Bleeding Badly

Members of the Hindu community returning to Obhoynagar, Jessore. Many of their homes were gutted and looted by Jamaat-Shibir activists right after the national polls. Photo source: Dhaka Tribune.
Members of the Hindu community returning to Obhoynagar, Jessore. Photo source: Dhaka Tribune.

“But given recent violent incidents – in Ramu, in Sathiya, in Thakurgaon, in Gaibundah, in Dinajpur, in Rangpur, in Bogra, in Lalmonirhat, in Rajshahi, in Jessore, in Chittagong and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts – the AL government and state law enforcement agencies cannot palm-off responsibilities to the opposition for failing to protect minority citizens (just as they cannot merely shift responsibilities, for the ongoing violence and loss of lives, to opposition activities alone, specially when that is exactly how they reacted during their term in opposition).”

Bleeding Badly
by Irfan Chowdhury for

What does writing achieve? What does a blog achieve? What do newspaper articles achieve? One can write as much as one likes but rulers/leaders or even the general public can (and do) ignore us. But this does not stop people from expressing themselves, however ineffective their efforts. And there are issues situations when, regardless of apparent ineffectiveness, writing about the issues, highlighting, documenting the facts, suggesting possible solutions could be a worthy effort. Voicing our concerns, protesting against violent attacks on innocent minorities and demanding immediate, meaningful action to protect our minority brothers and sisters is the need of the hour.

Hatred and hostilities do not develop overnight. They are often built over a long period, sometimes over centuries and the result of inerasable history. We know that Hindu-Muslim issues and tensions date back many centuries and that they were a cause for the partition, based on religion rather than ethnic reasoning, in 1947. The seeds sown then can now be seen in full blossom – all across the subcontinent. The concept of separating territories for particular religious groups was always going to haunt the future.

And it does. As the statistics prove today – that desire for a ‘pure’ land is getting ever closer – sooner rather than later the cleansing could be accomplished. But let’s not dwell on the polemics.

Still, with repeated and increasing attacks on minority communities – on Hindus or Buddhists, on the Indigenous (Adibasi) people – it is hard not to be cynical. What was started only 20 years ago as an opportunistic dictator’s last ditch attempt to divert the focus of a popular movement, used by subsequent governments, has become a regular pre and post election occurrence, surprisingly happening during what is considered to be a non-participatory, forced and unilateral election – and inconsequential, in terms of who actually went to vote for whom as the results were known long before the elections started. The preponderance of these attacks is a further irony under an AL government as they/the party claims to be the protector and promoter of minority issues.

Further irony in the sorry minority story is that historically they are understood to be voting for the AL, which at times, definitely in the past, was translated as a treacherous deed to subjugate the nation to India, which, in spite of its very large Muslim population and diverse ethnic and religious groups, is unfortunately considered a “Hindu nation” by rightist elements. ( The rise of Hindu nationalism since the early 90s in the form of BJP (along with RSS and others) which is widely expected to return to government in the elections later in May, probably does not help the matter either; in fact, India has its own problems with minority issues, as does Pakistan).

I can recall endless vile, racist comments thrown at my Hindu friends and acquaintances intended to insult and demean them for their disloyalty; a common saying (it could even be doing the rounds today) was “apnader to ek pa Indiyate; taka, sompotti, bou, baccha so onkane, eai khane shudu chari ar babsa koren” which, translated loosely, measns more or less :”your one foot is in India; you have transferred your wealth, wife and children there; here you merely work and do business.”

More than often the recipient(s) returned meek smiles and words. But the charge, while true in some circumstances, ignores minorities’ perspectives completely and seeks cheap pleasure by tormenting the weak. The fun seekers do not spare a moment to consider why the minorities are leaving their forefathers’ land? And why now, if in 1947 they/their ancestors decided to stay in the land of ‘pure’, even after knowing that they might not be a ‘pure’ element in the countries.

This has been a popular mindset amongst urbanites in Bangladesh (I confess I do not know the villagers’ mind set ) long before we have started to point fingers at BNP and JI. But given recent violent incidents – in Ramu, in Sathiya, in Thakurgaon, in Gaibundah, in Dinajpur, in Rangpur, in Bogra, in Lalmonirhat, in Rajshahi, in Jessore, in Chittagong and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts – the AL government and state law enforcement agencies cannot palm-off responsibilities to the opposition for failing to protect minority citizens (just as they cannot merely shift responsibilities, for the ongoing violence and loss of lives, to opposition activities alone, specially when that is exactly how they reacted during their term in opposition).

