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Minorities denounce charter changes

Retaining Islam as the state religion is 'a confusing slap in the face' for ethnic groups

The Bangladesh parliament The Bangladesh parliament
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • July 5, 2011
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Recent amendments to the country’s constitution have delivered a demoralizing blow to minorities, religious and ethnic leaders say.

They branded charter changes that restore the original 1972 constitution “confusing” and in “conflict” with the secular spirit of the 1971 liberation war.

On June 30, parliament passed the 15th Constitution Amendment Bill, restoring four fundamental principles — nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism – contained in the 1972 constitution.

However, it also retained Islam as the state region and “Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim” (In the name of Allah, the most merciful) in its preamble.

These were not features contained in the 1972 charter, religious and ethnic leaders say.

“Retaining Islam as state religion means to look down other religions. A country doesn’t need a state religion at all. Secularism alone would be the best provision,” said Oblate Bishop Bejoy D’Cruze of Khulna, who heads the Episcopal Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue.

However, the prelate admitted the provision does give “everyone the equal right to practise their own religion.”

“The government can’t restore the original constitution because of political opposition,” Bishop D’Cruze said.

Hindu lawyer Rana Dasgupta, secretary of a major religious minorities’ forum said he too is disappointed with the changes.

“They’ve shattered the dreams of 20.5 million minority people who voted for the Awami League. Retaining both secularism and Islam as the state religion the government has invoked the Islamization of secularism,” he added.

The amendment also ignored demands from country’s 45 indigenous groups to be called “indigenous people” instead of “tribes, minor races, ethnic sects or communities.”

“We’re hurt, saddened and aggrieved. We wanted to be recognized as indigenous, but the government has termed us tribal and ethnic minorities,” said Sanjeeb Drong, an indigenous Garo Catholic columnist and general secretary of the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum.

It is frustrating to see that the ruling party “has backtracked from its election manifesto where it had pledged to call us indigenous.”

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