Religious Freedom & Practice

Hiren Pandit: In his speech in the National Assembly on 12 October 1972 on the draft constitution, Bangabandhu said: ‘Bangladesh will be an ideal state and one of its main pillars will be secularism. Secularism does not mean irreligion. The Hindu will practice his religion; Muslims will practice his religion; Christian, Buddhist – whoever practices their religion.

No one can interfere in anyone’s religion; the people of Bengal do not want to interfere in religion. Religion cannot be used for political reasons. Religion will not be allowed to be used in Bengal for political purposes. If anyone uses it, I believe that the people of Bengal will retaliate against him.’

On November 4, 1972, Bangabandhu again said: “Mr. Speaker, secularism does not mean irreligion. Seven and a half crore, the people of Bengal will have the right to perform religious duties. We do not want to stop religion by law and we will not. For 25 years we have seen exploitation in the name of religion, dishonesty in the name of religion, murder in the name of religion, adultery in the name of religion – this has been going on in the land of Bangladesh. Religion is a very holy thing.

Holy religion should not be used as a political tool. If anyone says that religious rights have been curtailed, I would say, religious rights have not been curtailed. We have made arrangements to protect the religious rights of seven and a half crore people. (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the National Parliament of Bangladesh, p. 46) Secularism and religious freedom are part of the four basic structures of the Constitution of Bangladesh.

Secularism means both freedom of religion and freedom to practice one’s religion freely. As secularism is a basic structure of the constitution, the government will take measures for the security and welfare of all the people of the country in general without considering religion. The constitution of Bangladesh states that religion is a matter for everyone. A person will be known by his own identity and not based on religion.

A state will respect the human rights of an individual or a group and will not interfere in the enjoyment of their human rights. Second, protect individuals or groups from human rights violations; After all, the state must always strive to meet the positive needs of an individual or group to enjoy human rights. Article 27 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights urges adherence to the practice.

In general, a state is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of every person in the state, regardless of religious majority or minority. But the state will provide special protection to the religious rights and intolerance of minorities. The discussion of special protection is referred to in Articles 28 (4) and 29 (3) of the Constitution of Bangladesh. The state or government will encourage the state to take necessary measures for the protection of minorities.

Article 12 of the Bangladesh Constitution calls for the elimination of all forms of sectarianism, political motives, discrimination or oppression based on religion, and the abolition of religious privileges. Article 41 of the Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to freely practice and practice any religion. Some articles of the constitution speak of equal rights and equal dignity for all, irrespective of religion or caste. Article 27-28 states that all citizens shall have equal rights before the law and enjoy equal protection before the law. The state will not discriminate against any citizen based on religion.

Therefore, any Muslim, Hindu, Christian, or Buddhist Bangladeshi citizen has the right to practice and propagate religion without discrimination. Since equal status and rights of people of all religions have been ensured through the constitution, all Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians in this country are equal in the eyes of the state. This recognition of the constitution is also reflected in the existing laws of the country and the policies of the state. The Criminal Procedure Code, 1960, clearly criminalizes murder, rape, kidnapping, vandalism of religious places of worship, and acts that injure religious sentiments or disturb the peace of religious gatherings.

We are distinguished from the best creatures of human creation, other animals, or anything else, for the sake of judgment, for the sake of conscience. But, are we using our judgment, intellect, or conscience? We are constantly sacrificing the human qualities we have; we are losing our morality; we are losing our ability to judge good and evil. Human-to-human sympathy is disappearing in the womb of time, love and kindness are slowly disappearing from our midst.

But we have lost our human qualities and are behaving cruelly not as human beings, but as cruel animals. Why is this happening? As we are being educated, the sense of humanity in us is declining where it is supposed to increase. But why? Educated people are supposed to have more human qualities, but that is no longer the case. We are the role model of development in the whole world, but how much is in the mindset?

There is no alternative to secularism to protect freedom of religion and the rights of religious minorities. Although secularism is mentioned in the constitution and existing laws, its full implementation is hampered due to various reasons. For example, sectarianism, religious extremism, and the misuse of religion for political purposes are obstacles to secularism.

Communal behavior and attitudes and communal attacks undermine the civil rights of religious minorities. Our constitution speaks of the elimination of communalism but there is no explanation of what communalism is. The implementation of secularism at all levels is essential to stop the misuse of religion for political purposes or to question the position of political parties in the policy of secularism and to stop the persecution of religious minorities and ensure their 100% rights.

