Bangladesh at 50: Still a democracy? | The Stream

Bangladesh is marking 50 years of independence this week, following the end of its Liberation War against Pakistan in 1971. But freedom celebrations are ringing hollow for some citizens, who worry that the country is giving up on two key principles enshrined in the constitution – democracy and secularism.

Democratic rule was short-lived in Bangladesh. Four years after its inception, the country’s founder and first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated in a coup. Decades of military rule followed, in which secularism was removed from the preamble of Bangladesh’s constitution and Islam was made the official state religion.

Democracy was restored in 1990, but right groups say the country has not had a free and fair election in years. Longtime Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has countered criticism of her rights record by pointing out Bangladesh’s growing economy.

Widespread violence against women and girls continues, activists say, despite the passage of half a dozen laws to protect them.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll look at the state of Bangladesh’s democracy, its struggle to maintain secularism and efforts to boost women’s rights.

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