AT THE CENTER
RELATED RESOURCES: SECULARISM
Bangladesh: Contemporary Affairs
Contemporary Bangladesh struggles to balance a strong Islamic identity with a rich tradition of political secularism. In March 2008, the transitional government announced plans to dramatically change laws concerning the role of women in society, including the allotment of a third of parliamentary seats to women and the modification of inheritance laws to achieve a more equitable distribution of assets. This announcement triggered violent street protests from conservative Islamic organizations, and the policies were ultimately rescinded. In October 2010, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the secular Awami League, the presiding party since 2008, moved to restore the word “secularism” to the Bangladeshi constitution in accordance with a Supreme Court decision that mandated the change. Prime Minster Hasina assured members of the conservative opposition that the decision would in no way ban religious political parties or banish religion from public life. Hasina’s government has, however, moved to ban publications circulated by Bangladesh’s conservative Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and it has as stripped some religious courts of the authority to apply Islamic law during court proceedings. Also in 2010, Sheikh Hasina convened a war crimes tribunal to prosecute members of Jamaat-e-Islami who allegedly committed crimes against humanity during the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. In February 2013, a high level Jamaat leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, was convicted by the tribunal and sentenced to life in prison. After his conviction, protesters took to the streets, prompting a period of violent unrest that the government struggled to control. A tragic event occurred in April 2013, when a factory building near the city Dhaka collapsed due to structural inadequacies, killing at least 800 workers.