The recent changes in the provisions of the constitution of Bangladesh about indigenous people are satisfactory. Analyze
The Parliament of Bangladesh, the Jatiyo Sangsad, passed the Constitution (15th Amendment) Bill, 2011 on 30 June 2011 to amend its constitution under which the caretaker government system for holding general elections was scrapped. The bill which contained 15 proposals was passed by division vote with a majority of 291-1. However, amendments moved by ruling alliance opposing Islam as the state religion and religion-based politics were rejected. Islam has been retained as the state religion alongwith Bismillahi-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim.
The Constitutional amendments incorporate strict provisions against military takeovers. It treats military takeovers as treachery and a subversive act. Parliament has been given power to hand down maximum penalty to those usurping state power.The caretaker system was introduced in 1996 under the 13th amendment to the constitution of Bangladesh. Since then, the general elections were overseen by non-partisan caretaker governments.
Main concerns that affect Indigenous peoples are;
(1) Retaining of “BISMILLAH-AR-RAHMAN- AR-RAHIM” (In the name of Allah) In the preamble of the constitution.
(2) Retaining of ISLAM as state religion: Islam alone cannot be the state religion as there are people who practice and folow other religions such as Hindu, Christian, Bouddha and Indigenous Practices.
(3) Non recognition of Indigenous Peoples as Indigenous (Adibasi). Upajati(tribes)/Khudra Jatisatta(minor races)/Nrigosthi-sampradai(ethnic sects and communities) are the terms inserted. These terminologies are not acceptable to the indigenous peoples.
(4) The Nationality and Citizenship: The People of Bangladesh shall be know as Bengali as a nation and the citizens of Bangladesh shall be know as Bangladeshis. Indigenous peoples of Bangladesh do not want to be known as Bengali. In this way Indigenous peoples own national identity will get lost.
(5) Freedom of Association: There is every possibility for the political parties/organizations/associations of the Indigenous Peoples to be stopped terming them communal.
The Marma, Chakma, Rakhaing and Tanchangya are Buddhist and there are few Buddhists among the other small ethnic groups of the CHT. Most people in the smaller ethnic communities of the interior parts of the CHT were animists. Some of these animists have been converted to Christianity by the missionaries working in this area. Thus many of the Bawms, Lushai, and Pankho are now Christians. A process of Christianisation is presently going on among these as well as other ethnic communities like the Murongs and Mros.
The Garos have their traditional religion, which is a form of animism. But the majority of them have been converted to Christianity. The Koch, Hajong, Pathor, and Manipuri are Hinduised ethnic communities. The Santals retained their traditional religion, which is based on belief in spirit (animism). However, they have been influenced by Hinduism and some of them are converted to Christianity (Khaleque, 1995, pp. 16).
Ever since the British withdrawal from the subcontinent in the 1947 there has been ethnic explosions in the hills. Evidences would show that the imperial government created the so called “excluded” or ” partially excluded” zones in these hills to allow unhindered propagation of Christianity amongst the backward tribes mostly animist far away from modern religion (Quarishi, 1987, pp. vii). It is interesting to note that the floodgate of conversion into Christianity opened up only after the British withdrawal!
On the other hand it has also been urgued that sudden withdrawal of the British rule created a power vacuum in this region as a whole and the tribals (ethnic communities), suspicious and indignant of their plain land neighbours for generations, got simply alarmed. (Quarishi, 1987, pp. viii)
A process of Christianisation has been going in the ethnic areas since the British period (Khaleque, 1995, pp. 16). Before Christianisation, however, most of the ethnic groups of the northern and north-eastern borders had been influenced by Hinduism, while those in the borders had been influenced by Hinduism, while those in the CHT by Buddhism. The rate of if Islamisation is very significant compared to that of Christianisation. There are a few converted Muslims among the Rajbansis and also among the Garo, but their number is very insignificant in both cases.
The Copenhagen based Chittagong Hill Tracts recorded evidences of Islamisation conversion in places of CHT among ethnic groups (Life is Not Ours, 1991. IWGIA). Challenging the statement, Life: In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, 1994 (pp. 46) argues that it is surprising that the CHT Commission deems conversion to Islam as religious persecution. “As for conversion to Christianity, as the statistics show, this far outnumbers the conversion to Islam. Economic reasons and benefits attached to the association with the missionaries often lead to the conversion to Christianity”. It further maintain that several Christian-based NGOs and missionaries are actively working in CHT.
Concerning the closing down of the provision of the non-party caretaker administration method, the bill said in the constitution, article 58A and “chapter IIA-non-party caretaker government” shall be absent.
The bill, however, proposed for retaining Bismillahi-Ar Rahman- Ar-Rahim, state religion Islam and keeping the scope for religion-based politics.
About Bismillahi-Ar Rahman-Ar-Rahim, the bill believed “Bismillahi- Ar Rahman-Ar-Rahim” (in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful)/In the name of the Creator, the Merciful.” shall be substituted at the beginning of the Constitution, above the preamble, for the words, commas, signs and brackets “Bismillahi-Ar Rahman- Ar-Rahim” (in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful).
The constitution said islam is the main religion of the state but the prople of the state will be lead equal right in the practice of the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and other religions.
The bill said, “Every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of morality or public order:
Provided that no one shall have the right to form, or be a part of the said union or union if- (a) it is formed for the purposes of destroying the religious, social and communal harmony among the citizens; (b) it is formed for the purposes of creating discrimination among the citizens, on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or language; (c) it is formed for the purposes of organizing terrorist acts or militant activities against he state or the citizens or any other country; (d) its formation and objects are inconsistent with the constitution.”
