Bangladesh, International, Technical, Environmental

Arctic Freeze and Global Warming

Even a tropical country like Bangladesh couldn’t escape the wrath of the distorted polar vortex. 

Arctic blast

During winter, more often than not, a large part of northern United States is hit by an Arctic blast, sometimes severe, sometimes less severe, that lasts for a week or two. But this winter’s blast plunged not only the Midwest and the Northeast into a deep freeze with bone chilling temperatures as low as negative 25 degrees Celsius ‒ negative 35 degrees with wind chill, it also tested the mettle of millions of people living in the Deep South ‒ from Texas to Florida to the Carolinas ‒ who seldom experience sub-freezing temperature. In the midst of the cold spell, a rapidly intensifying cyclone, known as bombogenesis or “bomb” cyclone triggered by an extreme drop in atmospheric pressure, dumped 15-25 centimetres of snow in the Northeast while winds were howling at 80-120 kilometres per hour. This was followed by another winter storm that blanketed the Upper Midwest and parts of New England in the Northeast with wind-driven snow, freezing rain and sleet.

Unsurprisingly, the unforgiving Arctic freeze and record-breaking temperatures prompted Donald Trump, the cheerleader of climate deniers, to tweet, “In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

Trump’s favourite news source, the conservative Fox News Channel, probably failed to alert him that while we were shivering in the sub-zero temperatures, residents of Alaska, historically the coldest state during winter, were enjoying a relatively balmy weather, with temperatures most of the times staying above the freezing mark. And for information of those dancing to the tunes of their cheerleader who is “ignorant of his own ignorance” about global warming, extreme hot days in the U.S. over the past 365 days are beating extreme cold days by three to one, notes the climate change tracking platform Climate Signals.

Leading an administration without a science adviser, Trump seems to have no awareness whatsoever that the cold snap covered barely one percent of the Earth’s surface. He was also unaware that while the United States was experiencing record-breaking low temperatures, some regions in Australia were experiencing hottest weather in nearly 80 years with temperatures in Sydney hitting as high as 47.3 degrees Celsius.

In fact, despite a frigid December, last year was one of the hottest years on record, surpassing a number of all-time global heat records. Moreover, it occurred without the warming influence of El Niño that helped boost the global temperature to record levels the previous two years. Furthermore, notwithstanding the blustery Arctic freeze, the average temperature in New York and surrounding areas so far in January is five degrees Celsius ‒ almost twice the average for this time of the year.

Clearly, Trump’s tweet tells us that he doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate. Weather is a local phenomenon, describing what happens in a particular region on a shorter time scale, such as the Arctic blast we recently went through. Climate on the other hand refers to how the atmosphere acts over a long period of time. Simply put, climate can be thought of as the cumulative average of many variables of the atmosphere, oceans and landmasses, such as temperature, rainfall, or snowfall, or extent of snow cover, over many years. Therefore, it takes much longer than one season of bitter cold, not two or three weeks, to have any long-term effect on the climate.

Although it may sound counterintuitive, extreme cold spells in the Northern Hemisphere are caused, at least in part, by climate change, global warming in particular. How? The answer lies in the cold air mass, which under normal circumstances, sits above the poles in an area called the polar vortex. It is a large, low-pressure zone that exists at two levels of the atmosphere, one in the troposphere, where most of the weather phenomena occur, and the other a bit higher up, in the stratosphere, home of the ozone layer that protects us from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. The vortex rotates counter-clockwise at the North Pole and clockwise at the South Pole. The vortices are seasonal atmospheric phenomena not necessarily created by global warming.

However, scientists believe that global warming distorts the vortex in the North Pole, thereby resulting in a sudden plunge in temperature south of the Arctic Circle. That’s because increases in global temperature are not evenly spread around the world. They are greater on land and at higher latitudes. Consequently, on average, Arctic temperatures have increased in recent decades at about twice the global average. The picture for Antarctica is less clear because the Antarctic climate has behaved differently in different regions and seasons.

As a result of warming, more ice of the Arctic Ocean is melting during the summer months. Recently declassified data from the U.S. Navy nuclear submarines operating under the polar ice along with many oceanographic studies suggest that the summertime coverage of Arctic Ocean’s ice has declined some 25 percent since 1979, with more modest but still significant declines in other seasons.

