‘We need a truly democratic society, not only just holding elections’

The nation needs a wholly accountable and transparent system for all, especially those who govern. It is only when one is insecure that a government resorts to undemocratic measures. Having confidence of the people and in people is the first step to that end. This is true not only for those who are in government or are employees of the government, but also anyone at any level who are in positions of influence and power, Khushi Kabir, a rights activist since the nation’s independence in 1972, tells Shakhawat Hossain in an interview with New Age

spe2New Age: The ‘proclamation’ of Bangladesh’s independence, made on April 10, 1971, promised citizens ‘equality, human dignity and social justice’. Now, 44 years into the country’s independence, where does Bangladesh stand in terms of ‘equality’ — political, economic and cultural — of the citizens?
Khushi Kabir: We may have equality guaranteed to us in the constitution along with human dignity and social justice but in reality, they still remain a far cry for most of the citizens. There are certain contradictory provisions even in the constitution, such as personal laws being determined by the religion one belongs to, whereby inheritance and issues of child custody, guardianship, maintenance, divorce, etc, are not equal in all religions. The same is the case with certain laws, an example being the Information and Communication Technology Act, popularly known as the ICT Act; Clause 57 of the act, left mainly to interpretation, has, particularly, been misused in some
cases.
New Age: Do you think that ‘human dignity’ of citizens, particularly of the poor millions, has been established in Bangladesh? If not, why?
Khushi Kabir: Bangladesh, despite having clearly stated socialism in its original constitution which was reformulated after 1978 to say that socialism meant social justice, is very much a class-based, biased, hierarchical and extremely patriarchal society. This is reflected in the way society, including law enforcers, administrators and all other sections of the government, treats its citizens.
New Age: What is the state of ‘social justice’ in Bangladesh?
Khushi Kabir: When social justice is not being enforced, human dignity cannot prevail.
New Age: What are your recommendations for materialising the ‘proclamation of independence’ at all levels?
Khushi Kabir: We need a truly democratic society, not only just the holding of elections, which is only a part of the process. We need a wholly accountable and transparent system for all, especially those who govern. It is only when the government is insecure that it resorts to undemocratic measures. Having confidence of the people and in people is the first step to that end. This is true not only for those who are in government or are employees of the government, but also anyone at any level, socially or institutionally, who are in positions of influence and power. When one has imbibed the principles of equality, human dignity and social justice within one’s self and has full belief in the principles of our liberation war, if one is clear that the nation’s integrity and identity is based on the principles of our liberation war, only then will the principles be materialised.

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