The most vibrant region in global politics-South Asia has been suffering from religious extremism since last three decades. A country like Bangladesh has emerged as the breeding ground for violent extremism where religious extremism creates trauma for people who are living in Bangladesh and it ruins the glorious diversity of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has its own unique history of Independence. This is the only country in the world where language and cultural sentiments worked behind Independence and its constitution is the only one where the word secularism was added as the main principle in the post-colonial era. But the basic principles of the Constitution of Bangladesh have been facing threat from extremism in the present day.

                Since 2013, the death of more than 40 bloggers, the abolition of the caretaker government, demolition of minority’s Heritages,  increasing number of Madrassah and Mosque, etc. are questioning  Bangladesh’s principal identity and democracy. The present situation of Bangladesh is not a result of current politics,   it is planted during the emergence of Bangladesh. Although it can be assumed that the youths of Bangladesh can be made a bar against this religious extremism.

 Since, before the Independence to the present day, the youths of Bangladesh never sold their liberal thinking to anyone even to the ruling government. Beginning from the West Pakistan rule to Shahabag Andolan and recently Quota movement and movement against road accident proved that whenever Bangladesh waivers to the wrong path, the youths are always the one responsible for taking Bangladesh on the right way.

The study will be focusing on the reason behind the religious extremism in Bangladesh and will try to understand the youths as protectors of the diversity of Bangladesh through various movements.

Keywords: religious extremism, youths, basic principles, Shahbag movement, democracy.


Bangladesh the eighth-most populous country in the world, is also the youngest nation-state in South Asia. It emerged as an independent country in 1971 after experiencing 0 a genocide that cost millions of lives. (Riaz,p.4).

 Forty-six years have passed after the holocaust of Muktijuddho. Bangladesh emerged to be the only country which had fought an independence war for the sake of its linguistic sentiments. According to the Indian Independence Act of 1947, British India was to be partitioned into two new independent dominions of India and Pakistan. Pakistan consisted of two parts i.e., East and West Pakistan. Since independence, East Pakistan was culturally, economically, politically and socially deprived by the West. In its joint history of twenty-three years, the East Pakistanis were denied all kinds of rights by the West.

The language movement of East Pakistan in 1952 was directed against the West’s autocratic rule. It brought about a strong sense of nationalism among the Bengalis. In this background, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the nationalist leader of the Bangladeshi freedom movement proposed the six-point formula that would help in granting autonomy to the East. Later, Sheikh Mujibur gained an enormous victory in the 1970’s elections for the proposed National Assembly. Apprehending the rule of the East, the West postponed the meeting of the National Assembly. West Pakistan was then led by Yahya Khan who also ordered the arrest of Mujibur Rehman afterward. A campaign of non-cooperation by the Bengalis was answered by a reign of terror. After a protracted struggle against the military rulers of West Pakistan along with military help from India, Bangladesh got its independence in 1971.

Based on the Provisional Constitution, a Parliamentary System of government was set up in Bangladesh. The Parliament was composed of elected members and the JatioSansad acted as the Constituent Assembly. It approved the Constitution on 4th November 1972. The main features of the Constitution were the recognition of Nationalism, Socialism, Democracy, and Secularism. Fundamental Rights were guaranteed by the Constitution including the right to property. The Constitution introduced independent judiciary as the guardian of the rights enshrined in the Constitution. It is true that Bangladesh emerged with some unique features. This is the only country after World War II where ‘secularism’ became a basic principle of a country’s constitution. There is no example of such a country where language played a crucial role in the liberation war. Bangladesh became a hope for middle-class Muslims and other minorities. Each and every communities’ participation in mukti judhho made it possible to win the liberation war.

The first principal of the new ideology were nationalism, democracy, socialism, and secularism. These were enshrined in the constitution as the principle of Bangladesh. But the interpretation of these ideas open as no specifics was ever provided by the ruling party. ( Riaz,308) 

