Dhaka, Saturday, January 10, 2004
Govt disregards all that is minority
The government of Khaleda Zia has once again shown its disregard for the interests of the countrys minority communities, by banning all kinds of publication, sale, distribution and retention of all books and booklets on Islam published by the Ahmadiya Muslim Jamaat on January 8.
The ban is undemocratic, by any standard, in the first place. Also, it amounts to infringements on more than one international human rights instrument, let alone infringements on certain provisions of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion. Besides, the action is a glaring example of the ruling BNPs surrender to the rightwing reactionary forces, which could only be explained by the partys political opportunism.
Before anatomising the decision against the Ahmadiya community, it is important to note here that Khaledas administration has consistently shown disregard for social, political and cultural interests of ethnic minorities, living especially in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, by remaining indifferent towards the implementation of the CHT agreement signed between the government of Sheikh Hasina and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti in 1992.
Prior to its return to power in 2001, the party told the nation that it had reservation about certain clauses of the agreement, which it would review if voted to power. But the government has so far neither taken any effective step to implement the clauses of the agreement it does not have any reservation about, nor has it shown any sign of reviewing the clause/s it has objection to. The governments mysterious silence over the issue has rather aggravated the political situation in the hill tracts, providing an excuse for the extremist ethnic groups to legitimise resumption of a full-scale insurgency, jeopardising the lives of both ordinary Bengalis and hill people.
Then, Khaledas administration has also shown similar undemocratic attitude towards the small Garo community living in Madhupur, by stubbornly sticking to an eco-park project in the area at the cost of hopes and aspirations of the indigenous group. The police have already killed, on January 3, a member of the Garo community, and injured many, who were protesting against the government plan, which, if implemented, the Garos fear, would seriously affect their livelihood, not to mention their culture.
Its visible disregard for the ethnic minorities apart, the BNP is still far from getting rid of the allegation that the party is biased against the Hindu community. And now comes the question of the BNP administrations intolerance towards the Ahmadiya sect of Muslims.
The imposition of ban on all kinds of Ahmadiya publications is directly violative of the core principle of democracy that upholds the citizens right to the freedom of speech and expression.
The home ministry announcement claims the government has imposed the ban in view of objectionable contents in such publications that hurt or might hurt the sentiments of the majority Muslim population of Bangladesh.
It is true that the Constitution has subjected this right to reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of
public order. But the government, in the present case, has not identified as to which particular content/s of the Ahmadiya publications it found objectionable that hurt or might hurt the sentiments of the majority Muslim population and might cause public disorder.
The members of the Ahmadiya community has reportedly been practising their faith in the country since 1912, and living in harmony with the peace-loving members of other sects of Islam, without causing any disorder. Rather, it is the leaders of a few religion-based fanatic political groups, some of whom are presently partners of the BNP-led ruling alliance, were making aggressive statements, with impunity, against the small community of some one lakh citizens. Understandably, the government of Khaleda Zia has taken step against the Ahmadiyas only to appease its fanatic comrades in the alliance.
Because, the ban came in the wake of pressure by a section of clerics of the Sunni sect of Islam, including the leaders of Islami Oikya Jote, a component of the BNP-led four-party ruling alliance. The clerics have recently demanded that the government declare the Ahmadiya community non-Muslim and ban all kinds of Ahmadiya publications. The government has simply given in, presumably to secure support of the voters they (the clerics) supposedly command. This is, therefore, a clear case of political opportunism on the part of the BNP. And this is, understandably, the same reason the main opposition Awami League, which loves to claim itself a secular political party, is maintaining a deafening silence over the issue.
However, the decision against the Ahmadiya community is also violative of Article 41 of the Constitution that declares that every citizen has the right to profess, practise and propagate any religion and that every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.
Besides, the government decision is ultra vires Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which unconditionally accept peoples right to freedom of opinion and expression
without interference and right to freedom of
includes freedom to
manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. The government has denied the Ahmadiya community all these rights to irrationally satisfy its fanatic partners inn the ruling coalition.
The spokesman of the community, Abdul Awal, has rightly pointed out that the government has bowed down to religious terrorism. By its decision, the government rather curtailed the rights of the repressed and awarded the repressors, Awal reportedly observed.
However, the state of the minority communities, ethnic or religious, is one of the important indicators of the degree of democracy a particular society enjoys. The relation is directly proportional to each other. The ruling elites reluctance to grant certain fundamental rights to the countrys minority communities, therefore, clearly indicates that our society under the ruling elite, involved with political parties like the BNP or the AL, can hardly make any progress towards democracy in the true sense of the term.