As the ice melts, the Arctic ice sheets reflect less sunlight, causing the Arctic Ocean to absorb more heat, which it then releases into the atmosphere, adding to warming. This process, and other Arctic feedback loops, are known as Arctic Amplification. Eventually, the amplification has a ripple effect extending well into the stratosphere, weakening and distorting the polar vortex, thus allowing the air to escape south. In other words, instead of staying where it belongs in winter, closer to the Arctic Circle, the air moves down south into continental United States, Europe and Asia. Hence, the extreme cold spells.

Even a tropical country like Bangladesh couldn’t escape the wrath of the distorted polar vortex. On 7 January 2018, the country recorded the lowest temperature in five decades as mercury nosedived to a chilling 2.6 degrees Celsius in Tetulia.

While climate pundits are predicting that our planet could warm, on average, roughly two degrees Celsius by the end of the century, we should not interpret that to mean an end to bitter cold waves during winter any sooner. Arctic blasts will still occur, but depending on how much greenhouse gases we dump into the atmosphere, they will become rarer over time.

Nevertheless, the message from the recent Arctic blast is loud and clear. Our romance with fossil fuels have fundamentally changed the global weather systems to the point where we have to do something drastic if we want to live on the only habitable planet in the solar system beyond the twenty-first century.

The writer, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York

 

Astrophysics, International, Technical

Chandrasekhar and Eddington

David-and-Goliath[1]

Around 1020 BC, a shepherd boy named David took on the mighty Goliath and felled him with just a pebble and a sling on a battlefield in ancient Palestine. Since then, the names of David and Goliath signify battles between underdogs and giants. Now fast forward to early 20th century. The David of the scientific world is an Indian child prodigy named Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an outstanding astrophysicist and a towering figure of 20th century science, who published his first scientific paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London when he was just 19 years old.

Born in Lahore on October 19, 1910, Chandrasekhar studied physics at the Presidency College in Madras (now Chennai). He obtained his BSc degree in 1930, the year his paternal uncle CV Raman became the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. Due to his stellar academic achievements, Chandrasekhar was awarded a scholarship to pursue doctoral studies at Trinity College in Cambridge, UK. Accordingly, he set sail for London in July 1930. He earned the doctorate degree in 1933.

During the long voyage to London, 19-year-old Chandrasekhar had enough time to pore over a problem that had bothered him for a long time – what happens to stars in the terminal stage of their life. On board the ship, he completed the calculations showing that the fate of a star depends on a critical mass, which is 1.4 times the solar mass.

Now known as the ‘Chandrasekhar Limit’, it is the limiting mass of white dwarfs – the end-stage of Earth-sized stars, but about 200,000 times as dense. If a star’s mass falls below the limit, it would end up in the stellar graveyard as a white dwarf. Otherwise, it would blow itself apart in a spectacular but violent supernova explosion and then collapse into a smaller – about 20 km in diameter – remnant called a neutron star, or possibly into a single massive point with no dimensions and infinite density. Indeed, this was the first prediction of what we now call a black hole – an entity from which nothing can escape, not even light.

Unfortunately, Chandrasekhar’s view was obstinately opposed by Arthur Eddington, the Goliath of astrophysics of the era, who knew about the possibility of black holes but refused to believe they could exist. And, thus, began the fight between David and Goliath of the scientific world. Eddington found Chandrasekhar’s conclusion about the fate of the stars unacceptable and launched an attack on his work, both publicly and privately.

On January 11, 1935, after Chandrasekhar presented the results of his research at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, Eddington ridiculed the Chandrasekhar Limit as a “reductio ad absurdum”, meaning a logically absurd conclusion. He steadfastly refused to consider the idea that stars might collapse to nothing. He trashed Chandrasekhar’s theory as mere mathematical gimmick with no basis in reality.

Eddington’s arrogance and criticism devastated Chandrasekhar. He was shocked that instead of giving him credit for solving a challenging problem, Eddington was bent on destroying his work. But Chandrasekhar held his ground. In his fight to counter Eddington, he was assured by Niels Bohr, the 1922 Physics Nobel Laureate, that Eddington was patently wrong and should be ignored.

Nevertheless, the 1935 incident led Chandrasekhar to believe that an influential figure like Eddington could derail his career if he stays in Europe. He, therefore, moved to Chicago in 1937, where the University of Chicago provided him with an intellectual home – first at the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin and then at the physics department in the city campus, where he stayed until his death on August 21, 1995.

