Category Archives: Religion

গোলাম আলির গজল সন্ধ্যার নেপথ্য রাজনীতি

গত অক্টোবর মাসে, পূর্ব পঞ্জাবের পাটিয়ালা ঘরানার প্রবাদপ্রতিম গজল গায়ক পাকিস্তানি পাঞ্জাবী নাগরিক গোলাম আলির একটি কনসার্ট অনুষ্ঠিত হবার কথা ছিল মহারাষ্ট্র রাজ্যের রাজধানী মুম্বই শহরে।উগ্র-হিন্দুত্ববাদী শিবসেনা দলের হুমকি ও চাপে সে অনুষ্ঠান বাতিল হয়। ফলে ক্ষমতাসীন বিজেপিকে এনিয়ে কিছুটা বিড়ম্বনায় পড়তে হয়। এই ঘোলা জলে মাছ ধরে নিজেদের  “সহনশীলতা” প্রমাণ করে  বাহবা পাওয়ার প্রচেষ্টায় জুট যায় বেশ কিছু অ-বিজেপি রাজনৈতিক শক্তি। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মুখ্যমন্ত্রী মমতা বন্দোপাধ্যায় তাদের মধ্যে অন্যতম। তিনি গোলাম আলিকে আমন্ত্রণ জানান পশ্চিমবঙ্গে এসে তাঁর অনুষ্ঠান করার জন্য। এই বছরের ১২ জানুয়ারী কলকাতার নেতাজী ইনডোর স্টেডিয়ামে ১৫০০০ শ্রোতার সামনে অনুষ্ঠিত হয় গোলাম আলির গজল সন্ধ্যা। সেদিনের সব ব্যবস্থাপনাকে ব্যক্তিগত ভাবে তদারকি করেন মুখ্যমন্ত্রী মমতা বন্দোপাধ্যায় স্বয়ং। গোলাম আলিকে তিনি সংবর্ধনাও দ্যান। দৃশ্যতই আপ্লূত হয়ে অভিজ্ঞ গায়ক মমতাদেবীর ভূয়সী প্রশংসা করে বলেন, “আমি তাঁর প্রতি কৃতজ্ঞ। তিনি সরস্বতী রূপে আমাদের সকলের উপকার করেছেন”।  

মমতা দেবীর গোলাম আলির অনুষ্ঠানের হোতা হওয়া নানাভাবে ইঙ্গিতময়। সবচেয়ে বড় করে যে সংকেত তিনি দিলেন না হলো এই যে ভারত সংঘরাষ্ট্রের সকল এলাকায় সকল মানুষ পাকিস্তানি সবকিছুকে বয়কট করার প্রশ্নে এককাট্টা নয়, সকল এলাকায় অসহনশীলতা শক্তিগুলির খবরদারিও চলে না । উপমহাদেশের বৃহত্তর রাজনৈতিক পটভূমিতে এটি অবশ্যই একটি সুস্থ ও শুভ লক্ষণ। কিনতু আমরা যদি এই অনুষ্ঠান ও পশ্চিমবঙ্গে সাম্প্রতিক আরো কিছু অনুরূপ ঘটনার খুঁটিনাটি তলিয়ে দেখি, তাহলে দেখব যে ব্যাপারটি অতটা সহজ নয়। বিশেষতঃ পশ্চিমবঙ্গের অভ্যন্তরে  ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ ও  সাম্প্রদায়িক সামাজিক-রাজনৈতিক স্রোতগুলির মধ্যে যে আপাত সহজ বিভাজন আছে, তার প্রেক্ষিতে মমতা দেবীর  কিছু সংকেত ও কিছু চিহ্ন ব্যবহারের রাজনীতি কোন স্রোতগুলিকে পুষ্ট করে, সেটা পরিষ্কার করে বোঝা প্রয়োজন।

কলকাতায় পাকিস্তানি গায়ক গোলাম আলির গজল সন্ধ্যার উদ্যোক্তা ছিল পশ্চিমবঙ্গ সরকার।  কিনতু  পশ্চিমবঙ্গ সরকারের কোন দফতর? পাকিস্তানি গায়কের উর্দু গজলের যে আসলেই কোন  ধর্ম হয়না, তা বোঝাতে এটির উদ্যোক্তা হতেই পারত সংস্কৃতি দফতর বা নিদেনপক্ষে পর্যটন দফতর। উদ্যোক্তা ছিল পশ্চিমবঙ্গ সংখ্যালঘু উন্নয়ন ও অর্থ নিগম। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের “সংখ্যালঘু”-দের মধ্যে ৯০%এরও বেশি হলেন মোসলমান। তাদের সাথে একজন পাকিস্তানি গায়কের কিভাবে কোন ‘বিশেষ’ সম্পর্ক থাকতে পারে, তা পরিষ্কার নয়, যদি না পশ্চিমবঙ্গ সরকার বোঝাতে চান যে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের অন্যান্য জনগণের তুলনায়  গোলাম আলি কোন অর্থে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমানের বেশি কাছের। গোলাম আলির উর্দুও কোন ‘বিশেষ  সম্পর্কে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমানের সাথে তাকে আবদ্ধ করে না কারণ এ রাজ্যের মোসলমানের মধ্যে ৯০%এরও বেশি হলেন বাংলাভাষী, বাঙ্গালী। এই উদ্যোক্তা চয়নের মাধ্যমে যে ভাবে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের জনগণের এক অংশকে স্রেফ তার ধর্মীয় (পড়ুন  মোসলমান ) পরিচিতির মধ্যে সীমিত করা হলো এবং সেই গোদা পরিচিতিটিকে বেশ প্রকট ভাবেই পাকিস্তানের আরেক মোসলমান গায়কের সাথে ‘বিশেষ ভাবে যুক্ত করা হলো, তা ভারত সংঘের রাজনৈতিক আবর্তের সাম্প্রদায়িক ধারায় মোসলমান সম্বন্ধে চালু সবচেয়ে ক্ষতিকারক  স্টিরিওটিপিকাল ধারনাগুলিকেও হাওয়া দেয়। এই ধারণার সংক্ষিপ্ত আকার হলো – মোসলমানদের পাকিস্তানের প্রতি বিশেষ প্রেম আছে। উপমহাদেশের প্রায় সকল রাষ্ট্রেই প্রধান ধর্মীয় সংখ্যালঘুকে ‘অন্যের মাল’ বা ঘরশত্রু হিসেবে কল্পনা করার একটি সুদীর্ঘ লজ্জাজনক ঐতিহ্য চালু আছে, এমনকি রাজনৈতিক ভাবে যারা ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ অর্থে মন্দের ভালো বলে পরিচিত, তাদের মধ্যেও।

প্রসঙ্গত, মমতা দেবী  এই প্রথমবার  সংখ্যালঘু উন্নয়ন ও অর্থ নিগমের ঢাল ব্যবহার করছেন আধা-রাজনৈতিক স্বার্থে, এমন নয়। এই নিগমেরই অনুস্থানগুলিতে তিনি ধর্মীয় সংখ্যালঘু, প্রধানত মোসলমানদের জন্য বিশেষ প্রকল্প ঘোষণা করতে করেছেন। নানা বিশেষের মধ্যে একটি বিশেষ ছিল বড়ই দৃষ্টিকটু। সেটি ছিল পশ্চিমবঙ্গে একটি বিরাট নজরুল কেন্দ্র স্থাপনার ঘোষণা (যেটি ইতিমধ্যে রাজারহাটে নজরুলতীর্থ নামে  চালু হয়ে গেছে)। নিখিল বাংলাদেশে মোসলমান ঘরে জন্মানো ব্যক্তিত্ব খুব কম ছিলেন বা আছেন যাদের প্রতিপত্তি ও যশ হিন্দু-মোসলমানের ধার ধারে না, যদিও ১৯৭১ পরবর্তী কালে (এবং কিছুটা তার পূর্ব্বেও) নজরুলকে গনপ্রজান্তন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের জাতীয় কবি বানিয়ে আলতো করে নজরুলকে ‘বিশেষ’ ভাবে পূর্ব্ব-বাংলার করে গড়ে তোলা হয়েছে। এই ‘বিশেষ’ এর মধ্যে ধর্মের ছাপ অনস্বীকার্য্য এবং মমতা দেবীর রকম-সকম দেখে মনে হয়, তিনিও বোধহয় নজরুলের এই ভ্রান্ত চরিত্রায়নে আস্থা রাখেন, অন্ততঃ রাজনৈতিক স্বার্থে।  একটি সংখ্যালঘু উন্নয়ন মঞ্চকে ব্যবহার করে মমতা দেবীর নজরুল সংক্রান্ত ঘোষণা আবার করে দেখিয়ে দেয় পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমান কি শুনতে চায়, সেই সম্বন্ধে তাঁর ঠিক বা বেঠিক ধারণা।

২০১৫র মে মাসে, মমতা দেবীর সরকার প্রখ্যাত উর্দু কবি আল্লামা ইকবালের নাতি ওয়ালিদ ইকবালকে কলকাতায় ডাকেন সরকারী সাহায্যে চলা পশ্চিমবঙ্গ উর্দু অকাদেমির বার্ষিক সম্মেলন উপলক্ষ্যে। সুদূর লাহৌর থেকে এসে তিনি তাঁর দীর্ঘদিন আগে প্রয়াত ঠাকুর্দার সম্মানার্থে দেওয়া একটি পুরস্কার গ্রহণ করেন।  আবারও, কোন উর্দু কবিকে সম্মান দেওয়ার ব্যাপারে আপত্তির কিই বা থাকতে পারে? আপত্তির কিছুই নেই।  সমস্যা হলো, তৃনমূল দল যেভাবে উর্দু ও মোসলমানকে যুক্ত করে ফেলে সেটা নিয়ে , যার পরিপ্রেক্ষিতে আল্লামা ইকবালের নাতিকে এনে সেই ব্যাপারটিকে বিশাল সংখ্যক হোর্ডিং-এর সাহায্যে কলকাতার মোসলমান প্রধান এলাকাগুলিতে প্রচার করার পিছনের রাজনৈতিক হিসেব-নিকেশ ও ধারণা নিয়ে। তৃণমূল দলের ২০১১সালের ঘোষণাপত্রে তারা যেভাবে মাদ্রাসা ও উর্দু স্কুলের ব্যাপারটি সহজেই একসাথে বলেছে, তা থেকেই  ধারণা পাওয়া যায় তারা মোসলমান ও উর্দু, এই দুটি ব্যাপারকে কি ভাবে দেখে। ঘোষণাপত্রে তারা প্রকট-ভাবে গুলিয়ে ফেলে মোসলমান ও উর্দু, আর তাদের অনুষ্ঠান-সম্মান্প্রদানের মধ্যে অন্তর্নিহিত থাকে  উর্দু ও পাকিস্তানকে গুলিয়ে ফেলার, এবং পরিশেষে আভাস থাকে মোসলমান ও পাকিস্তানকে গুলিয়ে ফেলার। শেষের ভ্রান্তিটিই সবচেয়ে বিপদজনক।

পশ্চিমবঙ্গের ৯০% মোসলমান  বাংলাভাষী। আল্লামা ইকবাল  বা উর্দু বা গোলাম আলি পশ্চিমবঙ্গের  হিন্দু  বাঙ্গালীর থেকে যত দুরে, ততটাই দুরের সেখানকার মোসলমান বাঙ্গালীর থেকেও। অথচ তৃনমূল দলের মোসলমান নেতৃত্ত্বের মধ্যে আনুপাতিক হারে বাংলাভাষীদের প্রতিনিধিত্ব বেশ কম। তৃণমূলের জন্মসুত্রে মোসলমান সাংসদ-দের মধ্যে ৪০% হলেন উর্দুভাষী, যেখানে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমানদের মধ্যে তারা ১০%ও না। এদেরকে নেতৃত্বে রাখার একটা সুবিধে হলো, জনভিত্তিহীন নেতাদের বসিয়ে একাধারে যেমন দলের মোসলমানদের মধ্য থেকে স্বতন্ত্র জননেতা তৈরীকে আটকানো যায়, আবার একই সাথে এই নেতাদের মোসলমানত্ব ভাঙ্গিয়ে  সংখ্যালঘু প্রতিনিধিত্বের দায়টিও সারা হয়। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের ২৫%জনগণ হলেন মোসলমান বাঙ্গালী। সেই বর্গ থেকে উঠে আসা স্বতন্র জননেতা যে শর্তে দর কষাকষি করবেন, যে ভাবে নিজেদের রাজনৈতিক প্রভাবের মাধ্যমে ক্ষমতার ভাগ-বাটোয়ারার অন্য বিন্যাস তৈরীর সম্ভাবনা ধারণ করবেন, তা প্রাতিষ্ঠানিক রাজনীতির মধ্যে আজকে বর্তমান কায়েমী স্বার্থগুলির স্থিতিশীলতার পক্ষে বিপদ। দেশ-ভাগ পুর্ব্ববর্তি সময়ে শের-এ-বাংলা ঠিক এটিই করেছিলেন কৃষক-প্রজা পার্টির আমলে, সামন্তপ্রভু নিয়ন্ত্রিত কংগ্রেস ও সামন্ত্রপ্রভু নিয়ন্ত্রিত  মুসলিম লীগের ‘শরিফজাদা’ নেতৃত্বের বাড়া ভাতে ছাই দিয়ে। ৭১-ও এক অর্থে এই আপাত বাঙ্গালী  ছুপা  ‘উচ্চকুল্শীল“ উর্দুপ্রেমীদের ক্ষমতা থেকে উচ্ছেদের আরেকটি ধাপ। দুঃখের বিষয়, পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমান ৪৭-এর পর থেকে কোন ফজলুল হক-কে পায়নি। তাই কলকাতায় উর্দু-পাকিস্তান আপ্যায়ন করে মোসলমান -মোসলমান খেলা করা সম্ভব।  গোলাম আলীর গজল সন্ধ্যাকে বুঝতে হবে সেই পরিপ্রেক্ষিতেও । সম্প্রতি পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মালদা জেলার কালিয়াচকে প্রায় লক্ষাধিক মোসলমান জনতা এক জমায়েত করে সুদূর উত্তর প্রদেশের এক অখ্যাত হিন্দু সাম্প্রদায়িক নেতার হজরত মহম্মদের প্রতি অবমাননাকর বক্তব্যের প্রতিবাদে। জমায়েতটি সহিংস হয়ে ওঠে এবং বেশ কিছু গাড়ি জ্বালায় এবং হিন্দু দোকান ভাঙ্গচুর করে। এই দুরের ঘটনার উপর ভিত্তি করে, সামাজিক মাধ্যমে ঘৃণার প্রচার যেভাবে এতগুলি মানুষকে এককাট্টা করলো এক সহিংস প্রতিবাদে, তা চিন্তার বিষয় কারণ রাজনৈতিক দল বহির্ভূত  এত বড় হিংসাত্বক জমায়েত প্রাতিষ্ঠানিক রাজনৈতিক সংগঠনের অক্ষমতা ও মাঠস্তরে অনুপস্থিতিকেই প্রমাণ করে । যে কোন গোষ্ঠীর উপর ভিন্নতা আরোপ করতে করতে তা এক সময় ফ্র্যন্কেনস্টাইন দৈত্যে পরিণত হতেই পারে।  বরং পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমান বাঙ্গালীর আর্থ-সামাজিক ক্ষমতায়নের যে রাজনীতি, তা গজল সন্ধ্যা ও নজরুল তীর্থের চমকের মাধ্যমে সম্ভব না। কারণ তার চাহিদাগুলি বিশাল-সংখ্যক হিন্দু বাঙ্গালির থেকে আলাদা নয় – যথা  খাদ্য নিরাপত্তা, কর্মসংস্থান, শিক্ষা, স্বাস্থ্য, ইত্যাদি। এই পথটি কন্টকময় ও  লম্বা – অনেক বিরোধিতাও আসবে আশরাফ মোসলমান ও সবর্ণ হিন্দু কায়েমী স্বার্থে ঘা লাগলে। কিনতু সে কঠিন পথের কোন সহজ  বিকল্প নেই।

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এই বাংলায় মায়ের দুটি পা, গরুর চারটে

অনেকে হয়তো এই লেখাটি সকালে কাজে যেতে যেতে বাসে-ট্রামে-ট্রেনে-মেট্রোতে পড়বেন। কেউ হয়ত পড়বেন সন্ধ্যেবেলা বাড়ি ফিরে, চান করে খাওয়ার টেবিলে। ভেবে দেখুন, খেতে বসেছেন। ফ্রীজে একটু মাংস রাখা আছে।  কাল বা পরশু রাঁধা হবে।  স্ত্রী খাবার বারছেন। বুড়া বাপ সোফায় বসে।  হঠাত শতশত লোক এসে আপনাকে, আপনার বাবাকে টেনে নিয়ে গেল। হঠাতই। তারপর অনেকে মিলে আপনাকে আধমরা করলো, আপনার বাবাকে মেরেই ফেলল।  তারপর চলে গেল। আপনার দুনিয়াটা শেষ হয়ে গেল। কারণ আপনার ফ্রিজে রাখা প্যাকেটে সেই মাংস এই খুনীদের, এই পাপীদের ‘ধর্মীয় অনুভূতিতে’ আঘাত করেছে। উত্তর প্রদেশের দাদরিতে ঠিক এই ঘটনাটাই ঘটেছে।  মহম্মদ আখলাক খুন হয়েছেন। তার লাশের মাংসের চেয়ে তার ফ্রীজের মাংসকে শনাক্ত করতে যে পাপিষ্ঠদের বেশি মাথাব্যথা, তাদেরই গুরু-ভাইরা দিল্লির মাধ্যমে এই বাংলাকেও শাসান এবং কোন একদিন শাসন করার স্বপ্ন দ্যাখেন। দাদরি কোথায় জানেন? নয়ডা-তে।  সেই নয়ডা যেখানে আপনার ছেলে-মেয়েকে আপনি পাঠাতে উত্সুক, যাতে তারা ‘আরো বড়’ হয়। এইটা হলো নয়ডা। শিকড়হীন যুবসমাজের ঝিনচ্যাক আর গরুর জন্য মানুষ খুন, এই নিয়ে সেখানকার সংস্কৃতি। ভাগ্যিস ‘আরো বড়’ হইনি, রয়েছি বঙ্গবাসী হয়ে, নয়ডাবাসী হইনি।

