M I N O R I T Y – N A T I O N A L
Adwiteeya Rupantee Paul
Poets, or maybe you too, my friend, believe in “love at first sight”: an idea which makes you believe that a certain feature of a complete stranger — that somehow caught your attention — is enough for you to long for a life-long journey with them. Our country fell into an abyss of 23-year-long misery as we fell in love with complete strangers — because of this one known feature of theirs, that of similar religious belief — and went so far as to form a state with them in 1947.
Even though “love at first sight” might work in movies or YA novels (or maybe, even in your own life), it clearly did not work for our country, and we had to endure way too much to rescue ourselves. Hostility, arising from that one mistake based on religious similarity, devastated our lives.
Speaking of infectious topics like love, you’re bound to be reminded of Covid-19. It’s somewhat easy to stay away from Covid-19 patients to protect yourself from infection, but what if the virus is already spreading inside you and damaging your lungs?
49 years of it, and we’re still stuck in the same loop. Hostility, arising from the usage of religion as a weapon, is still spreading faster than any virus all over the country. Even though this is the same reason we suffered this much in the Pakistani period, we still don’t seem to have learnt any lesson. Love really does make one blind.
Here, I include things that we still haven’t fixed in our country, and that need to be fixed before it gets older.
The concept of state religion — celebrating 50 years of independence without being sure of your identity?
The concept of including both “secularism” and “state religion” in the constitution of a country, is like creating a vegan recipe with fresh tuna fish on its list of ingredients. Although non-vegans may consider it fairly okay to include fish just for a recipe, it does essentially declude the recipe from the vegan category. The country ensures equal rights for all religions, yet puts a certain religion on top of the rest.
If the political history of Bangladesh is examined closely, we can see that the concept of secularism was introduced right after the country became independent. However, soon after 1975, “secularism” was deleted from the constitution, and afterwards, the term “state religion” was included. Although, recently, “secularism” has been brought back in the constitution, “state religion” is still intact.
What’s the result of all these mood swings of the constitution? That they continue to live in the constitution, two terms, purely contradicting each other. It is similar to the contrasting thoughts of a potential rapist who shares “anti-rape” protest slogans on social media, yet can’t miss the chance of staring inappropriately every single time a girl passes by. If even the constitution is torn and confused, how can we blame the citizens?
Considering minorities of own country to be foreign
I remember telling a friend how certain people had mocked me because of the colours on my face after playing Holi, and how much I hoped that I could celebrate freely. That friend, however, replied, “Why don’t you simply leave this country and settle in India?”
I was so taken aback by those words. We were young back then, but even the fact that they chose to say this made me realise how it’s in-built to their system to treat Hindus as partially Indians.
It’s like NCTB indirectly telling the students of the English Version, “Hey, you don’t like our translations? Go, buy the Bangla books then, you do have the option!”
If you’re not satisfied with my own experience, let me provide a more horrifying example which is, in fact, directly related to the Bangladeshi public. In 2018, in the Nidahas trophy, as Soumya Sarker conceded a last-ball six to Dinesh Karthik of the Indian team, and thereby lost the match, many Bangladeshis said it was intentionally done, because after all, he’s a Hindu, which meant his loyalty lay in India.
A similar situation in 2017:
“In the semi-final, when Malaysian Axiata sponsored Bangladeshi batsman ‘Hindu’ Soumya Sarkar go out for a duck against Chinese Oppo sponsored India, there were those, many of those who insinuated or expressed clearly that the bad performance was deliberate…A Hindu heart, that is, an Indian heart. An enemy heart. An enemy within. Like a snake. Never fully trustable.”
— Dhaka Tribune
We’re all aware of the Pakistani Army being particularly brutal to Hindus during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, considering them India’s Dalal. In all these 50 years, have we made any progress?
Using the incidents of neighbouring countries as rebuttals
Many might come up with instances of hatred towards minorities in neighbouring countries, and thereby try to justify whatever is been going on here. Although it is a good way to comfort oneself by thinking of how everyone around them cheated on a certain exam, and therefore it simply would be pointless if one tried to invest in answering it by being honest all along. The honest individual still wouldn’t like it if someone copied their answers and got more marks than them.
