
Bangladesh is making steady economic progress – there has not been a major community epidemic for some time. How and why did this chaos happen? Was it carefully planned and premeditated?
Let’s be frank. As you said, we have made very rapid progress in the area of socio-economic development. Indeed, the progress made during the reign of Sheikh Hasina has been described by many Western commentators as “wonderful” and a “model for other developing countries”, even “magical”. We have also made progress in the public health index, the hunger index, the gender ratio, etc.
But this breakthrough does not necessarily mean that we have got rid of the enemies of development and humanity, which are still mired in backward Islamic thoughts and practices. These so-called devotees struck their first blow by killing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, and since then the killers, conspirators and their acolytes have tried to radicalize, rather “Pakistani”, politics, society and the culture of Bangladesh.
Pakistan was created on the basis of the sectarian “two nation theory” of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. We waged the war of liberation in 1971 to establish a secular democratic state and society. Three million people sacrificed their blood independently of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, believers, non-believers and indigenous people for a secular and democratic Bangladesh.
Bangladesh adopted a magnificent constitution in 1972 which enshrined “democracy”, “secularism”, “socialism” and “Bengali nationalism” as the basic principles of the republic. Bangabandhu constitutionally prohibited the formation of any political party or organization in the name of religion in order to safeguard the secular spirit of the state. This constitution buried the concept of Pakistan in Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu was killed by pro-Pakistan anti-liberation forces who wanted to turn Bangladesh into a mini-Pakistan. General
Ziaur Rahman and General Ershad, two military dictators, are primarily responsible for Pakistanizing our constitution, politics and society.
Since Bangabandhu’s assassination in August 1975, most of Bangladesh has been ruled by pro-Pakistan communal forces. Of course, the enemies were sure to be defeated in the last election, but that doesn’t mean they collapsed in midair. They are still active, they want to include divisive religion in the political arena, and they ultimately want a monolithic Muslim state like General Ziaul Haque’s Pakistan or Mulla Umar’s Afghanistan.
The continued persecution of religious minorities, especially Hindus, is an integral part of their political agenda. Sadly, some of them have infiltrated the ruling Awami League over the past decade.
As we have seen in the past, this time too, these pro-Pakistani politico-religious forces designed and fueled the destructive acts and chaos that occurred during Durga Puja.
In other words, we have witnessed pre-planned and premeditated carnage. Much planning and calculation fueled this carnage. Indeed, striking at different times on the same or the same days testifies to this premeditation. Also, now that the cat is out of the bag – by placing the Quran in a mandap Puja – this pre-planned element is staring us in the face.
Could you please identify the destructive forces that were behind these deadly attacks?
It’s very simple, it is the entire pro-Pakistani opposition camp that has triggered this indignation. In this context, I will name the BNP and Jamaat in particular, and reactionary and right-wing forces in general. They were of course joined by thugs, goondas and desecrators. If you look at the rhetoric of pro-Pakistan mulla on social media, their main target is India and Sheikh Hasina.
How did Sheikh Hasina and his Awami League government handle the blatant situation?
As in the past, she was tough and determined from the first moment. When she noticed that in some areas police help was arriving a little too late, she directly ordered the Home Secretary to take quick and immediate action.
One of his punchy comments carries a reminder. She said: “We will punish the culprits so that they do not dare to repeat what they have done.” A few hundred people have been imprisoned and we hope that they will be punished in an exemplary manner.
What measures are taken by civil society? Are they up to the task?
As in the past, civil society has played an exemplary role. Please remember the protests and demonstrations launched by ordinary people – students, teachers, journalists, writers, artists and rights activists.
Rousing plays were performed by cultural groups and students, and the signs they carried bore witness to their anger and outrage. These signs carried statements such as “The Great Liberation War did not contemplate such a tragic end”, “Pakistani political demons return to Pakistan” or “We will eliminate all efforts to transform Bangladesh into a theocratic state. Or “We demand a permanent break between religion and politics.”
For the past 30 years, our Forum for Secular Bangladesh (commonly known as the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee), the largest civil society organization in Bangladesh, has taken to the streets for the implementation of the spirit of liberation war which is the separation of religion from politics and state affairs.
We also called on the government to set up a national minorities commission with judicial powers to identify and punish criminals involved in community violence, as well as to deal with all issues related to the rights and dignity of people belonging to communities. minority. who are deprived of many constitutionally guaranteed rights.
You’ve hit the nail on the head – at the end of the day, it’s a no-holds-barred fight between two types of policies. On the one hand, we have an enlightened, democratic and secular politics, separate from religion and obscurantism and, on the other, a narrow and sectarian politics with a religious orientation of the Taliban type.
Many Bangladeshis still think in terms of Taliban politics, which would make Sharia law the defining law. These so-called illegitimate soldiers of Islam want only Muslims to live and thrive in Bangladesh. In fact, the common slogan expressed by the rioters was: “Hindus, return to Hindustan, because Bangladesh is an Islamic state”.
The whole of civil society, as well as the government, strongly opposes this precarious plan. They don’t want a sectarian, monolithic Muslim state that in essence turns out to be a failed state like Pakistan. The real battle is being waged by these two opposing movements, and I am sure we will win this battle.
But to ensure the victory of the democrats and the laity, we must introduce profound changes in the old Code of Criminal Procedure of 1898. There is an urgent need to enact new laws to punish the perpetrators of social violence or communal atrocities.
Under the old Witness Law, it is not possible to try the culprits. We must adopt a secular education policy, the students of madrasas must learn the secular history of the Bengalis, the history and the spirit of the war of liberation. They must abide by Bangladesh’s secular democratic constitution which was written in the blood of three million martyrs of the war of liberation. Above all, the reinstallation of the magnificent secular constitution of 1972 is high on our agenda.
When we look at the Indian subcontinent, we find a very conflicting picture. Buddhist fundamentalists lead Myanmar, Muslim fundamentalists lead Pakistan, and Hindu fundamentalists lead India. If a devastating fire burns a country, the neighbor is also affected.
Correct, here we are highlighting the pernicious effects of the chain reaction. We can change this situation by implementing a basic principle. In other words, while religion must not cross the territory prescribed for it, politics and the state must operate in a totally separate and independent manner and must keep religion at bay.
This separation is absolutely necessary at this time because the present world as such is inclined to sponsor backward, right-wing, and divisive politics. Bangabandhu, the Father of the Nation, insisted on this fundamental separation between religion and politics.
And even before him, Indian statesmen like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and even Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had said that religion was a private and sacred arrangement which should not exceed its prescribed limits.