বিহারের মানুষের বড়ই দুর্ভাগ্য।  একটা নির্বাচন যেটা কিনা তাদের সামনে শিক্ষা-স্বাস্থ্য-নারী অধিকার-জাত ভিত্তিক বৈষম্য এবং আরো কত গুরুত্বপূর্ণ বিষয় আলোচিত হবার সুযোগ এনে দিয়েছিল, কিছু ঘৃণার কারবারী সেই নির্বাচনকে গরু-কেন্দ্রিক নির্বাচনে পরিনত করতে চায় জনগণকে ভ্যাড়া বানিয়ে। আর বাকি রাজ্যেও তারা ঢোকাতে চায় গরুর পাল, চালাতে চায় গরুর হাড়-শিং-মাংস নিয়ে ফেইসবুক, এসএমএস, হওয়াট্সয়াপের ছবি ও ঘৃণা  চালাচালির রাজনীতি। যে সময়ে স্বাস্থ্য, শিক্ষা ও আয়ের দিক থেকে সামান্য এগিয়ে থাকা আফ্রিকা মহাদেশের সাথে মহাসমেল্লনে স্বাস্থ্য, শিক্ষা ও আয়ের দিক থেকে আফ্রিকার থেকেও গড়ে পিছিয়ে থাকা ভারতীয় সংঘরাষ্ট্র গরীব জনতার টাকায় সস্তা বারফাট্টাই করে আফ্রিকাকে আর্থিক ও প্রযুক্তিগত ‘সাহায্য’ করার নানা চুক্তি করে, একই সময়ে আমাদের এই পোড়ার রাষ্ট্রে আত্মহত্যারত কৃষক, বেকার যুবক, ক্ষুধার্ত মা, রোগাক্রান্ত দাদু ও অপুষ্টিতে ভোগা শিশুর সামনে হাজির করা হচ্ছে তাদের সব সমস্যার এক দাওয়াই – গরুকে মা রূপে পুজো করা। আমরা যারা রোজ পেট পুরে খেতে পাই, যাদের আয় করার মোটামুটি একটা নির্ভরযোগ্য ব্যবস্থা আছে, তাদের একটা দায় আছে এই ষড়যন্ত্রের আগুনে হাওয়া না দেবার। বিজয়া দশমী সবে গেল।  সামনে কালী পুজো আসছে। তার মাঝে মানুষের জীবনের ইস্যুগুলিকে তুচ্ছ করে গরু, গরু করা একটা পাপ। আমরা বাঙ্গালী। মা দূর্গা আমাদের মা। মা দূর্গা আমাদের দ্যাখেন  এবং তিনি সব কিছুই দ্যাখেন। হিন্দুস্তানি এলাকায় গরু নিয়ে রাজনীতি দেখে এখানে কিছু লোকের মনে কি কি ফন্দি মাথায় আসছে, তিনি সেটাও দেখছেন। তিনি আমাদের হাড়ে হাড়ে চেনেন। আমাদের একটু সাবধান হওয়া উচিত। পাপ-পূণ্য বলে একটা ব্যাপার আছে – যেটা গরু-ভ্যাড়া-ছাগলের-শুয়োরের অনেক উপরে।

আমরা বঙ্গবাসী।  আমরা মাকে মা বলে জানি আর গরুকে গরু বলে জানি।  আমার মায়ের দুটো পা। গরুর চারটে পা। দুটো যাতে গুলিয়ে না ফেলি, এবং দুনিয়াকে চেনার সঠিক শিক্ষা পাই, তার জন্য আমার মা ও ঠাকুমা ছোটবেলায় আমাকে অনেকবার ‘আস্ত একটা গরু’ বলে বকাবকি করেছেন, উচিত শিক্ষা দিয়েছেন। অনেক ক্ষেত্রে ‘শুয়ার’ বলে গালি দিয়েছেন আমাকে আমার মা।  সেই শিক্ষায় আমরা মানুষ হয়েছি। যে মা আমাকে ‘গরু’ বলে গালি দিয়ে শিক্ষা দিত, আজ কারুর প্ররোচনায় যদি গরুকে মা বলে ডাক দিই, তাহলে আমাদের মায়ের শিক্ষা ব্যর্থ। বাংলা মায়ের অযোগ্য সন্তান হবার শখ আমার নেই। আজ বাইরে থেকে নানা তত্ত্ব আমদানি করে বাঙ্গালীকে কেউ কেউ মাকে ও গরুকে নতুন করে চেনানোর ঠিকাদারী নিয়ে বাংলায় ঘনঘন যাতাওয়াত করছে। এদের যাতাওয়াতের খাই-খরচা দিয়ে বাংলার মাটিতে বসেই ১৯৪৩-র মন্বন্তরে অশুভলাভ করা গণশত্রু  মজুতদারের নাতি-পুতিরা আরেকটা মহামৃত্যু ঘটানোর ফন্দি আটছে আরো বড় মুনাফার জন্য। তারা দিল্লীর সাথে ষড়যন্ত্র করে এককালে  বাংলা ভাগ করেছে, কলকাতাকে নিংড়ে নিয়েছে, তারা রক্ত শুষেছে বাংলার মানুষের, কিন্তু তাদের রক্তের খাই মেটে নাই। পৃথিবীতে সবচেয়ে ভয়ানক হলো অহিংসার কীর্তন করা মানুষের চোরাগোপ্তা সহিংসতা। জল বেশি দূর গড়ানোর আগেই এই খেলার নেপথ্য খেলোয়ারদের জার্সির রং, ক্লাবের তাঁবুর ঠিকানা, সব চিনে নেওয়া প্রয়োজন।  বাংলার স্বার্থে। শান্তি-রক্ষার স্বার্থে। মানবতার স্বার্থে।

বাংলার বাইরে অর্থাৎ  মুম্বই, গুরগাঁও, ছত্তিসগড়, রাজস্থান ইত্যাদি নানা জায়গায় সম্প্রতি গরু পেরিয়ে ভ্যাড়া, ছাগল ও মুরগির দিকেও হাত পড়েছে ধর্মের দোহাই দিয়ে। আমি শাক্ত, আমার চৌদ্দ পুরুষ শাক্ত, আমরা কালিঘাটে পাঠা বলি দিই মাকে তুষ্ট করতে, সেই বলির মাংস আমাদের কাছে  মায়ের প্রসাদ। সেই প্রসাদকে যারা হেয় করে, ঘেন্না করে, সেটাকে নিষিদ্ধ করে ধর্মের দোহাই দিয়ে, তাদের ধর্ম আমাদের নয়। সে ধর্মের প্রভাব থেকে মা কালী আমাদের রক্ষা করে আসছেন, করে যাবেন।  মা কালীর বাংলায় আমাদের যারা নিরামিষাশী গরু-ছাগল বানাতে চায়, তাদের ঠাঁই নাই। আজ কলকাতা শহরের বেসরকারী হাসপাতালে মুমূর্ষু রুগীকে নিরামিষ খেতে দেওয়া হয় মালিকের ধর্মীয় ‘অনুভূতি’ অনুযায়ী, চিকিত্সাবিজ্ঞানে কিছু ক্ষেত্রে আমিষ-প্রোটিন পথ্য বলে দেওয়া সত্ত্বেও।  আমাদের অজান্তেই আমাদের ঘর বেদখল হয়ে যাচ্ছে না তো ? এরা গরুতে থামবে না, এরা ছাগলে থামবে না, এরা সুজলা সুফলা বাংলাকে হিন্দি-হিন্দু-হিন্দুস্তান বানিয়ে তবে থামবে। শুয়োর-গরু-ছাগলের পাল যদি আমাদের এই বাংলার সোনালী-সবুজ ক্ষেতে ঢুকে শত শত বছর ধরে মানুষের রক্তে-ঘামে-ভালবাসায়-বোধে-বিশ্বাসে তৈরী করা সহাবস্থানের ফসল ধ্বংস করতে চায়, তাহলে মা কালিকে সাক্ষী রেখে কালিপটকার চেইন বাঁধা দরকার।  সে কালী পটকার চেইন লাগিয়ে দেওয়া দরকার বহির্শত্রুর ল্যাজে। তারপর আলতো করতে একটু আগুন জ্বালালেই পাপাত্মা থেকে মুক্তি। ব্যাপারটা সিরিয়াস। অনেককালের, অনেক যুগের, অনেক সিঞ্চনের, অনেক প্রেমের ফসল এই বাংলার মাটি। এই মাটিতে আমরা খাল কেটে কুমির ডাকবো নাকি এ মাটির ফসল লালন করব ভবিষ্যৎ প্রজন্মের বঙ্গবাসীর জন্য, সিদ্ধান্তটা আমাদের। ব্যক্তিগত ভাবে সিদ্ধান্তটা আমি নিয়ে ফেলেছি। তাই ঘরে কালিপটকা মজুত রেখেছি জন্ম থেকেই।  আসলে ওই মজুত করা কালী-পটকা আমি কিনিনি।  কিনেছিল আমার পূর্বপুরুষেরা। অনেক শতক আগে।  সেই থেকে ঘরে আছে। মাঝে মাঝে ওগুলোকে ছাদে উঠে রোদে তা দেওয়াই। কে জানে কখন কাজে লাগে। মা দুর্গাকে প্রার্থনা করি যেন কখুনো কাজে না লাগে, কিন্তু হিন্দুস্তানি এলাকার হল-হকিকত দ্যাখে আজকাল একটু ঘনঘনই ছাদে উঠি। রোদে তা দিই এবং মেঘের রং দেখি। আমরা ঘরপোড়া। অনেকের সিঁথির সিঁদুর উজাড় হয়েছে, অনেকের সম্ভ্রম লুন্ঠিত হয়েছে, অনেকের জান-মাল নষ্ট হয়েছে, ভিটামাটি ছাড়তে বাধ্য হয়েছে ১৯৪৭-এর আগেকার গরু-ভ্যাড়ার রাজনীতিতে। পূর্ব্ববঙ্গে সে রাজনীতি ধিকিধিকি আজও চলছে। ভিটা ছেড়ে তারা আজও আসছে এই বাংলায়। এই বাংলা যে সে মাটি নয়। আমাদের একটা দায়িত্ব আছে। রোগ না ছড়ানোর। রোগ সারানোর। মা কালী সকলের মঙ্গল করুন।

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ভারত ও ঢাকার মাঝখানে – অনিকেত প্রান্তর

গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের শেখ হাসিনা সাথে ভারতীয় সংঘ-রাষ্ট্রের নরেন্দ্র মোদীর চুক্তির ফলে নিরসন হলো ছিটমহল অধ্যায়, যদিও এর মধ্যেই অন্য রাষ্ট্র  বেছে নেওয়ায়ে সংখ্যালঘু ঘর ইতিমধ্যেই ঘর জ্বলেছে এক রাষ্ট্রে । অদ্ভূত জিনিস এই ধর্ম, রাষ্ট্র ও নাগরিকত্বের টানাপড়েন-গুলি।  আর এসব  এলোমেলো করে দেওয়া সেই অদ্ভূত শব্দটি – ‘জন্মভূমি’। বাংলাদেশের অন্তর্গত ‘ভারতীয়’ ছিটমহলে ‘ভারতীয়’ নাগরিক শিশু পাশের গ্রামে (অর্থাৎ বাংলাদেশে) গিয়ে শিখেছে যে তার প্রধানমন্ত্রী হলো শেখ হাসিনা। সর্বার্থেই ছিট-মহল গুলি প্রান্তিক, এমনকি রাষ্ট্রও তাদের থেকে আনুগত্য দাবি করে না। ভারতের নাগরিক নিজেকে ভারতীয় মনে করে কিনা, তেরঙ্গা দেখে সটান হয় কিনা, গান্ধী দেখে শ্রদ্ধা দেখানোর ভাব করে কিনা, ক্রিকেটে পাকিস্থান-ঘেন্না করে কিনা, ছিটমহলবাসীদের ক্ষেত্রে ভারতের তাও এসে যেত না। আজকালকার রাষ্ট্র-ভিত্তিক বিশ্ব-চরাচর-কল্পনার দিনে  দিনে এর চেয়ে হতোছেদা আর কি করে করা যেতে পারে। যাই হোক, আশা করা যায় যে এখান থেকে দুই দেশের বাচ্চারা ঠিক ঠিক পতাকা দেখে ঠিক ঠিক সটান হতে শিখবে।

ভারতের প্রধানমন্ত্রী, যিনি ঘুণাক্ষরেও সোসিয়াল মিডিয়া-তে হিন্দি ছাড়া কোন দেশী ভাষায় তার প্রজাদের বার্তা পাঠান না, এ হেন পাক্কা ভারতীয় জাতীয়তাবাদী পূর্ব্ববাংলা সফরকালে সস্তা চমক দিয়ে সেখানকার বাঙ্গালীর মন জয় করার জন্য টুইট করলেন বাংলায়। একজন পশ্চিম-বঙ্গবাসী হিসেবে এটা  কতটা অপমানজনক যে ভারতের প্রধানমন্ত্রী বাঙ্গালী হিসেবে আমাদের সেটুকু স্বীকৃতিও দেয় না, যতটা কিনা পূর্ব্ব-বঙ্গবাসীদের দেয়। আকাশ খুব অন্ধকার।  আমরা একটু নিজেদের ভাঙ্গা সিঁড়দারাটার দিকে চেয়ে দেখি, একটু লজ্জা পাই, একটু ক্ষুব্ধ হই, একটু আত্মসম্মান সঞ্চয় করি । স্বীকৃতি দিক না দিক, দিল্লি বাংলা ও অন্যান্য রাজ্যের থেকে করের টাকা নিয়ে খয়রাতি করে আসবে বিদেশে একটি বিশেষ ভাষা-কে ‘ভারতের  মুখ’হিসেবে ফোকাস দেওয়ার জন্য। এবার-ও নরেন্দ্রভাই-এর ঢাকা সফরকালে ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের একটি বিভাগের শ্রীবৃদ্ধি ঘটেছে নতুন দিল্লির সরকার বাহাদুরের কল্যানে। বাঙালি, তামিল, অহমিয়া, তেলুগু, কন্নড়-ভাষী মানুষেরা এটা জেনে প্রীত হবেন যে তাদের ভাষা-সংস্কৃতির প্রতিনিধিত্ব করার দায়িত্ব-টা হিন্দী আপনাদের না জানিয়েই নিয়ে নিয়েছেন আর সাথে নিয়েছে আপনাদের করের টাকা।  বলাই-বাহূল্য, নতুন দিল্লীর খয়রাতি পাওয়া ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের বিভাগটির নাম হিন্দী। আর এই সব খয়রাতি করে অনেকে ভেবেছেন ওরা হেব্বি খুশি।  ওরা কিন্তু অনেকেই বেশ রেগে আছেন।

