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A secular charge,led by judiciary

Even as religious fundamentalism is brewing,judicial intervention in the past four months from the highest courts in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh...

Even as religious fundamentalism is brewing,judicial intervention in the past four months from the highest courts in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is paving the way for the country’s determined march towards shedding its “forced Muslim identity” to establish complete secularism.

Since January 2010,the Bangladesh higher judiciary has taken two major steps for their country — to shed religion from politics and to free women from the religious hijab or veil. The second verdict on April 9 by a Dhaka High Court Division Bench,of which one is a woman judge,Syeda Afsar Jahan,declared that wearing hijab or scarves over the head is a completely “personal” choice for women working in public and private educational institutions.

Justice Jahan,along with her brother judge on the bench,Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain,ruled that making an unwilling woman wear the hijab is a slur on her basic human rights. The court’s mind is revealed with its observation that “in Bangladesh,there is no established practice that requires women to cover their heads”.

The ruling was based on a dispute between Upazila Education Officer and the woman director of Atmaram Bishweshwar Government Primary School,located in Kurigram district during a public meeting at the headquarters of the Department of Education in June 2009. The officer,Arif Ahmed,had insulted Sultana Arjuman Huq,calling her a “beshaya” (sex worker) because she was not wearing a veil.

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The court said it saw Huq’s predicament as a growing trend of the attempts in recent years “to force women into this practice not only at an individual level but also in public offices”. “The case in hand is evidence of violations of the rights of women and girls in public spaces,schools,educational institutions and places of public and private education,” it said,directing the Ministry of Education to ensure no woman working in public and private educational institutions is forced to wear veils.

On January 3,the HC Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court declared Bangladesh “secular” as per its original Constitutional character and further re-inforced the ban on “abuse of religion for political purposes”. It made the Fifth Amendment illegal and declared that Bangladesh’s identity as a “Muslim country” was a “forced” one. The constitutional amendment allows Bangladesh to “foster further relations amongst only Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity”.

The January 3 order was upheld by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Mohammed Tafazzul Islam when challenged by BNP Secretary General Khondker Delwar Hossain and three lawyers from its key ally Jamaat-e-Islami on February 7 after six days of marathon hearings. “Secularism means both religious tolerance as well as religious freedom. The State must not seen to be favouring any particular religion,rather,ensure protection to the followers of all faiths without any discrimination,” the court observed.

First published on: 12-04-2010 at 03:06:53 am
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