ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Shared sovereignty arrangements between Hefazat-e-Islam and the State in Bangladesh


Shahabuddin Charza - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Political studies, Paris, France


11 – Rethinking governmentality: Sovereign agency beyond the state in South Asia


Ever since 25 000 qawmi madrasas teachers and students marched toward the capital city, in April 2013, the Bangladeshi state has adopted a policy of appeasement toward the Hefazat-e-Islam (Hefazat). This ultra-orthodox Islamist group made its first public appearance demanding a blasphemy law to convict atheist bloggers of capital punishment. Conversely, the State has started a witch hunt against the main Islamist political party, the Jamaat-e-Islam.

Hefazat first entered Bangladeshi political scene criticizing a plan, led by the Awami League’s government in 2010, to establish equal inheritance rights between men and women. In 2013, they also published a 13-point charter that constitutes both their political manifesto and the list of norms they want to see established. Hefazat undertook a crusade for moral reform, acting as a moral entrepreneur with its own sovereign agency.

Following the Deoband seminary, the qawmi madrasa stream focus on the inculcation of inner piety, and their curriculum is not subjected to State validation. However, in 2017, the Bangladesh’s education ministry removed some secular poems and stories from children’s textbooks and in 2018, the ministry recognized the equivalence of qawmi madrasa master’s degree with the mainstream education degree, matching Hefazat’s exact demands. Rethinking governmentality allow us to look at the shared practices of power between the State, defined by multiple agents, and Hefazat, as a moral entrepreneur.