Secularism, A Constitutional Myth


A common trend of practicing the non-valuation of religious practices and continuous demolition of Ethics and Morality has led this modern generation to a complex system of lifestyle which narrowed our vision of understanding Secularism. We denied our common practices to show that we are modern enough to embrace this modernization. The institution of this myth was done by our founding fathers to show the world how modernized we can be. But the real fact is we never understood secularism as it was understood by our founding fathers of constitution. We see it as a right whereas it was constituted as a sacred duty of every citizen towards everyone, a duty to cause no harm to ones neighboring community in practicing their religious belief. As a matter of fact even the verbal definition of secularism given in Article-12 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has much broad essence than our narrow minds can capture. This Article articulated all types of prejudice regarding religion as the hindrance to the realization of a Secular State.

First, the Article in its 4 clauses mentioned about the elimination of – a) communalism (in all its forms), b) the granting of any political status in favor of any religion by the State, c) the abuse of religion for political purpose, d) any discrimination against or persecution of , persons practicing a particular religion. If one tries even to understand the verbal meaning can find the essence of this Article that is- the elimination of bias on basis of religious belief. The inner meaning also corresponds with this verbal definition which is- to create a peaceful society based on harmony and respect towards others.

Second, the freedom of exercising ones religious culture and belief has also been provided subject to law, public order and morality in Article 41 of the Constitution of Bangladesh. In this article it has been clearly mentioned that – a) every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion and, b) every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions, and in the case of Jibendra Kishore v East Pakistan, 1957, it was explained that even the term “subject to law” doesn’t interferes with the right of freedom of religion, it merely means that Parliament may by law regulate the manner of professing, practicing and propagating religious beliefs and the working of religious institutions.

As we can see from the Articles that our constitution is very much relaxed with the practice of religious beliefs many general people including academicians found our constitutions propaganda to be a bit conflicting. They found conflict of standard with the standing of Article 2A with the spirit of Article 12. Article 2A proclaims that the State religion of the Republic is Islam while in the same sentence it talks about the Equal status and rights of practicing other religions. One may sense the law of majoritarian government here and this essence of majoritarian governance is actually communalism to some extent. The spirit of constitutional secularism has been considered to be demised by incorporating this Article. But I found no inconvenience in any of these 3 articles because giving status of State religion does not give any privileges to the follower of Islamic belief when it has been noted that every religion in the community should have equal status in terms of practice and rights. Just a mere title on the basis of the majority citizen does not in any way discriminates the rights and freedom, similar as to the position of parliament in terms of explaining the term ‘subject to law’.

The spirit of secularism does not seek to be distanced from one’s own religious belief because in this way it is also communalism. Practicing what one believes is in no way a barrier for another until or unless done to disturb that other individual. It is great to join collectively in different religious cultures but by defying the ones that he belongs to is not the kind of secular mentality our founding fathers of constitution might have asked at all. Respecting, being polite and to say the least not being hostile to other cultural practice is the kind of mentality that goes with the word secular. Secularism in no way means to persecute oneself from his own religious belief to show how modern he is. Secularism is a gesture of kindness towards the fellow mate who is supposed to be different. Diversity is the only virtue that lived forever then why cover up our own shades just to make others feel similar? Nobody is similar and that is the beauty mother earth holds in her arms. The fear of being left-out or persecuted has been rooted in the mind of general people in such a way that our modern generation found the easy way of capturing secularism by way of explaining it to be the weapon of minority religions against the majority for not indulging into the practices of diverse culture. The true essence which is ‘the principle of no harm’ has been twisted to be ‘do not follow your own’ to such extent that secularism is no more a shield of protecting communal harmony rather it has become the weapon of accusing the majority of a crime that has never really been done by them. Now in the name of secularism the majority is being cornered and forced to show diligence in practicing their own belief and encouraged to show forced respect to the minor religion. This way the spirit of constitutional secularism has become a myth that can be explained by logic but not interpreted with reason.



Nadia Islam Nody

LL.M Student, Jahangirnagar University.

President, NILS JU Chapter.

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