MNA Editorial Desk: Bangladesh is a land of diversity and equality. Constitutionally secular, it is diverse in terms of religion, ethnicity and language of its citizens. In spite of that, communal harmony does prevail in every aspect of our country. There are people from different religions and groups which constitute the 160 million population of Bangladesh. Muslims being the largest with over 90 percent of the total population, here also live the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and also some people from other faiths.
Underlying difference exists in terms of ethnicity and language but that does not impede peaceful cohabitation. The tribal people of Chittagong Hill Tracts living alongside millions of Bengali settlers from the plains are the greatest example of harmony, peace, mutual respect and equality. This trait of Bangladesh has made it the role model of communal harmony and 2017 has been the year of greatest example of that.
Once the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina said, “Religions are personal, festivals are for all. Peace, friendship and harmony are our pride”. There might be differences in religion but people from all religions participate in the festivals of other religions. The Hindus, Buddhists, Christians — everyone shares the joy of Eid, the largest festival of the Muslims. Similarly, we find the Muslims participating in the Durga Puja of the Hindus or Christmas of the Christians. The bond seems to have been created with a deep sense of brotherhood and respect for each other’s faith.
Considering the differences in ethnicity also, the tolerance they show to each other is in exemplary. Ethnic groups dot various parts of the country, the Santhals in the north and the Chakma, Marma, Murong, Garo, Hazong and Rakhines in the Hill Tracts. They have lived in harmony for a very long time with complete understanding and good neighbourliness — barring few incidents like the Hill Tracts insurgency over 25 years which Sheikh Hasina settled through a peace agreement signed with the tribal “Shanti Bahini” rebels. She extols peace everywhere and peaceful living among all communities.
Sheik Hasina truck the deal after becoming the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in her first term in 1997 that slowly restored harmony and peace in the country’s vast southeastern region bordering India and Myanmar. They are now celebrating life together and celebrating respective religious and cultural programmes now in a greater extent in spite of our differences in ethnicity, religion and language.
Difference exists among the Muslims also as 3 per cent of the Muslims are Shias while most of the others are Sunnis. In the Islamic world, there lies a great conflict between the Shias and the Sunnis due to their varied beliefs and rituals. Wars are being fought over these issues. But in Bangladesh, though the Sunnis are massively larger in number, the Shias do not face any trouble or oppression from them. Rather, they perform their rituals without any fear having enormous support from the Sunnis. We actually never bother to know if a Muslim is Shia or Sunni. Even our religious leaders never utter any concern over these differences and that is a great example of communal harmony that prevails in our beloved motherland.
We must note that, it seems we are always more supportive to the people from other religion, ethnicity or features. It is our tradition that, we are more curious to help or know about the people who belong to a different group. The friendship is very strong among representatives of different communities and that is a remarkable feature of Bangladesh.
The constitution of Bangladesh assures identical religious rights to its citizens as it states, “It provides for the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion”. It also says, “Every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions”.
Article 28(1) of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh says, “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”. From its independence there has been no major incident of religious or ethnic attacks on the minorities.
Bangladesh is a glowing ideal for all nations for its undaunted social, religious and economic accord and equality. Every controlling authority including the law enforcers are committed towards the safety and rights of the minority and tolerance to any vandalism or violence in this regard is zero.
In recent years, there were some unpleasant occurrences between the Muslims and the Hindus and the Buddhists driven by some deep-rooted conspiracy to destabilize the religious harmony among the citizens of Bangladesh. But, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, those situations were handled with utmost perseverance. These incidents took place in between 2014 to 2016 but failed to create any impact.
In 2017, many religious festivals were celebrated like; Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha of the Muslims, Janmashtami and Durga Pooja of the Hindus, Easter Sunday of the Christians, Buddha Purnima and Probarona of the Buddhists etc.
During all these festivals the administration successfully ensured peaceful environment under the guidance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. For example; more than 5,000 Puja mandaps were set up for this year’s Durga Puja, which is largest ever in number. People from all religions participated in celebrations. Peaceful, joyous environment was all around Bangladesh.
Shia Muslims observed the Ashura in peaceful manner under the watchful eyes of the law enforcers. The extreme vigil by the government foiled all conspiracies for disrupting communal harmony. The strong role of Sheikh Hasina in protecting the religious rights of the people of Bangladesh is praiseworthy. She always worked to establish and ensure peaceful and friendly relations among the citizens.
We must mention the problem of terrorism inside our country which has shaken all the countrymen during the last few years. These terrorist groups are conducting their activities in the name of the religion though they are missing the basic concept of any religion including Islam — peace. On the face of continuous threats from these terrorist groups, Sheikh Hasina strongly commanded the law enforcing agencies to fight them to the end and successfully tack led the threats of terror.
She was quick to response and never let terrorism become a huge issue in Bangladesh as it has become in many countries of the world. It was always a risk that these terrorists might vandalize some religious festivals in Bangladesh but did never succeed due to the zero tolerance policy of Sheikh Hasina adopted and her government pursued steadfastly.
2017 has been an iconic year till now in terms of prevailing communal harmony in Bangladesh. With a huge refugee crisis stemming from the inflow of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, the whole world has its eyes on us right now.
Being a country with large population along with low land area, Bangladesh has gained a lot of respect by letting the Rohingyas take refuge in here. It was a mighty-hearted decision of PM Sheikh Hasina. She has become an icon of humanity while Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to play any role in upholding humanity by saving the lives of thousands of Rohingyas from ‘ethnic cleansing’ at the Rakhine State of Myanmar. Suu Kyi could not justify her Nobel Peace Prize while Sheikh Hasina kept rising with her generosity and glory.
With so many problems, all the religious and ethnic groups of Bangladesh enjoyed their festivals to the fullest. Friendship and bonding among the representatives of different religions and ethnic groups had been around. Despite so many wars all around the world due to religious or ethnic conflicts, the very soul of Bangladesh did prevail throughout 2017. And Bangladesh will move forward in upcoming years hopefully with the same spirit of communal harmony and peace.
The author is the Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA)