Bangladesh: A Failed Secular Country

Communal tensions have long existed in Bangladesh, whose constitution designates Islam as the state religion, but upholds the principle of secularism.

One of the serious clashes happened last week. 2 Hindu men were killed, and temples vandalized following unrest triggered by the alleged desecration of the Muslim holy book during the Durga Puja festival, a Hindu religious festival. Added to these two deaths, at least 4 other people were killed.

On Tuesday, thousands of members of Bangladesh’s ruling party marched in support of the nation’s besieged minority Hindus. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party attended this rally in Dhaka, alongside thousands that called for a halt to the violence.

Since 1971, Hindus have become prime targets of violence in the country. Back in March of 1971, under Operation Searchlight, Hindu people and anyone else who worked for the cause of Bangali nationalism and heritage was attacked. According to Professor Ratanlal Chakraborty of the history department of Dhaka University, 4 teachers, 34 students, and 4 employees of the hall were murdered on March 25.

As contributor Tanvir Haider Chaudhury from the Dhaka Tribune recalls, over the course of Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971, it was the Hindu community that was disproportionately targeted by the Pakistani invading forces. We do not have a precise account of all the martyrs or women raped during the war, but evidence points out that the vast majority were from the Hindu community.

Once the warfare finished, the sovereign state of Bangladesh was founded upon the dream that all citizens would have the same rights and protections granted by the constitution. However, this has not become true, and it seems far from being.

The extent of the discrimination is way too deep and it reaches many other communities such as the Buddhists and ethnic groups based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, called the Jumma people. In Chaudhury’s words, “the secular sovereign state of Bangladesh has become the country of people who are Bangali by ethnicity and Muslim by religion.”

Bangladesh’s government has not provided the Hindu people equal respect and protection as Muslims. Nevertheless, secularism and religious freedom are a part of the constitution, and the government must take care of the secular welfare of the state without considering religion or no religion, explains lecturer of the Department of Law at Feni University, Sakhawat Sajjat Sejan.

After a lot of communal clashes and vandalism, the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council has urged for a protection law and for a minority council to protect minority religious groups. Articles 28(4) and 29(3) of the constitution support the enactment of such measures, according to Sajjat Sejan.

The amount of vandalism, clashes, and murder that the Hindus have experienced now during their biggest festival due to baseless allegations prove that Bangladesh as an Estate has failed to protect and fulfil the basic human rights of citizens. This must be corrected immediately with firm punishments to the perpetrators, efficient state mechanisms to prevent such despicable actions or even a constitutional amendment. A harmonious future for religious communities must be the goal to work for.

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