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Ethno-Religious Identity Synthesis: Case of Bangladesh

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Identity is a concept that dates backs to time immemorial. In today’s world, the concept has become more complex as it includes ethnic, religious, racial, political, and other aspects. This article mainly focuses on the conflict of the ethnic and religious identity of the people of Bangladesh.

Generally, ethnic identity is defined through the shared cultural beliefs, history, and traditions of a particular group of people. On the other hand, religious identity is based on the faith of a community regarding the concept of God. But sometimes the cultural belief aspect of a particular group conflict with the religious belief of that same group and it may create a hostile line between the religious and ethnic identity of that particular group. And the people of Bangladesh are the prime example of such identity conflict. They have so many identities: Bengali, Bangladeshi, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Bengali Muslim, Bengali Hindu, and so on that it is really confusing what the people of this would be identified as because none of such identity is illegal.

Now, historically the Bengalis are a mixture of various races just like the other Indian sub-continental group. But they are distinct from the others by the language and culture. However, the Bengali culture had many common elements derived from the Sanatan religious belief and these have adhered for millennials. The situation remained unchanged even in the middle age when Islam became a dominant religion in the various parts of Bengal. But the subsequent colonization and divide and rule policy by the British has presented some complex presumption of dissimilarities in front of the people of Bengal. Such presumptions got to their peak during the late 1940s and resulted in the ultimate division of India. However, the subsequent struggles of the Bengali people suggested the errors within the concept of difference and enabled the Bengali people to unite based on their ethnic identity after a very long time. But shortly after the independence, the new constitution of Bangladesh recognized all the citizens of the land as ethnically one: Bengalis. Some scholars consider it as a serious blow to the spirit of the great liberation war of Bangladesh where the other ethnic groups of Bangladesh also participated. Again, shortly after the killing of the Father of the Nation, the amended Bangladeshi constitution identified the people of the land-based on a synthesis of ethnicity and religion and named them as Bangladeshi in Article 6. A serious line of division was drawn between the majority Muslim population and the minority. As a result, serious suffering came down upon the minority of the land. For decades they suffered until recently the fifteenth amendment of the constitution has put somewhat a balance toward the majority-minority division but ultimately creating so by acknowledging two contradictory identical concepts: Bengalism and Bangladeshism.

Meanwhile, the longtime absence of Bengalism has caused serious damage to the society of Bangladesh. Especially the Bangladeshi Muslims are now facing an identity crisis as to whether to identify them as Muslim or as Bengali. In practice, nowadays, most of them feel comfortable identifying themselves as Bangladeshi. Again, in respect of the political resurrection of the Bengali identity, the government is playing somewhat a neutral role. An analysis of various foreign ministry documents has revealed to the authors that both Bengali and Bangladeshi identity has been carefully avoided by the government to identify the people of Bangladesh and instead the words “Bangladesh national” were used. So, the actual identity of the people of Bangladesh is still a mystery in practice and it is a matter of shame to the people of this land. The executive and legislator branches certainly cannot avoid their liability regarding this situation. So, to overcome this crisis, it is a must that the government specifies the identity of the people of our land through another constitutional amendment. There are instances of a referendum to determine such important national issues and the authors are proposing a free, fair referendum on this constitutional issue. Also, it is observed by the authors that, the practical use of a specific identity is an international practice and the government cannot play political neutrality in this regard. So, bold steps to identify the people of the country in all the international documents as either ‘Bengali’ or ‘Bangladeshi’ is recommended. Again, initiatives must be taken from government and non-government actors to reinforce and disseminate the existing pluralistic values within the society of Bangladesh. And all along taking these steps, we must make sure that the will of the people is correctly reflected within the constitutional framework in order to solve this problem.

Writer: Mashrur Rahman Mahin, LL.B (Hon’s), 4th Year, Jahangirnagar University & Dorray Shower, LL.B (Hon’s), 3rd Year, Jahangirnagar University.

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