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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 10 No. 94               

Bangladesh adopting Statute change: A New Appeasement to bluff minorities

From Our Diplomatic Correspondent in Dhaka
Dhaka, July 24(

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called the move to amend the country’s Constitution “a historic responsibility” meant to prevent future seizure of power by the military.

The amendments to the 1972 Constitution are “necessary for upholding democracy and for blocking the way for usurpation of state power through imposition of martial laws in future”.

Boycotted by Opposition parties, the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) on Wednesday approved the formation of a 15-member parliamentary committee that would review the Constitution.

The Daily Star added: Changes made to the constitution in around four years after the August 15, 1975 changeover altered the fundamental principles of state policy, destroyed the secular character of the constitution and allowed politics based on religion.

Besides, the changes replaced Bangalee nationalism with Bangladeshi nationalism, and provided political right to anti-liberation forces including Jamaat-e-Islami and war criminals that resulted in an alarming growth of political parties and organizations based on religion.

All those amendments, modifications, substitutions, omissions and additions to the constitution were indiscriminately made during the martial law rule that began immediately after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

And the constitution's Fifth Amendment bill passed in the second parliament during the rule of Ziaur Rahman in 1979 ratified all the actions that also made the supreme law of the land subordinate to martial law proclamations, orders and regulations.

The August 29, 2005 High Court verdict that declared the Fifth Amendment illegal also said it undermined the very sovereign character of the republic.

The Supreme Court on February 2 this year upheld the landmark HC verdict with 'modifications' and 'observations'. Copy of the apex court judgment might be released soon.

Article 8 of the original constitution, which speaks of the four fundamental principles of state policy--nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism --, was amended to omit secularism and insert the words "absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah".

The principle of socialism was also given a new explanation, saying, "Socialism would mean economic and social justice".

Socialism and freedom from exploitation in articles 9 and 10 were substituted by the concepts of promotion of local government institutions and participation of women in national life.

The amendment omitted article 12, which contained secularism and freedom of religion.

"These changes were fundamental in nature and changed the very basis of our war for liberation and also defaced the constitution altogether," the HC observed in its watershed verdict. The changes transformed secular Bangladesh into a "theocratic state" and "betrayed one of the dominant causes for the war of liberation of Bangladesh".

Trial of war criminals stopped and their political rehabilitation began with the scrapping of Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunal) Order 1972 by Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed, who assumed presidency and put the country under martial law following the killing of Bangabandhu.

By the second proclamation on May 3, 1976, Justice AM Sayem, who became president later, omitted the proviso to Article 38 of the constitution, which banned politics based on religion.

In the light of the proviso, the Special Powers Act provides for punishment for use of religion for political purpose.

But omission of the proviso radically altered the nature of political activities in the country. It led to the rise of religion-based political parties, which were constitutionally banned immediately after the independence for their anti-liberation role.

The constitutional bar on war criminals convicted under Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunal) Order 1972 from becoming voters and contesting parliamentary elections was also lifted during the rule of Zia.

During his military rule, Zia brought some fundamental changes to the constitution by a proclamation on April 23, 1977.The preamble to the constitution was preceded by "Bismillah-ar-Rahman-ar-Rahim" (in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful).The preamble also underwent two changes--the words "a historic struggle for national liberation" were replaced with "a historic war for national independence", and "nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism" were replaced with "absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy and socialism meaning economic and social justice".

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at an Awami League Parliamentary Party meeting at Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban on Thursday,22 July said Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim would not be excluded from the constitution through amendment, as her government would not allow anyone do politics using religion as a tool. On continuation of Jamaat and other Islamist political parties, the premier said her government has no intention to ban politics of any party.

Not disclosing his identity, a political analyst says, it is ‘an appeasement policy’ not to disturb the right wing international axis. Bangladesh has been quite successful in achieving three objectives. Firstly, Bangladesh has been gradually denuded of its Hindu population. At the time of country's partition, the Hindu population in East Pakistan was 11.4 million or 29.17 percent of the total population. It has decreased alarmingly over the last few years and stood at 15.6 million in 2001. In other words it has come down to 12 per cent of Bangladesh's total population of 130 million. The Hindu population however, should have been 44.4 million in Bangladesh in 2001 as per the normal annual growth rate of 2.5 per cent and had been no migration of Hindus. In this connection, relevant Part is quoted here from a report titled "The Missing Population" dated January 7, 1994 from Holiday-a prestigious weekly of Dhaka: "The Missing population was about 1.22 million during the period of 1974-81, about 1.73 million during the last inter-censual period of 1981-1991. As many as 475 Hindus are disappearing every day from the soil of Bangladesh on an average since 1974".

Hope and aspiration of the minority communities will be evaporated as these amendments to the Constitution will not change their desired aspiration; moreover it will deteriorate the condition of persecution and equal rights as citizens. Although the EPA/VPA was repealed by the Hasina Government in April 2001, it is yet to be implemented by the present Awami League Government by restoring the grabbed property to the owners of the Hindus. It needs to be mentioned here that a large number of the land grabbers are leaders of most of the political parties including the Awami League of Bangladesh. It is, therefore, doubtful whether the Hindus would get back their grabbed properties at all.

Many believed that the agony of the Hindus would be over and they would regain their lost honour with the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971. It was entirely a mistaken notion. By and large, the successive Governments in liberated Bangladesh have followed the same policy as was pursued and practised by Pakistan towards her Hindu and other minorities. The Hindus, however, lived in relative peace and safety during the Mujib and Hasina regimes compared to the military and BNP regimes.

Nevertheless, the Hindu property was grabbed even when Mujib and Hasina ruled Bangladesh. Unless the Constitutional provision of ensuring minority rights –political, social, economic and religious, it would be a futile exercise to keep the old wine in anew bottle. The Minority Hindus, as they have no political option, will remain in a guaranteed position under Awami League rule as second class citizens of the so called Bismillah based secular Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary special committee for constitutional amendment declared a six-point aim and objective .Flanked by a number of committee members at a media briefing in the parliament's media centre, committee chief Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury said the aims and objectives reports The Daily Star of the review and amendment are: restoration of the people's sovereign power; upholding and preservation of the spirit of liberation war; implementation of ruling Awami League-led grand alliance's electoral pledges; realisation of the people's mandate expressed in the last parliamentary election; implementation of the apex court's verdict that declared the fifth amendment illegal; and blocking the way for illegal capturing of state power.Formed by the parliament on Wednesday, the 15-member committee led by the House deputy leader, will have its first meeting on July 29 at Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban to formulate its rules of procedure.

After the briefing, committee co-chair Suranjit Sengupta, and member Fazle Rabbi Mia told The Daily Star that the body was given a wide range of power to review the constitution and to propose amendments.

- Asian Tribune –


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