Oh! The alluvial land of Bangladesh, where I was born, my parents were born, and their ancestors were born too. This is our homeland, and I love this place so much. Here I am living thousands of miles away from my motherland but, my mind always wonders around every nook and corner I have ever loitered on that land. My sweet memories play back in my dreams every night. When I gaze at the map of this land, I see faces of my departed parents plastered on it for eternity. All these memories follow me and haunt me down no matter where I go or what I do. Yet, recently, I am slowly losing my faith and affection for this land. Why is this happening to me? This was not supposed to happen. Who do I blame for this?
After the independence in 1972 from Pakistan, the very first constitution of Bangladesh adopted secularism one of the pillars of this nation, guaranteeing all citizens, irrespective of their races and religions, equal rights and privileges. The government policies were guided by the principle of secularism and the spirit of Bengali Nationalism, not by religious bigotry. That was under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation. It was a dream came true for the religious minority communities in the country. For the first time, in a long time, they experienced the test of ownership of their motherland, which have been denied ever since Pakistan was curved out of India in 1947. Obviously, Pakistani agents, and those who opposed the independence of Bangladesh were not happy with the outcome, and they started to hatch conspiracy to over through the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The intelligent agencies, both national and international, especially Indian, warned Sheikh Mujib about such possibility, but he never paid much attention to it. In his heart, he truly believed that – he has given Bangladesh to the people, what more could they want from him. Also, people gave him the title of Bongabondhu (Friend of Bengal) – therefore, they will always support him when he needs them. Out of this sentiment, he went on with his plan to grant mass amnesty to all his opponents who actively collaborated with Pakistani Army, and fought against Bangladesh during the liberation war. He believed that – his gesture of goodwill will win their hearts and minds, and everybody will live happily ever after in Bangladesh. That never happened. In fact, it was a grave misconception on his part. His emotion took over the fact that ideology could supersede nationalism, and can transcend national boundary. Exactly that’s what happened in Bangladesh. At the dead of night, on August 15, 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in a well orchestrated military coup, organized by a handful of young pro-Pakistani military officers. This is a black day (August 15) in the history of Bangladesh, but – it is the day after the Independence Day (August 14) of Pakistan. Could this be just a mere coincidence?
Immediately after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1975), military junta declared Martial Law, and suspended the secular constitution of Bangladesh. Following some power struggle among military officers, came Major General Ziaur Rahman. Immediately, he amended the constitution and removed secularism, and added a verse from Quran – Bismillah Rahman-E-Rahim – in the preamble to mark the beginning of the end of secularism in the land. But, military power struggle continued, and General Zia was assassinated in May 30, 1981. Following his assassination, came another Lieutenant General, named Hossain Muhammad Ershad. He went even a step further, and declared Islam as the State Religion of Bangladesh in 1988. Thus, the reversal cycle from secular Bangladesh to 100% Islamic country, as Pakistan, was finally completed.
That is the story behind the death of a secular nation, called Bangladesh. Today’s Bangladesh is actually the ghost of East Pakistan, dressed in the veil of Bangladesh. The real Bangladesh lives on the spirit of Bengali Nationalism, which cannot survive without secularism.
Sheikh Hashina, the daughters of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh after the landslide election victory in 2008. She took an initiative to revive the secular constitution of 1972. When I heard this news, the very thought that came to my mind was – Aamaar Sonaar Bangla, Aame Tomae Bhalo Bashi (My Golden Bengal, I love you). I thought for a moment – my relatives will finally regain their equal rights, which they enjoyed only for a brief period (1972 – 1975), right from the birth of Bangladesh till the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. I was so encouraged by the initiative of the constitutional amendments that I decided to support it. So, I launched an e-petition in support of the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hashina, urging her to bring back the 1972 secular constitution, and to separate state and religion for the greater good of the country. Many people around the world signed my petition to support the initiative. Alas! It was all in vein. Sheikh Hashina’s government caved into the opposition and maintained the status quo, by adding Islam as the State Religion of Bangladesh in the 1972 constitution along with secularism. By adding such an incompatible clause in the 1972 constitution, Hashina government violated the sanctity and soiled the purity of this constitution forever. History will remember her for this, if not anything else.
If you think about the subject of state religion, there is no positive impact on the religious majority community, meaning this will not influence their day-to-day religious affair at all. But, it will have enormous negative impact on religious minorities. By this decree in 1988, Ershad instantly made a large segment of the population (religious minorities) the second class citizens of the country. The psychological impact of that act made religious minorities feel themselves inferior, and unworthy of having a stake in the country. They suddenly felt like stepchildren in their own motherland. They slowly started to withdraw from active participation in any state or local projects, and other initiatives, including their personal ones. I watched – many religious minorities refused to repair their broken homes, and did not want to take initiative to start new businesses, and take care of their existing ones. They felt alienated in their homeland. Their standard of living started to decline, which must have dragged country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita income (PCI) down. You would think – any representative government would notice this downfall of the country’s religious minority communities, and take remedial measures for the good of the country, if not for the wellbeing of the religious minority communities. But, that does not happen in Bangladesh.
I am having a hard time to accept the fact that – the very same practice will still continue unabated, even under the reign of Awami League. They could have brought back secularism and separate the state and religion completely. They could have revived Bengali Nationalism. But, they decided to maintain the status quo. So, the erosion keeps rolling onto the minority communities, many of who are already destitute.
The success and failure of a government is measured by the overall prospect and prosperity of the country during their tenure. Therefore, it is quite logical to think that, if the prospect of a particular segment of the population gets suppressed and stifled by the constitution, it will degrade their economic condition, which will lower the GDP and PCI of the country. That’s why it will be hard to find a modern nation that has ever prospered without the separation of state and religion. What separation of state and religion does is that it gives equal opportunity to all citizens and ends religious discrimination.
Bangladesh could have been the Morning Star in the Islamic world to show the way to the other Islamic countries. It is quite unfortunate to see that even a progressive party like Awami League could not make the final leap out of the religious bigotry. Only time will tell – if their calculation was politically correct or not. All I know is this – Awami League cannot come to power again without the support of the religious minority communities, and successes and failures of these communities are tied up with the overall success of the country. I also know that – a great leader never hesitates to make unpopular decisions in the interest of the country, and Bangladesh is craving for such a great leader.