There is an outstanding song written by late Abdul Karim Age Ki Sundor Din Kataitam’ which is giving us a clear picture about the glorious past of our Bangladesh. There are many poems, songs, etc. which are showing us how all religions and ethnic groups co-existed in our Bangladesh. It may be concurred that we can not make a particular identity for Bangladesh because Bangladesh is the epitome of all the cultures and all the religions. The amalgamation of all the cultures gives a unique identity to Bangladesh. This is the only country where after second World War the Dalit and middle-class religious groups had hoped to live and practice there own customs and religious rituals without any interference. But what is happing today? What is going wrong with Bangladesh? Why is it branded as a particularly religious country? If today, Bangladesh is infected by a viral disease, so I think only youths of Bangladesh can take the role of gladiators to protect Bangladesh identity. Therefore what is happing today in Bangladesh, it is a not outcome of recent politics. The reason for current political, social and economical deep-rooted into the inception of Bangladesh. In this regard, we have to look 49 years back when the poisonous seeds were sown  in this holy land which has lead to the current situation in Bangladesh’s. After 2013, the situation became worse in Bangladesh. More than 40 freethinkers were murdered by Islamist fundamentalist, 17 secular writers’ writings were banned from the textbooks, increasing numbers of quami madrassas, tortures and atrocities on minority are clearly indicate that Bangladesh is moving in the wrong way which is not a deserving path for Bangladesh. Although I don’t have any problem with Bangladesh’s Islamic status which they earned in 1988. I need to make my view clear that the term ‘Muslims’ constitutes a broad general category to which both religious and non-religious person can belong or identify with. In other words, those people who do not practice Islamic religion in their everyday life but have faith in Islamic religion can be Muslims. Thus,’Muslim world’ in this study is used to represent the collective of those societies and countries where the majority of the population has faith in Islamic religion but does not view Islam as a complete way of life or initiates political struggle to establish an Islamic political order. Whereas, people belonging to the second category of ‘Islamic’ are those who practice Islamic religion in their everyday life and might also believe that Islamic is a  way of life but do not have a political agenda to establish a sharia-based Islamic state. However,’Islamist’ are those who not only believe that Islamic is ‘ a way of life’, but also claim that it is ‘a complete way of life’ and claim that it is an ideal holistic religion with political agenda of building a sharia centric Islamic state (Islam,p.60).  I have a problem with this increase in Islamist fundamentalist in Bangladesh which was never the path of this holy land. Now I will discuss a brief history of Bangladesh and try to find out the fault which had done by our forefather and then try to understand the youths of Bangladesh and how can they change this situation.

The era of Bangabandhu: In the above discussion I mentioned that the four main components of mujibism were democracy, socialism, nationalism, and secularism. I would like to discuss secularism first because this is a very important issue now in Bangladesh. Article 12 was first drafted in the constitution of Bangladesh stating that in order to achieve the ideals of secularism, a)all kinds of communalism; b)patronization by the state of any particular religion; c)exploitation of religion for political purpose; d)discrimination against, and persecution of, anyone following a particular religion will end. (Riaz,309). Once M.N Roy commented that “secularism is not a political institution; it is a cultural atmosphere, which can not be created by the proclamation of individuals, However highly placed and intensely sincere,”. (Sinha,p.55).                                   

Analyzing the constitution of India and Bangladesh Tazeen Murshid Emphasised that the idea of religious tolerance was enshrined in the constitution of India as service sarba-dharmas-ambhaba,  meaning the equality of all religions before the state and in the 1972 constitution of Bangladesh as dharmani-rapekshata meaning religious neutrality. Obviously in the case of Bangladesh religious neutrality meant the equal opportunity for religion for the state patronage and participation in public affairs. In the context of the Indian Constitution secularism in that,” all religions practiced in India are entitled to equal freedom and protection. In line with the principal, all religious political parties were disbanded after independence. (Riaz,309). On the one hand, the regime took such bold and commendable steps, while on the other hand Sheikh Mujibur categorically declared that he was proud to be Muslim and that this Nation was second largest Muslim state in the world. He not only frequently made use of Islamic experience in his speech but repeatedly instead that his vision of “secularism does not mean the absence of religion” Mujib also led the Munajat Islamic prayer on November 4, 1972, during the session after the passage of the Constitution bill. The government not only extended indulgence to all religion but also subjected itself to religious pressure. It was under this kind of pressure that the government increased funding for religious education in 1973 the annual budgetary allocation for Madrasah was increased to Taka 7. 2 million in 1973 from Taka 2. 5 million in 1971. Furthermore, in March 1975 the government revived the Islamic Academy which they had banned in 1972 and then elevated it to a Foundation to help propagate the ideals of Islam. The inherent self-contradiction of ruling party in term of its policy of secularism becomes more evident when the Mujib joined the Islamic Summit held in Lahore in February 1974 and 2 months later led Bangladesh at the Islamic foreign minister conference held on Jihad in establishing the Islamic Development Bank. (Riaz,2004,p.310) So it is clear that religious politics in Bangladesh is not new phenomena, it was implanted during its inception.

