Bangladesh: Fight against communalism for justice, equality and peace

A roundtable discussion organised jointly by the UK Nirmul Committee, Bangladesh Udichi Shilpigosthi UK Sangsad and Secular Bangladesh Movement UK on Saturday 7 Sept at Micro Business Centre, Greatorex Street, East London on the topic of fighting communalism in Bangladesh under the title of ‘Protest, Protect, Prevent & Promote’. Thematic papers were presented respectively by Nirmul Committee activist Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Secular Bangladesh Movement’s President Pushpita Gupta, Bangladesh Workers Council’s Nisar Ahmed and Udichi’s President Haroonur Rashid.

Ansar Ahmed Ullah spoke on the importance of urgently responding to any occurrence of communal attacks by using the social and print media, lobbying relevant authorities and individuals, forming human chains and going out on the streets. The protest needed to be rapid, co-ordinated and must express full solidarity with all victims. Pushpita Gupta gave specific examples of communal attacks in Bangladesh and pointed to the need for the government and civil society organisations to be more focused on their protection of minority communities. Nisar Ahmed condemned the tendency to be selective in showing solidarity. There was no if’s or but’s: all forms of minority attack and repression must be condemned. He highlighted the need for political education regarding our history and how politicians have used identity politics for short term benefit in South Asia. Haroonur Rashid argued that we have to move forward and start a massive campaign for Secularism in South Asia. He pointed out that Secularism is now in crisis in South Asia and we can make a start by starting from the Convention that Udichi called in Dhaka in 2016 on “Communalism and Imperialism in South Asia”. The Dhaka Charter that was adopted could form the starting point of a Conference in 2020.

The meeting was chaired and moderated by UK Nirmul Committee’s President Nooruddin Ahmed. Following the presentations, the meeting was then opened up for a frank and open discussion around Protest, Protect and Prevent. Members of the audience participated in the frank exchange of opinions. Various suggestions and recommendations were put forward for the short and the long term.

Guest speaker were Nirmul Committee’s Advisor Justice Shamsuddin Choudhury Manik & Nirmul Committee’s Law Secretary Barrister Nadia Choudhury from Bangladesh. Justice Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik said Bangladesh has century old history of different faiths living side by side but it was the British who had sawn the seeds of communalism in South Asia while Barrister Nadia Chowdhury responded to the presentations by highlighting some of the points which she agreed to take back to Dhaka and start lobbying and campaigning on them. She also expressed her view that she will ensure that some of the suggestions at the meeting are communicated to the relevant authorities in Bangladesh. She also reiterated the necessity for better networking and exchange of information. Other guests were UK Awami League’s President Sultan Shariff, UK Nirmul Committee’s advisors Mahmoud Rauf & Khalil R Kazi OBE amongst others.

The participants discussed of building a pan South Asian people to people alliance to fight against communalism and promote justice, equality, and peace in the region in the long term. In the short to medium term, it was decided to build Bangladesh as a beacon of non-communalism, justice, equality, and peace, with active participation of like-minded individuals and organisations from and within Bangladesh, Bengali diaspora in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, as well as all progressive forces from South Asia.

The approach will be to shift the debate from the urban elite to masses, challenging and engaging with people from all walks of life as long as they are willing to subscribe to the principles of non-communalism, justice, equality, and peace. In our works we shall be guided by four principles laid in Bangladesh’s constitution in 1972 to build a truly secular Bangladesh.

Those who took part in the discussion were Udichi’s Nurul Islam, Amina Ali, Helen Islam, Asma Shilpy, Salim Malik, Shamsuddin Ahmed, Gopal Das, Secular Bangladesh Movement’s M A Hadi, Atish D Saha & Sumon Das, Bangladesh Human Rights England Branch’s Ruby Hoque, JASOD’s Vice Cahir Mozibul Hoque Moni, cultural activist Mustafa Kamal Milon, Labour Party’s Moshfiqur Rahman, Bangabandhu Sangskritic Forum UK’s M Nazim Uddin, Bangladesh Workers Council’s Nasir Uddin, Bangladesh Workers Party’s Waliur Rahman, secular activist Monjulika Jamali and Moulana Mufti Longly Syed Mahmud Ali amongst many others.

It was also decided to hold a conference in future to discuss these topics more fully and find ways to implement them.

Nooruddin Ahmed summed up the session by saying that all the views will be taken on board and that a short report of the proceedings will be sent to all participants of the meeting. He however emphasised that he will be immediately sending the recommendation of a Rapid Response Team, establishing a National Commission on Minorities and the importance that has been unanimously expressed of social and political education in tackling communalism.

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