Two years after he moved to Chicago, Chandrasekhar and Eddington had their final squaring off in Paris. Undeterred in his conviction that there must be a law of nature “to prevent a star from behaving in this absurd way,” Eddington claimed that there was no experimental test that could lend support to Chandrasekhar’s theory. Nonetheless, he apologised to Chandrasekhar for questioning his calculation. “I am sorry if I hurt you,” Eddington said. When Chandrasekhar asked Eddington whether he had changed his mind, he retorted, “No.” Chandrasekhar then replied, “What are you sorry about then?” and walked away.

Although late in life Chandrasekhar and Eddington exchanged some cordial letters, they never discussed the issues concerning the fate of the stars. He eventually made peace with Eddington, who promoted his election to the Royal Society in 1944. Eddington died on November 22, 1944.

The eulogy Chandrasekhar gave for Eddington at the University of Chicago says it all about his graciousness and magnanimity. “I believe that anyone who has known Eddington will agree that he was a man of the highest integrity and character. I do not believe for example, that he ever thought harshly of anyone,” he said.

Thirty-one years after the infamous encounter with Eddington, physicists finally acknowledged the relevance and importance of the Chandrasekhar Limit. Moreover, in 1971, the first black hole was discovered. And as a tribute to Chandrasekhar’s contribution to astrophysics, NASA named one of its space-based observatories after him – the Chandra X-ray Observatory, specially designed to detect stars spiralling into black holes. Since its launch on July 23, 1999, this flagship observatory of NASA has not only discovered numerous black holes, quasars and supernovas, but also allowed us to look at a side of the cosmos that is invisible to the human eye.

Chandrasekhar’s ultimate vindication was the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to him in 1983 for his ground-breaking work on the structure and evolution of stars. In 1984, he received the Royal Society’s highest award, the Copley Medal.

The writer, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Cultural, International, Technical

Einstein’s incredible burst of creativity in 1905

einstein3Three ages of Einstein

Albert Einstein, the iconic physicist of the twentieth century, was born at a time when prevailing physical science was deemed inadequate and incapable of explaining emerging scientific evidence and, worst of all, there was nothing in the horizon to replace it. The scientific establishment of the day was complacent with this impasse. When Max Planck, the future pioneer of quantum concept, approached his professor in Munich in 1879 at the age of 21 and expressed his desire to pursue a career in physics, he was told by the patronising professor that ‘it is hardly worth entering physics anymore’ because there was nothing important left to discover!

Albert Einstein, an Ashkenazi Jew (secular in religious outlook), was born on Friday, 14 March 1879 in the historic city of Ulm, Kingdom of Wurttemberg, in the then German Empire. His father, being an engineer and a salesman, gave little Einstein every encouragement and adequate technical backing to pursue a technical career. He was very inquisitive and tenacious. Nothing he would consider as unattainable. As a child he wondered if he could ride on a beam of light! He said about himself years later, ‘God gave me the stubbornness of a mule’.

As a child he was not a prodigy by any means. As a strong headed boy, he intensely disliked strict disciplinarian life, either at school or at home. But he would pursue his curiosity, his objective with passion and energy. Years later, he said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning”.

At the age of nine, when he was sent by his parents to Luitpold Gymnasium (a strict discipline focussed school) in Munich, he was not happy at all. He intensely disliked ‘rote learning’ method at the school with no opportunity for creative thinking. However, he pursued his studies there until the age 16 (1895) to keep parents happy. But then to avoid compulsory military service in Germany, he left the school, went to his parents in Italy at the end of 1895. After spending few months with his parents in Italy, he was persuaded by his parents to continue with his secondary education in science at a Cantonal school in Zurich, Switzerland. He renounced his German citizenship in 1896, so that he would never be called for military service in Germany. He completed his studies and then graduated with a teaching diploma in physics and mathematics in 1900. All these years, from 1895 to 1900, he was stateless. He acquired Swiss citizenship in 1901 after completing five years of residence there.

Aspiring to take up a career in physics, particularly at a university, at that time was not easy. He scaled down his ambition and for nearly two years, he even tried to get a school teaching post, but without success. Eventually on the recommendation of the father of his close friend, he managed to get a humble position at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, capital of Switzerland, in 1902 as a ‘Technical Expert – Third Class’. Although the position was lowly, but the salary was quite handsome. This job, according to him, brought an end to ‘the annoying business of starving’.

