In May 2013 Hefazat had laid siege in Dhaka and challenged the Sheikh Hasina led government. At that time Bangladesh PM ignored the 13-point demand of the Hefazat, that included framing of anti-blasphemy laws, curbs on women’s rights, and similar other obscurantist proposals. Over the years, an outlawed JeI, trying to resurrect itself has infiltrated into Hefazat. JeI was the principal collaborator of Pak Army during the 1971 genocide and their links with ISI remain strong to this date. BNP, politically marginalised, has also extended its support to the anti-Awami League & anti-India agenda.
The secular foundations of Bangladesh were first jolted by Bangladesh’s first military ruler, General Ziaur Rahman, in the mid-1970s when he scrapped the principles of socialism and secularism from the constitution. His successor and Bangladesh’s second military ruler, General Hussein Muhammad Ershad, decreed Islam as Bangladesh’s state religion. While concept secularism returned to the constitution of Bangladesh a decade back, Hefazat and other radicals have gained ground with backing from abroad in defiance of Bangladesh’s founding principles.
Writing for the leading think-tank Observer Research Foundation in 2019, leading Bangladesh journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan in an article titled Bangladesh: Hefazat and the rise of bigotry remarked, “The day Bangladesh was liberated by the joint command of the Indian Army and the Bengali Mukti Bahini in 1971, the Bangladesh government-in-exile decreed a ban on communal politics in the new country. The reason behind the decision was self-evident: political parties based on religion had throughout the course of the war actively collaborated with the Pakistan occupation army, action which only accentuated the genocide perpetrated by the soldiers in what was till then regarded as the eastern province of Pakistan. The government-in-exile, generally referred to by Bengalis as the Mujibnagar government after the war-time capital of their occupied country, clamped a ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Nizam-e-Islam, the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Democratic Party. For the next three and a half years, until the assassinations of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and four prominent independence leaders between August and November 1975, Bangladesh pursued a secular form of politics. The principle of secular democracy was an important underpinning of the country’s constitution formulated within a year of Bangladesh’s emergence.”
Akin to demands of radical outfits in Pakistan Hefazat is also opposed to Ahmadiyyas. The demand for banishing Ahmadiyyas from Islam carries ugly echoes of the past, originating primarily in Pakistan. In 1953, the Jamaat-e-Islami led by Abul A’ala Maududi, determined to declare Ahmadiyyas outcasts from Islam, initiated riots in Lahore which led to the deaths of hundreds of Ahmadiyyas. Current Hefajat-e-Islam Amir Junayed Babunagari, who ousted his predecessor Mawlana Ahmed Shafi last year, allegedly maintains close links with Jamaat and ISI and had played a critical role in 2013 Dhaka siege.
Babunagari was born in 1953 in Babunagar village of Fatikchhari Upazila, Chittagong. At the age of 20, he was admitted to Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia of Pakistan. Junaid Babunagari studied there for four years including at Darul ‘Uloom Karachi.
According to senior Dhaka-based journalist Farazi Azmal Hossain, the government must step in immediately to rein in pro-Pak anti-liberation forces. These forces which has been bolstered under the Army rule in the past have same character while their outfits keep on altering, alleged Hossain.