‘The state should have no religion’

The proclamation of Bangladesh’s independence earned praise and appreciation from many people and countries but most of the pledges have remained unfulfilled after 44 years of independence. The pledges are, however, in the process of being implemented after the assumption of office by the current pro-liberation government, Mofidul Haque, a noted cultural personality who is also a trustee of the Liberation War Museum, tells Moloy Saha in an interview with New Age

spe3New 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?
Mofidul Hoque: The proclamation of Bangladesh’s independence that took place at Baidyanathtala [later renamed as Mujibnagar, a town in Meherpur] was a gloriously significant event in our history as only a few nations has had the opportunity to make proclamations of their war for independence. Only a few countries such as the United States and Vietnam had such glorious proclamations of independence.
The proclamation of Bangladesh’s independence earned praise and appreciation from many people and countries but most of the pledges have remained unfulfilled after 44 years of independence. The pledges are, however, in the process of being implemented after the assumption of office by the current pro-liberation government.
After the brutal killings of August 15, 1975, [of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most members of his family] the country had been ruled by governments for a long time that followed ideals opposite to the war of independence and foiled the spirit of the war.
The rulers after the killings captured the radio station and changed its name to Radio Bangladesh from Bangladesh Betar. This was a vital example of the fact that the rulers took a stand against the spirit of the war of independence. Now, during the rule of the Awami League-led alliance, the situation has changed and the government is trying to fulfil the pledges of the liberation war. Equality has so far not been established in the country and in society.
New Age: Do you think that ‘human dignity’ of citizens, particularly of the poor millions, has been established in Bangladesh? If not, why?
Mofidul Hoque: Human dignity of citizens, especially of the poor millions, has not been established yet but poverty has reduced under the Awami League-led government.
After the independence, Dhaka University professor Abdur Razzaque wrote that he had understood the real achievement of independence by seeing the positive attitudes of rickshaw-pullers and that their condition had improved from what it was before the independence.
The Awami League-led government must remember that it must take steps to improve the conditions of the poor first. For this, it should take steps to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. The rich should not become richer the poor poorer. I think that the introduction of national identity cards for citizens, which accords them state recognition, is good.
New Age: What is the state of ‘social justice’ in Bangladesh?
Mofidul Hoque: Social justice has so far not been established for all in the country. The government must ensure proper distribution of wealth so that the poor are not deprived.
After independence, the Awami League government had taken steps to establish social justice and set a ceiling of 25 bighas of land for each family to own and then it was increased to 100 bighas.
The government must ensure quality education for all if it wants to establish social justice. It should also stop extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by law enforcement agencies as they are in no way acceptable.
New Age: What are your recommendations for materialising the ‘proclamation of independence’ at all levels?
Mofidul Hoque: The Awami League-led government must take steps to establish a non-communal democratic Bangladesh where education, medical treatment, housing and employment would be ensured for all citizens so that they could enjoy a better life.
Justice should be made available at low cost so that the poor may benefit from it. Minority citizens should be treated by the state in accordance with the constitutional provisions.
The state should not have a religion. I think the journey has already started and the provision for keeping Islam as the state religion will be dropped from the constitution in future.

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