Secondly, democracy was changed into a dictatorial form of government within a year. Mujib resorted ‘repressive measure’ of governance by amending the constitution ‘to make himself the president for five years with full executive authority and later to outlaw all existing political parties except his newly formed Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League(BAKSHAL). Such authoritarianism of Mujibism is regarded  as the ‘constitutional coup’ of 25 January 1975, when the   fourth amendment of Bangladesh constitution replaced the parliamentary system with a presidential form of government, multi-party system with totalitarian control and one-party rule, curtailing powers of the national parliament, while the judiciary lost much of its independence as the supreme court was deprived of its jurisdiction over the protection and enforcement of fundamental rights. Mujib’s paramilitary force, the Rakkhi Bahini, almost acted as a private militia and became well known for its ‘intimidation’(Islam,2015,p.173).

Thirdly, Mujib took socialism as a basic principle of the constitution of Bangladesh.But his socialist policy was also questioned, due to his policy which was taken during his regime. Article 14 provided that one of the fundamental responsibilities of the state would free the working population -peasants and laborers and the “backward section” of the population from all kind of exploitation. But, during the Mujib regime, the country also witnessed an industrial decline, Indian control over Bangladesh’s industry and commerce, fake currency notes scandal, scarcity of food items coupled with failure in the income of the population and simultaneous soaring of price due to hyperinflation, subsequently followed by the man-made famine of 1974. Such massive economic problem was supplemented by the corruption of several noted Awami leaguers who were generally close to Mujib and all these culminated into greater dissolution among the Bangladeshi people towards the Mujib regime. Since the new power holders of Bangladesh were incapable of stabilizing just equitable and safe society under the political project of Mujibism their permission of nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy began to ring a bell. In other words, Mujib could not fulfill the promise of Bangladesh Liberation within emancipatory politics and was rather identified by the people as a repressive agency. (Islam,174).

 The Era of  Zia: Zia made some constitutional amendments through a proclamation. The amendments brought changes to article 6 of the original constitution, which stipulated that the identity of the citizens of  Bangladesh would be known as “Bangalee”. Instead, the amendment proclaimed, the citizens would be known as “Bangladeshi”. Thus, the identity of the nation was linked with the territorial limit in order to isolate inform the so-called “Bangalee sub-culture” of India. The amendment also brought changes in the preamble of the constitution. The words, “historic struggle for national liberation” was replaced by “historic war for national independence”. The word “secularism,” appearing in the Preamble and Article 8 as one of the four fundamental principles, was substituted with “absolute trust and the faith in Almighty Allah,” and a new Clause( 1A ) was inserted to Emphasize that “absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah” should be  “the basis of all actions.” Article 12 which defined secularism was omitted and above the Preamble, the words” Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim” were inserted to give the constitution an Islamic color. Economic and Social Justice taken together, a new ideological terrain was created by the regime to legitimize their rule. Religion, the territoriality of identity, and national security constituted the core of this new ideology. Some of the steps may appear to be symbolic than substantial but a  closer examination revealed their long-lasting impact. Two of them involved education. In 1977 the government appointed a “syllabi committee” which declared that “Islam is a code of life not just the sum of rituals, a Muslim has to live his personal, social, economic and international life in accordance with Islam from childhood to death. In 1978 the government established a separate directorate within the education ministry and set up the “Madrassah Education Board” to oversee the Madrassah education. The responsibilities of the board included standardization of Madrasah curriculum and tests. The second change was the introduction of Islamiat- a course on Islamic studies- at the primary and secondary level. This course was made mandatory for all Muslim students. The government established and new Minister called “ministry of religious affairs” to co-ordinate religious activities on behalf of the government. Soon ‘id-i-milad-i-nabi’, Prophet Muhammed’s birthday was declared as a national holiday. State-controlled  electronic media began broadcasting Azan five times a day and programs on the Islam’s role in daily life. But more importantly, those who had close ties with religious organization became more visible within the cabinet- Maulana Abdul Mannan, the leader of Jama’ at – mudarrisn, for example, became a close confidant of Ziaur Rahman

The Era of Ershad: Within nine months of Zia’s death the chief of Army General Hussain Mohammad Irshad seized power. The Regime was faced with a crisis of constitutional legitimacy, and glaring discontent among student. In late 1982, he declared in a religious gathering that Islam would be the basis of the new social system and it is to be given its due place in the constitution. On January 15, 1983, Ershad declared that the making Bangladesh and Islamic country was a goal of his struggle. He also stated his intention to introduce “Islamic principles” into the “cultural life” of Bangladesh Muslims. Between 1983 and 1987, on several occasions, the Ershad regime came close to being overthrown through popular uprisings. His success in creating rifts among opposition party in 1986 saved him from being toppled. Despite his Islamic rhetoric and steps towards furthering the nationalization of society, Ershad won the support of Islamic political organization. The Jamaat-e-Islami, for example, maintained a close link with two opposition alliances led by the BNP and Awami league respectively and participated in the street agitation. Embroiled in a political crisis that began in early 1983 that intensified in 1987, Ershad attempted to woo away jamaat from agitators and to bring them in line with government. To placate the Islamist forces as well as to prove his Islamic credential, Ershad went for a constitutional amendment in June 1980 which declared Islam is the state religion.

