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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Multicultarising secularism through constitutional recognition of Adibashis

Multicultarising secularism through constitutional recognition of Adibashis

Photo: Devasish Roy Wangza
The idyllic non-communalism
Thanks to the Supreme Court's judgment in the fifth amendment case, we are on board the ship of state, about to journey back to a secular Bangladesh. Anyone who believes in non-discrimination -- which is a peremptory norm of international human rights law -- cannot but be happy with this. We would, however, be living in a fool's paradise if we thought that we could return to that idyllic land that the framers of our Constitution dreamed of in 1972: a society free of "communalism (o-shamprodayikota) in all its forms" and one in which there is no "abuse of religion for political purposes" (original Article 12, Constitution of Bangladesh). Freedom from the various forms of 'communalism' (read racism) can only come if our Constitution not only gets back its stolen pillar of secularism, but is also supplemented with provisions that expressly, accurately and respectfully acknowledge the identities of the different peoples that have lived in Bangladesh since time immemorial.
Our secular heritage
No doubt, communalism -- or religion-based discrimination, or racism (especially where perpetrated through state power) -- was the greatest threat to social progress and democratic practices from 1947 to 1971, when we found ourselves huddled into the state of Pakistan, which had religious identity as its raison d'etre. Our tryst with 'Pakistanihood' was necessarily uncomfortable at best and stifling and oppressive at worst, because the legacy bequeathed to us by the forbears of our ancient heritage impelled us, as a society, to remain tolerant and multicultural. We could, and still do, recall the proud heritage of the multicultural and secular Bangladeshi rulers of the past: of the Buddhist Pala civilisation, the Hindu Sena rajas, the Muslim sultans and nawabs and Adibashi rajas and chiefs. Blood was spilt over land, wealth and people, but never over religion. The torch of secularism was carried, equally vigorously by so many of our poets and philosophers: from Lalon Fakir to Hasan Raja, Nazrul Islam to Shamsur Rahman.
From 1972 to 2010
However, the circumstances of 2010 are so very different to those of 1972, at least in some very fundamental respects. In 1972, we were trying to rid ourselves of the hangover of a religion-based identity that purported to subsume the cultural identities of the different peoples of Bangladesh. The medicine given was secularism. It did make sense in many contexts. Or so some would say. But where it concerned the identity of those peoples who now choose to call themselves Adibashi, it was regarded as assimilative. We may recall Manobendra Narayan Larma's one-man walkout from the Constituent Assembly in 1972, when his demands of multiculturism fell upon deaf ears. Larma rejected the Constitution because the national identity that was espoused in 1972 was monocultural; oriented around an identity based upon Bangaleeness, which again minoritised the indigenous peoples; this time on account of ethnicity and language, rather than religion (while in 1947, it was religion). But let me come to that later.
For the full version of this article please read this month's Forum, available free with The Daily Star on November 1.Devasish Roy Wangza is the Chakma Raja and Chief of the Chakma Circle in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, an advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and a member-designate to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Selected extracts from the November issue of Forum


courtesy: the daily star

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