We must uphold the constitution
A constitution is a beautiful thing to have, and it is more beautiful when the laws and principles codified into it are followed. This needed to be put in a single sentence because just as important it is for modern nation-states to have a basic agreement in place – written or not – about the rights and aspirations of citizens, it is also important that the agreement is followed to the letter. Unfortunately, though, through the five decades of its existence, our constitution has been, as the saying goes, "more honoured in the breach than the observance".
This should be kept in mind as we officially observe the Constitution Day of Bangladesh for the first time this year. On this day in 1972, the constitution was ratified by the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh, to be effective on December 16 later that year. Through declaring this day, the government has recognised an important milestone in our nation's history. It must be acknowledged that in the last 50 years, we have achieved remarkable success. Our achievements in various socioeconomic indicators have been nothing short of extraordinary. Today, Bangladesh is no longer just a dot on the map; it's a force to be reckoned with.
But our journey so far has also been a sad commentary on the frequent attempts made by successive governments to deviate from the foundational principles set out in the constitution, particularly democracy, socialism, and secularism. The constitution recognises every citizen as equal, to be treated without discrimination and have equal access to all benefits and services. It recognises their basic rights – including freedoms of thought, conscience, expression and assembly – subject to reasonable restrictions, however, which too must be clearly spelled out in relevant laws. It puts people at the centre of the republic. And anything that goes against their shared interests will be unconstitutional. Today's reality, however, is a far cry from this beautiful, pro-people spirit of the constitution.
Everywhere we look, this spirit is being violated recklessly, often by the state or because of it. We have developed institutions and infrastructure that ostensibly serve the people but, in reality, those seem to be more for the benefit of the rich, powerful and politically connected. Clearly, the much-vaunted economic progress of past decades hasn't reached ordinary citizens, who are struggling with the sky-high cost of everything, from every essential item in the market to the utilities to transport fares to healthcare to education. The law-and-order situation has deteriorated alarmingly. The bureaucracy seems totally unconnected with the reality of citizens, while the judiciary is failing to deliver justice. The interests of the ruling establishment and their beneficiaries seem to be superseding every other consideration.
This is the opposite of the world envisioned for citizens in our constitution, and the mere observance of a Constitution Day will not mitigate their sufferings. We urge the authorities and the political class to uphold the spirit, not just the letter, of the constitution so that we can reach our full potential as a nation.