Thursday, January 04, 2007

Perfect Gift of Secularism in Bangladesh


In what could be seen as an extraordinary New Year gift to Bangladesh this year? Probably the most recent legalized term, “Fatwa.”

A fatwa is a legal pronouncement in Islam made by a mufti, a scholar capable of issuing judgments on Sharia (Islamic law). Fatwas are asked for by judges or individuals, and are needed in cases where an issue of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is undecided or uncertain. Lawsuits can be settled on the basis of a fatwa.

In Bangladesh, legal system empowers only the courts to decide all questions relating to legal opinion on the Muslim and other laws in force. In rural Bangladesh, Mullahs usually use this fatwa as a weapon to be powerful where the tentacles of law quite do not reach the common folks. And Islamic militants in Bangladesh are fighting tooth and nail to hold onto the power of delivering fatwa from a long time.

A division bench of the High Court in Bangladesh ruled on January 1, 2001 (during the Bangladesh Awami Legue tenure) that all fatwas are unauthorized and illegal. The court went on to say that the very issue of fatwas should be made a punishable offence. In very unambiguous terms a division bench of the High Court has declared ‘fatwa’, the so–called legal opinion not delivered by any court, as ‘unauthorized and illegal’. Fatwa has been the cause of many a woman’s ruination in Bangladesh.

According to the constitution of the Bangladesh Awami League, the fundamental principles are Bengali Nationalism, Democracy, Secularism or in other words ensuring freedom of all religions as well as non-communal politics and Socialism, that is to say-the establishment of an exploitation-free society and social Justice. Secularism, non-communal politics, and socialism are the most highlighted terms in this constitution.

Did they forget these important words of their constitution when Mr. Abdul Jalil, Awami League (AL) General Secretary and 14-party alliance Convener, signed a 5-point pact with Shaikhul Hadis, leader of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish (BKH) on December 23, 2006?

The attacks, the most recent of a series of bombings in Bangladesh over the past year, both appeared to target the state’s most prestigious law courts. More than 500 home-made bombs exploded across the country in August, killing two people and injuring more than 100. The Islamic militants have called for the imposition of Islamic law in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

And now, Alems (Islamic clerics) will have the right to issue fatwas which will be the most important weapon to impose Islamic law. Besides this, no law will be imposed against Quranic values, government will take proper initiative to recognize the degrees awarded by Qaumi Madrasas, and nobody will have the right to criticize of Prophet Muhammad.

Fundamentalism has been on the rise in Bangladesh ever since the Bangladesh state veered away from the post-independent ideology of socialism and secularism and underwent an Islamization process and present signed pact one more example of it.

There is a new regime of growing fundamentalist fervor, which is being supported and strengthened by an establishment bent on maintaining the status quo, both in relations to politics in general and to gender relations in particular. This is leading to newer more specific forms of violence against women; a violence which requires the support of village elites being in a position to order (fatwa jari) the burning or stoning of a woman, regardless of existing legal institutions.

Vigilantism against women accused of moral transgressions occurred in rural areas, often under a fatwa, and included punishments such as whipping. During 2005 religious leaders issued thirty-five fatwas in Bangladesh, demanding punishments ranging from lashings and other physical assaults to shunning by family and community members, report from U.S. department of state.

Country felt shame when Mr. Harabullah, a freedom fighter, had to use his hands to string round his neck with shoes which he used to hold the national flag of Bangladesh on December 15, 1971.This recent so-called 'fatwa' was issued against him and his younger daughter for having had a relation with a young man of the same locality.

Meanwhile, AL is trying to defend by saying that it is not a contract. It is a memorandum of understanding based on an election strategy. A number of AL presidium members, leaders of its central working committee, and its city, district, and upazila level leaders expressed their utter shock over the agreement.

“The five-point deal do not conform with 14-party coalition's 23-point common national minimum programme which emphasizes on elimination of religious bigotry and communalism from every level of the government and administration for establishing a democratic and secular country,” said former foreign minister of Bangladesh and chairman of Gono Forum Dr. Kamal Hossain in a round table seminar held at the authentic Indian restaurant in Queens, New York on December 24, 2006.

Mr. Rup Kumar Bhowmick, president of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist & Christian Unity Council, USA, INC. (BHBCUC) welcomed everyone for the seminar and said that the pact would put a dent in the spirit of the war of liberation.

On December 20, 2006, around 6,000 people of various professions of the Hindu community from 28 unions of Munshiganj-1, Bangladesh, comprising Srinagar and Sirajdikhan thanas, led by religious guru Babu Ranjit Chakravorty, formally joined Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), report from various newspaper in Bangladesh.

As a chief guest in that joining ceremony, BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia urged Hindu community to vote for BNP-led four-party alliance in the coming election. She demanded that only they can bring communal harmony in the society.

The very next day, truth prevailed and everybody came to know what happened actually. Most of them were Muslims and forced to join BNP as Hindu by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, a BNP ticket aspirant from Munshiganj-1.

In the weeks following the 1 October, 2001 general elections, Bangladesh witnessed an outburst of systematic attacks on the minority Hindu community across the country. Many Hindu families have reportedly fled their homes and sought refuge in areas considered ‘safe.’ Their houses were torched, ransacked and in many cases seized, women were raped, and temples were desecrated.

During the last BNP-Jamaat alliance rule, Bangladesh has been transformed into an inauspicious outpost of Islamic militancy and terrorism. Everybody knows what they did with helpless, repressed, exploited, and ill-fated religious and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh.

Moreover, elections have proved to be a bane for the minorities of the country. To influence the outcome of the upcoming elections, an attempt has already been made to tamper with the voter list. A huge number of voter from minorities have not been enrolled in the voter list.

Religion and freedom of expression, religion and human rights, religion and women's rights, religion and democracy, or religion and freedom are always used very badly in Bangladesh. When Bangladesh was born in 1971, a secular system was quickly introduced and no one objected to it. But in 1984, some political leaders threw secularism out, and instead established Islam as the state religion. These politicians used religion for their own political gains, for their own interests.

Where country’s secular democratic forces safe? Is it too hard to put an end to the rising tide of violence including killings and maiming of the incumbent regime's political and ideological opponents and minorities and to thwart the fast expanding ulterior activities of religious extremists. #

New York, December 26, 2006

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York