কলকাতার হো চি মিন সরনীর নাম অনেকেই শুনে থাকবেন।  কেউ কেউ হয়তো জানবেন যে এই রাস্তার আগের নাম ছিল হ্যারিংটন স্ট্রীট। কে এই হ্যারিংটন? ইনি ফিরিঙ্গি কোম্পানির আমলে নিজামত বা সদর আদালত-এর প্রধান বিচারক ছিলেন।  ১৮২৩ সালের  ২৮ জুন তিনি লিখিত মন্তব্য করেন যে সতীদাহ প্রথা যদি তখুনি নিষিদ্ধ করে দেওয়া হয়, তাহলেও এই নিষিদ্ধকরণের বিরুধ্যে তেমন কোন রাজনৈতিক আন্দোলন তিনি আশা করেন না। অর্থাৎ জনগণ সে অর্থে সতিদাহর পক্ষে ছিল না। সতী-দাহ প্রথা নিষিদ্ধ হয় এর ছয় বছর পরে, ১৮২৯ -এ। নানা বিরুদ্ধতা উপেক্ষা সত্তেও সতিদাহ নিষিদ্ধকরণের যে প্রকাশ্য নায়কদের কথা আমাদের চিরকাল জেনে এসেছি, কিন্তু নেপথ্য নায়ক যে জনগণ, তাদেরকে স্বীকার করে নেন হ্যারিংটন। ফলে নায়কদের উচ্চতা একটু কমে, তাদের সংগ্রাম একটু ফ্যাকাশে হয়। তবুও সেটাই বাস্তব।  হ্যারিংটন-এর নামের জায়গায় হো চি মিন  দিয়ে সেটা ভোলা যায় না।  তবে হো চি মিন নামকরণের ছিল আরেকটি উদ্দেশ্য, এবং সেটি কিন্তু গর্ব করার মতো। এই রাস্তাতেই মার্কিন কনসুলেট। ভিয়েতনাম-এ মহিলা-শিশু-বৃদ্ধ নির্বিশেষে মানুষকে হত্যা করার যে নৃশংস খেলায় মেতেছিল মার্কিন যুক্তরাষ্ট্র, এটা ছিল তার-ই বিরুধ্যে কলকাতার নিজের মত করে প্রতিবাদ। একটু লজ্জা দেওয়া, একটু বিড়ম্বনায় ফেলা। কলকাতার মার্কিন দূতাবাসকে আজ-ও হো চি মিন-এর নাম স্মরণ করতে হয়, না চাইলেও। নৃশংসতার প্রতিবাদ হিসেবে লজ্জা দেওয়ার মতো নাম পরিবর্তনের দাবি কিন্তু বেশ ছোয়াঁচে।  নিষ্পাপ শিশু ফেলানি-কে ভারতের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের বি-এস-এফ বাহিনী গুলি করে হত্যা করে দুই বাংলার সীমান্তে। গরীবের মেয়ে ফেলানির দেহ লটকে সীমান্তের কাঁটাতারে লটকে থাকে বেশ কিছু সময়। আর বিঁধে থাকে ‘অনুভূতিগুলো’। এই কাঁটা-তার-এ ঝুলে থাকা শিশুর ছবিটি ভারতের ‘স্বাধীন’ ও ‘মুক্ত’ সংবাদ-মাধ্যম খুব বেশি প্রচার না করলেও, সারা বিশ্ব জেনে গেছিল ফেলানিকে এবং তাকে খুন করা উর্ধি-ধারী বাহিনীকে, যাদের মাইনে  আমি আপনি দিই। বাঙ্গালীর দ্বিতীয় বৃহত্তম শহর ঢাকায় উঠেছিল প্রতিবাদের ঝড়, দাবি উঠেছিল সেখানকার ভারতীয় দুতাবাসের সামনের রাস্তার নাম বদলে  ফেলানির নামে করে দেবার জন্য। তারপর যা হবার, তাই হয়েছে।  গরিব মানুষের মেয়ের মৃত্যু নিয়ে প্রতিবাদ বেশিদিন টিকে থাকে না – ঘটনা হয়ে যায় সংখ্যা । ফেলানি ঝুলে ছিল যে কাঁটা-তারে, দুই বাংলার মধ্যে সে কাঁটা-তার বানিয়েছে দিল্লী। এতে ওপার থেকে অনুপ্রবেশ কমেছে কিনা, তার কোন খবর নেই , তবে এই কাঁটা-তার লাগানোর বরাত পেয়ে যে ঠিকাদার-রা কাজ করেছেন, তারা যাদের ঠিকাদার হবার নিয়োগ দিয়েছেন, তাদের যে পকেট ভালই ভরেছে, সেটা বলাই বাহুল্য। সেটাও আমার আপনার টাকা। তবে এটা যেহেতু ‘জাতীয় সুরক্ষা’র প্রশ্ন, বেশি হিসেব চাইবেন না। বেশি হিসেব চাইলে আপনাকে সিধা করার মত নানা কালা কানুন ভারতে মজুত আছে – অশোক-স্তম্ভের সিংহ-গুলি শুধু দাঁড়িয়ে থাকে না, কামড়ে রক্ত-ও বার করে।

ভারতের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের প্রধানমন্ত্রী নরেন্দ্র মোদী সম্প্রতি পূর্ব্ব বাংলা ঘুরে এসে বললেন যে ছিট-মহল বিনিময়ের ঘটনা হলো বার্লিনের প্রাচীরের পতনের মতই ‘ঐতিহাসিক’। এই ‘ঐতিহাসিক’ ধারণাটা আমি কখুনই ঠিক বুঝে উঠতে পারিনি। কোনটা ঐতিহাসিক, কোনটা নয়, কেই বা সেসব ঠিক করে দেয়।  তবে এটুকু জানি, যে দুই গরীব বাস্তুহারা টইটুম্বুর  বাংলার মধ্যে যে ‘অনিকেত প্রান্তর’, তার মাঝে কাঁটা-তার বসিয়ে আর যাই হোক, বার্লিনের প্রাচীর পতন হয় না। সীমান্ত-বাসী মানুষের ভাষা যারা বোঝে না, তাদের গায়ে উর্দি পরিয়ে, হাতে বন্দুক ধরিয়ে ধর্ষণ করানোকে, মন-মর্জি মতো মারামারি ও জিনিস-পত্র হাতানোকে, হতদরিদ্র মানুষ খুন করানোকে ‘সুরক্ষা’র নাম দেওয়া পাপ। এই পাপ কিন্তু আমাদের পয়সায় মাইনে পাওয়া-রা কিন্তু করে এপার বাংলার মানুষজনের সঙ্গেও।  এমন পাপ মা দূর্গা কখুনো মাফ করবেন কিনা জানিনা।

যখন এই দিল্লী-ঢাকা শীর্ষ দেওয়া-নেওয়া হচ্ছিল, পাশে থাকা থেকে সাথে থাকার সুললিত বাণী দেওয়া হচ্ছিল, ঠিক তখুনই হাসিনা সরকারের প্রবাস কল্যাণমন্ত্রী মোশারফ হোসেন ফরিদপুরে তার বহুদিনকার চেনা একটি প্রথিত্জসা সংখ্যালঘু পরিবারের বসতবাড়ি জোর করে হাতিয়ে নেবার সব রকম ব্যবস্থা সম্পন্ন করেছেন। একদিন হয়তো সেই নিপীড়িত পরিবারের একজন ‘এপারে’ চলে আসবে। পশ্চিম-বঙ্গের বাঙ্গালীদের সংস্কৃতিক নিজস্বতাকে যারা স্বীকৃতি দেয় না, তাদের কোলেই খুঁজতে হবে নতুন আশ্রয় ও পরিচয়। তারপর তার এই নতুন প্রভু তার নিজের রাজনীতির খেলার অংশ হিসেবে দেখাবেন ‘নাগরিকত্বের’ লোভ। তাই দেখে পূর্ব্ব বাংলার কেউ কেউ বলবেন যে এমন ঘোষণা হলো অনধিকার-চর্চা। ঘর-পালানো মানুষটা কি আজ-ও ‘ওপারের’?  পূর্ব্ব বাংলার ভিটে ছেড়ে পালিয়ে আসা বাঙ্গালী হিন্দু ঠিক কোন মুহুর্তে ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’ হয়ে যায় এবং দেশ নিয়ে কিছু বলার অধিকার হারায়? পালানোর দিন ? বর্ডার পেরোলে ? ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’ নাগরিকত্ব পেলে? দুই পুরুষ পরে? নাকি এসবের অনেক আগে, ‘ভুল’ ধর্মে জন্মমুহুর্তে? আমি জানি না।

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লাভ জেহাদ – তথ্য কই ?

[ ArekRakam]
অধিকাংশ মানব সমাজেই বিবাহ বা তারই কোনো অন্য সমাজ-স্বীকৃত রূপকে মানব-মানবীর প্রেমের স্থায়ী বন্ধনের সবচেয়ে বিশুদ্ধ রূপ বলে মনে করা হয়।  যদিও বাজারে প্রেমে ‘অন্ধ’ হওয়ার কথাটি বেশ চালু আছে, সমাজ স্বীকৃত সম্পর্ক বা নিজেদের রেডিকাল বলে প্রচার করা মানুষদিগের তথাকথিত ‘বিকল্প’ সম্পর্ক-ধারনায় হোক, অধিকাংশ ক্ষেত্রেই তার চোখ অন্ধ তো নয়,বন্ধ ও নয়।  যদি বিবাহের দিকেই তাকানো যায় , তাহলেই দেখব যে ধর্ম, বর্ণ, শ্রেণী, জাত, ভাষা অথবা এ সকল জিনিসের এক সংমিশ্রণ অধিকাংশ ক্ষেত্রেই স্পষ্ট ভাবে নির্ধারক ভূমিকা নেয়। তাদের ব্যক্তিগত আদর্শ বা চিন্তাধারার কারণে এহেন অবস্থাকে কেউ কেউ অপছন্দ করতেই পারেন, কিন্তু এটাই সামাজিক বাস্তবতা।  শুধু ‘সাধারণ’ মানুষ নন, স্ব-আখ্যাত ‘অসাধারণ’ ও ‘রেডিকেল’ মানুষজনেরও যুগল ভাবনা মুখের বুলিতে যাই হোক, বাস্তবে তাদের
বাছ-বিচারেও ‘সাধারণ’-এর মাপকাঠিগুলিই প্রকট। চড়া গলায় প্রকাশ্য দ্রোহের অন্তরালে দেখা যায় যে ‘অসাধারণ’ রা আসলে সাধারণ।  ক্রিষ্ঠান ধর্মাবলম্বী পরিবারে জন্মানো শ্বেতাঙ্গ পুরুষ-মহিলাগণ, যাদের জীবন ,
আদর্শ ও দর্শন অনেকাংশেই শহুরে দিশি ‘রেডিকেল’ দের অনুপ্রাণিত করে, সেই নরোত্তমেরা অধিকাংশ ক্ষেত্রে সেই ক্রিষ্ঠীয় বংশোদ্ভূত শ্বেতাঙ্গ পরিবারের কাউকেই বিবাহ করে। নানা রকম ‘কসমোপলিটান’ কল্পনার শাক দিয়ে এই মাছ ঢাকার অপচেষ্টা চললেও, এটাই ঘটনা। সংখ্যাগরিষ্ট কে লঘু করে দেখানো আর সংখ্যালঘু কেকে ফাঁপিয়ে দেখানোটা ঈসপের ল্যাজ-কাটা শেয়ালের কৌশলের অংশ।একটা জিনিস বুঝে নেওয়া দরকার। কিছু মহলে, ভিন্ন ধর্ম বা ভাষা বা জাতীয়তার মানুষের মধ্যে বিবাহকে কিছুটা ‘উচ্চতর’ মর্যাদা দেওয়া হয়। যেন এগুলি সাধারণ বিবাহের থেকে একটু উচ্চকোটির জিনিস।  নিজেদের পারিবারিক
ধর্মের মানুষকেই বিবাহ করেন মানব জাতির বিপুল সংখ্যাগরিষ্ট মানুষ। ভালো-মন্দ অপ্রাসঙ্গিক। এইটেই বাস্তব।
‘লাভ জেহাদ’ হলো এমন এক ঘটনা যেখানে মোসলমান পুরুষ পূর্ব-পরিকল্পিত ভাবে অ-মোসলমান নারীকে বাছাই করে, অনেক ক্ষেত্রে নিজের মোসলমান পরিচয় গোপন করে  তার সাথে  প্রেম, বিবাহ বা যৌনাচার বা সবকটিই করে শেষ অবধি তাকে ইসলাম ধর্মে ধর্মান্তরিত করার উদেশ্যে বা অ-মোসলমান নারী ও তার সমাজের সম্ভ্রম-হানি ঘটানোর উদ্দেশ্যে। পাকিস্তানে (বিশেষত সিন্ধু প্রদেশে) ও ইংলন্ডে এমন কিছু ঘটনা ঘটেছে। ভারতীয় ইউনিয়ন-এ কেরল, কর্নাটক ও সম্প্রতি উত্তর প্রদেশ  থেকে এমন কিছু ঘটনার অভিযোগ এসছে।  এই ঘটনাগুলিতে পুলিশী তদন্ত কিন্তু এমন কোনো ব্যাপক তথা পূর্বপরিকল্পিত ‘লাভ জেহাদ’-এর মত ঘটনার  প্রমাণ পায়নি।  উত্তর প্রদেশের মতো এলাকা, যেখানে সাম্প্রদায়িক রেষারেষির সুদীর্ঘ ইতিহাস রয়েছে, সেখানে এই ‘লাভ জেহাদ’ নিয়ে ব্যাপক প্রচার চলেছে কট্টর হিন্দুত্ববাদী কিছু চক্রের সাহায্যে।
ভারতীয় ইউনিয়ন-এ যে আইন প্রচলিত আছে, তাতে কোনো মোসলমান পুরুষ-এর কোন অ-মোসলমান নারীর সাথে প্রেম বা বিবাহ করতে বাধা নেই, বাধা নেই সেই মহিলাকে ইসলাম ধর্মে ধর্মান্তরিত করতেও। একই ভাবে, কোন হিন্দু পুরুষ-এরও কোন অ-হিন্দু নারীর সাথে প্রেম বা বিবাহ করতে বা ধর্মান্তরিত করানোতে বাধা নেই।  যখন এই জিনিসগুলি ঘটে, তখন খাঁটি প্রেমের কারণে হয় নাকি মনের গোপনে গোপনে তা কেউ অপর ধর্মের নারী-দের ফাঁসানোর উদেশ্যে করে, তা জানতে মনের খবর জানার যে প্রযুক্তি প্রয়োজন, তা ভাগ্যিস এখুনো কল্পবিজ্ঞানের স্তরেই আছে। কিন্তু কেউ যদি ইচ্ছাকৃত ভাবে পরিচয় গোপন করে (  উদাহরণ স্বরূপ, কোন হিন্দু পুরুষ যদি তার হিন্দু পরিচয় গোপন করে সে মোসলমান , এমন ধারণা দেয়ে কোন মোসলমান নারী-কে আকর্ষিত করতে), সে ক্ষেত্রে ব্যাপারটা জালিয়াতি বলেই গন্য করা উচিত এবং এর পিছনে অন্য অসাধু উদ্দেশ্যের কথাও উড়িয়ে দেওয়া যায় না।  যদিও এমন জালিয়াতির ঘটনা কিছু পাওয়া-ও যায়, তার ভিত্তিতে এটা বলা  সম্ভব না যে এই ঘটনা বৃহত্তর কোনো ষড়যন্ত্রের অংশ কি না। কিন্তু ‘লাভ জেহাদ’ নিয়ে যে উত্তেজক পরিস্থিতির সৃষ্টি হয়েছে, তার পরিপ্রেক্ষিতে এ ব্যাপারে পরিষ্কার তথ্য সামনে আসা প্রয়োজন।  যখন তথ্য থাকে অপ্রতুল, তখন বাগাড়ম্বর, গুজব ও ঘৃণা-উদ্ভূত কল্পিত ‘তথ্য’-ই সত্যের স্থান দখল করে নেয়।  সেটা একটা বিপজ্জনক খেলা। অনেক সময় নিরীহ মানুষকে  রক্তে সে খেলার দাম চোকাতে হয়।
ভারতীয় ইউনিয়ন-এ প্রচলিত নিয়ম অনুযায়ী বর্তমানে অবিবাহিত যে কোন পুরুষ  বর্তমানে অবিবাহিত যে কোন মহিলাকে বিবাহ করতে পারে।  যদি কোন ধর্মের থেকে অপর ধর্মের মহিলাদের বিশেষ-ভাবে ‘টার্গেট’ না করা হয়, এ ব্যবস্থার ফলশ্রুতি হিসেবে বাস্তবে এই দেখতে পাওয়া উচিত যে হিন্দু স্বামী – মোসলমান স্ত্রী যুগলের সংখ্যা মোসলমান স্বামী – হিন্দু স্ত্রী যুগল সংখ্যার মোটামুটি কাছাকাছি। রাজ্য স্তরে বা জেলা স্তরেও এই প্যাটার্ন দেখতে পাওয়া উচিত।  তার থেকেও স্থানীয় স্তর-এ সংখ্যাতাত্ত্বিক বিচার করার মত সংখ্যায় তথ্য নাও থাকতে পারে।  যদি রাজ্য স্তরে বা জেলা স্তরে দেখা যায় এক ধরণের যুগলের সংখ্যার সাথে  অন্য ধরণের যুগলের সংখ্যার অনেকটা অসাম্য রয়েছে, তখন বৃহত্তর কারণের কথা ভাবতে হবে।  কিন্তু ঘটনা হলো, এসব কোন তথ্যই কারো কাছে নেই।  এমন তথ্য কেন নেই, সে প্রশ্ন করা দরকার – বিশেষত যখন এই ধরনের ব্যাপার বর্তমান রাজনৈতিক পরিপ্রেক্ষিতে এমন বিভেদকারী পরিস্থিতির সৃষ্টি করছে। ভারতীয় ইউনিয়ন-এ জ্ঞানীগুনী  গবেষকের কোনো অভাব নেই।  ভালো করে সমাজ-বিজ্ঞান ভিত্তিক একটা কাজ করে, জরিপ করে এগুলি জানতে পারা কি এতই শক্ত? দেশ ও দশের সামাজিক-রাজনৈতিক  জীবনের সঙ্গে প্রাসঙ্গিক গবেষণাতে এহেন অনীহা এই উপমহাদেশের জ্ঞানী শ্রেনীর  সমাজ-বিচ্যুত অবস্থানের দিকেই দিক-নির্দেশ করে। অথচ টিভি তথা অন্যান্য সংবাদ মাধ্যমে  প্রায়শই দেখা যায় পন্ডিত ও আলোচকদের , ‘লাভ জেহাদ’ সত্য বা মিথ্যা, এই নিয়ে জোর গলায়ে দাবি রাখতে, এক তিল তথ্য প্রদান না করেও।  এটা শুধু হতাশাব্যঞ্জক নয়, দায়িত্বজ্ঞানহীন ও বটে।
জনসংখ্যার ধর্মভিত্তিক অনুপাত ইত্যাদি নিয়ে উদ্বেগ ও সাম্প্রদায়িক রাজনীতি, দুইই বাস্তব। গুজরাটের সুরাবর্দি এবং অধুনা ভারতীয় ইউনিয়ন-এর প্রধানমন্ত্রী নরেন্দ্র মোদী এক সময়  নিয়মিত ভাবে তার রাজনৈতিক জমায়েত-এ মোসলমান সম্প্রদায়-কে ব্যঙ্গ করতেন  ‘হাম পাঁচ , হামারে পচ্চিস ‘ ( আমরা পাঁচজন , আমাদের পচিসজন ) বলে।  অর্থাত , এক মোসলমান পুরুষ, তার ৪ স্ত্রী, ও তার ফলে ২৫ টি সন্তান।  এর মাধ্যমে ইসলাম স্বীকৃত ও ভারতীয় আইন স্বীকৃত  মোসলমান পুরুষের বহুবিবাহের বৈধতার দিকে যেমন খোঁচা আছে, তেমনি আছে বেশি সংখ্যক সন্তান উত্পাদনের মাধ্যমে জন-সংখ্যার ধর্মভিত্তিক অনুপাত বদলানোর প্রচেষ্টার ইঙ্গিত। এই নিয়ে প্রচার ‘লাভ জেহাদ’ এর থেকে অনেক বেশি।  এই যে দাবি, যা নিয়ে প্রচার-ও বড় কম নয়, তার কি বাস্তব ভিত্তি আছে। অন্ততঃ বহুবিবাহ প্রশ্নে উত্তর স্পষ্টতই না।  কারণ এক্ষেত্রে তথ্য আছে। যতদিন আদমশুমারিতে বিবাহিত স্ত্রীর সংখ্যা গণনা করা হত, তার শেষ তথ্য ১৯৬১ সালের আদমশুমারির। তাতে আমরা কি দেখতে পাই? আমরা দেখি যে ৫.৭% মোসলমান পুরুষের একাধিক স্ত্রী আছে। অর্থাৎ মোটামুটি ২০ জন-এ ১ জন মোসলমান পুরুষের ১৯৬১ নাগাদ একাধিক স্ত্রী ছিল।  সেই একই সময়ে হিন্দু পুরুষের বহুবিবাহের হার হলো ৫.৮% – অর্থাৎ মোটামুটি এক, এবং চুলচেরা বিচার করলে অতি সামান্য বেশি-ই। অর্থাৎ বাস্তব তথ্য বহুবিবাহ সংক্রান্ত  মুসলমান-বিদ্বেষী প্রচারের বিপরীত।  ঠিক এই কারণেই তথ্য প্রয়োজন, প্রয়োজন সংখ্যার – ষড়যন্ত্র ও চক্রান্ত, আছে না নেই, এই সব দিয়ে পরিস্থিতি বিষনোর আগে।এ প্রসঙ্গে জানিয়ে রাখা ভালো যে ১৯৫৫ অবধি হিন্দু বহুবিবাহ-ও আইনত বৈধ ছিল। আজও মোসলমান সম্প্রদায়ের বিরুধ্যে অন্য সম্প্রদায়ের থেকে বেশি হারে বহুবিবাহের অভিযোগ আনা হয় হরদম কোন তথ্যের ধার না ধেরেই।
তথ্য ভিত্তিহীন প্রচারের ভুক্তভোগী কুলীন ব্রাহ্মণেরাও।  রাজনৈতিক প্রচারে, ব্যঙ্গে এবং ‘অন্তর্জলি যাত্রা’র মতো  চলচ্চিত্রের ফলে এক ধারণা জনমানসে বেশ বদ্ধমূল।  তা হলো এক কালের  কুলীন ব্রাহ্মণ মাত্রেই বহুবিবাহ করা লোক।এ কথা সত্য যে কিছু কুলীন ব্রাহ্মণ বহুবিবাহ করতেন – তাদের মধ্যে একটি ক্ষুদ্র অংশ বিশাল সংখ্যায় করতেন এই কদর্য  কাজ।  এ নিয়ে বিতর্ক নেই।  কিন্তু কুলীন ব্রাহ্মণ বলতেই যে একরকম চরিত্র-অঙ্কন তার মধ্যে রয়েছে গোঁজামিল। যে সমাজে কন্যা ভ্রুণ হত্যার সুদীর্ঘ মর্মন্তুদ ইতিহাস রয়েছে এবং বিবাহে জাতের বাছ-বিচারের ফলে নিজের জাতেই বিয়ে হত কুলীন ব্রাহ্মণ-দের, সেই পরিপ্রেক্ষিতে সেক্স রেসিও (অর্থাত জনসংখ্যায়  ১০০০ পুরুষ প্রতি কজন মহিলা) ১০০০-এর কম হওয়াটাই  স্বাভাবিক।  যেখানে অনেক কুলীন ব্রাহ্মণ পুরুষের স্ত্রী জতারি কথা নয় সরল সংখ্যাতাত্ত্বিক বিচারে, সেখানে বহুবিবাহের ব্যাপক প্রসার এক কথায় অসম্ভব।  ঠিক যেমন যে কোন সমাজে একই সাথে একধিক স্ত্রী থাকার ব্যাপারটি এক ক্ষুদ্র অংশেরই আচরণ হতে পারে।  অন্যথা হওয়াটা গাণিতিক-ভাবেই দুষ্কর।
কাউকে কেউ অপছন্দ করতেই পারেন, সে মোসলমান হোক, কুলীন ব্রাহ্মণ হোক, শ্বেতাঙ্গ সাহেব হোক। কিন্তু সে ঘৃণার বর্শায়ে বিষ হিসেবে বাস্তব-ভিত্তিহীন প্রচার মাখানো অন্যায় ও পাপ।  ‘লাভ জেহাদ’ নিয়ে যে বিতর্ক, তা এই ধরনের প্রচারের সাম্প্রতিকতম উদাহরণ মাত্র।  বরং প্রশ্ন উঠুক – তথ্য নেই কেন ? সামাজিক বাস্তবতা নিয়ে তথ্যই তো গণ-বিতর্ক-কে শক্তিশালী করে।  অন্যথা চলে ঘৃনা-প্রতিঘৃণার এক প্রাচীন খেলা। প্রশ্ন যখন সংখ্যা নিয়ে, তথ্যই হোক হাতিয়ার। গুজবের মাঞ্জা দিয়ে একে অপরকে ভো-কাট্টা করার অপচেষ্টা বন্ধ হোক।

