“Goodbye Bangladesh”

Nipu Sheel wails sitting on the debris of her house that was set ablaze by Jamaat-Shibir men at Banshkhali in Chittagong. The religious fanatics looted and torched houses and temples of the Hindus in the district on Thursday, following the death sentence to Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das
Nipu Sheel, Chittagong. © Anurup Kanti Das

With all its flaws, Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja (1993) diagnosed the crisis at the heart of Bangladeshi identity. On the last page, after a week of violent communal riots, the Bengali Hindu family is finally defeated…“Shudhamoy was walking while leaning on Kiranmayee’s shoulder. Gradually the strength was coming back to his body. Kiranmayee held on to Shudhamoy with both hands.

Father? Shuranjan says that one word and then no more. A silent question perched on his lips. It was already dawn. A few holes in the window were letting in slivers of light.

Shudhamoy said, come Shuranjan, let us leave.

Shuranjan said, astonished, Where are we going to go father?

Shudhamoy said… India.

Shudhamoy is ashamed to say this, His voice shakes. But still he talks of leaving. Because after all this time, the strong mountain built up inside him has collapsed to the ground.”

[Taslima Nasreen, Lajja/Shame, translated from Bengali]

Tonight. My heart is bleeding. The chess game will end, perhaps now, or later with an election, with a banning, with a fight, with a third force. Who knows what? Rajae Rajae juddho. When the rubble clears, when the puppetmasters are satisfied, pound of flesh obtained, they will go back to their rooms. Meanwhile, Bengali Hindus will have been the collateral damage, a reality that will not be unraveled or reversed by whoever “wins” this round. They are always the losers of our history.

From 1999 “fiction” to 2013 “reality.” This evening, I received a note from an uncle in Bangladesh:
“I have struggled long and hard with this, watching my brothers, cousins, sister, nephew all leave one by one.I knew they all would, i just always prayed they would go to those places everyone else is desperate to go to: Australia, Canada, USA, Dubai. With those destinations, maybe, perhaps, that would salvage something of trust and respect from our neighbors always gossiping about when we may cross the border with our non-existent wealth. But of course it is easiest to go to India – how can people like us dream of visa to USA if we have to leave at a moments notice? And what would we do if we went there without money or support? But if I go to India I am apparently a traitor.

But now I realise, at this stage in my life, I have nothing left to prove, the battle is lost, and I would rather be a “traitor.” I cannot live through this constant insecurity any more. Forty two years of independent Bangladesh, and I, a Bengali Hindu, still do not feel safe. My nephew has offered to facilitate my trip to India, and once I am there, he knows people, I will be able to stay on. So this is what it comes to. I am the last from my generation still left here. Everyone else is either passed away or is somewhere else. My son now abroad does not want to come back and is at last stage of Canada immigration. My daughter as you know was married overseas, and she won’t be coming back.

So it’s finished.

Our family, after so many generations of history, will disappear from the  trace of this land, and know one will miss us or care. You may think me too naive and idealistic, but more than the memories, the unfairness of having to make this decision against my will, my biggest pain is that somewhere in the fields of this land lies my brother’s remains from 1971 and I will have to leave that behind. but even that now seems like having no value to anyone but my little secret.

Adieu Bangladesh.”

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 7.07.52 PM
Last page of Taslima Nasreen’s “LAJJA”

7 comments

  1. I wonder if anyone else, irrespective of party loyalties, feels the same shame as I do about this. This isn’t about Jamaat, BNP OR AL or whoever. Protecting minorities is a nation’s responsibility and this should have a bearing on our collective conscience.

  2. Bangladesh is a failed state in many respects but especially in the case of protecting its Hindu minorities. The silent ethnic cleansing that has going on for decades have irrevocably altered the demographic character of this land. This is indeed a national ‘shame’. I shudder to think what kind of society will we see when there is no sizable minority community left.

  3. I fail to think , how countries can be so complexed in parting peace and security to the minorities … If we can appriciated the policies of western countries then it’s high time we follow their behaviour towards so many religions and cultures existing in these countries ..( which we admire so much )….

  4. This is a deeply saddening post and one I would like to argue with and say “no, there is hope for the minorities in Bangladesh”. Alas, I can find nothing to say that would convince even myself that this is true. I still want to believe that Bangladesh will protect and be proud of its multicultural heritage but this post just reduces me to tears.

  5. This is a truly sad piece and no Hindus in Bangladesh should have to leave the country because of discrimination and fear. I have lived in London since 1973, first six years in the East End, and experienced horrendous racism during the 1970s. Every day was a very anxious experience for me and I was scared of going out of my house or going home from schools. The outside felt so dangerous because the streets were unsafe and so many of us were subject to daily beatings by white racist thugs. As it was an everyday affair, as children, we thought it was normal, although we did not like it and fought against our attackers, by forming or joining young people’s gangs. Although a few people died every year from racist attacks the law was firmly in favour of equality and there were many white people and mainstream institutions that always came to our support. If it was not for thousands of dedicated white anti-racists (who came from all walks of life) our life in the UK would have been unbearable. They organised and fought against fascists, even engaging in street battles, and joined hands with the ethnic communities to help bring in more stronger laws to help eliminate discrimination and prosecute violent racists. Things have moved on and we are in a much better condition in the UK now, although there are still pockets of semi no-go areas as racist attacks are quiet frequent in some places within the UK. The reason for sharing my experience is that being a minority in an environment where there is hostility from a section of the majority can be a very fearful experience, which no human being should go through. The kind of large-scale communal attacks that take place in the Indian sub-continent against minorities, including in Bangladesh, where people get killed, their properties destroyed and places of worship desecrated the fear must be many magnitude greater than what I experienced as a child in London. The fact that victims cannot rely on the authorities for protection and redress must multiply significantly the fear and insecurity experienced.

    Why should the Hindus in Bangladesh feel unwelcomed and want to leave the golden country? As a result of discrimination, violence and lack of protection they feel that the only way out is migration to India or in western countries. Bangladesh is their country too and they have every right to this beautiful land as anyone else. We all love the fishes, fruits, rivers, vegetables, seasons, colours, etc. of our Beautiful Bangladesh, irrespective of religious or ethnic backgrounds. Just because of past political failures of our leaders and institutions and outside divide and rule policies, one partition and one liberation, we find ourselves in a country called Bangladesh, where someone are more equal than others. The world belongs to everyone and all human beings have prior rights to their birth place before that of any modern nation state and no majority can take that away. However, unfortunately not everyone sees things this way. Political, economic, religious and other factors come to play to create fear and dislocation within minority communities.

    There is no reason why there should be tension and conflict between Hindus and Muslims of Bangladesh. Also there is no reason why there can only be harmony between the two communities if Bengali Muslims become Bengali nationalists and secularists. Most people, Hindus and Muslims, of Bangladesh are religious people and ways should be explored to promote good neighbourliness and create strong protection (legal, cultural, institutions, public opinion, the valuing of diversity, etc.) for minorities irrespective of individual’s levels of religiosity and ethnic backgrounds. I am a very proud Bangladeshi Muslim and I always try to make good friendship with Hindus and keep good communication going. I have many very close Hindu friends from Bali Island in Indonesia, Gujarat, West Bengal and from the Fiji Indian community. Some of us have been meeting once a month since mid 1980s to have a meal together, semi-formally, although we have regular informal communication. I know it is difficult to deal with the current, historically arrived at, poisoned atmosphere of communal disharmony in Bangladesh but protecting minorities are the most important and supreme task of the majority. If you belong to a majority community please put yourself in the foot of a minority living in a hostile environment, I am sure you will want to escape as quickly as you can.

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