It’s the same as justifying bullying a certain person at school based on their appearance or whatever, because, come on, everyone else was doing the same. Then again, would you feel the same if you were the one who got bullied? Would you still not be bothered if you got hurt, because it was the majority who had been hurting you?
Being unbothered by a certain system — no matter how wrong it is — often indicates:
- You are privileged enough to ignore it and stay indifferent, that the system isn’t directly harming you.
- You know that even you yourself deserve to be blamed for the system in discussion as well, which forces your psyche to point out the faults of people from other scenarios to justify it.
This is pretty much similar to the men who point out cases of male assault only when one says something about the usual violence against women. Talking about violence in other countries is more than necessary, but using that violence to justify or normalise the ongoing violence in one’s own country is simply ignorant.
Using the incidents of neighbouring countries as incentives to attack
Ah, this. If you’ve heard stories of violence in our country right after the Babri Masjid was brought down in India, you already know what this point means.
We wouldn’t really allow interference of other states in our state affairs. Yet, we still let incidents of other countries that are in no way related to our country, because it would result in havoc.
After the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1993, Hindu shops and households were burnt down all across the country. The celebrations of Durga Puja in the country were curtailed that year. The Dhakeshwari temple was attacked; Hindu-owned jewellery shops were looted; Hindu houses in Rajarbagh were set on fire. 14 Hindu temples were attacked in Kutubdia of Cox’s Bazar, 8 burnt and 6 destroyed. 51 Hindu houses in Ali Akber Dale, and another 30 in Choufaldandi were attacked.
Within 20 years of liberation, Bangladeshis had already forgotten how much judging a country to be good and kind only because their religious faiths matched had cost them. They had already forgotten that religious belief should not be the standard for judging a person’s character.
Still now, every time a riot takes place in the neighbouring country, every time there’s a form of unrest based on religion there, the minorities in our country, especially Hindus, are suddenly regarded only as Hindus, and no more as their fellow countrymen. Results: Burn down their houses; rape their women — just the way it happened in 1971.
Brutality and technology
Similar to all the “incumbent” anti-feminist Facebook groups, there are various groups which share anti-secularist posts. Technology has had its contribution in demeaning women in multiple forms, as well as in increasing religious violence. It’s not easy to transmit positivity, but it’s very easy to make controversial posts viral as they invite controversial reactions. And what can invite more negativity than communalism in the subcontinent?
We don’t have to scroll much to find negative comments whenever there’s a post based on festivals of minorities: Be it a post of cricketer Liton Das, or the work of an artist or a photographer. The reactions to those comments are even scarier. Potential murderers lurk about certain social media posts, the recent death threats to Shakib Al Hasan being a perfect example of it.
Hacking and compromising someone’s Facebook ID and posting negative comments about Islam to put them in mortal danger is a new trend created by extremists, which started with the Ramu incident in 2012.
“Buddhist temples were attacked in 2012 in the town of Ramu following a Facebook post that Islamists said was blasphemous. In 2013, a number of Hindu temples were vandalised in the town of Pabna for the same reason,” Barua told DW, adding that he saw a pattern to these attacks.’
Here are some other instances:
“Rasraj was beaten up by locals and handed over to the police. On Sunday, a mob wrecked over 100 Hindu homesteads of Nasirnagar and vandalised more than a dozen temples, injuring about 100, instigated by local radical Islamist groups…The attacks took place following a meeting of local Muslims who had gathered on Nasirnagar playground Sunday morning to demand justice for the blasphemous Facebook post… ’’
— Dhaka Tribune
“Biplob approached the police in Borhanuddin upazila in Bhola on 19 October, to complain that his Facebook account had been hacked. The blasphemous post allegedly defamed Allah and Prophet Mohammad. Police took Biplob into custody and later also detained two Muslim youth—Emon and Sharif—who were suspected to have hacked Biplob’s Facebook account…Even though the police confirmed by Sunday evening that Biplob was not behind the blasphemous post, the Muslim Oikya Parishad continued to demand the death penalty for him.”
“Angry locals have vandalised and burnt several homes of Hindu people over rumours about an alleged Facebook post slandering Islam in Cumilla’s Muradnagar.”
“Muslim fanatics have vandalised at least five Hindu temples in Bangladesh over a Facebook post that allegedly mocked Islam. Activists say that Islamists are increasingly monitoring the Internet to attack minorities.”
If these don’t shake you to the core, well.
The 2001 Bangladesh election is a well-known one because of its post-election brutalities. The attacks were done to destroy the economic sources of the Hindu community and terrorise them into fleeing to India. Not only Hindu houses, but even Muslim houses which provided shelter to Hindus were looted. About 200 Hindu women were gang raped in Char Fasson Upazila, Bhola District with their ages ranging from 8 to 70 years.
Here’s another instance of election-based brutalities in 2014.
“On 5 January, as the country voted in parliamentary elections, armed men attacked Shyamal Kumar Biswas, 35, and other residents in Malopara, a fishing village of 80 families in Jessore district, southwestern Bangladesh. All the villagers are Hindus, and most fled to other nearby villages as attackers burnt their shops and homes.’’
— The New Humanitarian
There were instances of violence towards minorities after the induction of several war criminals by the International Crimes Tribunal as well.
On 28 February 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the Vice President of the Jamaat-e-Islami to death for the war crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War…According to community leaders, more than 50 Hindu temples and 1,500 Hindu homes were destroyed in 20 districts.
Continuing to have ‘religion’ as an academic subject
“Divide and rule,” they said. Well, we’re still running with that same custom, aren’t we?
Young children hardly know anything about their religions apart from the names of their festivals. Creating a subject based on religion and causing divisions among them right at the age of 7-8 is definitely not a healthy practice. Getting to know about religious differences from the family might be okay, but when you put it all in an academic framework, it’s different.
Going to different classrooms for religion classes, having different standards of judgement of marks for different religions, lack of teachers for certain religions, etc. for 10 long years — all these create disparity among children of different communities. In a country where most people are victims of in-built communalism, it is absurd to create even more chances of discrimination or conflict.
Religion is personal faith, and it’s better to let children grow with a sense that it is their own faith and not something one should be taught at school and given marks for. It’s something one develops oneself. One may have influences of their family and society on their faith, but it should not be a parameter to show how educated one is.
Using differences with other religions to glorify own rituals and dismissing national culture
Another form of expression of hatred towards other religions is when one tries to justify the supremacy of their own religious ritual by stating its differences from the rituals of other religions.
This is a personal experience. Guardians of my classmates used to dismiss a certain way to perform fasting during Ramadan — only because it seemed “Hindu-ish”. They insulted my Muslim friends by calling them “Hindu”, and thereby using the word as a slur, only because they wanted to attend our religious festivals. Our differences can be celebrated, of course, but definitely should not be used to demean any community.
Many compare offering homage at the Shahid Minar to the worshipping style of Hindus, and therefore want it to be abandoned. Many compare the cultural functions at Ramna Batamul to puja ceremonies, too.
It doesn’t require a lot of thinking to conclude that these attacks on our own culture by terming them ”Hindu-ish” are exactly similar to what the Pakistanis had tried to establish. Where are we, really? How did we manage to go back to the pre-liberation war period?
What you can do
There’s a lot you can do, really. Making yourself aware of all these is a great start. Calling out your family members or your friends whenever they say something that’s similar to the above mentioned things, and trying to explain how harmful their attitudes are can truly affect their approach towards minorities. It’s not enough to detest someone for the inflexibility of their mind — it’s more important to help them change. Research these incidents. Take part in petitions, protests. And if you can’t, at least, do try to bring about changes in your family. It matters. Every step matters.
If our country, 50 years later, is still this harsh to its largest minority group, it’s hard to imagine how brutal it must be to Christians or Buddhists, let alone atheists and ethnic minorities. Let’s try changing this altogether. Let’s spread love, not the virus-like hostility caused by that one teenage mistake we thought was “love at first sight”.
Adwiteeya is a random kid who gets super soft if someone spells her name right — ’cause it’s a rarity, as you can tell.