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The illegal Bangladeshi – a view from West Bengal

[ Express Tribune (Karachi), 16 May 2014 ; Observer Bangladesh, 17 May 2014 ; Millenium Post, 15 May 2014; Kashmir Observer, 17 May 2014]

The massive victory of Narendrabhai Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recently concluded parliamentary elections of the Indian Union has brought much cheer to Islamo-nationalist political forces in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The cynical calculation behind the jubilation is that the new government will squeeze illegal Bangladeshi migrants who are in the Indian Union. The Awami League government will look like a lame duck in front of an aggressive New Delhi. This would strengthen the Bangladeshi opposition’s case of Awami League being an Indian (read Hindu) stooge. This will politically benefit the opposition. However, it is not to be forgotten that during the last Islamo-nationalist Bangaldesh Nationalist Party government at Dhaka, which partially coincided with the tenure of the BJP-led government at New Delhi, many ‘deals’ happened. There were ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ then too. What are the plans of the new New Delhi government will unfold soon.

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh shares with the Indian Union a border whose drawing, policing and barb-wiring takes into account the concerns of everyone except those who live at the border. This is probably true for nation-state borders in general. The Border Security Force (BSF) of the Indian Union has a distinctly bad reputation for being trigger-happy when it comes to shooting down what it claims as people illegally crossing the border. This makes the BSF a much-hated name in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, a sentiment that is used to the hilt by Islamo-nationalist political forces in their campaigns. The BSF also routinely harasses, rapes, maims and assaults people in the villages of the West Bengal side of the border. This complicates the easy narrative of BSF’s anti-Bangladesh bias. Like all stat-raised band of armed people, these are self-serving forces. The border is a plum posting for the amount of money paid to border security personnel on either side – an ‘illegal’ taxing of ‘illegal’ activities. BSF, with its assaults on both East Bengalis and West Bengalis, seems to be an equal opportunity brutalizer. This is the force entrusted by the Indian Union to keep ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ to enter the territories of the Indian Union.

During elections in the subcontinent, neighbouring nation-states and their inhabitants come alive as proxies for domestic issues and fissures. ‘India’ is one of the fundamental axes around which politics in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal expresses itself. The Indian Union has ‘closet Pakistanis’ and ‘illegal Bangladeshis’.

Narendra Modi, speaking at a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally at Srirampur in West Bengal on 27th April, made public his resolve to deport Bangladeshis from India. It is an old BJP charge that most political forces in West Bengal have tried to get Muslim votes by nurturing illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, by getting them government documents to regularize their illegal status. The unsubstantiated underside of this charge is that the West Bengali Muslims look favourably at this development and do not mind this increase in the number of their co-religionists. At the alarmist end of this claim is that West Bengal is staring at an inevitable demographic reversal where Bengali Hindus will soon lose their majority, thus losing their only safe haven (though victims of the 1971 Marichjhapi massacre would say otherwise). That modern yearning for a united Hindu vote (just like monolithic Hinduism) remains unfulfilled. The BJP’s thought that in West Bengal’s multi-cornered fight, a renewed push at the consolidation of some Hindu votes might reap some dividends has turned out to be true as it increased its vote percentage all across West Bengal and has emerged as the second largest party in the Kolkata metropolis – an unprecedented development.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief beneficiary of Muslim Bengali votes, had reacted sharply to Modi’s statement. She characterized it as a ploy to divide Bengalis along religious lines. Banerjee is aware that between a third and a fourth of West Bengal’s electorate are Muslims and were crucial to her dream post-May 16th scenario of calling shots at Delhi. With the BJP’s absolute majority at the centre, such dreams came to a nought. Nonetheless, she had reminded the people that the ‘butcher of Gujarat’ does not have a clean record of ensuring peaceful co-existence between religious communities. Modi’s ‘Bangladeshi’ is a codeword that Banerjee can decode.

Though pre-partition Bengal was very often called Bangladesh, and a dwindling number of West Bengalis continue to say Bangladesh when they mean West Bengal, the term ‘Bangladeshi’ is a relatively recent term. The term owes its present currency to Bangladesh’s dictator Zia-ur-Rahman who used this term effectively in his soft-Islamization programme to counter the politico-cultural capital of Bengali identity, deemed to be a political tool of the Awami League and otherwise polluted by Hindu Bengali influences.

The ‘Bangladeshi’ that Modi wants deport back to East Bengal is a Muslim migrant from East Bengal. He did not cross over or bribe the Border Security Force in order to wage a demographic war against West Bengal’s Hindu majority. He did that because he is pitifully poor in a low-wage country and would have gone to Dubai or Malaysia if he could. East Bengali Hindus have additional reasons to cross over, given the rampant systemic discrimination they face in their homeland, in addition to the general atmosphere of insecurity for religious minorities in that country.

When some professional secularists claim that few, if any, illegal Bangladeshi migrants are present in the Indian Union, they are consciously lying and this does immense damage to their otherwise good causes. It is undeniable that a very large people from East Bengal (whose present political form broadly is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh) have been migrating to the Indian Union, since 1947. While this traffic has seen ups and downs, there are specific high-points. The early migrations are etched in public memory due to their immediate ties to the partition. The widespread rioting in East Bengal in 1950 led to a large second wave. There have been many waves after that. The anti-Hindu riots of 1964 and the 1965 Indo-Pak war saw a huge number of people move out. The events of 1971 took this to another scale altogether, where a genocide, directed towards East Bengalis in general and East Bengali Hindus in particular, produced 10 million refugees of which nearly 1.5 million (mostly East Bengali Hindus and East Pakistani Bihari Muslims) never went back. 1971 marks the peculiar end of the ‘legitimate’ refugee. This partly stems from the false idea that religious minorities are ‘safe’ in ‘secular’ Bangladesh. By 1974, those who had fled during the Bangladesh Liberation war events of 1971, the percentage of Hindus in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh stood at 12.1 %. The 2011 figure was 8.5 %, a staggering 33% decrease in proportional terms. The downward trend continued through every decade since 1971. The Babri demolition of 1992, the 2001 and 2014 anti-Hindu violence were big-spurt in this continuous trickle. Even on 27th April, the day Narendrabhai Modi gave several Hindu temples and homes were ransacked in the Comilla district of Bangladesh.

It can be safely assumed that most of those who fled their homeland ended up in the Indian Union. The long partition continues. 1971 does not represent a change. That partition and refugee narratives tend to centre around 1947 and are mostly from the higher castes, the low-caste heavy later traffic does garner the same prominence in ‘public imagination’ of West Bengal, still dominated by the higher-castes. Namasudras and other lower caste communities of East Bengal have formed the bulk of the post-1971 migration, many settling in 24 Parganas district. The Muslim migration follows similar routes. The shifting demographic reality of 24 Parganas and the consequent insecurity that it evokes among people who recently fled East Bengal to find security in a different demographic reality across the border has resulted in a series of riots in that area. Fringe groups like Hindu Samhati have fished in these troubled waters with some success. Public muscle flexing of certain Muslim groups in that area has not helped matters. Copybook trigger issues like music in religious procession passing through specific routes, encroaching on religious site and trans-community eloping/kidnapping are all present. While political parties are doing their arithmetic carefully, conflagrations in the subcontinent have the power of burning calculation sheets to ashes, with the spoils going to the most cynical players.

In this high-stakes game among the powerful, the unresolved issues of the powerless fester on. Fleeing persecution, insecurity and death, the post-1971 lower caste refugees from East Bengal remain ‘illegal’. For all practical purposes, the Indian Union denies citizenship to those who crossed over from East Bengal after 25th March 1971, the day when major atrocities by the Pakistan army started in Dhaka. The 2003 Citizenship (Amendment) Act took away the possibility of birthright citizenship from the children of many of those who fled persecution in East Bengal. This has created millions of state-less young people who are children of refugees (infiltrators in government-speak) who have lived all their life in the Indian Union. Due to the amendment, many Dalit migrants were been identified as ‘infiltrators’ and deportation proceedings were started. The Matuas, one of the largest low caste groups of primarily East Bengali origin namasudras settled in West Bengal, have been protesting this act, passed incidentally by a BJP-led government. While all political parties want the ‘legal’ Matua vote, they are silent on the citizenship question. The root problem is that they want to duck the issue of distinguishing between the varying motives of those who crossed over. To the Hindutva brigade, this question is a ‘secular’ way of effectively distinguishing between Muslim and Hindu illegal migrants. No one wants to be seen as the one who wants blanket amnesty to Bangladeshi Muslim migrants. Neither does one want to appear insensitive to the plight of human rights refugees. Silent solidarity will be enough for votes. Modi has astutely recognized an opportunity and has set the cat among pigeons by calling for for evaluation of illegal migrants, case by case. He has also gone on to state that all Hindus have a right to seek refuge in the Indian Union. He is silent on why his party’s government passed legislation that took away the possibility of citizenship from the children of lakhs of low caste Hindus of East Bengal.

Ultimately, the persecuted Hindus of East Bengal (refugees and resident) are mere pawns. When Delhi-based Subramaniam Swamy (who has not been included in the cabinet till now by Narendra Modi) outrageously claimed a third of the territory of the Bangladesh to settle illegal Bangladeshis, he does not care about the ramifications of such statements on the situation of Hindu Bengalis presently living in Dhaka and Chittagong, where they are branded Indian fifth-columnists by dint of faith. The 1992 actions of Ramlala’s lovers took its toll on many Hindus in Dhaka and elsewhere. The Hindustani Hindutva brigade couldn’t care less about this type of ‘collateral damage’.

East Bengali Hindu migrants are unfortunate. The prime beneficiaries of partition crafted the Nehru-Liaquat pact of 1950. Many did not move due to the false sense of assurance (including the assurance of the door being permanently open) that came with this largely ceremonial gesture. By this, the Indian Union effectively washed off its hands from the ‘minority problem’ in Pakistan. It did not want the refugees whose refugee status resulted directly from the political agreement and power-hungry moves that created the Indian Union in the way it did. ‘Shutting the door’ has been the Indian Union policy post-1971 (similar to what Pakistan did to stranded Pakistanis in Dhaka), something it cannot implement – one of the natural consequences of claiming full monitoring abilities over an absurd frontier. For decades, the Indian Union has systematically discriminated Eastern frontier refugees (mostly Bengalis) on questions of compensation, entitlement, relief, citizenship, etc. The Indian Union owes reparation to these people, for the Indian Union’s creation and its geographical contours are intimately tied to their migration and impoverishment.

