‘To respect Bangabandhu, we must instil his values in our lives’
Bangladesh hosted the World Peace Conference in Dhaka on December 4-5, 2021, inviting renowned peace and rights activists from across the world. The event, the first of its kind here, was organised as part of the celebration of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's birth centenary as well as the Golden Jubilee of the country's independence. The theme of the conference was 'Advancing Peace through Social Inclusion.' Archbishop Bejoy D'Cruze, the head of the Catholic Church in Bangladesh, who attended the event, shares his views on the conference and how to build peace in the country with Porimol Palma of The Daily Star.
How was the peace conference?
It was a fantastic event. A number of peace activists from around the globe gathered and shared their thoughts on the ways of building a peaceful world. They discussed building an inclusive society, freedom of the press, reducing inequality, communal harmony, and so on. I liked an idea put forth by a Japanese participant, who said children should be made the agents of peace. They need to be inspired from their childhood and moulded that way. If that is done, they will exercise the same when they grow up. That is how we can build a peaceful world.
What do you think is the situation in Bangladesh as far as peace is concerned?
Peace is there when there is freedom of speech, religion—when there is no discrimination in society. We can say we have peace here, and that there is no major communal violence, but the freedom of the press is, to some extent, shrinking. This is a fundamental right of the people. Also, in terms of basic needs of the people, we see that there are still so many who are living in poverty, and that there is still discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, wealth, education, and health.
In our country, society should be more inclusive. For this to happen, you need to uplift the marginal people—ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities. They should be provided with all the opportunities necessary to ensure their dignity and basic rights. We also need to have more interfaith dialogues. Of course, only the government alone cannot achieve it. There should be a social movement for this. All the discrimination needs to be eliminated.
Bangabandhu's philosophy on peace and social justice was discussed in the conference. What is your observation on this? How can his values be implemented?
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had a great vision. He always thought big, dreamt big. That is why the constitution that he gave us in 1972 carried the values of democracy, secularism and social justice. He said there was no place for communalism (in Bangladesh). But communalism keeps rearing its head. The government needs to be aware of this recurrence and act accordingly.
Bangladesh is not being run fully in line with Bangabandhu's values. We need to go back to the 1972 constitution. Despite all challenges, we need to put into practice his ideals in our lives and society. If we don't implement his ideals, we would not be paying due respect to him.
It is sad to see that even after 50 years of our independence, there is so much corruption, bribery and mismanagement in all sectors across the country. Bangabandhu did not want this. We have to ensure his values are being practised in our day-to-day lives. Remembering Bangabandhu should not be limited to words, papers and celebrations. We cannot have the Sonar Bangla he dreamt of if we fail to instil his values in our lives.
On behalf of the Catholic Church in Bangladesh, we are celebrating the birth centenary of Bangabandhu as well as the Golden Jubilee of our independence. I think it should not be limited to one year of celebration, but be observed for at least a decade, to not only celebrate him, but also to spread his beliefs in secularism, democracy and freedom that he held so close to his heart.
How do you think we can end communal violence?
First, I think we have to reinstate the 1972 constitution. People will realise that we all have to follow it. For more communal harmony, we need more dialogues—interfaith dialogues. The state of Bangladesh was not created based on religion, but culture, language and traditions. This is our inspiration. All will practise their religions freely on this land, but our main identity is that we are humans, Bengalis, Bangladeshis.
How does the Catholic Church deal with the issue of communal harmony?
We are a very small community here. We have been conducting interfaith dialogues. We are thinking of taking up more activities through our schools, colleges and universities. I have held meetings with the teachers of the Catholic Church-run educational institutions on how to promote more interfaith dialogues. Now I am proposing to promote more values among the students. These values are already present among the students of our institutions. If we do it in a more organised way, they will be the instruments of dialogue and promote social and religious harmonies.
How would this goal be achieved?
Now, we occasionally hold dialogues. But we will do it more frequently, in a structured way, so that students have an idea of different religions, and they can freely mingle with all. We should create space for them to voice their questions. Then, we can share all the good things that are there in all the holy books: peace, harmony, union, and humanity. We should highlight the values of universality that are discussed in all religions. Also, we should engage students from all faith systems to work together—maybe in charitable activities, where teachers can guide them. This way, they will come close and make friendships; they will live life to the fullest.