Spoiling Secularism: Grave threat to our progress

Published : Tuesday, 27 October, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival of the Bengali Hindu community, has begun on Thursday. The Hindu community is the second largest religious group of Bangladesh and from the inception of this country people from all religions lived together in harmony here. But several attacks were conducted during the last few decades to destroy secularism and communal harmony in Bangladesh. In recent days also, surrounding the most important religious festival of the Hindu community, few such silent but fierce attempts were traced.

This year, the Durga Puja has been arranged at more than 30,000 mandaps throughout the country. Security has been beefed up in all the locations with the deployment of additional squads of Ansars, police, RAB, and other law enforcers along with voluntary groups for peaceful celebration of the festival.

Social Media has come out as an evil especially in the context of countries like; Bangladesh and we are very sorry to say that as we acknowledge the importance of technology as well as social media and also people’s right to information. But, in recent years, Bangladesh has seen abuse of fake Facebook accounts to perpetrate attacks against religious minorities.

Mobs destroyed 19 Buddhist temples in Ramu, Cox’s Bazar and Patiya of Chittagong after a Buddhist man allegedly defamed Islam on Facebook in 2012. In 2013, Locals vandalized 26 Hindu houses in Santhiya in Pabna district for Facebook posts defaming Islam, allegedly circulated by a 10th-grader Hindu boy. In 2016, Hindus in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria district and in 2017, Hindus in Thakur Para, Rangpur district came under attack over Facebook posts allegedly made by Hindu men that defamed Islam.

Prior to the Durga Puja this year, we have observed few posts in the social media which obviously tried to disturb religious harmony in the name of social awareness. Like; a post with a beheaded Durga statue was found in several posts, which actually is a past post but was presented in a new context.

Bangladesh is a country which can proudly claim to be religiously tolerant and unbiased. Many people from the minority communities are holding the top positions of both the public and private sector. There is no discrimination in placement or promotion. The general people of Bangladesh are very much respectful towards fellow countrymen hailing from different religion. But few groups have tried harming the harmony on different occasions and political patronization towards such activities was also evident especially during the period of BNP-Jamaat coalition government.

Not only were the attacks aimed towards the religious minority but also towards the majority Muslims. Islamic sentiments were hurt repeatedly in the name of modernism. Muslims are already facing a biased view which relates them to extremism or terrorism despite Islam being the religion of peace. While Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had declared a war against terrorism few years back and generated praiseworthy results, few are trying to instigate terrorism in Bangladesh indirectly.

On October 22, Prof Ziaur Rahman made some hateful comments against Islam in a television talk show. He was accused of propagating anti-Islamic thoughts saying “Assalamu Alaikum” and “Allah Hafez” in pure Arabic pronunciation as disgusting and linked those to militancy. Any Muslim would disagree with that thought as we all use the word ‘Allah Hafez’ and though many of us cannot greet each other saying ‘Assalamu Alaikum’ properly; those who have knowledge regret the wrong pronunciation.

On July 19, 2019 Priya Saha, organizing secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (HBCUC), attended a meeting at the White House where she identified herself as a Bangladeshi national and told the US President Donald Trump that 37 million people of the minority groups disappeared from Bangladesh. It was a clear propaganda and a stunt to gain the attention. This sort of act is actually harmful towards communal h
armony. PM Hasina was very generous in not allowing any legal action against her.

Several bloggers on different occasions tried to defame Islam and the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (Sm.). These bloggers actually do not know about the teachings of Islam as the religion does not allow anyone to put a finger on someone from different religious background. It only allows inviting them towards Islam. Many bloggers were killed or injured by the extremists resulting from such lame comments or statements, which was obviously grave violation of human rights and must be punished. But we must say, the bloggers, so-called intellectuals should not make lame statements on the sensitive religious issues as that directly and indirectly violates communal harmony and religious tolerance.

In view of the tremendous diversity in our subcontinent, only a secular state is feasible here. Secularism does not mean that one cannot practice one’s own religion. It means that religion is a private affair, unconnected with the state which has no religion. In India, we are finding heinous crimes against the Muslim community. After the BJP government came in power which favors Hindu religion driven practices, many immoral activities took place. Like; breaking of temples or statues was used as anti-Muslim propaganda.

The tension between Hindutva and secular India has no end in sight. Whatever logic one may use to justify the construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya, the destruction of the Babri mosque that once stood there was illegal. Indian Muslims cannot perform their religious rituals in a free way now-a-days. Moreover, India’s citizenship policy and other activities also seem biased towards Hinduism. The Indian media is very vocal on small religiously-biased incidents in Bangladesh though Secularism is under severe threat there.

In Pakistan also, the religious minorities live in fear of atrocities of the majorities but the government recently took some steps like; allocating a piece of land in Islamabad to a Hindu organization for the construction of a Krishna Temple – a very bold step of the Imran Khan government and Pakistan Supreme Court. Even then, the communal harmony is much lower in Pakistan than Bangladesh. Moreover, inter-caste atrocities among the Muslims are much more troublesome in Pakistan.

In Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslims were victims of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar Buddhist army. Millions of Rohingyas were forced to leave their own country and to enter neighboring Bangladesh. It was a national atrocity against a specific community.

The communal harmony and religious tolerance is a key characteristic of Bangladesh. But few groups and people are knowingly or unknowingly tampering the reputation of Bangladesh. They neither know about the teachings of Islam nor about the ideology of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But their ill works are offsetting the achievements of our country.

We must take initiatives to make people aware about the concept of secularism. The government should take strong steps in stopping religion-based propaganda. Though we have the rights of speech but that must not hurt any group of people. The law enforcers must act strict in these matters. Digital Security Act must be utilized fully to control misuse of social media. No religions should be targeted and religious sentiments must not be hurt as this could be a key influencer in spread of terrorism.

The valiant leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has transformed Bangladesh into a role model of development. She has been thriving to maintain communal harmony in this region. If countries like; India and Myanmar do not change their policy, it will be difficult to ensure peace at this zone. Without peaceful religious coexistence, our achievements will be under extreme threat. Hence, we need responsible action from everyone of this country and region.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Vice-Chairman, Democracy
Research Centre (DRC)

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