He moved to Bern in 1902 and lived there until 1907. Initially, as a bachelor, he rented a room beyond the river Aare, which meanders across the capital city of Bern. After he got married in 1903, he rented a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of 49 Kramgasse at the picturesque Old Town part of Bern. The cobbled street of Kramgasse, with the famous clock tower on one side and the river Aare, some three hundred meters away (about two hundred meters from 49 Kramgasse) on the other, was one of the most beautiful streets in Bern. At the end of Kramgasse, a historic bridge led to the other side of the river. From the street level, a series of steps, some 200 of them, led to the river banks. Einstein used to sit and contemplate by the river in summer evenings as the rippling sound of crystal clear water cascaded down the shallow river.

Einstein used to leave his apartment just before eight o’clock in the morning for a 10-minute walk to the imposing Patent Office building. He said later in his life that his work as a Patent Clerk was only for 48 hour a week, and he had one additional day to spare! At work he had to look at the design details of electrical devices submitted by budding inventors. This required him to scrutinise details and identify any possible flaws. These traits and critical thinking honed his talent for future research in physics.

What inspired Einstein to write his first ground breaking paper in 1905 advancing the proposal on the quantum theory of light was Max Planck’s paper detailing the solution of the blackbody problem with an outline of hitherto unheard of quantum concept of emission and absorption of light a few years back. Einstein read the paper and was completely overwhelmed by this radical concept of Max Planck. Einstein carried forward that quantum idea and produced a paper on photoelectric effects of light with the title “On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light” for the journal ‘Annalen der Physik’, world’s leading physics journal in Germany, and posted it on 17 March 1905. Max Planck happened to be the adviser on theoretical physics to that journal at that time. Despite Planck’s reservation with Einstein’s mind-boggling concept of particulate nature of light, sweeping away the age-old concept of wave nature of light, he allowed the paper to be published simply because of its radical nature.

Einstein produced altogether four papers between this date of 17 of March and 30 of July,1905. The second one was from his Ph.D. dissertation where he set out a way of determining the sizes of atoms. The third one was the explanation of Brownian motion of atoms and molecules. The fourth one was, as Einstein himself admitted, a rough draft on “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” giving details of the concepts of space and time. Max Planck read all of these papers, but when he read the last paper, he was simply blown away. Although Einstein did not call it ‘the theory of relativity’, Max Planck called it so and the title stuck with it ever since.

einstein_2 (2)

Before the year was over, Einstein produced another paper, which contained a small equation, E = mc2 (actually the equation was E= mc2/(√(1-q2/c2) where q was the speed of the body and c was the speed of light. If q was much smaller than c, then the term inside the square root became very close to 1 and hence E = mc2). This equation came to be known as the mass-energy equivalence with which Einstein became synonymous. Also, during the same year, he reviewed as many as 21 technical books for this Annalen der Physik journal!

No other scientist, except Isaac Newton, had ever produced as many groundbreaking monumental papers in such quick succession as Einstein did in 1905. He was only 26 at that time. Isaac Newton, an Englishman, at the age of 23 produced the gravitational law and advanced the theory of light, all in 1666! Oh, he also laid the foundation for calculus in the same year! It is amazing to note that these two prodigal physicists dealt with the same physical problems – theory of gravity and theory of light – with incredible ingenuity.

Einstein received Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work on photoelectric effects of light. His work on special theory of relativity (followed by general theory of relativity in 1916) could also have warranted another Nobel Prize, but the concept was so profound and radical that even the Nobel Committee found it challenging without any supporting evidence! His mass-energy equivalence could have been another candidate for Nobel Prize. He laid foundations of two major planks of modern physics – quantum mechanics and theory of relativity, all in a single year of 1905!

 

  • A. Rahman is an author and a columnist

 

 

Bangladesh, Cultural, Economic, International, Political, Religious

A better way to Hindu-Muslim amity

A way to removing prevailing, perennial Hindu-Muslim tension in India and creating a lasting amity would be if Indian Muslims start respecting their Hindu heritage like the Muslims in Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority country in the world, have done. At the same time, if Hindus in India accept and embrace Muslims as part of them, part of the Indian society.