But it is especially important to review why we do not see the full potential of this secular practice, and why secular societies and non-communal political environments are not developing. Because, only a secular society can ensure equal rights for all people irrespective of religion and caste, can stop the poison of communalism, and can succeed in achieving communal harmony at all levels.

The recent scenario in Bangladesh is different. After an incident in Cumilla, communal violence against Bangladesh’s religious minority Hindu community has been going on for the past few weeks. Due to some baseless allegations, torture, vandalism, clashes and violence have taken place among the minorities of Bangladesh during the biggest festival of the Hindu community and people have been killed in the violence. Neither communal violence nor religious intolerance is sanctioned by the constitution of Bangladesh. This conflicts with the constitutional and liberation spirit of Bangladesh.

The situation is deteriorating due to the spread of rumors and incitement of hatred on social media. The people of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian communities of this country were founded on secular values after the independence of Bangladesh through the 9-month bloody war against Pakistanis in the war of liberation with the sacrifice of 3 million martyrs and the disgrace of 200,000 mothers and sisters.Those who believe in patriotic and non-sectarian human values, who respect the religion of others as well as others, can no longer support the frenzy of such heinous orthodoxy.

Everyone knows how extremists have attacked the homes of religious minorities in different places including Chattogram, Lakshmipur-Noakhali, and Rangpur in the last few days after the attack on the Puja Mandapa in Cumilla. Such terrorism in the name of religion cannot be allowed to grow in any way. To prevent such communal terrorism, law enforcement agencies, including local political activists, social workers, philanthropists, intellectuals, and progressive forces, must be properly prepared and resisted.

The people of the minority community of the country are the target of repeated attacks in very trivial incidents. There have been more heinous attacks on minorities in Sunamgonj, Brahminbaria, and Cox’s Bazar. Similarly, minorities were tortured in Dinajpur, Joypurhat, Natore, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Netrokona, and Pirojpur. After the incident of torture of any minority 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. Allegedly, they cannot be brought under the law as the powerful are involved behind the scenes. Evil forces have worked behind every attack. Religious issues have been used.Bangladesh emerged as an independent state in 1971 after a long and bloody war of liberation for nine months. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians all fought together and made this country independent.

Bangladesh’s journey began with a commitment to communal harmony and social justice. Our liberation war was not for a discriminatory society. The Bengali nation did not wage a war of liberation for the spread of the two-nation theory. Religious discrimination, on the one hand, racial discrimination on the other. The liberation war of Bangladesh was based on the desire to be free from discrimination and to establish a democratic state system.

We see a horrific example of post-election violence in the 2001 parliamentary elections, in which post-election minorities were subjected to widespread persecution. Revenge is a major cause of electoral violence at this stage. The persecution of minority women in post-election violence in 2001 was a black chapter in the history of communal violence in Bangladesh.

Observations show that in the case of torture and harassment of minorities, the terrorists resort to the same old tactics. Because the attackers are influential, the victims are often afraid to go to the police station. At one time, attempts were made to avoid liability for exaggerating media reports after attacks on minorities.

That did not happen during the Awami League period. The government has rebuilt burnt houses and temples in Ramu and Nasirnagar. Arranged for rehabilitation with relief materials in Sunamganj. Convicts have been promised severe punishment. But sadly, in almost all previous cases, it has not yet been possible to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The government should take necessary measures against the communal forces to uphold the non-communal spirit of the great liberation war. The administration and the government need to do more to protect the security and communal harmony of all citizens, and civil society needs to do more. We have to ensure equal rights for all by punishing the perpetrators.

The present government is said to be working hard to develop religious pluralism in Bangladesh and protect the rights of minorities. The government is working successfully to combat any kind of violence and discrimination. Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has brought a slogan to build a non-communal and peaceful Bangladesh, ‘Religion belongs to everyone, festival belongs to everyone.
Through this song, the present government continues to inspire the common people of the country to show equal respect to all religions. We are confident of the various initiatives of the Hon’ble Prime Minister. With his firm steps, Bangladesh will go further as a non-communal country in the spirit of the liberation war.
There is a Human Rights Commission in Bangladesh, which can inform the government about human rights violations or the protection of the human rights of any citizen and can express its opinion to the government in taking necessary steps. In addition, the Ministry of Religion is responsible for taking various effective measures to protect the rights and welfare of all religious communities and people and has separate religious welfare trusts for Islam, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians. Freedom of Religion and Freedom to Practice religion must be ensured by the state.
Hiren Pandit is a Research Fellow

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