The ‘illegal Bangladeshi’ and associated codeword play is a problem created by a partition that failed as a solution. If division has failed, some measure of integration is necessary. This can take various forms including the possibility of dual or tiered citizenship for all Bangladeshi migrants. Of course, the government at Dhaka has to be a party to it, since migration to the Indian Union has been crucial in the alienation of a huge amount of Hindu-owned property in Bangladesh. Whatever certain private fantasies may be, that a Muslim-free Indian Union or a Hindu-free Bangladesh cannot be a solution is evident on a daily basis in almost minority-free Pakistan. A comprehensive asylum system needs to be instituted, which does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Hindus are not the only human rights victims in Bangladesh. The Ahmadiya Muslims, the Jumma people of the Chittagong Hill tracts and many more are. When any India-based entity like the BJP makes public pronouncements about its sympathy towards victims of human rights victims anywhere, it might do well to make amends for the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, Ahmedabad, Deganga and a lot more. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

 

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Filed under Bengal, Caste, Delhi Durbar, Dhaka, Displacement, Identity, Nation, Partition, Religion

সংহতির রাজনীতি – গাজা থেকে আইসিস

[ Ebela, 4 Sep, 2014]

গণহত্যার ফলে যখন মানুষ মারা যায়ে, তখন ‘সন্তান মোর মার’ গোছের ভাবনার একটা দাম আছে। কিন্তু কত মানুষ মরলো, সেই সংখ্যার বিচার-ও একদম ফেলনা নয়।  তাই তো চোরাগোপ্তা হাজারো হত্যার মাঝেও জ্বলজ্বল করে কলকাতা ৪৬, নোয়াখালি ৪৬, পাঞ্জাব ৪৭, বরিশাল ৫০, দিল্লী ৮৪, গুজরাট ২০০২। গণহত্যা বা জেনোসাইড কথাটিও ঠিক যত্রতত্র ব্যবহারের জিনিস নয়।  পৃথিবীর বুকে থাকার অধিকার আছে সকলের। একটি বিশেষ জনগোষ্ঠী নিকেষ হবার উপক্রম হলে শুধু কটা মানুষ হারিয়ে যায় না।  হারিয়ে যায়ে পৃথিবীকে ও জীবনকে দেখার একটি প্রণালী। হারিয়ে যায়ে মানুষ হবার নানা বিকল্প পথের একটা।  ফলে আমরা সকলে একটি মোক্ষম চেতনার একটা অংশ হারায়।  সেটা হলো – নানা ভাবে মানুষ হওয়া যায়ে।  এই যুগে যখন জামা-কাপড়-খাওয়া-দাওয়া-শিল্প-সংস্কৃতি-কথন-বলন সবই যখন বিশ্বজুড়ে একরকম হয়ে আসছে, এই চেতনাটি খুব দামি।  মানব জীবনের বৈচিত্র ওই ‘বৈচিত্রের মধ্যে ঐক্য’-র মত ছেলেভোলানো সরকারী স্লোগান না।  এটা মানব জাতির ভবিষ্যতের সম্ভাবনাকে বিস্তৃত করে।
এজিদী-রা সংখ্যায় খুব বেশি নয়।  ব্রিগেডে বড় মিছিলের দিন নেতা-নেত্রীরা কত লোক এসছে, তার যে করেন , তার মতই সংখ্যা হবে তাদের। ইরাকে তাদের মূল নিবাস।  এরা ক্রিষ্ঠান বা মসলমান নন – এদের ধর্ম অতি প্রাচীন। সম্প্রতি ইরাক ও সিরিয়া-তে ইসলামিক স্টেট নামক জল্লাদতন্ত্রের প্রতিষ্ঠা হয়েছে।  রক্তের হোলি খেলা এই    সন্ত্রাসী আন্দোলনের নাপসন্দ যে তাদের অধীকৃত এলাকায়ে বিধর্মী-রা বেঁচে-বর্তে থাকবেন।  তাই শুরু হয়েছে ঢালাও জবাই। এজিদী-দের, ক্রিস্টান-দের, এবং ইসলামিক স্টেট-এর সংজ্ঞায় যারা মোসলমান হয়েও ‘সহি’ মোসলমান নন, তাদের। তাদের হত্যা-লীলায়ে মৃতের সংখ্যা বেশ কয়েক হাজার।  এবং এজিদী-দের কে তারা যেমন করে  নিকেশ করছে, তা গনহত্যারই সামিল। কিন্তু এই গণহত্যার প্রতিবাদে অকাদেমি অফ ফাইন আর্টস-এর সামনে কোনো মোমবাতি, কোনো সহমর্মিতা, কোনো ধিক্কার, কোনো দরদ ফুটে ওঠে নি। লাল-তেরঙ্গা নানা দলের গাজায়ে ইস্রাইলি আগ্রাসনের বিরোধিতা করা  হুড়োহুড়ি দেখে মনে চিন্তা জন্মায়ে।  অন্য সকল ব্যাপারে এমন নিস্তব্ধতা কেন? কোনো কোনো মৃত শিশুর ছবি কি বেশি কান্নার উদ্রেক করে? যদি তাই হয়, তবে কি সেই বেশি দুঃক্ষ ও বেশি সহমর্মিতার মাপকাঠি ?
হার্ভার্ড বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে যখন আমি ছাত্র ছিলাম, তখন পালেস্তাইন সংহতি আন্দোলনে জড়িত থাকার কারণে আমাকে নানা ভাবে হেনস্থা করা হয়।  সে হেনস্থার কারণে  আমার সংহতি আন্দোলনে যুক্ত থাকার জন্য একটুও আমার একটুও খেদ নেই।  অনেকে এর চেয়ে অনেক, অনেক বেশি দাম চুকিয়েছেন।  কিন্তু পালেস্তাইন সংহতির নাম তার  বিশাল বপুতে কি কি লুকিয়ে থাকে, তার খোজ নেওয়া প্রয়োজন। যদি কোনো সংহতি আন্দোলন ব্যক্তিগত জাতি, ভাষা, ধর্ম  উদ্বুদ্ধ হয় কিন্তু তা প্রকাশ্যে মানবতাবাদের নাম চালানো হয়, তখন সেই ফাঁকিটা বোঝা দরকার।  ফেইসবুক বা  টুইটার-এর কল্যাণে আমার নিরীহ অনেক পালেস্তিনীয় শিশুর বীভত্স মৃতদেহের ছবি দেখেছি।  দেখেছি ইসরাইলী হানায়ে ছিন্ন-ভিন্ন সাধারণ মানুষের ছবি, অনেক ক্ষেত্রে একই পরিবারের একাধিক সদস্যের। কিন্তু কোথায় নাইজেরিয়া-র বোকো হারাম বা ইরাক-সিরিয়ার ইসলামিক স্টেট-এর ততোধিক নৃশংসতার ছবি? এই একচোখামী-র একটা মানে আছে।  এতে কিছু  ধরনের মৃত মানুষের প্রতি সহমর্মিতা আদায় হয়, কিছু হানাদারের প্রতি ঘৃণা উদ্রেক করানো হয় এবং কিছু ধরনের হানাদারের ব্যাপারে নিশ্চুপ থাকা হয়। এই চুপ থাকা অনেক কিছু বয়ান করে।
মানবাধিকার নিয়ে সোচ্চার হবার সময় এই বাছাবাছি, এই চিত্কার ও নিশ্চুপ থাকার আলো-আধারি খেলার তলার খেলাটা কী? তাহলে বলতেই হয়, এই মৃতের প্রতি সমমর্মিতার ব্যাপারটি ভুয়ো।  যা সত্য, তা হলো হানাদারকে আমি কতটা ঘৃণা করি সেটা প্রকাশ করতে আক্রান্ত ও মৃত-কে ব্যবহার করে।  সেই সংহতির রাজনীতি ন্যক্কারজনক।  হানাদারের  ধর্মীয়/জাতিগত/শ্রেণীগত পরিচয় দিয়ে যদি গণহত্যার জন্য কাঁদবো কি কাঁদবো না, পথে নামবো কি নামবো না, সেসব ঠিক হয়, তাহলে সমস্যা বড় ভয়ানক।  আক্রান্তের ধর্মপরিচয় , আততায়ীর ধর্মপরিচয় – এগুলি দেখে সহমর্মিতার ভঙ্গি, তা যতই সততার সঙ্গে করা হোক, অন্য ভেজালে তা ভুরভুর করে।  ছত্তিস্গরে যখন হিন্দু গ্রামবাসীরা মূলতঃ হিন্দু মিলিটারী দ্বারা আক্রান্ত হয়, তখন হিন্দুত্বের ঠিকাদার-দার মুখে যায়ে না কোনো প্রতিবাদ।  পাকিস্থান,আফ্ঘানিস্থান, সিরিয়া, ইরাক – এসকল জায়েগায়ে গত এক বছরে প্রায় এক লক্ষ্  মোসলমান মারা গেছেন মোসলমানের হাতে সন্ত্রাসী কায়্দায়ে।  তখন হয় না মিছিল।  হত্যালীলা যখন চালায় মূলতঃ ইহুদী ইসরাইল রাষ্ট্র-শক্তি, তখন মাথা চাড়া দেয় মানবাধিকার, সংহতি, ইত্যাদি। এই দুনম্বরিকে পষ্টাপষ্টি দুনম্বরী বলা প্রয়োজন।
গাজায়ে ঘটে যাওয়া হত্যালীলায়ে আমরা ব্যথিত।  আমরা সকলে জানি গাজার গল্প।  আমরা মন থেকেই এই আগ্রাসনকে ঘেন্না করি।  কিন্তু আমাদের এই ঘেন্না করার লিষ্টি-তে কার অগ্রাধিকার , সেটা কিন্তু ঠিক হয় অন্য কোথাও।  আমরা জাগি ঘুম থেকে, কিন্তু ঘড়ির অ্যালার্ম দেওয়া হয় অন্য কোথাও।  কিসের থেকে কি ‘বেশি’ গুরুত্বপূর্ণ, তা ঠিক করে দেয় যে বিশ্বকল্প, তা কি স্রেফ মানবতাবাদের ভিত্তিতে তৈরী? কোন মৃত্যু হয় হেডলাইন আর কোন মৃত্যু হয় সাইডলাইন? তাই ন্যুয়র্ক, লন্ডন, কলকাতা, প্যারিস – সকলে যখন জানায়ে ধিক্কার ও সমবেদনা, তলিয়ে ভাবা দরকার – কেন শুধু  এদেরকে ধিক্কার? কেন আরো বিস্তৃত নয় সমবেদনা ? পালেস্তাইন-এর মুক্তি চাই, মার্কিন সমর্থনে ইস্রাইলি আগ্রাসন মানছি না, ইত্যাদি বলা সহজ।  কঠিন হলো মানুষ হিসেবে গাজার পাশে দাড়ানোর অধিকার অর্জন করা।  ২০১৪-তেই যেসব বৃহত্তর গণহত্যার জন্য বাংলায়ে একটি মিছিল-ও হয় নি, সেই গণহত্যার শিকার যে মানুষ, তারা সেই অধিকার অর্জনের পরীক্ষা নেবে। আমরা তৈরী তো ?

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David versus Goliath in Benares

[ Express Tribune, 7 Apr 2014 ; Kashmir Times, 8 Apr 2014 ; Daily Peoples Times, 8 Apr 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 21 Apr 2014; Millenium Post, 22 Apr 2014]

As the Congress(I) looks sure to reap what it sowed, the possibilities for the Bharatiya Janata Party looked exceedingly certain in almost a walk-over game. It was just a few months ago when there was an air of everything having been settled. A corruption-ridden second term government of the Indira Congress was looking increasingly out of touch with people’s issues and aspirations. And a ‘saviour’ has descended from Gujarat –a ‘saviour’ whose public image was curated by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s slick PR machine to appear in stark contrast with the Nehru-Gandhi scion. It was but a matter of time. It still is a matter of time. Much is still quite settled. But the air has cleared a bit and faces of the demi-gods don’t appear as divine anymore. The man from Gujarat still stands tall and is way ahead in the battle. However, political currents in the last few months have ensured that at the end, the winner of the battle can claim political power, legislative power, administrative power, even the power to subvert habeas corpus and other things sacred to human dignity but it cannot claim ethical and moral power with full-throated confidence. The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party has ensured that.

Touted initially as a ‘electronic media creation’ that would vanish as soon as the cameras turned elsewhere, the Aam Aadmi Party has continued to punch way above it popular weight even after much of corporate media turned hostile overnight over the party’s decision to deny the Walmarts and Tescos of the world to set up shop in Delhi. This party, which cannot claim numerical parity with either of the 2 behemoths of the political scene of the Indian Union, has been able to go strength to strength with these two in the game of political agenda-setting. This is partly due to the base it has been able to create for itself in crucial urban sectors of Hindi-Hindustan (and not in many urban centres of the Indian Union). Anything in Hindi-Hindustan is able to claim top slot in the ‘national’ agenda – such is the nature of politics in this republic. But that is not all. The Aam Aadmi Party has been able to edge past its rivals in the universe of political morals and ethics by disclosing the hitherto undisclosable donor lists to party funds, naming the hitherto unnamable individuals and families who hold the political system in an unholy grip, forcing others to respond, retaliate, ignore and thus expose themselves. The subcontinent has a special place for this sort of thing, even if ethical giants were really acting all the way. Even if silenced by fear or state violence, people in the subcontinent have shown that they have respect for those who speak truth to power. Which is precisely why other agendas for respect garnering have to be generated – ‘strong’ leadership, teaching ‘them’ a lesson and content-less slogans of the ‘India first’ type. Such respect-generation is coupled with hope-production by false promises for job-creation and material prosperity that will be ushered in by the same corporates who help fund advertisements of the ‘strongman’ in widely circulated dailies, TV channels, cell phones and websites.

Arvind Kejriwal, ex-Chief Minister of Delhi and the public face of the Aam Aadmi Party, will be challenging Narendrabhai Modi, the chief-minister of Gujarat and prime-ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party, in Benares in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This holy city, which is also the site of the controversial mosque that Aurangzeb Alamgir built after destroying the erstwhile Vishwanath temple, is all set for a David verses Goliath battle. And Goliath will win. When Arvind Kejriwal entered Benares for his inaugural political rally, he was pelted with rotten eggs and black ink was thrown on him. The kickback that is given by the saviour’s favourite banias in exchange of mining rights, ports, agricultural lands, tax breaks, mega-subsidies and natural resources finds it way into the petrol of the campaign helicopter, the liquor consumed by the black-ink and egg throwers, the danda that holds the jhanda. Kejriwal is astute enough to know that focus on Benares will garner publicity helping people know about the political agenda of a credible opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party, especially when the Indira Congress is in retreat. An atheist turned believer, he can publicly pull off a call upon non-sectarian divine powers to intervene on the side of the ‘aam aadmi’. Call them publicity stunts, call them what you will but the egg and ink smeared Kejriwal has ensured that in spite of a ‘chhappan inch’ chest, immaculately clean dresses and ‘Har Har’ chants, the winner this time cannot rise above the fray. The owner of the 56-inch chest will invariably see his height diminished when the duel with Kejriwal progresses, when he reacts to the Aam Aadmi challenge. The ironman may stand tall but his rusty core will not be hidden either. That is serious political currency for the Aam Aadmi Party, which really is preparing for the election after this one.

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Is this the Bangladesh we wanted? Analyzing the Hindu Population Gap (2001-2011)

[ Alal o Dulal, Apr 2014 ]

Garga Chatterjee and Naeem Mohaiemen for AoD

In October 2012, Prothom Alo published a frightening report that stated, in plain words, that over the last decade (which spans a BNP, an AL, and a Military “CTG” government), the Hindu population of Bangladesh has dropped dramatically and continuously. We at Alal O Dulal are a group of editors committed to a secular Bangladesh. At the same time, we are mindful that “secularism” has become a politically inert, and semantically complex, category, often providing cover for a political party’s other follies (the sentiment here can broadly be categorized as, “at least they are secular”).

Since the publication of the PA report, the editors of AoD have been having a series of discussions on what these numbers mean for the future of Bangladesh. We believe secularism cannot be enforced by force, certainly not through the barrel of a gun. A process of domination, subjugation, and political nullification of oppositions in order to “defend” secularism is dangerous. Instead of producing secularism as a normative, naturalized, and lasting category, it reinforces the perception (internally and externally) that secularism can only be defended by force. This, in the long term, weakens secularism.

Neither of the two main political parties (the AL or the BNP) have made secularism a priority, using it mainly at the polls as a strategy. A common perception that minorities were safer under an AL government, prevailed for a while, benefiting AL in a number of past elections. Riots instigated during the twilight of Ershad era, or the anti-Hindu backlash carried out after 2001 election victory of BNP-JI alliance, or the more recent anti-Hindu violence in 2013, are highlighted to support this view. We have done such highlighting ourselves in our past activist work (at Alal O Dulal, at Drishtipat, in the pages of Daily Star, New Age, Prothom Alo, and Dhaka Tribune). Our own personal political commitments have also been guided by a belief in secularism and therefore in opposition to parties that do not take a public secular stance. However, events of the last four decades prove that minorities have fared poorly under every government.

There is also the concern, in 2013, that our national politics has been degraded to such a degree that attacks against Hindu community may even be deployed as a “false flag” operation, giving a cover to target the opposition parties as the presumed protagonists of these attacks. It is difficult to believe such a scenario, but it is difficult to entirely ignore the troubling evidence.

