By UCA News
By Stephan Uttom
Christians across Bangladesh joined countrymen to mark the 101st birth anniversary on March 17 of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.
Catholic and Protestant churches held special prayers and Masses and education institutes organized special programs to pay tribute to the great leader who led Bangladesh to independence from Pakistan in 1971.
In Bangladesh and beyond, he is known as Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) for his great love for people and people-centric politics.
Church officials said Catholic parishes started the day with a special Mass joined by hundreds of Catholics, followed by the cutting of birthday cakes.
In capital Dhaka, Bangladesh Christian Association, the country’s largest Christian forum, organized a special program including Mass, cake cutting and a seminar at Holy Rosary Church in Tejgaon.
Christian schools and colleges marked the day with a cultural program and seminar on the life and works of the great leader, popularly known as Mujib, as well as essays, stories and an art competition.
The Catholic Church was paying due tribute to the father of the nation, said Bishop James Romen Boiragi of Khulna, president of the Catholic bishops’ social communication commission.
“We discussed Mujib’s spirituality and how he sacrificed his life for people of the nation. He always worked for the welfare of the people. At the end of the day, he sacrificed his life for the people. As a Bengali, I am proud that Mujib was born in Bangladesh,” Bishop Boiragi told UCA News.
The prelate noted that due to a lack of effective democratic practices and freedom of expression, a sense of fear persists in the country, which is against Mujib’s lifelong motto of people-centric politics and governance.
“We have to struggle more to attain what the great leader dreamed for the nation,” Bishop Boiragi added.
Benedict Gomes, a teacher from church-run St. Joseph’s High School in Rajshahi Diocese, said a program to mark the day focused on Mujib’s life and works.
“The whole life of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is exemplary. His work for the people of Bangladesh was selfless. The young generation need to learn more about him and follow his example for a better nation,” Gomes told UCA News.
Christians in Bangladesh took part in various initiatives for Mujib Borsho (Year of Mujib) from the centenary of his birth last year.
The Church started a nationwide tree plantation campaign to mark Mujib Borsho, the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence and the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’.
Churches held a range of activities including prayers, seminars and cultural functions and produced publications about Mujib’s life.
The ruling government is holding a 10-day nationwide program from March 17 that will end on March 26, the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.
Born on March 17, 1920, Mujib studied at a Christian missionary school in Gopalganj district of Dhaka.
Politically active in his university days, he joined the Awami League in 1949. His “close to people” politics and charismatic leadership shot him up the ranks of the party. In 1970, he led the Awami League to a landslide victory in Pakistan’s first general election after the 1947 British partition of India.
Pakistan’s ruling elite, allied with the powerful military, refused to hand over power to the Awami League, sparking massive public unrest.
Mujib was arrested and a military crackdown launched to quell protests. Bengali fighters led by the Awami League defeated the army after a nine-month bloody war in 1971 with the support of India.
Freed from prison and back in Bangladesh, Mujib formed a government and became the first president of the country in 1972.
A group of disgruntled soldiers killed Mujib with most of his family in the early hours of Aug. 15, 1975. Mujib’s daughters — current PM Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana — survived because they were in Germany.
The murders sparked massive political upheaval and a series of coups and counter-coups followed. Two military regimes from 1975-90 erased secularism from the constitution, established Islam as the state religion and introduced religion-based politics.
The ruling Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina has been in power since 2008 and made efforts to restore Bangladesh’s original secular constitution of 1972. However, the government has been accused of being authoritarian and of muzzling free speech.