Since 1991 to Present: In 1991 the restoration of democracy aroused hope among the people but over the period various moves by the successive regimes had accorded religion a definite space in political discourses of Bangladesh. Circumstances had changed so much that Awami league which once took pride in its secular identity, made a remarkable change in its approach towards religion and religion-based political parties. Now it clearly preferred to be portrayed as a party that values Islam as an integral part of the culture of Bangladesh. Beginning in 1991, statement of party leaders and party publicity materials display the Awami League’s eagerness to present itself as a good Custodian Of Islam in Bangladesh. The symbolic expression of this change by Awami chief Sheik Hasina including carrying of prayers beads and wearing scarves to cover hair. In addition to making a pilgrimage to mecca, Hasina began using Islamic phrases such as  “Bismillah Rahman Rahim”, Khuda Hafez,” and   “insallllah” in her public speech. BNP leader Khaleda Zia alleged that if the Awami is elected to office, it would remove “Bismillah Rahman Rahim” from the constitution. Sheikh Hasina dismissed this as a smear campaign against the Awami League and declared that she had “ no quarrel with Bismillah.” The political parties attempted to demonstrate their indomitable faith in Islam. For example, BNP supporter chanted “La Ilaha Illall,ha dhaner shishe Bismillah”( there is no God but Allah vote for paddy sheaf saying God be the merciful). Awami League’s many supporters came up with the slogan “La Ilaha Illallah, noukar Malik tui allah”( there is no God but Allah, the boat belongs to Allah )and jaamat  supporters a slogan was;” vote diley pally,khusi hobe allah(allah will be pleased with you if you vote for the scale). (riaz,312).  But the situation was getting worse after  2001 when rightist power captured the power. In an unprecedented show of force, organization, and skill, two prescribed Islamist militant organization exploded more than 450 bombs within a span of less than an hour throughout Bangladesh on 17th august 2005 which was a clear indication of an increase of Islamist power in Bangladesh. After the 2008 election “secularism” and “socialism” were reintroduced in Bangladesh’s constitution which was giving hope to the secular and socialist as well as general citizens that Bangladesh will come back again to its own unique specialty. But before the 2014 election the political turmoil, big rallies of Islamist parties, an increasing number of quami  madrassah, changes of textbooks, atrocities on minorities, attacked on free thinkers clearly indicated that Bangladesh probably lost her own way through the recent economic development in Bangladesh brought some hope for general citizens.(RIAZ

        Since, I made the assumption that the youths of Bangladesh can be seen as gladiators to protect Bangladesh’s identity over here. If we look back at the partition of India and Pakistan, we have seen how the students of East Pakistan made bar against autocratic west Pakistan and achieved their goal. There is no doubt that behind the independence of Bangladesh the force of students worked much. It is only during the rule of West Pakistan or during the birth of Bangladesh but also after the independence of Bangladesh the young students continued their struggle to reach their own goal. This aggressiveness of youth is still alive in Bangladesh. They are the only section of Bangladesh who never sold their mind or heart to the great powers. Recent DACSU  election brought an enormous sense of hope to the citizens because after 28 years its took place which is a good sign for Bangladesh. The recent quota movement, and the movement against street accidents have shown that the government may manipulate their cadre but not the youths. They are always fighting for justice as they used to do in previous times. So in my paper, I just wanted to show how Bangladesh lost its identity from the beginning of its birth, and I assumed that the youths of Bangladesh are still struggling to protect Bangladesh’s unique identity.


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(8) Habib, Hannon. ( 2016). Language of Violence. Frontline, Vol. 33, No. 15, P.P. 111-114.

 (9) Habib, Hannon. ( 2016). Course of Justice, Frontline, Vol. 33, No. 19, P.P. 64- 66.

(10) Habib, Hannon. ( 2014). Bangladesh on the boil. Frontline, Vol. 30, No. 26, P.P. 51.

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