Despite threats from Islamic fundamentalists, Bangladesh celebrates Bengali New Year

Despite threats from Islamic fundamentalists, Bangladesh celebrates Bengali New Year

Dhaka, April14 (  Pahela Baishakh, the first day of Bangali calendar, was celebrated across Bangladesh on Friday with traditional festivities and enthusiasm, even as a section of Islamic fundamentalists threatened to disrupt it.

“Bangladesh will march forward and people will live with joy,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at the New Year celebrations with her colleagues in the Awami League according to a report in BDNews24.

At Hasinas’s residence, the celebration of Pahela Baishakh, the first day of Bangla year 1424, started with the rendition of Tagore’s song, Esho He Baishakh Esho Esho. 

The ruling Awami League had earlier cancelled its own procession to mark the Pahela Baishakh this year citing public sufferings as the reason. And miscreants suspected to be Islamic fundamentalists vandalized wall paintings featuring Pahela Baisakh done by Fine Arts students of Chittagong University.

Different socio-cultural organizations and educational institutions organized various programs to mark the country’s biggest cultural festival but under tight security measures.

Men, wearing Panjabi-Pyjama (Kurta-Pyjama), women wearing sarees with red borders and children with colorful dresses thronged the traditional “Mongol Shovajatra” to mark the day with festivities.

But a pall of gloom was palpable.

In an article in The Daily Star Dhaka University lecturer C.R. Abrar says: “ No, it is not the threat of any impending terrorist plot to disrupt the celebration; it’s the news that the government has relented to the demand of religious groups to acknowledge the highest academic degree of unregulated Qawmi Madrassa as equivalent to a Masters degree offered by universities. People were shocked to learn that removal of a recently unveiled sculpture of a Greek Goddess, a universally accepted symbol of justice, from the Supreme Court premises, was also under active consideration.”

“For a nation that takes immense pride in its secular identity, this development comes as a rude awakening. People, other than those in the religious right, feel betrayed that the much celebrated ‘spirit of war of liberation’ has been blatantly compromised. At a time when a single stream in education has been universally acknowledged to be the pathway to progress, development and modernity, the decision to recognise Dawra as equivalent to the Master’s degree is baffling and disturbing.”

Nobo Borsho procession

“So far, despite repeated prodding and initiatives of the government, the Qawmi Madrassa authorities have steadfastly refused to register those institutions and bring them under any regulatory framework. In October 2013, as the final touches on a draft law for outlining the curriculum, evaluation system, setting up of six tiers and forming of the Bangladesh Qawmi Madrassa Education Authority was underway, the government was threatened with a “civil war” if it tried to “control” Qawmi Madrassa. Instead of confronting the challenge of such groups, the government retreated and the ministry refrained from placing the draft before the Cabinet. Later, the government appointed a commission headed by Hefajat-e-Islam chief Shah Ahmed Shafi to come up with ways to recognize the certificates. It is in line with the proposal of the Shafi Commission that the Awami League government has announced to give recognition to the certificates.”

“While the state’s effort to introduce liberal and science courses in other stream of madrassa education has made some headway, the vested group has retained an ironfisted control over the course curricula of Qawmi madrassa and has resolutely opposed what they view as interference in their affairs.”

“It is understood that Qawmi Madrassa do not have courses on science, social science, mathematics and literature and only a handful of these institutions have courses in Bangla and English, and that too up to grade eight level.”

“It’s worthwhile to mention that the Qawmi Madrasa leadership has remained steadfast in its position that those institutions are only meant for Islamic education and thus finds incorporation of other subjects as unnecessary and unacceptable”.

“The helplessness of the authorities in reining in this situation is palpable. News reports inform that at a meeting on March 28, the ministry decided to ‘gradually start recognizing Qawmi madrassa certificates from the elementary level.’ But it was the pressure exerted by the Chittagong based Hefajat-e-Islam that led the government to recognise Dawra certificate first to help students get the job.”

“Interestingly, according to the proposal, a committee of representatives of six madrassa boards will issue the certificate. The Qawmi leaders not only turned down the government proposal to authorize the Islamic University or the Islamic Arabic University to issue the certificates, they also rejected the government move to include one of its (government) representatives in the degree issuing committee.”

The Mongol Shubujatra procession taken out under tight security

“The government appears to have given in to the pressure. The education minister has confirmed that his ministry will soon issue a circular to give effect to the Prime Ministerial announcement and also “a law would be made, if required”.

“It is noteworthy that the Sheikh Hasina government has finally completed the task that was left unfinished by the government of Khaleda Zia. Three months before leaving office on August 21, 2006, Begum Zia announced her government would recognise Dawra certificates. Due to time constraints, the decision could not be implemented during her tenure.”

“The Qawmi Madrasa certificate saga confirms that despite all the hullaballoo of differences, there is a remarkable degree of consistency among Bangladeshi political elite to compromise the spirit of the Liberation War.”

“It’s time the true upholders of the spirit of liberation expose this pretense. Naboborsho provides the perfect opportunity for doing so”.

(The Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina witnesses a thrilling dance performance on the occasion of the Bengal New Year, Pahela Baisakh: Photo: