The Least Amongst You

London Review of Books had an extremely interesting article about the original sins of Indian democracy by UC Berkeley Professor Perry Anderson. It especially discussed the treatment of Muslims and other minorities at the hand of the secular Indian state. This got me wondering about how Bangladesh stacks up against India in this regard.

Anderson highlights the dismal findings of the Sachar report:

In 2006, the government-appointed Sachar Commission found that of the 138 million Muslims in India, numbering some 13.4 per cent of the population, fewer than three out of five were literate, and a third were to be found in the most destitute layers of Indian society. A quarter of their children between the ages of six and 14 were not in school. In the top fifty colleges of the land, two out of a hundred postgraduates were Muslim; in the elite institutes of technology, four out of a hundred. In the cities, Muslims had fewer chances of any regular job than Dalits or Adivasis, and higher rates of unemployment.

All told, the ‘security agencies’ of the Indian Union, as the Sachar Report politely calls them, employ close to two million. How many Muslims do they contain? The answer is too sensitive to divulge: as the report notes, no data on their composition are available for three-quarters of these. Put simply, Muslims are not wanted in their ranks. In 1999, a former defence minister let slip that they numbered just 1 per cent of 1,100,000 regulars. In the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) – the CIA and FBI of the Indian state – it is an ‘unwritten code’ that there should be not a single Muslim; so too in the National Security Guards and Special Protection Group, its Secret Service corps. The Indian armed forces are a Hindu preserve, garnished with Sikhs.

Not too good, is it? However, a knowledgable friend pointed out that Syed Asif Ibrahim was just pointed as the chief of the said IB, while we have covered the appointment of Altamas Kabir as Chief Justice of India here.

Compared to India, Bangladesh’s armed forces and intelligence forces are much, much smaller. Maybe by a factor of ten for the armed forces and about twenty for security and intelligence forces. Even then, we have had Major Generals Jibon Kanai Das, C. R. Dutta, and Anup Kumar Chakma. If our supposed current secular government had appointed the IG on the basis of seniority, either Foni Bhushon Majumdar or Nobo Bikrom Tripura would today be IG of Bangladesh instead of Hasan Mahmud Khandokar. And much before India had Altamas Kabir, we had Bimolendu Bikash Roy Chowdhury (as acting CJ).
They said, 1% is allowed. Asif Ibrahim is in that lucky 1%.
I don’t have hard statistics for the treatment of minority citizens in Bangladeshi government service. What does a token Asif Ibrahim or A P J Abdul Kalam or Goutom Chakrobarty really tell us about how we treat the politically disadvantaged in BD or India anyways? And finally, I am ashamed of how poorly Bangladesh does in treating our non-Muslim citizens – that when I see these names in these positions, they register in my mind.

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