On 14 November, Banglar Pathshala organised the 4th Memorial Lecture on the occasion of Constitution Day of this year. The Constitution Day is celebrated every year on 4 November.
Dr. Shahdeen Malik, Advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court and the Honorary Director of Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA) was the keynote speaker at the event. “Should we read and understand our Constitution as a proverbial Bible or at least a Quasi-Bible, which is a text of an unusually permanent nature and character or should we take the Constitution as the last line of one of our most celebrated and familiar poem “Shadhinota Tumi” by poet Shamsur Rahman which says “jemon ichche lekhar amar kobitar khata?”- Dr. Malik started his lecture by posing this question to the audience. He mentioned that we have not posited this question to ourselves over the last five decades or so and we have happily gone about amending the Constitution quickly and very often radically and that too without much aforethought or detailed scrutiny in the parliament. He stated that this is how, perhaps without much deliberation, we have adopted a culture of constitutional amenability.
Bangladesh has amended its constitution seventeen times; among them the most notable one is 4th constitutional amendment, which came into force on 25 January 1975 as through this amendment as many as 31 articles of the Constitution were affected. He reminded the attendees at the event of the fact that this amendment has affected not only the system of governance laid down by the constitution in 1972 but also drastically blurred separation of powers among the three organs of the state. With a view to substantiating his point, he made a comparative analysis of amendment culture in other countries, including but not limited to; United States of America (USA), Japan, India etc.
Then Dr. Malik moved on with his analysis of our constitutional amendments in the context of the notion of constitutionalism. He explained that constitutionalism is the narrower version of the broader notion of rule of law. Dr. Malik said that we have amended our constitution not only too often but also in a sweeping manner. These amendments have often impacted both the separation of powers and the fundamental rights thereby undermining constitutionalism. Such propositions inevitably lead to questions as to how and why we have so readily embraced this culture of amenability of the Constitution.
Dr. Malik said he holds two views while locating the contributing factors to this culture of amendability, these are: it happens as a result of our one-dimensional understanding of law as command of the sovereign and the second proposition is that our increasing acceptance of primacy of the state over its citizens.
Dr. Malik concluded stating that none of the constitutional amendments in Bangladesh have endowed us with any new or more expanded rights than those initially contained in part III of the Constitution. Amendments shrank our rights, so much that any constitutional amendment, which changes our fundamental rights; cannot be challenged or is beyond the ambit of judicial review.
Professor Dr. Shahnaz Huda, Department of Law, University of Dhaka and Dr. M. M. Akash. Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka were the designated discussants at the event. The closing remarks were given by Professor Anisuzzaman, National Professor of Bangladesh. The event took place at the SSR Auditorium of Supreme Court Bar Association.
The event was covered by Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed, Research Officer (Law), Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs.