'The idea of secularism is to respect different opinions'
Speakers at a roundtable said secularism should be promoted to create an egalitarian society and it would not be possible without changing the mindset of politicians and the citizenry.
The roundtable was jointly organized by Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) and Dhaka Tribune on countering religious extremism in Bangladesh at the Dhaka Tribune conference room yesterday.
The roundtable was dedicated to late academician, Prof Ajoy Roy, who was a recognized voice for secularism during his lifetime.
Sammilita Samajik Andolan President Ziauddin Tariq Ali said an extensive awareness campaign on secularism is needed to promote inclusiveness in society.
"The government should take some landmark decisions in order to promote secularism.
"Some people in our society are still hostile towards religious harmony. I still see people having issues over people belonging to religious minorities working at the secretariat," he said.
Rokeya Kabir, executive director of BNPS, said the state and all of its laws should be secular to ensure equal rights to everyone regardless of their religious beliefs and gender.
Commenting on women’s rights in the existing property rights, Rokeya said: "When laws are not equal for everybody, it creates a foundation for gender inequality."
Journalist, Sohrab Hasan, said: "We should celebrate the glorious past of our Liberation War.
"However, we have to acknowledge our failure as well. Some, back then, even wanted a small Pakistan instead of a free nation."
The idea of secularism is to respect different opinions said Hasan, adding: "People want to stifle different opinions, let alone respect them."
He also said police protection is needed for the Hindu community when they celebrate puja but the complete opposite can be seen when the country's Muslims observe their religious occasions.
"This shows where we stand. It means we still have an evil force in our society,” he added.
Mehjabeen Rahman, assistant professor of Department of English at Stamford University Bangladesh, said secularism is freedom of religion and it should come within our political system.
Fearing that society is becoming monolithic, indigenous community leader Sanjeeb Drong, said: "The state does not respect us. When did we give the state the right to decide that we should not be called Adivasis?"
Women from different indigenous communities often get harassed on the street for not wearing a scarf, he added.
"Wearing an orna (a loose scarf-like shawl that covers the chest) is not traditionally practiced in our culture. But they think they have the right to tell our women to wear orna when they are in public places," said Drong.
Tanjimuddin Khan, associate professor of the department of International Relations, Dhaka University, criticizing the organized hypocrisy feeding the country's non secular forces, said: "A section has a tendency to blame one particular religion for extremism. But any groups from any religion can rise as a communal force, like in India and the US,” he said.