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Secularism is back in Bangladesh, rules High Court

Last updated: 05 October, 2010
Dhaka, Oct 5 (PTI) 15:39 IST

Ruling that Bangladesh is now a secular state, the country's High Court has said that the constitution of 1972 has automatically been restored by a landmark judgement of the apex court that nullified a controversial amendment earlier this year.

"Bangladesh is now a secular state as the Appellate Division (of the Supreme Court) verdict scrapped the Fifth Amendment to the constitution... in this secular state, everybody has religious freedom, and therefore no man, woman or child can be forced to wear religious attires like burqa, cap and dhoti," a high court bench said late yesterday.
The court comprising judges A H M Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Sheikh Mohammad Zakir Hossain, however, made it clear that no citizen can be prohibited from wearing religious attires either, if he or she wished to don them.

The judgement came in response to a petition two months after the same bench issued an order asking the government to explain why compelling women to wear religious attires should not be declared illegal.

A newspaper report in August this year about a women's college in northwestern Natore issuing a directive prohibiting students from entering the campus without burqas, had prompted the High Court to take suo moto notice.

The court said it had found the principal of Rani Bhabani College in Natore Mozzammel Haque guilty of forcing girl students to wear the veil and barring them from sports and cultural activities.

"The government can sack the principal if it wants," the court said.The apex court Division on February 2 this year had declared illegal the Fifth Amendment to the constitution in 1979, that had allowed religion-based politics and legitimised the post-1975 regimes after a coup toppled the country's post-independence government.

The Fifth Amendment, made during former president Ziaur Rahman's regime, besides allowing religion-based political parties had added the Arabic words 'Bismillah-ir- Rahman-Ir-Rahim' or 'in the name of God, the most merciful, benevolent' in the preamble.
The original constitution of 1972 embodied four fundamental principles of nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism while the Fifth Amendment removed "secularism" as a state principle.

Law Minister Shafique Ahmed earlier said the original spirit of the constitution including secularism was restored automatically with the Supreme Court judgement. PTI AR

Ahmed, however, said the words Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim in the preamble would remain intact as the verdict did not say anything about the words and those were part of the constitution's preamble, not of the "main body".

Prime Minister Sheikh Haskina's centre-left government in August this year issued a strict directive asking authorities at schools and other seminaries not to force girl students to wear veils or bar them from taking part in sports and cultural activities.

It said the violation of the directives would be treated as "ill-conduct" on the part of the seminary authorities and they would be exposed to legal actions.Despite Bangladesh being a Muslim-majority country, a small number of women wear burqas though many wear head scarves.

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