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25 November, 2015 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 25 November, 2015 11:09:52 AM

Bangladesh at crossroads

Abdul Gaffar Choudhury
Bangladesh at crossroads

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once said, ‘I do not regret that the British Raj has ruled and exploited India for 200 years, but I regret that they have distorted our history and defamed our national character’. Later on the same thing was uttered by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh about the Pakistani rule in Bangladesh. We were with Pakistan only for 24 years. Within this short time they tried to distort the history of Bangladesh and destroy its thousand year old language and culture. Even they erased the national identity of the Bengali nation and made them a second rate citizen of Pakistan.
What Sheikh Mujib did not say that while the British rule in the subcontinent has had some beneficial sides, association with Pakistan brought nothing but misery and destruction for Bangladesh. They abolished the democratic procedure of administration, hampered its economic growth and tried to impose cultural subjugation on the people of Bangladesh in the name of religion. Bangladeshis were a nation of mixed culture and mix religion. But Pakistani rulers tried to transform it into a medieval one-religion state which ultimately gave birth to aggressive fundamentalism.
Pakistan ruled Bangladesh for a short period but its consequences were long lasting. Even after becoming independent Bangladeshis are still suffering economically, politically and culturally from that rule. The communalism which turned into an aggressive fundamentalism remains a strong obstacle for the country to its progress. Bangladesh achieved independence on the basis of secularism and democracy. But the ghost of medieval fundamentalism created by Pakistani rulers is still haunting the young nation and is trying to destroy its secular identity by terrorist methods under the garb of religion.
Bangladesh became independent more than 40 years ago, but it is still passing through a very critical juncture. We could not establish our secular, national identity yet. We are still fighting the most powerful axis of fundamentalist forces and the free-thinkers of our society are facing tragic and violent deaths at the hands of fundamentalist killers.
The killing of intellectuals who believe in secularism and humanity started long ago in 1971. The process is still going on and this loss of lives continually is weakening the secular society of the country and the secular political forces are also on a weak defensive position now.
The democratic political system is very weak and they are trying to survive not by fighting against the fundamentalist demon but compromising with it. Now the country is at crossroads. Economically its moving forward but politically and socially it has a dangerous backward trend. The modern educated, enlightened class of the British era is no more in control of the society. Their number is receding and the emerging powerful social forces are the Madrasah educated class.     
A contradictory life style is now prevailing in the new rich class. They drink alcohol, follow a Western life style but wear 'topi', grow beard and assemble in the mosque in great numbers. Before independence the congregation in Ijtema of Tabligh-Jamaat  was a mere few thousands. Now the number has reached over 50 lakhs. This does not indicate that the society has become more religious, but that they have more or less become prone to aggressive fundamentalist religious doctrines and lenient about the rise of intolerance in our society and politics.
On one hand, all sorts of crimes are rapidly increasing in the society, on the other hand there has been an increase of religious fanatics even among the ordinary people. People are more tolerant about killing and repression by the religious terrorists.
The political system of the country though still democratic wants to cope with people's mood to get their votes and stay in power. People may think this government as anti-Islamic and for that fear the present government also does not want to stop the killing spree by the religious terrorists with iron hands. This stance of the weak democracy has encouraged the religious killer groups and day by day weakening the strength of secular politics.
The government suppressed the political violence in the country successfully but their passivity is visible in fighting religious fundamentalism. It seems government is afraid of losing majority public support if they take stern action against fundamentalists. People might take it as an action against religion.
Our civil society also has lost its previous secular stand and is apparently in an appeasing mode towards the fundamentalists. It is a very strange change in our country. Once people, though religious minded, preferred a secular society and their mixed-culture. Socialism had a great impact on the minds of our young generation. After the collapse of socialist states in Europe and the Soviet Union, a great vacuum was created in the ideological field and that was very quickly replaced by medieval fundamentalist ideals and rituals. Now in India prominent communist leaders are seen to attend Kali puja and Durga puja to please their voters and on the other hand in Bangladesh some of their counter parts are going to Makkah to perform Hajj. Perhaps they do it not for the change in their beliefs but to please their voters who have now apparently turned towards medieval rituals. The reason is unknown, only sociologists can analyze this change of public mood but the change is very visible.
In the 50s and 60s of last century government could fight communal riots successfully.  The society was predominantly secularist and the young generation was almost mad about socialism.
So Awami League became popular with their promise to establish secularism and socialism in the country. Those days are gone. The wind of change has turned Bangladesh society towards religious dogmas.
Socialism is somewhat despised, even the elite class is not very enthusiastic about secularism. In this political and social climate, though a democratic government is in power they perhaps do not dare to antagonize the public mood.
Long ago a propaganda was whipped up against Awami League and some other secularist parties they were anti-Islamic parties. This was a political weapon at the hands of BNP and Jamaat against Awami League.
To thwart this propaganda most of the veteran Awami League leaders started wearing 'gol topi' (round caps) and growing beard. There was no apparent difference in outward appearance between Jamaat leaders and them. This encouraged the fundamentalist trend in our politics.
On the other hand, the young activists of Jamaat and other fundamentalist parties who were engaged in violence started wearing jeans and shirts to hide their real identity. Many of them were students of Madrasah but were not recognizable with their clean shaved face and their western outfits. It is a dangerous situation when modern thinking and liberal attitude are gradually losing its place in the society and fundamentalism is spreading under different disguise and the political system is bewildered the democratic government becomes willing to take a compromising position. In similar situation Fascism got chance to raise its ugly head in Germany and Italy in the 30s of the last century.
Fortunately the world situation is now different. People all over the world are aware of the rise of a new kind of religious fascism. In Bangladesh Awami League government is fighting this demon, though not very strongly. In the past our civil society and the progressive student forces were the vanguards against communalism and communal violence. The left-cultural front was so strong that they aroused a strong sense of resistance among people against communalism and all sorts of despotism.
Now a days these two factors are absent in the society and a strong cultural movement is also almost absent. In the 50s and 60s there were processions and meetings against communal riots. People, inspired by the cultural movement, came out on the street to resist the armed communal miscreants. But in the present time when unabated killings of free-thinking writers and bloggers are going on there is no visible resistance from our civil society or progressive cultural fronts. They are condemning the brutal killings, demanding government to take strong action but an inertia and fear seems to have paralyzed the society in general.
To defeat this fundamentalist killers and to win the battle against them is very crucial for the whole nation. Otherwise the country may follow the pattern of destruction and death like Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This is why I mentioned at the beginning of this article that  Bangladesh is at a crossroads now. The battle between secularism and aggressive fundamentalism will decide the future of the country.
To win the battle against this powerful demon government should leave its appeasing policy towards the religious terrorists. Our civil society and the young generation along with the progressive cultural organisations should mobilise a strong cultural movement against the deadly communal and fundamentalist forces. Government should encourage this movement and get involved with them.
The fear created by the killer group has paralysed the whole society.  Like the 50s and 60s of the last century the progressive cultural and political forces should come out on the street unitedly and fight an all-out war against the rise of religious fascism. Still Bangladesh has a chance to escape the fate of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Only by mobilising people the present Hasina government can fight and win the battle against the rising fascist tendency in the country and save Bangladesh and its people. Our struggle against religious fascism will help the fighting secular forces in other parts of the continent.
The writer is a veteran journalist and celebrated columnist




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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