The Dysfunctional Majoritarianism

Published on Wednesday, September 28, 2016

By: Tonoy Emroz

Dhaka international airport, the gateway of Bangladesh, each bright neon sign of this large modern structure is a constant reminder of our moral bankruptcy, political Islam and spreading root of communal majoritarianism into every element of the society.

How significant are the names Shah Jalal, Shah Paran, Shah Makhdum in terms of shaping our national identity? What they have done to deserve such honor? And of course, why not Atis Dipankar or Sree Chitanya Dev?

Bangladesh is in serious crisis as the "Philosophy of rights" is being repeatedly hammered and struggles to get a foothold in the state mechanism due to escalating majoritarianism. It now poses a threat even greater than corruption, causing severe damage to our already vulnerable reputation of human rights protection, freedom of speech and communal harmony.

In simple terms majoritarianism is described as the actions of many to override the rights of the few. In a more accurate simplified term it is a form of tyranny. This concept was developed from a democratic narrative to alert the stakeholders to the subliminal dangers of modern democracy.

In accordance with this philosophical point of view, the development of Bangladesh does not rely upon prioritisation of the majority, but on the principles of equal justice and assurance of human rights protection of every citizen.

Lets have a brief look at Awami League, our greatest ever brand of secularism. It will allow us to have a better understanding of the fatal impact of majoritarianism in our society.

In theory, Awami League always held views consistent with the fundamentals of democracy. The disclosure of secularism and commitment to diversity allowed the party to maintain a moral ownership over the legacy of secularist movement of the country.

But unfortunately, the current ground reality is a complete different story. It appears to be a story of moral degradation and political shortfall.

In 2013 a spate of violence leveraged by the Madrasa students aimed to demonstrate the power of political Islam forced Awami League to surrender to Islamic fundamentalism.

Since then, under the watch of Awami League the safety of minorities and the democratically accepted meaning of individual liberty have been compromised. Free speech has become a crime.

The government is also failing to take necessary action to check communal violence, and in many cases the perpetrators were let off the hook.

Bangladesh is not a neutral state.

The constitution of Bangladesh is not justified with the widely accepted wisdom of universal human rights code, namely, "that in any country the faith and the confidence of the minorities in the impartial and even functioning of the state is the acid test of being a civilized state."

Clearly, I'm pointing at section 32(A) of the constitution which proclaims Islam as the state religion of Bangladesh. It is by far the strongest statement in favour of Muslim majoritarianism in Bangladesh. The existence of such discriminatory and divisive text in a constitution which proclaims to guarantee equality above all measures is disappointing even condemnable. This is an undeniable evidence of overriding the will of the few by the many, and an infringement of the principles of equality.

Here "the philosophy of rights" comes to play.

A person who really believed in the concept of fairness, that equality of all citizens regardless of how they pray or to whom they pray is a right, would believe that even the section 32 (a) is widely supported by the majority, they have got it wrong in terms of fairness.

This is a question of political responsibility and rights and must be prioritised over electoral calculation and religious bias.

The majoritarianism in Bangladesh is not just limited to religion. The ethnic Bangali majoritarianism over the other 45 minority ethnic groups bears no less significance and therefore subject to intense scrutiny.

I personally feel resentment to accept the term minority. It is divisive and discriminatory. But even so, I must admit that they deserve the right to be recognized constitutionally as well as institutionally.

This matter should have been considered as a matter of outmost importance in national interest to uphold and to celebrate the concepts of diversity and pluralism, but instead due to a series of policy failure it now points at the majoritarian nature of our political culture.

Irrespective of size of it's population, all religion and ethnic groups are the pivotal part of Bangladesh and entitled to equal treatment guaranteed by the constitution. Bangladesh belongs to all citizens. Race, religion or ethnicity is irrelevant in this debate.

The success of Bangladesh relies on the combined might of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and also those who resents religion as a way of life. The concept of Bangladesh was meant to be inclusive. It was never a country for one religion or race. It'll never be. Therefore, Bangladesh must immediately concentrate on contesting the threat of majoritarianism and put forward a realistic evidence based agenda to celebrate an inclusive, diverse and pluralistic society.

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