Indeed, the BNP and Jamaat are usually presumed to be the protagonists of these attacks according to the media. However, the post-Shahbag/Shapla murky political landscape of Bangladesh forces us to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions. One question we have been asking ourselves is this: Since the Jamaat is currently hamstrung by the negative backlash it faces due to its role in 1971, and the BNP faces the problem of its alliance with Jamaat, who benefits at the present time from these attacks? What is the benefit to the Jamaat (or BNP) to attacking Hindu homes– a move certain to result in widespread national and international backlash against these two parties (as has happened). Recall that the 2001 attacks happened after BNP-Jamaat were solidly in power, and presumably considered themselves invincible. But the attacks of 2013 happened when that coalition was out of power and in fact on the defensive (in spite of public posturing)– the recent announcement that BNP would not undertake any long campaigns until they get the party (http://www.dhakatribune.com/politics/2014/apr/09/bnp-wants-overcome-frustration-first) shows the party acknowledging its (http://www.dhakatribune.com/politics/2014/apr/11/question-bnp%E2%80%99s-existence-ignites-debate) current weakness, and the tenuousness/controversy of its alliance with Jamaat. In this weakened scenario, why would that alliance, or its subsidiaries, carry out attacks on Hindu homes– an event that would surely create backlash and condemnation against the party?

A few newspaper reports have reported that, in at least some of the cases, ruling AL party affiliated activists were either involved in the attacks, or fomented them, or stood by while they happened . We at Alal O Dulal do not have the resources to investigate these reports further, but an independent, neutral probe body must look into these issues. These reports, mostly falling into silence since they do not match a national liberal-secular script, have reminded us that 2013 is not the same as 2001– when the BNP election victory saw widespread attacks against the Hindu community, and a (http://www.dhakatribune.com/law-amp-rights/2014/jan/24/judicial-commission-finds-bnp-jamaat-involved) probe found BNP-Jamaat involved. At that time, some AoD editors worked actively to rehabilitate victims of one such attack in the village of Annadaprashad– as members of the diaspora activist organization (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/mukto-mona/conversations/topics/8110),Drishtipat. But in 2014, we find a complex situation where minority communities are surrounded by both hostile forces and “friends” who use them as chess pawns.

In his introduction to the investigative book, Ramu: Shamprodayik Shohingshota Shongkolon<, Barrister Barua shares how communalism is a cross-party, indeed pan-Bangladesh, phenomenon:
“In my professional life I often have to face a different kind of communalism. Instead of feeling pride in my achievements often I am made to feel embarrassed by trivial things. In 2001 when on the occasion of being inducted into the Dhaka Barristers’ Association I went to a courtesy meeting with committee, the Awami League backed Chairman, on examining my educational qualifications, commented,“I see that all your degrees are from India, so why didn’t you stay back there?”

Does the Chairman not know how many of young men from the majority religion go to India every year to obtain their degrees and how many of them choose to stay there? After almost nine years of studying in England when I returned home in 2011 and was interviewing for the post of the lawyer for Dhaka City Corporation, North and was asked exactly the same question by a teacher from Dhaka University, I realized that the country hadn’t moved ahead much from 2001, at least in terms of communal thinking.

Beside these, among the communal words that we hear or use often but pretend to not to notice are: the use of the word “Babu” to address to someone, to call someone “malaun” or “nere” (shaved head) despite deep friendship whenever we lose an argument with them. In recent times the Awami League leader Suranjit Sen has been a major victim of this sort of things. The roots of these ugly words go so deep that it is not easy to uproot them. On top, we have gotten so used to hearing these words that we are no longer shocked by them. But, in the words of Tagore, whether this acceptance is true acceptance is rather doubtful.

In my opinion the fact that there is no law regarding this is a contributing factor as to why we aren’t able to come out of this. The time has come for us to think about introducing an anti-communalism/anti-racism law in our country. In many countries of the world there are effective laws regarding this and these laws are implemented. If we had a similar law in our country that would help in increasing communal harmony. At least it would somewhat alleviate the everyday harassment that minorities have to face in the country.” (excerpt translated by Tibra Ali)
***

How gholate(murky) is our national politics that we need to consider seriously the allegation made by some newspapers, that attacks against the Hindu community may also have been deployed by the party that represents secularism, as a “false flag” operation to blame the opposition? The water is very muddy by now.

Meanwhile, the opposition BNP also continues to have a party position that is silent on support for secularism as state policy. Other than a few pro forma responses denying responsibility for these attacks, we have not seen the BNP take any strong stance for secularism. This party also uses this issue for their political advantage (no doubt some party stalwarts will take comfort from the fact that we have indicted AL equally for this issue– but again, this is simply about one party getting an advantage over another, neither party is sincere on this issue).

In this situation, where will those outside of majoritarian, Bengali, Muslim, domination-subjugation identification go for political support? They are homeless in Bangladesh.

We should also point out that, in academic discourse, “secularism” is now a vastly debated term. What it means in 2013 is not what it meant in 2001. There is a sprawling body of work and debate on this, but without delving into that, we at AoD define “secularism” as a safeguarding and guaranteeing of all non-majority communities’ political, economic, and cultural rights.

Secularism, in our view would be an embedding set of national policies which would ensure full, deep, and representative presence of such communities in all national spaces. It would foster the implementation of “affirmative action” policies that would ensure representation of these communities to counterbalance decades of under-representation and marginalization. At the same time, we caution that such policy cannot take the forms of current cynical political practice, where representation of minority communities in economic and political life is simply used as a political tool to ensure visible “loyalty”– those are policies that benefit, as with many things in our politics, party not people.

Let us take a longer view. Analysis of the Enemy Property Act (later the Vested Property Act) shows that both AL and BNP, when in power, have used this to grab minorities land. Abuse of state power to grab land from minorities, in fact, appears to be the only constant–on this issue, both major parties are on the same wavelength when it comes to grabbing minorities properties and land.

Every government has used the minorities for political gain, yet nobody has truly been on their side. In the end, no political party truly defends the rights of minorities, perhaps with the exception of small left parties who are sincere at the grassroots, but weak at national electoral level.

After the PA report, AlalODulal published the post (http://alalodulal.org/2012/10/02/hindu-2/)Final destination and quoted Afsan Chowdhury’s words. We at AoD shared his anger and shame and feel it’s appropriate to quote, again, his cuttings words: “After all the words are spent, what remains behind is the shame. We have allowed this to happen again and again (http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2012/10/01/ramu-when-shame-is-not-enough/). We didn’t need a new version of old Pakistan. Bangladesh was to be the exact opposite but thanks to inefficiency, corruption, bigotry and religious excess, we have failed to build a state we could be proud of. For us there is only disgust. On behalf of all who accept what we have said, our sincerest and humblest apology to the people who have suffered in particular and to all minorities in general.”

And of course we must nod toward the late Humayun Azad, who passed away from complications six months after he was brutally attached outside the Book Fair. He coined the phrase “Is this the Bangladesh we wanted?”

Over six months in 2013, a group of independent researchers have been looking at the data cited by Prothom Alo, from Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). They have shared it with AlalODulal, for wider dissemination. In a web exclusive we publish those research results in excel data form (go to article end  for link, if quoting these results anywhere, please cite “AlalODulal.org”).

***

Research Summary:

1. In the 2001 census, the total Hindu population was 11,608,268. The annual population growth rate was 1.37%. According to the published research in the Prothom Alo, by 2011 the number of the Hindu population should be 13,200,000. But in BBS` 2011 census report the actual Hindu population is 12,299,940. The gap amounts to 900,060. This is the missing Hindu population.

2. The study of the Prothom Alo had one limitation. BBS adjusted its census and its 2011-data of the Hindu population in 2012 including data of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) that were assigned for the post-enumeration check and that found 3.97 percent people were left out in the first count. Now, the actual number of the Hindu population in 2011 is 12,789,113. Considering the total Hindu population in 2001 and the annual growth rate of 1.37% the predicted number in 2011 should actually be 13,337,065 people. This means that the decrease of Hindu population would change to 547,953 (instead of 900,060). The adjusted figures data from the IRC data sheet on the population change characteristics of Bangladesh between 2001 and 2011 have certain important features.

3. To discover that the decline in Hindu population is 0.5 million, instead of 0.9 million is of little comfort. This is still a very large number and confirms the worrying trend of continuous decline.

4. Even on the adjusted numbers, there is a shortfall of 0.5 million Hindus from what would be predicted using the rate of growth of population in the decade. Unless there has been some drastic and unexplainable change in Hindu fecundity rates or large-scale conversion to other faiths (both of which we consider unlikely as explanations), the reason for this shortfall has to be explored. Prima facie, this represents the net Hindu emigration out of Bangladesh in that period. The real population growth of Hindus of Bangladesh between 2001 and 2011 was 1,148,769 (using the adjusted figures). The gap between predicted growth and actual growth is 547,953.

5. Assuming that the 1.37% annual growth in Hindu population did happen (dismissing drastic fecundity /death rate/life expectancy/conversion explanations), something around 547,953 Hindu individuals of Bangladesh origin exist, somewhere in the world. To make sense of these numbers in some other way, we can state that in the 2001-2011 decade, for 1696721 new individuals added to the Hindu population, 547,953 have left the country. That is about 1 person leaving the country for every 3 persons newly added. This is a shocking statistic.

6. Family planning depends on the long-term plans of the family – which also includes the stability of their present state, including stability of homestead and source of income. While we think that low birth-rates cannot explain a deficit as large as 547,953, it is well known that a sense of security and long-term stability affects birth-rates in a community. For example, the birth-rates of Kashmiri Pandits, after their displacement from the Kashmir valley, have taken a drastic hit. Numerous studies document this.(http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/03/2679 ). It is not improbable that a small proportion of the ‘missing Hindus’ were not actually born.

7. What is the geographical distribution of the deficit and does that tell us anything? Some districts have actually registered a net decrease in Hindu population in the 2001 to 2011 period. There are 9 such districts. Most of these 9 districts form a near-contiguous belt – Bhola, Barisal, Jhalokathi, Pirojpur, Bagerhat, Narail, Gopalganj and then Rajbari and Manikganj. What does this strong geographical concentration of the districts actually registering a net Hindu population decrement in 10 years tell us. Some of these districts (Bhola being the most infamous example) have been sites for serious anti-Hindu attacks. It may also be useful to note that in 2001 the BNP-Jamaat won all seats in Manikganj, Bhola, Pirojpur, Jhalokathi, Barisal and Rajbari. But Gopalganj, the ultra-identified borough of Awami League is also in the list. Hence this precludes any clear explanation in terms of local party domination, though one cannot rule it out as one of the out-migration factors.

8. Studies  which also look at the volume of ‘enemy property’ in different districts in terms of number of affected families, percentage of Hindu families affected and correlating that with the percentage of Hindu population change would be useful to trying to find out the reasons behind the ‘missing Hindus’ of Bangladesh. For example, see this 2009 ( http://archive.thedailystar.net/forum/2009/february/our.htm )summary of Abul Barakat’s research. Here are some key statistics from Barakat’s research:

a) Households: 43% of all Hindu households (1.2 million) have been affected by EPA/VPA. 57% of households that lost land lost an average of 100 decimals. Survey data shows 33% of affluent Hindu families lost land due to EPA/VPA. 50% of affluent households had at least one close relative who lost land

b) Total Land: Total area of land lost is 2.01 million acres, which is 5.5% of Bangladesh’s total land mass but 45% of land owned by the Hindu community. The research shows two numbers: one is the impact on Hindu community as measured by the official land records, the second is the impact as measured by survey data. The survey data shows 22% more land loss (2.6 million acres) than official records. The type of land lost is typically agricultural, homestead, pond area, orchard, fallow land, etc.

d) Value: Assuming average market price of land as seen in the year 2007, total value of land lost is Tk. 2,416,273 million (Tk. 3,106,636 million from survey data).

e) Sale Value: Even if land is being lawfully sold, the price of Hindu-owned land is reported as Tk. 900,000 per acre, as compared to Tk. 1,500,000 for similar Muslim-owned land

f) Methods of dispossession: Influential parties grab land in connivance with Tahsil and Thana Revenue Office, Tahsil and Thana Revnue Office itself grabs land. Death and/or out-migration of one member of a Hindu family is used as excuse to enlist the whole property. Influential parties grab the land by using violence, local thugs, and forged documents. Influentials allure sharecroppers to occupy land, and then become eventual owners, etc.

g) Accompanying harassment: Harassment that accompanies land-grabbing includes obstruction in casting vote in elections, obstruction in harvesting crops, workplace intimidation, property destruction, eve-teasing, looting, robbery, obstruction in shopping, extortion, etc.

h) Political affiliation: Barakat’s research also shows that grabbers try to change their political affiliation with each change in government. We can conclude that either party affiliation is switching after change of government, or ownership is switching from one party affiliate to another.

9. For those looking to one party or another for a solution, note that this drop has happened in both AL and BNP period. Unless there is an united political push to protect minorities and to give them full rights of a citizen, neither of the two parties will be able to reverse this trend. Where would this trend lead to? This statistical analysis has some shocking pointers. As Dipen Bhattacharya wrote in an earlier op-ed for Alal O Dulal:
“Until a few years ago, I believed that even though the Hindu percentage was declining, the absolute number of the Hindu population was increasing and would continue to increase. However, the truth is <strong>bitter and it’s statistical. It seems the trend is for negative growth numbers. For the next forty years or so, we might expect to see the Hindu population drop from a high of 13 million (in 2011) to 10 million. Whether the population will plummet drastically after 2051 is a matter of speculation. But for all practical purposes, the Hindu community will stop being a major participating community in Bangladesh. If the country stabilizes its population at 250 million, then an estimate for the Hindu number for the year 2101 could be as low as 3.75 million.

Among several explanations of  the low growth rate are (i) mass exodus to India, (ii) the disruption of the family structure and (iii) the willful underestimation by the the Census Bureau. Some say the migration to India is for better economic opportunities. Even when the existing religious bonding favors the power structure, some explanations comprise “land-shortage” and “land-grabbing” as if those words could take away the inherent religious bigotry that is present. They fail to see how – without any access to the existing power system of the current Bangladesh society – vulnerable the Hindu population is. Soft and hard intimidation, extortion, threat to family structures, illegal occupation of property, and looting and burning of households and temples are sufficient to have this population scurry across the border. The Hindus migrate to India because their lives are made unbearable through various means in Bangladesh. (http://alalodulal.org/2014/01/09/statistics/)  (The Statistical Future of Bangladeshi Hindus )

Meanwhile Ali Riaz came to this conclusion in 2012:
“Take for example the issue of the dwindling Hindu population in the country. An examination of the census data of the composition of religious minorities since 1901, led me to conclude in 2004 that there is a massive out-migration of the Hindu population: about 5.3 million in the preceding 25 years. The Hindu community in Bangladesh has been weak owing to its lack of access to resources and hence has never been able to mount resistance to the institutional persecutions faced. This has left Hindus with no choice but to relocate. In 2001, for example, a large number of Hindus from three districts (Barisal, Pirojpur and Bagerhat) initially moved to the neighbouring Gopalganj district in search of a safe haven. In the absence of a potential haven nearby the persecuted Hindus decided to cross the border. The porous border between Bangladesh and West Bengal, not to mention the cultural and historical ties between these two parts of Bengal, helped the intended migrants to move to the Indian state. Some returned later, but some didn’t…

The census reports of the past 60 years show a steady decline of the Hindu population. This decline is not consistent with the population growth rate of the country. For example, the population growth rate was 3.13 percent for 1961-1974, 3.08 percent for 1974-1981; 2.20 percent for 1981-1991; 1.58 percent for 1991-2001; and roughly 1.34 percent for 2001-2011. It cannot be ascribed to low Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of the adherents of Hindu religion. Even if one takes into account that the TFR among Hindu women is estimated at 13% less (estimate is based on recent contraceptive use rates) until 1991 and 15% after 1991, the average annual growth rates of the Hindu population would have been 2.72 during 1961-1974, 2.68% during 1974-1981; 1.92% during 1981-1991; 1.34% during 1991-2001, and 1.14% during 2001-2011.

If we factor in these assumptions and reconsider the government statistics, the numbers change drastically. By 1991 the Hindu population should have reached 16.5 million as opposed to 11.16 million recorded in census data. The rate of the missing population has increased in the past two decades. The current Hindu population, 13.47 million, is far short of the number one should expect based on population growth rates. The decline of the religious minority community is matched by the increased use of Islamic icons and symbols in political rhetoric, not to mention deletion of secularism as state principle and official designation of Islam as the state religion.”

Full data, with district wise break up on Hindu and other populations and detailed tables are available at Alal o Dulal :

http://alalodulal.org/2014/04/12/hindu-population-gap/

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January on Jessore Road / The besieged Hindus of Bangladesh

[ The Hindu, 16 Jan 2014 ; The Friday Times (Lahore), 17 Jan 2014 ]

“Hey there mister can you tell me what happened to the seeds I’ve sown

Can you give me a reason sir as to why they’ve never grown?

