In the following interview, Jayonta Adhikari, a Bangladeshi member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee, speaks about socio-political realities for Christians in his country, aspirations for protection of human rights, as well as what the WCC's call for a “pilgrimage of justice of peace” means for the region’s churches.
Adhikari, a Baptist by faith and director of the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB), shared these views in an interview conducted in Dhaka on 5 June.
What are the socio-political realities in which Bangladeshi churches live today?
Christians in Bangladesh are a small religious minority among the Muslim majority. Yet, starting from the independence of the country in 1971, they have been engaged in numerous fields. Many Christians have sacrificed their lives in the freedom struggles. Since then, footprints of the churches can be traced in the work for nation-building, education, humanitarian initiatives for climate disasters and development. These are the contributions that should be recognized and evaluated by the state, as well as by ourselves.
The Bangladeshi Christians, along with other religious minorities, are always affected by the regional and global geo-political situation. The conflicts in neighbouring countries that involve religion often create a spill-over in our country. Many a time, occurrences in the West create a backlash on Christians here who are mistakenly associated with the West.
We live in a religiously plural society in Bangladesh. At times it becomes a challenge for the churches to earn trust due to practices of some Evangelical churches who consider conversions a priority. Such actions by these churches can be counterproductive in a situation like ours.
What human right issues concern Bangladeshi churches the most? And how are churches addressing these issues?
Through the National Council of Churches in Bangladesh and the United Forum of Christians, we try to speak about human rights issues in every possible way we can. These human rights issues related to women, youth, children and underprivileged groups have been the focus of local projects of the churches.
I feel that Christians in Bangladesh are living peacefully with other religious communities. However, if we want to protect the fabric of social and religious harmony in the country, promote our foundational values insuring protection of rights for all citizens regardless of their religious association, we must uphold secular values of the Bangladeshi constitution.
To ensure the protection of human rights in our country, we hope that a certain radical religious mindset can be curbed by the government. We hope that they can do more to make sure that peaceful co-existence and economic growth continue in Bangladesh.
What is the significance of a “pilgrimage of justice and peace” for Bangladeshi churches, a phrase which is a call from the WCC Busan assembly?
It might be easy to say that we are taking on a pilgrimage of justice and peace; however, to put this call into action is not easy. As churches, we are trying our best to transform this call into a reality. We have attempted to develop several initiatives of dialogue, especially with people of different faiths so that we can work together towards the common cause of peace and justice.
Yet at times this becomes a challenge when actions from those in power and groups who use religion as a political tool disrupt the peace, destabilize the society and hamper the process of justice. In order to make peace and justice a reality in Bangladesh, issues such as corruption, a radical Islamic mindset and manipulation of religion must be addressed by both the government and the people.