In the past 1000 years or so, no effort was made by Indian Muslims to feel proud of their Hindu culture and heritage. On the contrary, Indian Muslims were determined to reject anything Hindu as ‘haraam’. This prompted V S Naipaul to say:

“A (Muslim) convert’s worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance to societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved; the turning away has to be done again and again”.

In the independent India, situation has further been aggravated by Nehruvian Hindu secularists, Communist secularists and many regional so-called (Islam leaning) Hindu secular parties. They consciously encouraged strengthening of separate Muslim identity of Indian Muslims. These secularists projected themselves as the messiah of Indian Muslims only for vote-based politics.

In last 70 years, Indian Muslims also felt comfortable in their role of ‘immature Muslim children’ under the custody of those ‘secular Indians’. Indian Muslims could never chart out their own path and many of them even could not escape from the home-grown Islamism and that penetrated India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Islamic countries.

If by accepting and respecting Hindu heritage openly, Indonesian Muslims can remain Muslims, what problems do Indian Muslims have in doing so for the interest of peace, harmony and their socio-economic advancement? They should come out of the insular box of  Islamism and embrace multiculturalism. If, at the same time, the Hindus can respect Islam as a separate theological entity in a multicultural society, what harm will that do to the Indians? India is large enough to accommodate multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual and multi-religious societies. Indeed, India prides itself to be exactly that. So, why Muslims cannot live amicably side by side in the vast multiplicity of societies in India, when there is mutual respect for one another?

 

The author, Bhaskar, is a freelance writer.

 

Bangladesh, Cultural, Economic, Life as it is, Political, Religious

Can Bangladesh remain secular?

For generations Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other religious followers as well as, dare I say, agnostics and atheists had been living together in India in relative harmony and without major conflicts, until the creation of Pakistan in 1947 (and thence Bangladesh in 1971). The very essence of Pakistan, within the realm of Two Nation Theory (TNT), sowed the seed of communal disharmony which was nurtured and encouraged, since then, by vested interests. These antagonistic feelings later grew into full-blown animosity between Hindus and Muslims. Once communalism took roots, various other sectarian and partisan feelings and dissensions manifested themselves in various forms – Punjabis were pitted against Bengalis and vice versa, Bengalis against non-Bengalis, Sunnis opposed Shias, mullahs against rationalists etc. Fragmentation of the newly created State, which came into being on the back of communalism, became almost an inevitability.

Bangladesh came into being primarily on the basis of language movement, which started back in February 1952, when the Dhaka university students and students from associated colleges demonstrating to demand Bengali to be a national language were fired upon by the police on 21st February. (That day, Ekushe February, eventually became the International Mothers’ Day when the United Nations recognised it as such). However, Bengali language was perceived by Islamic mindset of Pakistan as very much complicit with Hindu culture and heritage and hence must be dispensed with in Pakistan; whereas for the then Bengali speaking East Pakistanis, Bengali was their identity, the very essence of their existence, culture and tradition. These two disparate and conflicting views could not be reconciled and that eventually led to the breakdown of Pakistan and the creation of an independent Bangladesh for Bengali speaking people.

Within the Bengali speaking people, there are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and many other religious followers. But they are all united within the bond of a common language, Bengali. This required a State structure where Bengali would be the State language and all religions would be treated equally. Thus, logically secularism was needed to create and sustain a multi-cultural, multi-religious society fit for all citizens of the country. The first Constitution of Bangladesh, enacted in 1972, had four fundamental principles and these are nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism. It must be stressed that the adoption of secularism in Bangladesh Constitution was a pragmatic solution, not a high minded altruistic undertaking.

Secularity in simple terms is a state of affairs where all religions are to be treated equally by the State. No single religion will have prevalence over other religions. There will be no State religion, as the State needs to be neutral to and equidistant from all religions and belief systems. At the same time, the religions and belief systems will not interfere in the affairs of the State. It is, however, easier to state this strict separation of the State from religious institutions and ensure equality of different religions and beliefs before the law, but far more difficult to implement in the practical world. Bangladesh had been struggling with this dichotomy ever since its liberation.

