Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Embracing the universalism of festivities

How religious festivals serve as a powerful symbol of unity amidst political divides

Update : 16 Apr 2024, 11:51 AM

In Bangladesh, religious festivals are often celebrated as evidence of the country’s commitment to secularism and harmony. From its inception, the country has tried to adopt the model of a secular state. Despite encountering difficulties and impediments, the essence of religious harmony has endured, converting every religious festival into an inclusive celebration that exceeds religious boundaries.

Despite periods of instability, where military leaders sought to use religion for their political advantage, the fortitude of the Bangladeshi population triumphed, as most of them refused to succumb to efforts aimed at creating discord based on religious differences.

Eid, Durga Puja, and Pohela Boishakh have been widely celebrated throughout Bangladesh, with individuals from other religious affiliations participating in the celebrations. The act of cross-cultural involvement has fundamentally changed religious festivals, turning them into festive events that unite communities. The observance of Eid and Durga Puja surpasses religious barriers and brings together people of many beliefs for jubilant celebrations.

The spirit of Eid transcends the boundaries of the Muslim community, as people from other faiths join in the celebrations, exchange sweets and shower love on their Muslim friends. The Durga Puja festival has prodigious significance for individuals of all religious beliefs, who enthusiastically join in the celebrations by visiting pandals, appreciating cultural performances, and enjoying traditional dishes. Eid and Durga Puja act as emblems of cohesion and concord, generating a feeling of solidarity and reciprocal regard among individuals of many religious affiliations throughout Bangladesh.

In addition to these festivals, Pohela Boishakh is particularly notable as a representation of harmony, accepted by individuals of all religions as a nationwide observance of rejuvenation and cultural legacy.

However, amid this celebration, there are dissenting voices that want to weaken the foundation of this plural concord. A group of politicians, motivated by self-serving agendas, endeavour to exacerbate religious tensions, disseminating messages of animosity and discord. Their polarizing language poses a danger to the social unity that is essential to Bangladesh's character as a secular nation.

Modes of disruption

These groups and their supporters frequently try to create divisions among people based on religion, using religious language to advance their political goals. They use religious emotions to construct a dichotomous narrative, inciting one religious group against another to strengthen their political influence. Through the promotion of exclusive doctrines and the vilification of those with differing views, they aim to create divisions within society based on religion, resulting in the cultivation of distrust, hostility, and a lack of acceptance. By delivering provocative statements, implementing discriminatory regulations, and engaging in divisive behaviours, their objective is to use religious identity for political advantage, eroding the foundations of pluralism, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence. These tendencies pose a threat not only to the social fabric of the country but also to the basic ideals of secularism and solidarity that Bangladesh originated.

Initiatives such as promoting an inclusive curriculum and bridging religious divides have made great strides in building a culture of inclusion and mutual respect.

All individuals should abide by the principles of mutual respect and tolerance regardless of their religion. By recognizing a broad celebration of religious festivals, we reaffirm our commitment to a nation trained by no single faith, and inclusive. Bangabandhu’s dream of a prosperous Bangladesh can only be realized through concerted efforts aimed at breaking religious barriers and creating mutual understanding.

It is crucial to acknowledge that the strength of Bangladesh lies in its capacity to stay unified despite its divergences, as the country advances and flourishes. By showing respect and valuing one another's religious customs, we create a path towards a more positive future characterized by tolerance and unity. With this mindset, let us endeavour to build a country where the inclusiveness of religious celebrations acts as a guiding light for future generations.

Dr Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.

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