Tuesday, May 28, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Citizens, not subjects

After 52 years of liberation, the critical question still haunts us: Are we a republic?

Update : 08 Dec 2023, 09:57 AM

Our glorious declaration of formal independence in April 1971, clearly outlined the aspiration to turn the nascent country into a “people’s republic” which, by default, renders the residents of this territory as “citizens,” not subjects. It is the most crucial difference between a republic and king/queendom.

A king/queendom is established by mere proclamation of decrees by the royal of the time, and so is the process of making laws. Subjects have no say whatsoever about the nature, frequency, or substance of those decrees or laws proclaimed by the occupying power. They cannot agree or disagree with anything that the royal families do or refrain from doing. Good and bad subjects are always determined by their uncompromising loyalty towards the monarch and payment of taxes at a fixed rate and due time of the year.

Once upon a time, Rome conquered vast areas of Europe, Middle East, and Africa. The residents of those areas were subjected to the rule of Rome and required to follow the laws of Rome. They had no choice -- and there was no appeal. Rome conferred citizenship on some of those people, and, of course true born Romans had citizenship by virtue of their birth. This gave them certain rights that subjects did not enjoy. One of those rights was the right to appeal to the emperor in any legal case.

In the late eighteenth century, the United States was a new nation, or political society, formed at first by the Declaration of Independence, out of those British subjects in America, who were thrown out of royal protection by an act of parliament, passed in December, 1775. A citizen of the United States meant a member of this new nation. The principle of government was radically changed by the revolution and the political character of the people was also changed from subjects to citizens.

After 190 years of British colonial rule, we became free in 1947 but the state of Pakistan could not treat us like citizens, but subjects. After 52 years of liberation, the critical question still haunts us about our second statehood: Is it a republic?

The difference is immense. Subject is derived from the Latin words, sub and jacio, which means one who is under the power of another; but a citizen is a unit of a mass of free people as opposed to slaves of the city states, who, collectively, possess sovereignty against the ruling monarch -- king or queen.

Subjects look up to a master, but citizens are equal -- none have hereditary rights superior to others including the rulers. Each citizen of a free state contains, within himself, by nature and the constitution, as much as of the common sovereignty as another. 

In the eye of reason and philosophy, the political condition of citizens is more exalted than that of noblemen. Dukes and earls are the creatures of kings and queens, and may be made or otherwise by them at mere pleasure. On the contrary, citizens possess in their own right original sovereignty.

What about us? The status of “we, the people” who struggled for decades, shed blood for their civic and political rights as well as economic emancipation is hung between subjects and freemen. What is the basis to distinguish between the two status? How should the roughly 200 million residents of this delta be treated or are being treated?

One of the ways to judge our status is through the legal system -- like the British colonial era Code of Criminal Procedures or Penal Code or recently amended Digital Security Act into Cyber Security Act. Another practical way to look into it is how those in power, on a day-to-day basis, treat we, the people. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most leading founding fathers of America, once said: "When government fears the people, there is liberty; when the people fear the government, there is tyranny."

Considering the ground reality, who fears whom in Bangladesh now? Depriving the nation of their right to vote is as good as ignoring the opinions of the free masses or ruling without mandate. A relationship more akin to how any king/queendom treats its subjects, not citizens who are expected to be treated differently than the way we have been over the decades.

No one should dare forget our glorious proclamation of independence, the very basis of our coming into being after a bloody War of Liberation. Viva la equality, human dignity, and social justice,


Asaduzzaman Fuaad, Barrister-at-law is Joint Member Secretary, AB Party. Email: [email protected].

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