The principle of secularism is clearly stated in article 12 of the Bangladesh Constitution, which requires elimination of communalism in all its forms and elimination of abuse of religion for political purposes. Freedom of religion or belief is established also in article 39 (Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech) and article 41 (Freedom of religion) of the Constitution, where every individual has equal religious rights, regardless of creed, culture, race or religion. This freedom is also enshrined in International Human Rights Conventions to which Bangladesh had subscribed.

Disregarding these Constitutional rights and international undertakings by the State, Islamic religious fundamentalists, led by Jamaat-e-Islam, started propagating vigorously egregious concepts that secularism is anti-Islamic and synonymous to atheism! The simple-minded illiterate majority of Bangladeshi population fell victim to such propaganda, particularly when the governments of Ziaur Rahman and Ershad (from 1975 till about 2007) turned blind eyes to such activities due to their political benefits.

General Ziaur Rahman amended article 38 (Freedom of association), which previously prohibited religion-based politics and banned religious parties such as Jamaat-e-Islam and other parties and allowed religion and politics to intermix. He removed the word ‘secularism’ from the constitution and incorporated ‘to place full faith in Almighty Allah’. He also inserted a new clause, Article 25(2) under the heading ‘Islamic Solidarity’ which allowed fraternity with Muslim countries. All these amendments opened the floodgate for religious parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamaat ul Mujahidean of Bangladesh (JMB) and so forth to get into the mainstream national politics. Those people who opposed the national liberation and participated actively with Pakistanis in the massacre of Bangladeshis only a few years back then became mainstream politicians. He then utilised these newly emergent religious-political parties to consolidate and expand his political base and founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in 1978. This is the beginning of political Islam, which abrogated secularism of the original constitution.

After the brutal assassination of General Zia in 1981 by his political opponents, there was a short lull in the Islamisation process. But when General Ershad took over the realm of the country in a bloodless coup d’état in 1983, he carried forward Islamisation process with renewed enthusiasm. He made ‘Islam as the state religion’ by the eighth amendment of the Constitution in June 1988 and thereby abrogating ‘secularism’ completely from the Constitution.

‘Islamic Solidarity’ provision allowed Muslim countries, particularly rich Muslim countries from the Middle East, to legally establish religious base within the country. Money started flooding in from the Muslim countries for mosques, madrassas, Islamic Foundations, Islamic hospitals (Ibn-Sina hospitals), Islamic banks (Ibn-Sina banks) and so forth. At the moment there are more than 275,000 mosques and 19,000 madrassas in the country and they are increasing all the time. Profits from religious-commercial activities are ploughed back into politico-religious purposes and even for violent subversive activities. Part of the profit also went to setting up new madrassas – alia madrassa and quomi madrassa – within the whole country.

Islamisation of the State is an avowed goal of the Jamaat-e-Islam party. Evicting and purging of non-Muslims from the country is part of that strategy. This eviction is also actively supported by politicians of all parties, village leaders as well as mullahs, as they stand to benefit from illegal possession of Hindu properties. At the time of independence of Pakistan, more than 35% of the East Pakistani population were Hindus. Then at the time of liberation of Bangladesh, there were only 23% Hindus. After Bangladesh was liberated and adopted the secular Constitution, the Hindus and other religious minorities were subjected to even more religious persecution. At the moment, the religious demography stands like this: Muslims 90%, Hindus 8%, Buddhists 0.7%, Christians 0.3% and others (Baháis, agnostics, atheists etc) 1%.

All these activities pushed the country to an outright Islamic State. At the moment the Constitution starts off with a Quranic phrase, “Bismillah-AR Rahman-AR Rahim” (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful)”, but in the main body of the Constitution secularism is proclaimed. Although secularism was re-introduced by Hasina during her last term of office, the discrepancy and inconsistency in the Constitution remain. On the one hand, the country’s Constitution states that “Islam is the State religion”, on the other hand, secularism is stated to be a fundamental principle! How strange!

It must be realised that secularism cannot be achieved by just proclaiming it broadly in the Constitution and hoping that everything will then be steamrolled by it. It requires recalibrating the mindset of the people, where they will respect and tolerate each other’s religions. People must realise that religion is a theological undertaking, not a political edifice. The government, on its part, must encourage and help inculcate that mindset among the people, develop an education system where all religions get equal treatment, ensure the freedom of thought and conscience apply equally to all believers and non-believers and establish a secular democracy where all citizens are equal before the law and parliament.

 

– A. Rahman is an author and a columnist.