If anyone wants to capture power illegally and provide support to the usurpers, proposal said they will get highest punishment.
It also projected adding up of the terms of protecting and exhibiting the visual rendering of Father of the country Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in its place of the President and the Prime Minister to the Constitution.
The bill said the standard of secularism shall be recognized by the exclusion of- (a) collectivism in every its forms; (b) the granting by the state of following status in favour of any belief; (c) the violence of religion for political purpose; (d) any intolerance against, or harassment of, peoples working a particular religion.”
Offers have also been finished to add new articles making banned the amendment to the policy relating to the essential arrangement of the constitution and banned the application of those who are blamed in the conflict offenses and even in the case of becoming the people.
The invoice proposed for incorporating the remarkable March 7 words of Bangabandhu and his announcement of freedom in the in the early hours of March 26 in 1971 and acceptance of announcement of Independence by the Mujibnagar government on April 10 in 1971.
In article 65 ( ka) (3) of the constitution, proposal said the reserve seat of woman will be 50 seats instead of 45 seats.
In article 66 discusses about the qualification and disqualification of eligibility of MP candidature. If any candidate does any crime, he or she will miss the election of Jatiya Sangsad elections
Proposal said if anyone is victim by war criminal, he or she will not be appeared for the vote for the election. It was said in order 1972.
The fundamental principles of the state is combined with nationalism, Socialism, democracy and Secularism
The bill projected for swaps article 70 as per the constitution of 1972.
A person elected for seat for the election who was nominated as candidate of political party, if he resigns from the party or votes in parliament against the party, his seat will be vacated. It is said in the article 70 (1).
The bill proposed for assigned the authority of releasing the judges with the highest Judicial Council.
Article 118 said about the establishment of election commission. The Election commission must form with one chief election commissioner and not more than four election commissioner.
The bill also proposed for brining changes to the Article dealing with elections and said under the Article 123, 3(A) a general election will be held 90 days before after dissolution of the Parliament on expiry of its tenure, (B) or within the next 90 days when the parliament is dissolved for other reasons excepting expiry of its tenure.
Proposals have also been made to amend the Article 141 (a) related to Proclamation of Emergency. It suggested inserting the words-‘for not more than 120 days’ in Proclamation of Emergency.
The bill proposed for bringing amendment to the first paragraph of the preamble. It recommended replacing the words ‘historic struggle for national freedom’ instead of ‘historic war for national independence’.
Proposals have also been made to change full text of the second paragraph of the preamble. It suggested inclusion of the sentence – “We are pledging that the ideals – nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism- which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in the struggle of national freedom, shall be fundamental principles of the Constitution.”
The bill said the supreme command of the defence services of Bangladesh shall vest in the President and the exercise thereof shall be regulated by law.
The bill proposed that the state shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities
The bill proposed for brining changes to the Article 4 by replacing the words ’emblem and portrait of the Father of the Nation’ and adding a new clause.
Under the new clause, it said the portrait of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shall be preserved and displayed at the offices of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Chief Justice, all government, semi-government, autonomous organizations, all government and private educational institutions and all embassies and missions of Bangladesh abroad.
Proposals have also been made to abolish article 4 (A) related to displaying portrait of the President and the Prime Minister. As a result, the bill proposed for making mandatory the displaying of the portrait of Father of the Nation instead of the President and Prime Minister.
Proposals have been made to replace article 6(1) and 6(2) instead of Article 6 related to citizenship. It proposed replacing the word under 6(1) – The citizenship of Bangladesh shall be determined and regulated by law and under 6(2) – The people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalee as a nation and citizens of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis.
The bill proposed for incorporating a new article titled 18(A) related to preserving environment and biodiversity.
The bill also proposed for inserting a new clause under Article 19 related to involvement of women in national life. It said under the new clause, the state will ensure equal opportunity to the women for their participation in every stage of the national life.
Lone independent lawmaker Md fazlul Azim raised his objection about the bill which was later rejected in voice votes.
Replying to the objection, Barrister Shafique Ahmed sought to know under which provision martial law was proclaimed and Khondakar Mioshtaque, Justice ASM Sayem and Ziaur Rahman were made president after the killing of Bangabandhu on August 15 and the jail killing on November 3 in 1975?
“These military rulers had brought radical changes in the constitution through marshal law proclamations beyond the constitution and later BNP that was created in the cantonment incorporated these proclamations in the constitution through the controversial Fifth Amendment,” he said.
The law minister said the apex court declared illegal the fifth and 13th amendments which are conflicting with the main principles of the constitution.
The situation of minorities in Bangladesh is a human rights issue. Status of minorities all over the world has demonstrated a pattern of discrimination and insecurity. Bangladesh is no exception. However, the example of minorities in Bangladesh has a typical trend (Shaha, 1998, pp. 5). Overall situation of the minorities in Bangladesh will not improve unless total fundamental rights laid down in the state constitution as well as by United Nations Human Rights Declaration are not implemented. Without the political will of the government, it would be difficult to see a society of racial harmony.
It is evident that the true spirit and essence of democracy remains an illusion for the minorities in Bangladesh. In the name of majoritarian rule or democracy they have been marginalised politically, economically as well as culturally (Mohsin, 1997, pp. 103). The state constitution extends guarantee for the majority, the Bangla Muslims. The Bangladesh Constitution does not reflect the existence of the cultural and ethnic minorities.
Religion has been used as a tool by the political parties and politicians in Bangladesh to consolidate their power base. It is time that our elected representatives take cognisance of the fact that Bangladesh is not homogenous state rather it is a multi-national state, this reality ought to be incorporated into the Constitution.
1. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lectlaw.com
2. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.virtualbangladesh.com/bd_people.html