Either way, the safety of minority groups in the country is in a rotten state. Despite many attacks and subsequent enquiries or legal investigations, perpetrators get off easily; in some instances they are not even caught. Since the recent marauding erupted thousands of minority houses and businesses hane been destroyed. How many criminals have so far been arrested?

Those who harbour the delusion that the point of creating Bangladesh was so that we would get a secular, unoppressive state for its entire citizenry had better realise that this has not been its most prominent feature. Rather, as in its predecessor Pakistan, non-Muslims are being targeted and paid lip service, while the leadership constantly fights to hang on to power. Safeguarding minority interests, creating an inclusive, harmonious society is really never on government agenda. It is a hopeless situation that is bound to deteriorate, if these issues are not addressed sincerely and soon.

However, this does not set the general public free from its responsibility – to humanity, to its fellow countrymen. Political intimidation has persisted and probably makes it highly risky for ordinary civilians to come forward (for example, it is quite easy for me to emit a few sincere words of sympathy and solidarity but would I be able to put my life at risk to save others?) as rival goons take turns to torment and torture them.

Encouragingly, there has been strong condemnation of these attacks through long marches, editorials, opinions and talk shows. Yet, somehow these efforts are once again weakened by a spiteful partisan exchange, and it feels that we need to do much more. Perhaps deep down we have accepted these occurrences as a fait accompli for minorities.

But it would be wrong to assume that along with our minority siblings most of us are not suffering; we are in anguish. This is why the main opposition has to come from the population itself. Of course tougher laws and application of harsh punishment, the first step, will help, and might reduce or even stop the attacks for a while — but the real remedy lies in changed, enlightened perception that we are all human regardless of our creed.

I am still apprehensive, considering the past not only in our country but also globally. Minorities’ miseries are universal and can be traced back to the beginning of time. From Aborigines in Australia to Indian-Americans in North-America,to more recent terrors for minority groups such as Armenians in Turkey, Jews in Germany, Tibetans (and others) in China, Kurds in Iraq, Muslims in Kosovo, Hazaras in Afghanistan – a comprehensive list would be long. Minorities have suffered everywhere, and even when reconciliation has started (e.g. in Canada, New Zealand or in Australia with their Indigenous peoples) it faces uphill tasks in bringing true harmony and equity across the population. The pain from past scars and wounds persists today.

Notwithstanding this, as if to counter a shameful human instinct (i.e. to hurt the weak), relentless resistance, effort and movements, have been led by individuals, writers, poets, political or religious figures and community groups to change the situation of minorities. Thankfully, the extraordinary dedication and work of some of these luminaries inspire many of us to continue the arduous task – and international and local human rights organisations are working on the issue.

Those of us migrated to western countries can feel lucky that through evaluation these societies have established the rule of law which is largely fair to all. Even so, there remain pockets of inherent tacit racism, hatred and phobia towards migrants, and that is only in the best case. The ghosts of racial bigotry call in other scenarios. Regardless, these nations have fought long and hard to change the mindset of their ancestors to bring their society to its present state; during this process many have suffered.

Since we have been trying to emulate developed nations, may be with only partial success, for democratic and economic progress, perhaps our attempts to build a harmonious society will go through equally lengthy learning curves. Though we have, at least on paper, procedures and practices to improve the situation, (e.g. priority quotas for jobs, education opportunities for indigenous Bengalis, protection for citizens) the real change will be harder to achieve, not through lack of desire from the people but due to chronic political instability.

How long it will be before the tide will turn is unclear, as with political instability brazen actscan be expected for quite some time. Not least, the opposition is somewhat tamed, months of crippling strikes and street protests could resurface anytime.

It needs tireless efforts from every one. But how would that be possible when politicians and business leaders are subsumed in self-interest and the mass has many unmet demands, including such very basic ones as jobs, education, security and a normal life.

Nonetheless, If powerful, ruthless regimes such as that of Hitler against the Jews, and the many genocides across the globe have not been able to exterminate the human spirit, we can be hopeful that our efforts to embrace our non-Muslim fellow citizens and to treat them as our equals will defeat our doubts about them.

In this cause we cannot get bogged down to any idealism – this is not about left, right, centre, pro or anti Hindu or Muslim. It is about treating all human beings as equal.

We need to begin a process of education for ourselves. This has not yet happened.

Much depends on the leadership we can offer—in particular, whether we can turn popular solidarity in standing by our non-Muslim citizens into an effective campaign establishing fair treatment.

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