There are certain things we don’t feel comfortable about talking. You might have your favorite (or least) favorite topic. But there are some topics that got tabooed by society, some by law and some by political partisanship. Religion is a topic that is discussed widely but never dissected openly to show the relevance to our society, or to the country. I’m not talking about Orosh or Milad Mahfil. I’m talking about the need of religion to Bangladesh’s identity. To understand the role of religion as a standard identity criteria of the country, we should look and start talking about it before it’s too late.
When you see a human, you don’t see his or her religion. You see color and gender. In an almost homogeneous race like ours, color doesn’t always identify race. Here it’s replaced by religions. After gender we are identified as Hindus and Muslims. Then by ‘Muzhab‘ for muslims- Sunni, Shia and for Hindus their casts. That has been the norm for many years. At any point I haven’t found a time frame in our Indian Subcontinent’s history when we were secular. As many so-called Muslim scholars like to point out, I don’t think “Din-e-Elahi” by Akbar counts as a secularist attitude. At least not to me. Many people might differ, but I don’t think Bangali as a race was secular at any point. We might have been more religious tolerant then other parts of Indian Subcontinent but I don’t think that counts as secularity. Under the British rule we had Hindu Jamindars in Muslim majority areas and vise versa, so Jamindars don’t feel bad to squeeze for tax and fear of the peasants don’t turn into loyalty. The British played the religion card better then any of our rulers. I don’t want to indulge in a history lesson but when Banga-Bhanga happened, many identified the support and oppose of it on religious lines. Even anti British underground freedom fighters were divided by the slogan “Vande Ma Taram”. So at which point were we looking for a secular movement in Unified Bengal? I really need to know. Correct me if I am wrong but I think Muslim League was instigated from Bengal, wasn’t it? So as a race we always had a communal attribute in our societal point of view, which obviously was reflected in out political ideologies too. Now the result was Pakistan, so obviously having a religious political view didn’t end on a high note for us! Now my point is did we realize after Pakistan, that religiously motivated political system is actually harmful? May be, we did. May be we wanted to uphold all the elements of the Bangali race without a religious coat on it. May be that’s why one of our fundamental points in the constitution is secularism.
What is secularism? If I say I’m secular; does that mean I have a religion, I practice mine but I have no problem with others practicing theirs as well? Now is that secularism or religious co-existence? Does all religion allow religious co-existence? I think at a personal level this might be a bit complicated. This complication should be avoided at the highest level. That is at the state level. For a state, being secular is not an option, to me it’s a must. In a democracy, it’s a right of the citizens to practice their religion. A person can make decision based on religious believes and ethics. Their religious believe can guide them to decide what is right and wrong. But state doesn’t depend on individuals ethics only do they? States also have law. And that law should be impartial to all. Majority and minority. To ensure that all citizens rights are impartially and equally served, how can a country achieve that under a system that’s based on a specific religious believe? Now if someone says majority rule, then I give you a scenario. What if in Bangladesh for next fifty years for some weird reason, no Muslim family is able to conceive. On the other hand, Christians started to conceive at a rate that after a hundred years they are the majority religious sect of the country. In that case, if Bangladesh has a religion based constitutional system, will Bangladesh (if still existing!) take Jesus as their lord and savior? Or, in another scenario, if the country has a system where religion based political parties are allowed to form a government, then how are they going to run the state? What would be the basis of their policies? These are some of the confusions I can identify with my micro level judgement. I’m sure there are experts who can explain these better then me. I’m hoping they are explaining this to the current establishment and the society to make them understand, that for a country the only way forward in a democratic system is being secular.
I live in the United States. None can say the country is a Christian country. Religious freedom is a fundamental right here, but that doesn’t mean the majority is ignored. We have national holidays on Christmas don’t we. To ensure religious freedom they are not giving the whole country off on every religious holidays. At least in that sense we are far ahead! But having a Christian majority never made the ten commandments as a constitutional base. Neither in India, having the largest Hindu population means the constitution and rule of the country has Mahabharat printed on it. Then why are we so confused and skeptical about going to our fundamentals? If we do have a religious introduction to the constitution, if we do have religious politics as a viable option to form government, then how is this going back to our basis is beyond my understanding, but I’m sure others can explain that.
To me, being a secular state should be a unique nationalist stand point of Bangladesh. If you have a passport of Bangladesh then that’s your only identity. I think being secular has been always attributed from a cultural stand point and we mixed it up there. Even the most hardcore leftist slaughters in Kurbani right, so how can you be historically communal in head and culturally secular in heart? This is a national identity issue and I urge the policy makers to look at it and openly explain the need of a country to be identified as a secular entity. The state system has to be above religious influence. That wouldn’t stop a secular party to start their campaign from a religious monument, but will ensure that won’t change the identity of the country and the rule of law. People will be always communal, but that doesn’t mean the state system has to reflect that. Communal aspects change, state can’t follow that trend.
In a religion people take guidance from holy books. They interpret the meaning differently but don’t change the book do they? In a country that guidance comes from the constitution. You can add to the book but you can’t change it’s identity can you? What you won’t do to your religion, how can you do it to your country in the name of religion? 🙂