Religion is the biggest bane for any democracy. – Taslima Nasreen
Bangladesh’s biggest right-wing party Jamaat-e-Islami has been banned from contesting future polls by the Bangladesh High Court in Dhaka, which cancelled its registration in a landmark ruling on 1 August, leaving the once powerful fundamentalist party with an uncertain future. Author Taslima Nasreen who has been living in exile for over two decades in India tells Agnivo Niyogi that taking a cue from the verdict, parties in India should also shun religion-based politics.
What are your initial reactions to the court’s decision to debar Jamaat from fighting elections?
It is indeed great news for all secularists that a religious organisation that doubled up as a political party, has been finally banned from fighting elections. Although Jamaat is called a right-wing political organisation, it is no less than a terrorist outfit. Dissent had no place in the reign of terror unleashed by Jamaat.
The religious fundamentalists have left the Bangladesh society bleeding. Allowing them to engage in political activism is thus an insult to the principles on which Bangladesh was founded. Jamaat used foreign funds in brainwashing innocent kids at madrasas, gave them military training and unleashed their brute force on their own countrymen who refused to toe their line. A ban on such an organisation is a welcome step indeed.
Do you think the Awami League government will now reinstate the 1972 Constitution and establish Bangladesh as a secular nation?
I do not think so. Although this court verdict is a step in the right direction, the society at large is not secular in Bangladesh. If the government suddenly decides to do away with Islam as state religion, the masses might go against them. Sheikh Haseena wouldn’t want to make such a gamble with her poll fortunes. Awami League wouldn’t want to be painted as anti-Islam in the election year.
What do you think will be the possible repercussions of the ban on Jamaat?
The Jamaat was a banned organisation at the birth-hour of Bangladesh. After the 1971 Liberation War, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to power, he banned the organisation that sided with Pakistan against their own brothers and sisters, raped thousands and killed even more. But after the death of Mujib, they were given a new lease of life by a few military men, solely for political motives. Thus began the process of Islamisation of a secular nation, which is on till now. To return to the Constitution of 1972, we need a societal change, for which this ban was necessary.
Do you hope this verdict will pave the way for your return to your motherland?
Several parties have come to power since I was exiled. Faces change, but the nature of the ruler doesn’t. Be it Awami League, or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, everyone needs the support of Islamists to stay in power. The state machinery in Bangladesh is afraid to stand up for freedom of expression; they lack the conviction to take on the fundamentalist forces in the country. We cannot expect the society to change overnight. The Islamisation that has happened for decades in the country cannot be undone by just one verdict.
The Awami League government may be more secular than other parties, but we must not forget that the same government arrested atheist bloggers during the Shahbag protests. Hence, I don’t see any hopes for my return to my homeland anytime soon.
The Jamaat-e-Islami may hit the streets to protest against the court decision. Do you feel that the secular masses will rise again, like in Shahbag, to facilitate the process of formation of a secular state?
When Hefazat-e-Islami had unleashed terror on the streets with over five lakh people taking law into their hands during an anti-government demonstration, the administration had dealt with them with an iron hand. If the government is ready to take the Islamic fundamentalists head-on, there is no need for the people to take to the streets. I have faith that the government will once again assume an unbiased role, for the cause of the nation.
Do you think the ripples of the Bangladesh verdict will be felt in India too?
Bangladesh is too small a nation for the Indian government to take note of. India is more concerned about the daily happenings in Pakistan. However, I feel that India must give Bangladesh the credit it deserves for showing the resolve to fight religious fundamentalism. Islamist organisations based in India should take a cue from this verdict and mend their ways. Moreover, parties in India should shun religion-based politics. Parties cry foul in the name of democracy when their religious intents are exposed. However, according to me, religion is the biggest bane for any democracy.