Journalist, author and human rights activist Shahriar Kabir, the country’s most determined and renowned secular fighter, investigates sectarian violence in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja and calls for a complete separation between religion and politics.
Bangladesh is making steady progress on the economic path – there has not been a major communal outbreak for some time. How and why did this chaos come about? Was it carefully planned in advance and deliberate?
Let’s be sincere. As you said, we have made very rapid progress in the area of ââsocio-economic development. Indeed, the advances made during Sheikh Hasina’s reign have been described by many Western commentators as “wonderful” and “a role model for other developing countries”, if not “magical”. We have also made progress on the public health index, hunger index, gender ratio index, and so on.
But this progress does not necessarily mean that we have got rid of the enemies of development and humanity who are still entangled in regressive Islamic thoughts and practices. These so-called devotees struck their first blow by killing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation.
Pakistan was founded on 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 democratic Bangladesh.
In 1972, Bangladesh passed a great constitution that enshrined âdemocracyâ, âsecularismâ, âsocialismâ and âBengali nationalismâ as the basic principles of the republic. Bangabandhu constitutionally prohibited the formation of any political party or organization in the name of any religion in order to protect the secular spirit of the state. This constitution buried the concept of Pakistan in Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu was killed by pro-Pakistani anti-liberation forces who wanted to turn Bangladesh into a mini-Pakistan. Generally
Ziaur Rahman and General Ershad, two military dictators, are primarily responsible for the Pakistanization of our constitution, politics and society.
Since the assassination of Bangabandhu in August 1975, Bangladesh has been ruled by pro-Pakistani municipal forces for most of the time. Of course, the enemies were defeated in the last election, but that doesn’t mean they’ll vanish into thin air. They are still active, they want to include divisive religions in the political arena, and ultimately they want a monolithic Muslim state like General Ziaul Haque’s Pakistan or Mulla Umar’s Afghanistan.
The constant persecution of religious minorities, especially the Hindus, is an integral part of their political agenda. Unfortunately, some of them have infiltrated the ruling Awami League over the past decade.
As we have seen in the past, this time also these pro-Pakistani religious-political forces staged and fueled destructive acts and the chaos during Durga Puja.
In other words, what we experienced was a pre-planned and deliberate slaughter. Quite a bit of planning and calculation fueled this carnage. In fact, beating in different places on the same day or days is evidence of this premeditation. Furthermore, this preplanned element is staring us in the face now that the cat is out of the bag – by placing the Quran in a puja mandap.
Would you please identify the destructive forces behind these grueling attacks?
Quite simply, the entire pro-Pakistani opposition camp sparked this outrage. In this context I mention the BNP and the Jamaat in particular and in general the reactionary and right-wing forces. They were, of course, joined by crooks, goondas and molesters. If you look at the rhetoric of the pro-Pakistani mullas on social media, their main target is India and Sheikh Hasina.
How did Sheikh Hasina and her government of the Awami League deal with the blatant situation?
As in the past, she was tough and determined from the first moment. When she realized that police aid was a little late in some regions, she directly ordered the Interior Minister to take immediate and immediate action.
One of her haunting comments carries a recall. She said: “We will punish the perpetrators so that they no longer dare to repeat what they did.” Quite a few hundred have been jailed and we hope that they will be punished in an exemplary manner.
What steps are civil society taking? Are you up to the occasion?
As in the past, civil society played an exemplary role. Please remember the protests and demonstrations of the common people – students, teachers, journalists, writers, artists and human rights activists.
Intoxicating street games were performed by cultural groups and students, and the posters they carried showed their anger and outrage. These posters carried statements such as: “The Great Liberation War had not foreseen such a tragic outcome”, “Demons of Pakistani politics are going back to Pakistan” or “We will stamp out all efforts aimed at transforming Bangladesh into a theocratic state” or ” We demand a permanent break between religion and politics â.
Our Forum for Secular Bangladesh (popularly known as Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee), the largest civil society organization in Bangladesh, has been promoting the implementation of the liberation war spirit of separation of religion and politics and state affairs for 30 years.
We have also asked the government to set up a National Minority Commission with judicial powers to identify and punish the criminals involved in local violence, as well as to deal with any issues related to the rights and dignities of those belonging to minority communities many constitutionally guaranteed rights are withheld.
You hit the nail on the head – it is ultimately a ruthless battle of two kinds of politics. On the one hand, we have an enlightened, democratic and secular policy detached from religion and obscurantism, and on the other, we have a religion-oriented, narrow and sectarian policy in the style of the Taliban.
Many Bangladeshis still think in terms of Taliban politics, what 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 only common slogan used by the rioters was: “Hindus, go back to Hindustan, because Bangladesh is an Islamic state”.
Civil society as a whole, as well as the government, are resolutely opposed to this precarious concept. They don’t want a sectarian and monolithic Muslim state that essentially turns out to be a failed state like Pakistan. The real battle is being waged by these two opposing movements and I am sure that we will win this battle.
But to ensure the victory of the democrats and secularists, we must make sweeping changes to the age-old Criminal Procedure Code of 1898. There is an urgent need for new laws to punish perpetrators of social violence or community atrocities.
According to the old witness law, it is not possible to bring the perpetrators to justice. We have to pursue a secular educational policy, students in madrasas have to learn the secular history of the Bengal, the history and the spirit of the war of liberation. You must respect the secular democratic constitution of Bangladesh, which was written with the blood of three million martyrs of the war of liberation. Above all, the restoration of the great secular constitution of 1972 is high on our agenda.
If we look at the Indian subcontinent, we find a really divisive picture. Buddhist fundamentalists lead Myanmar, Muslim fundamentalists lead Pakistan, and Hindu fundamentalists lead India. When a devastating fire scorches a country, the neighboring country is also affected.
Right, we’re emphasizing the deleterious effects of the chain reaction here. We can change this situation by implementing a rationale. That is, while religion should not exceed its prescribed territory, politics and state should act completely separately and independently, keeping religion in check.
This separation is urgently needed at this hour because the present world as such is destined to promote backward, right-wing, divisive politics. Bangabandhu, the father of the nation, insisted on this fundamental separation of 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 disposition that should not exceed its prescribed limits.