They’ve just blown around from town to town

Till they’re back out on these fields

Where they fall from my hand

Back into the dirt of this hard land”

– Bruce Springsteen, This Hard Land

Few moments in the past century evoked as much hope in its stakeholders than the emergence of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh as a secular state in the eastern part of the subcontinent. Drenched in the blood of martyrs and fired by lofty idealism that has still not completely died, this nation-state has not lived up to its ideals. Often declared by some to be the greatest achievement of the Bengali people, is at a dangerous crossroad, once again. The ruling Awami League has an unenviable record of corruption and graft tainting its last 5 years in government. To be fair, the previous elected government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-Jamaat-e-Islami combine had a track record far worse in this regard. But the country is young and the BNP-Jamaat was last in power 7 years ago – when a significant section of the present population was had not reached adulthood. In addition to that, the opposition, especially the Jamaat, has been partially successful in using its massive economic clout and international propaganda apparatus to portray itself as a victim of state-sponsored witch-hunting. The ‘witch-hunting’ boils down to two things that can all but finish the Jamaat off as a viable political force. The first is the deregistration of Jamaat as an electoral force, as it privileged divine ideas over democracy in the party constitution – something that the Supreme Court deemed as illegal. The second is the War Crimes trial of those who committed crimes against humanity during 1971. Almost all of the present Jamaat leadership was heavily involved in murder, rape, arson and forced conversions. In a subcontinent where politics thrives on the erasure of public memory, this episode has refused to disappear. In fact, a dilly-dallying Awami League government was almost forced by the youth movement in Shahbag to pursue the war crimes trial seriously. Facing the prospect of political annihilation, the Jamaat responded by a three-pronged offensive. One, marshaling young Madrassa students and use them for blockading Dhaka. Two, lending BNP its activists to act as boots-on-the-ground. Three, carrying out targeted attacks on the homes, businesses and places of worship of Hindus, the nation’s largest religious minority. But the collateral damage is often wider.

Farid Mia, a fruit seller, had the extreme misfortune of being near the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in Dhaka when the street-fighters of the opposition BNP–Jamaat combine hurled petrol bombs indiscriminately. They were aiming to create a scenario of fear in the run-up to the parliamentary elections of January 5, which the principal opposition combine was boycotting. By January 8th, the elections were over. So was Farid’s fight for life at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The devastated face of the young child Mohammod Liton, Farid Mia’s youngest son, will go down as a call to conscience, however transient. Farid was unlucky. He could not have known that he would be a victim.

But there are predictable victims. In 2001, after the BNP led alliance won the elections, the usual pattern of murder, rape and arson targeting Hindus happened on a very wide scale. Hindus have traditionally voted for the Awami League. The guarantee for ‘Jaan’ and ‘Maal’ is important for the survival of any people. In the Awami League regime, although Maal in the form of property and homestead has been regularly taken away by Awami League powerfuls, the attack of life and systematic rape of minority women was not part of the party’s policy. The same cannot be said of the BNP-Jamaat under whom cadres, systematically aided by the police forces, have regularly threatened both ‘Jaan and Maal’. Thus, it is not hard to see why the Hindus chose the devil over the deep sea. The Hindus who had voted in 2001 had learned their lesson when they were targeted in massive post-poll violence, most infamously in Bhola. This time around, the Hindus seemed to be out of favour from both sides. While they were targeted by the BNP-Jamaat for coming out to vote at all, in other areas they were targeted by Awami League rebels for coming out to vote for the official Awami League candidate who happened to be of the Hindu faith. There have been disturbing signs over the last few years that at the very local level, the difference between the ‘secular’ Awami League and the communal-fundamentalist BNP-Jamaat seems to disappear, though publicly the former does not tire in parroting the secular ideals of 1971 – the much used and abused ‘Muktijudhher chetona’ (Ideals of the Liberation War).

The violence unleashed against the Hindus this time around, before and after the 5th January polls, have been worst in Jessore, Dinajpur and Satkhira, though many other places like Thakurgaon, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha, Rajshahi and Chittagong have been affected. If people remember Thakurgaon and Dinajpur from a different time, it is probably because these were strongholds of the communist-led Tebhaga movement of the late 1940s. Part of the reason few riots happened in these areas when the subcontinent was in the throes of communal riots was the cross-community solidarity and political consolidation that had been achieved. That was then and we have come a long way since then. Malopara in Abhaynagar, Jessore, inhabited by Bengali Dalit castes, has been attacked repeatedly. Large scale attacks on villages, businesses and places on worship, able-bodied men being on night vigils, women huddling together in one place – all these things brought back memories of 1971 for many of its inhabitants. In Hazrail Rishipara of Jessore, women were raped at gunpoint for the crime that their families had voted in the January 5th election. Dinajpur has been badly hit with cases of beatings, home and shop burnings, and putting fire to haystacks and crops. Both Jessore and Dinajpur being areas bordering West Bengal, crossing the border for preserving life is a sad trek that many have undergone. Such slow ‘squeezing out’ is not new, neither is it intermittent. It is a continuously process that is an effect of a political discourses the willy-nilly aims to delegitimize the very existence of the minorities on their ancestral land by always asking the question –‘Why are you still here?’. ‘Why am I still here’ is a question the minorities have asked themselves and as the statistics show, a staggering number could not find a good answer and hence they left. The trickle has been slow and silent. The ‘Partition’ continues.

The ‘Partition’ was swift and vicious in the Punjabs and Sindh where religious minorities have ceased to exist for all practical purposes. This is not so in the Bengals, where many still live in the ancestral land claimed by nations whose legitimacies are much more recent than people’s ancestral claims over their homestead. Nearly 30% of the Bengal’s western half’s population is Mohammeddan (the figure was 19.46% in 1951, after the 1947 partition). Even in the eastern half, little less than 10% of the population is Hindu (it was 22% in 1951). In East Bengal, secular politics does exist beyond the fashionable drawing rooms of liberaldom. It was one of the four much touted foundational principles of the 1971 Liberation war. The autocratic years of BAKSAL, the long years of army rule when the barracks used Islam to create a veneer of political legitimacy beyond the Awami League and pro-liberation forces, the overtures by mainstream parties to fundamentalist groupings – all of this has given religion-based politics a front-row seat in the nation. Neither have religio-political organizations been immune to the violent turn of this brand of politics internationally in the last decade or so.

How did things come to be this way? The issue of minority targeting, one must admit has deeper roots than simple ‘communal politics’ and ‘mixing politics with religion’. Pro-Pakistan forces, which looked to faith-unity as basis of statehood, did not disappear after the Liberation War. They were broadly and transiently (as it increasingly seems) delegitimized due to the their role in the atrocities of 71. But what about the ideological moorings of the project that religion marks a nation? What about the splinters of that project stuck deep in the political and social structures? That trend did not die not did it dry up. One has to remember that even the Awami League in its inception is a faction of such a trend that reoriented later along the lines of Bengali Nationalism. In the imagination of all the ruling factions since 1947 during East Bengal, East Pakistan and Bangladesh periods, there has been a tacit understanding of the normative citizen – a Muslim Bengali male or a Bengali Muslim male. Hindus of East Bengal are a living reminder of a Bengaliness that is not co-terminal with narratives that conflate Bengaliness (or Bangladeshiness) with being a Bengali Muslim. Their progressive marginality in numbers makes this conflation project easier. Such projects are not necessarily active political projects but often live in the underside of mindscapes that can be ‘secular’ in very many declarations. Thus they can be marginalized without being actively targeted in ‘innocuous’ everyday dealings. Communally targeted violence feeds off from a broader spectrum of support, from active to lukewarm to unconscious.

In any modern nation-state, the majority can decide to be whatever it wants and the minority has to follow suit. So Hindus were expected to become Pakistanis overnight in 1947. While Bengali Muslims politicians have the autonomous agency to un-Pakistanize themselves at will, east Bengali Hindus could only publicly do so at explicit cue from their Bengali Muslim brethren. At any rate, they are never ‘good enough’ citizens in whatever dispensation they find themselves. At one point, they weren’t good enough Pakistanis. Now they are not good enough Bangladeshis. What is the commonality between being a good enough Bangladeshi and good-enough Pakistanis, since being Bengali is not enough. Isn’t religious majoritarianism part of that mix? If yes, what did 1971 achieve for the security of ‘maal’ for Hindus, given that more Hindu land has been usurped by the Awami League than by any other party. But still the Sarkar Bahadur is responsible for jaan and maal. As I said before, the Awami League takes maal for protection of jaan. BNP assures neither. This is part of the draw for Awami League for the Hindus of East Bengal. Just like other minorities, extra-territorial loyalty is the easiest slur that is bandied about. And this is also what makes minorities lesser citizens in a polity – they cannot critique their state in all the ways a majority community person can. They are forced into living double lives and then condemned for living it. Fortunately or unfortunately for Hindus of East Bengal, West Bengal exists where their situation is nothing but information to be used tactically by Hindu-majoritarian forces to oil their own political ambitions. Thankfully, they have been more successful outside West Bengal than within it, but who can say for how long?

But still one cannot but hope that the People’s Republic of Bangladesh would live up to its original ideals. Minorities have fled the nation-state for want of security in large numbers, year after year. Numbers matter. It also matters that nothing of the scale of Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002 has happened there since 1971. The name of a ‘Hindu’ hero like Shurjo Sen can be chanted spiritedly by tens of thousands of mostly Muslim youths in the streets of Dhaka. There is no such parallel in the nation-states that are the other fragments of 1947. Even in the recent protests at Shahbag, lakhs raised slogans in his name. “Shurjo sen-er banglaye, jamaat-shibirer thhai nai (No place for Jamaat-Shibir in Shurjo Sen’s Bengal).” There is significant presence of minorities in the bureaucracy and local administration. Even in the recent spate of violence, the state has transferred police officials for failing to provide security. Gonojagoron Moncho, the youth movement that spearheaded the Shahbag protests for war crime trials, has led a road-march to violence stricken Abhaynagar to stand in solidarity with the affected. This is not a fly-by-night visit by VIPs or a handful of politicos. This reality exists too. It is this reality that partly prevents a mass exodus of Hindus beyond the levels seen at present. There is too much to lose to leave. Still. For far too many.

সুধাংশু যাবে না

–শামসুর রাহমান

লুণ্ঠিত মন্দির, আর অগ্নিদগ্ধ বাস্তুভিটা থেকে

একটি বিবাগী স্বর সুধাংশুকে ছুঁলো

‘আখেরে কি তুলি চলে যাবে?’ বেলা শেষে

সুধাংশু ভস্মের মাঝে খুঁজে

বেড়ায় দলিল, ভাঙা চুড়ি, সিঁদুরের স্তব্ধ কৌটা,

স্মৃতির বিক্ষিপ্ত পুঁতিমালা।

স্বর বলে, ‘লুটেরা তোমাকে জব্দ ক’রে

ফেলে আশে পাশে

তোমার জীবনে নিত্যদিন লেপ্টে থাকে

পশুর চেহারা সহ ঘাতকের ছায়া,

আতঙ্কের বাদুড় পাখার নিচে কাটাচ্ছ প্রহর,

তবু তুমি যেও না সুধাংশু।’

আকাশের নীলিমা এখনো

হয়নি ফেরারি, শুদ্ধাচারী গাছপালা

আজও সবুজের

পতাকা ওড়ায়,

ভরা নদীকোমর বাঁকায় তন্বী বেদিনীর মতো।

এ পবিত্র মাটি ছেড়ে কখনো কোথাও

পরাজিত সৈনিকের মতো

সুধাংশু যাবে না।

Risen from the embers of an ancestral place–plundered temple–

An unearthly voice vibrates in Sudhanshu

Are you, finally, leaving?’ At the end of the day

Sudhanshu gropes amidst cinders

For the deeds of his homestead, splintered bangles, the mute colours of a vermillion box.

The dog-eared scatters of manuscripts in memory.

The phantom says, ‘The plunderer has beaten you

Here and there

Your daylight clings to

An animal outline ambushed by a murderer’s mien,

You spend your hours crouching under the bat-wings of terror,

Despite all, do not leave, oh Sudhanshu.’

The blue of this sky is yet to

Diminish, the sacred trees

Are yet flying green

Banners, the copious river

Meanders her waist like a slim snakecharmer lass.

He won’t abandon this sacred earth for elsewhere,

Unlike a retreating soldier in defeat,

Sudhanshu would forever not leave

– Shamsur Rahman

(Gargi Bhattacharya translated the poem from the Bengali original)

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Battling religious censorship / Muzzling Expression of Taslima Nasreen

[ Outlook, 23 Dec 2013 ; Echo of India, 29 Dec 2013 ]

Kolkata, the so-called ‘cultural capital’, has demonstrated the increasing emptiness of the epithet, yet again. Taslima Nasreen, one of the most famous Bengali authors alive, had scripted a TV serial named ‘Doohshahobash’ ( Difficult cohabitaions) portraying 3 sisters and their lives – standing up to kinds of unjust behaviour that are everyday realities for the lives of women in the subcontinent. Nasreen has long lent a powerful voice to some of the most private oppressions that women face, often silently. The private channel where the serial was slotted ran a vigorous and visible advertising campaign – Nasreen’s name still has serious pull among Bengalis and the channel knew it. Nasreen had made it clear that the serial had nothing to do with religion.  However that was not enough for the self-appointed ‘leaders’ of the Muslims of West Bengal who issued warnings to the effect that the serial not be aired. The commencement of the serial, sure to be a hit and a commercial success for the channel, has now been postponed indefinitely. One can imagine the pressure the producers and broadcasters have faced that led to the shelving of a potential runaway commercial success. As in the recent incident of Salman Rushdie being prevented from coming to Kolkata due to the protest by similar characters, one can be sure of the kind of role the Trinamool Congress government and its law enforcement agencies had in this affair. If the government is to be believed, it had no role in the criminal farce that is being played out unchecked. Muzzling free speech and right to expression does not always need written orders from the government. A phone call here, a verbal order there – these are typically enough.

Nasreen has been living in New Delhi since 2007, after being hounded out of Kolkata by the CPI(M) led government on the instigation of Muslim groups threatening ‘unrest’. The pathetic reality of the lives of ordinary women in the subcontinent and the extraordinary oppression meted out to them, especially due to certain religious systems, have been the single most important theme of her writing. Steeped broadly and deeply in the cultural fabric of Bengal, the specific socio-geographical setting of much of her work is in the Muslim-majority nation-state of Bangladesh. Hence, in her earlier writings, Islam primarily represented the ugly face of religious majoritarianism. However, those who have cared to read her corpus, know very well that she has been an equal-opportunity truth-teller, castigating both Hindu and Muslim religious practices and ideologies.

Taslima Nasreen is a daughter of the subcontinent. Islamists in Bangladesh wanted her head and made life miserable for her. After a few years in the West, she returned to West Bengal. I say ‘returned’ as it was an inalienable part of her cultural homeland. In Kolkata too, she lived in the face of constant death-threats there too. After her forcible ejection from Kolkata, she has never been allowed back, though she remains extremely interested in relocating back. One would think that the culture of issuing death-threats to one feels one’s religion has been slighted by is alien to Bengal – which has, for centuries, been the ground Zero of religious syncretism as well as tolerance to so-called deviants of all hues. It is indeed sad that this alien culture of extremism of relatively recent import has managed to gain the upper-hand so as to force the government of the day to pander to these elements at huge cost to the social and cultural fabric of West Bengal.

Who exactly are these vocal opposers of Taslima Nasreen’s serial being shown publicly? Whenever one has self-appointed spokespersons doing the shrillest speaking, it is useful to study their antecedents. Abdul Aziz of Milli Ittehad Parishad and Mohammad Quamruzzaman of the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation are two prime examples who have been extraordinarily active in running the Taslima-denounication industry in West Bengal. Both these organizations share another distinction. They led a mass-meeting earlier this year in Kolkata protesting the punishment of Islamist leaders of Bangladesh who had directly committed crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.  Thus those who defended rapists and mass murderers of 1971 (the victims were Bengalis, of whom a significant proportion were Muslims) have taken upon the mantle of community guardianship of Muslims in West Bengal. It cannot be clearer what kind of Muslim interest these folks represent. To even consider that such elements represent Muslim interests of West Bengal is tantamount to insulting the intelligence and humanity of the Mohammedans of the state.

Kolkata’s intelligentsia and youth, once known to take to the streets and chant songs to protest the muzzling of Paul Robeson, a black-American singer and artist, has had nothing but silence to offer on this one. The Trinamool Congress rulers and the erstwhile CPI(M) rulers have set a record of competing with each other on muzzling free speech on the instigation of groups in whose worldview, free speech has no place. While there may be short-term electoral gain for such posturing, this race to the bottom has no winners. The loser is the idea of a free and democratic society where dialogue and understanding is privileged over violence to ‘solve’ differences. In effect, such groups aspire for a society where there are no differences – no diversity of thought, expression, living and being. Nothing is more alien to the human condition than that. Gods only can help a society where governmental policy is dictated by sociopaths, unless a critical mass stands up to publicly state that enough is enough. Does the right to be offended take precedence over the right to free speech? If yes, we are in sad and dark times.

When insulting books, gods and other creatures has become the touchstone of ‘community leadership’, one might do well to remember the words of Kaji Nazrul Islam, the fiery poet of all of Bengal who is increasingly being packaged into a ‘Muslim’ poet – ‘Manush enechhe grontho, grontho aneni manush kono’ (Man has produced books, no book has ever produced a man). There is nothing truer than man himself and free speech is an pre-condition for that truth to shine forth, in its myriad hues.

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Filed under Bengal, Culture, Kolkata, Religion, Rights, The written word

Paying the price for a gory ideology of hostage theory / Vague vengeance driving terror / Vague vengeance and Pakistan church blast

[ Daily News and Analysis, 1 Oct 2013; Millenium Post, 7 Oct 2013; Shillong Times, 7 Oct 2013; Echo of India, 9 Oct 2013 ]

“Ekbar matir dike takao,

 Ekbar manusher dike”

 (Once, take a look at the ground beneath your feet. Then, look at human beings)

 –  Birendra Chattopadhyay, Bengali poet (1920-1985)

 

In the most murderous attack on what is left of the ever-terrorized Christian population in Pakistan, Islamic terrorists have killed at least 85 worshippers at the All Saints Church in Peshawar on September 22nd. Inspired suicide bombers were the weapon of choice to target the Christian congregation. The death count is still rising, as more people succumb to their injuries in the hospitals. Outright murder represents the sharpest edge of what Christian and other ‘constitutionally’ non-Muslim people endure in Pakistan. Their daily life in a nation-state that officially considers them unequal in various ways to official Muslims is not pretty. Usurpation of property, blasphemy charges, attacks and destruction of places of worship, rape and subsequent forced conversion (or the reverse order) of womenfolk form the visible tip of a much broader systemic antagonism.

Thankfully, the minorities are not completely friendless in Pakistan. At huge personal risk, people like IA Rahman, Asma Jehangir, Abid Hasan Minto and many others have been standing in solidarity with religious minorities of Pakistan, protesting on the streets, for decades together. The threat to their lives is real, as was shown by the brutal murder of Salman Taseer, governor of West Punjab, and someone who had expressed solidarity with a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, phonily charged with blasphemy against Islam and given a death sentence. The recent anti-Christian massacre has brought the predictable protestors to the streets – human rights activists, left activists and the Christian community itself. But in addition to this, a somewhat broader segment also has protested. These groups have demanded that there be no dialogue or negotiations with Islamic terrorists behind this attack.

While shunning dialogue, the society in Pakistan may do well to initiate a broader dialogue. Directed not at the clearly-defined demons like the Taliban, this dialogue may point to a broader disease that emanates uncomfortably from the holy-cows of that nation-state. Only the society-at-large can initiate such a dialogue that explores the contours and content of inherited socio-political ideology, things that take a providential status as foundation-myths of any nation-state. Should one take a closer look at holy cows and foundation myths to diagnose the disease?

Jundallah, the Islamic terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the Peshawar massacre, laid out in no uncertain terms how it justifies the attack. ‘‘All non-Muslims in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country.’’ So, non-Muslims in Pakistan are, in their understanding, more America’s than Pakistan’s and if America cared enough for its ‘own’ in Pakistan, it had better stop doing things to Muslims in Pakistan. This equation of America = Christian = some hapless Suleiman Masih in Peshawar has widespread appeal, not only for its simplicity, but also for its antiquity. For those who have a somewhat longer memory, the subcontinent has known this for some time – most famously as the pernicious ‘hostage’ theory.

The ‘hostage’ theory has been around for some time. This was enunciated most explicitly by Mohammad-Ali Jinnahbhai, the quaid of the All India Muslim League, as a macabre formula for peace. By this notion, the safety of religious ‘minorities’ in the then still-to-be-born Pakistan and India would be ensured by the fact that the majority community A wont attack minority community B, because in other places, community A is a minority where B is the majority, and hence vulnerable to ‘retributive’ counterattack. Hence, it would ensured (or so it was thought) that violence would not happen locally, as communities that imagine themselves non-locally, would see that this could go tit for tat for ‘themselves’ elsewhere. A minority then is a hostage of the majority. If there are two hostage takers, peace will be ensured. Rather then hostage-driven peace, the subcontinent has witnessed many instances of what can be called retaliatory hostage torture. The massacre of Hindus in Noakhali on Kojagori Lakshmi puja day, the massacre of Muslims at Garhmukteshwar, the reciprocal train-massacres crossing the Radcliffe border of the Punjab, the massacres in Dhaka and Barisal – the list goes on. The list shows that hostage torture enjoyed a broad currency. The Muslim League was simply brazen enough to state it as such. Other groups also used it to their advantage to the hilt.

A tacit acknowledgement of the ‘hostage’ status of minorities was the basis of the Nehru-Liaquat pact – to protect the minorities in West Bengal and East Bengal. The hostage theory lives on when the Babri mosque demolition causes hundreds of temples to be destroyed in the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. This is why a Hindu there is more India’s than theirs – sort of an unreasonable remnant that ideally shouldn’t have been there. The hostage theory is an ideology of the book and not of the soil. The question of a human’s belonging, in that heartless scheme of things, is not with the soil beneath his ground, but with someone faraway bound by similar ideology. This binds people from disparate soils similarly, and divides people from the same soil. The modern dominance of universalist, extra-local ideologies of community definition, as opposed to the local and the ecological, has taken a very heavy toll on humanity. Peshawar shows that the ideology of the hostage theory is alive and well in the subcontinent. Jundallah is its bloody edge. The softer margins include a very many among us.

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Filed under Bengal, Dhaka, Foundational myths, Identity, India, Kolkata, Our underbellies, Pakistan, Partition, Religion, Scars, Terror, Under the skin

My vote for pluralism

[ Open Magazine, 14 Sep 2013 ]

On one issue, there is no doubt. If there was a murder most foul – it was Narendra Dabholkar’s. The slain leader of the Maharashtra Andha Shraddha Nirmoolan Samithi was, by any measure, a well-wisher of the people. He was a strong supporter of inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. He had been fighting, for decades, an unwavering war against ‘black magic’ practitioners and had ruined the business for quite a few. Threat to his life was ever-present. It is thought that the recent airing of his views endorsing inter-caste marriages and his long-term push for an anti-superstition bill finally did him in.

A doctor by training, Narendra Dabholkar cut his teeth in rural social service with another doctor-turned-activist Baba Adhav during the “Ek gaav, ek panavtha” (One village, one pond) movement. What set Dabholkar apart from many atheist-rationalists is how his work was deeply embedded in society – not preaching from above but militantly conversing alongside. He earned his legitimacy by living an exemplary life. The widespread shock and anger on his murder points to that. Urban rationalist talking heads might learn a thing or two from his life before complaining for the umpteenth time how ignorant the people are. During his lifetime, he was painted, with partial success, as someone who was anti-religion. That view also has serious currency. It is important to see why.

Dabholkar led a crusade against the deleterious environmental effects of divine idols. Water pollution was the holy cow that was used to elicit a court order banning certain kinds of idol-making substance in Maharashtra. Is that being anti-religion or anti a particular religion? Who knows. But put back in the context of a world where the people see the pollution and choking of rivers, lakes and other waterbodies by large-scale industrial effluents going unpunished, this particular focus on water pollution from idols does carry a different charge.  What conclusion should those idol-worshippers draw, who see both the ban against plaster-of-paris idols and the unchecked water pollution from other sources? Believers are not donkeys.

It is not a coincidence that nearly all the self-styled gung-ho rationalists or ‘magic’-busters of the subcontinent are also staunch atheists. A stupendous majority of the people is not. However, when preaching rationalism, the preacher’s atheism bit is downplayed or made invisible. We are not against religion but against superstition, they say. Believers are not sheep either and can identify patronizing double-speak. They are naturally left unimpressed by those who claim to be sympathetic do-gooders but actually could give two hoots about people’s beliefs and viewpoints.

The grand failure of such atheist/rationalist projects, in spite of having the full weight of the constitution of the Indian Union behind them, also has to do with the patently alien idioms of communication and propaganda that they use. That the rationalist propagandists themselves are often alienated from the living currents of their own society does not help matters.

When a miniscule minority aims to scare, browbeat and threaten people of faith by trying to get legislation passed that criminalize practices that believers voluntarily submit to, what we have is a most naked use of privileged access. This privilege follows the usual path of undemocratic access in the subcontinent – urban backgrounds, English education, Delhi connections, friends in media and so on. Every time such legislation is passed, it undercuts democracy – for, in their spirit, such legislations seek to act as wise elders, running roughshod over the beliefs and opinions of the people at large. It may befit a sociopath to assume that the masses are either juvenile or imbecile or manipulated or in darkness. It hardly is the ideal characteristic of a socially engaged being in a democratic society. Every individual is a complete moral agent with as much intelligence and responsibility as the next one.

In the absence of empathy and respect towards difference – things that are the basis of a harmonious society, we have elitocracy. When some urban rationalists shamelessly clap at ‘anti-supersetition’ bills and legislations that few believers would agree to in a referendum, they often let the mask of false empathy and democratic pretense fall off from their faces. They can afford to do this as throwing stones at glass houses far from one-self has always been a very non-risky affair. Some excel at this. It is in the context of this snooty and privileged way of looking down and talking down to the believing unwashed masses that Ashis Nandy, the shaman of our times, had said ‘There are superstitions, and there are superstitions about superstitions.’ Others chose to work amongst the people and live (and some, like Dabholkar, unfortunately die) in the consequence of their actions. It is this latter kind which has won some legitimacy from the people.

In some ways, the work of rationalists should have become easier with rise of textual religion in many parts of the world, including the subcontinent. The level of canon literacy that exists now among the believers is truly unprecedented. But text also pins down belief, making it vulnerable to the kinds of tactics that rationalists use to expose certain practices. Ostensibly, contradictions between a certain belief and empirical reality can be shown more easily as scriptures and canons have taken up a largely immutable form by now. For example, followers of scriptures which claim a flat-earth or that the sun revolves around the earth are ripe for engagement as part of the rationalists’ ‘blind-faith’ removal programme. Rationalists have failed to do even that.

Reminding the body of believers that the development of ‘scientific temper’ is one of the ‘fundamental duties’ of the citizen according to the constitution of the Indian Union does not win any friends, neither does it challenge rationalists to develop meaningful ways of  engagement for their cause. This compounded by the notion that such ‘juktibadi’ (rationalist) types even look and act in a certain way. They are not different from other posturing social types like the faux-westernized body-art loving ‘rebellious’ 20-something yuppie of the post-liberalization era or the jhola-beard-jeans-chappal type communist youth of the same era. That certain rationalists chose to boycott all social occasions like marriage, funeral and so on as religious rites are performed there does not help in their social immersion.

Lived religion, like any other aspect of human life, is not something unpolluted from a changing world. Religion is not what it used to be and that is how it has always been. Religion has also taken up characteristics and props of this age of mass production of material goods, easy transport, mass media and increasing literacy in a few languages of dominance and power. The peculiarities of this age put their stamp on religion to create bizarre products that are as much characteristics of the age as they are of religion that consents to such corruption. In a way, that is how religion has always ‘survived’ in any meaningful sense of the word ‘survive’. However, to use the specific peculiarities of an age to paint religiosity or practices in general as a timeless evil is neither honest nor tactically smart. Constitutions and new ‘values’ that disappear almost as soon as they develop cannot and should not speak down to faith. This point becomes especially poignant when one quotes Karl Marx out of context – ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.’

Let me make a final point. What is it to be human is a question that is hard to answer but a significant part of the world population, including the present author, believes that there are multiple ways of being human. Faith elements that are non-textual, that are handed down in communities, that makes their presence known in myriad practices (some of which may qualify in rationalist-speak as superstition) also contribute to the multiple ways of being human. These very many ways of being human come with as many world-views and whole theories of the workings of the world. These theories, world-views and practices – to what extent are they separable from one’s special sense of self and identity in this world? Religions, gods, goddesses and other beings, in so far as they are responsive to the changing world and living communities with which they are in constant interaction, also change. Being a certain kind of Bengalee, I grew up in the thick of brotos (practices to receive divine blessings) and many other acts, from which my particular kind of ‘Bengaleeness’ is indistinguishable. The gods and goddesses of my ‘Bengaleeness’, Ma Durga, Ma Monosha (often vulgarized off-hand as a ‘snake goddess’), Dhormo Thakur, and other divines who inhabit fringes of my ‘Bengaleeness’ like Ma Shitola, BonoDurga, and the practices and ‘superstitions’ associated with the particulars of my birth accident make me, in no small way. This Bengaleeness is not a static thing – static not even in a lifetime. Faiths and gods continue to communicate and adapt with the changing world their adherents inhabit. When some gods cannot adapt, they die too. An earlier time would have produced a different notion of selfhood in me.

Without this scaffolding, what kind of human would I be? Some may have no need of such things but what about the rest of us? What does this lack of particular scaffolding look like anyways?  Why do those do prescribe leaving such things, appear so much more similar to each other? Those who have some stake in the intrinsic plurality of the human condition and think that preserving that is a good thing, where would they stand if this homogeneity were the cost of inculcating a atheist-rationalist worldview. In any case, in colonial societies, the anti-traditionalist worldview can be as much received wisdom as any other tradition. Such a formulation might hurt the bloated egos of those who think that university departments and wistfully imported and badly digested bits of European post-enlightenment thought elevates them vis-à-vis their fellow hapless and ignorant brown people. Make no mistake; the hapless also have a theory about those who hold them in contempt.

Till ‘rationalism’ finds a way of preserving and strengthening the plural ways of being human that human societies believe they have produced in cahoots with their gods among other things, it certainly does not have my vote. An imported version of the universal brotherhood of man, something that some curious residents of the tropics always take to with more zeal and seriosity than the west itself ever did, is a cheap replacement for the loss of a million gods and a billion ‘superstitions’.

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Filed under A million Gods, Bengal, Caste, Democracy, Elite, Faith, Identity, Knowledge, Plural pasts, Religion, Science

Of Sati, Snake-bites and ‘blind’ superstitions

[ Daily News and Analysis, 2 Sep 2013 ]

Recently I was exposed to an interesting concept called Godwin’s law. Godwin’s law states that ‘As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.’ This means, the longer an online discussion gets, it becomes more and more likely that someone would bring in some comparison with Hitler or the Nazis. Those who inhabit the fractious world of online discussions (and I sometimes do) would be able to appreciate whether Mike Godwin has a point or not. The more general point of Godwin’s ‘law’ is that certain words, concepts and themes (like ‘Hitler’, ‘Nazi’) have such a wide currency (at least among a majority of Westerners and a minority of browns) as powerful symbols that they have been used in almost any context, to counter anything, to badmouth anyone. Of course that reflects poorly on the user of these terms. If every debate with me involves me throwing the same debate-stopping expletive at the other person, I have just put my intolerance on display. And if one cannot counter someone else’s point of view except by throwing back words that are mostly used as exaggerations out of context, then we have someone who is also petulant and insecure.

Be that as it may, this Godwin’s ‘law’ reminded me of certain similar things that I have often faced in discussion with some modern brown people (a.k.a. ‘enlightened Indians’ who have a particular distaste for those who use hair-oil). When one discusses any element that might faintly sound as a defence of things whose ethno-cultural roots are to be found among brown-people, certain alarm-bells and defences go up among the hair-oil haters. And by chance if something relatively indigenous is counterposed to something imported from a White domain, all hell breaks lose. Specifically two hells – Sati and snakebite. In that predictable and unimaginative barrage, any talk of being comfortable in one’s inherited brown mode of life in defiance of the newest imported flavor of the week makes one a supporter of wife-burning. And of course, the same person would be confronted with the ‘gotcha’ question – so what would you do in case of a snakebite?  Such is the potency of these two symbols of brown viciousness and backwardness respectively that even partner-assaulting modern males and patient-gouging medical practitioners liberally use these without an iota of shame and self-reflection. It is the ‘ideology’ that matters, stupid.

This same class of moderns typically exhibits a near-complete lack of understanding of the fall and the rise of Sati, its caste specificity, especially in the context of the subcontinent’s colonial encounter. Any engagement with modern Sati is apologia; any nuance is ‘obscurantism’. Again, when they go after ‘witch-doctors’ and faith healers with the certitude of a neo-convert, they hardly want to understand the reasons behind the continued presence of these institutions in society, against the tremendous odds of denigrating propaganda. This lofty non-engagement reminds me of those savarnas who ‘do not believe in caste’, ‘hate casteism’, have savarnas over-represented among their friend circles and cannot name even 10 shudra caste surnames.

The struggle against the practice of Sati were led by fighters with a social connect, and could not have been decisive without people’s consent. This was true then, this is true now. It is in this context that the Maharashtra ordinance against ‘black magic’ has to be seen. The anti-superstition bill criminalizes displays of miracles, doing ‘black magic’ to search for missing things, saying that a divine spirit has possessed oneself and various other things. Far from being criminal, many of these things are deemed to be within the domain of real happening by a significant number of people in whose name the ordinance has been promulgated. Paying homage to the respected rationalist Narendra Dabholkar is something, passing laws as a knee-jerk reaction that criminalizes activities which enjoy wide social acceptance is quite another. Yes, there are organized vested interests in some of these activities. But to think that whole people are being manipulated and that they need to be saved by know-it-all people is not only demeaning to the personhood of the believers, but also demeaning to the concept of unfettered universal adult franchise. It infantilizes the people, opening the gates of paternalistic legislation. And that, my friends, is not good for democratic functioning.

Beyond fundamental rights of individuals like right to life and right to consent to bodily intervention, whether a practice in society is harmful or not is not something that only ‘experts’ can decide. Social practices are multi-dimensional and can have more consent and agency built into them that have ‘uses’ beyond the immediate ‘efficacy’ of ‘black-magic’. One also has to understand how and why a witch doctor whose interventions could not save a life is looked upon as a bigger criminal than a MBBS doctor whose negligence causes the death of a patient. The social alienation of those who look upon the people as backward and superstitious might do well to ask themselves – why is it more likely that they have heard of Richard Dawkins, the fiery rationalist from England, but may not have a clue who frail, brown Aroj Ali Matubbor was? The problem is that metro-bred and metro-based alienated life-forms have infected the decision making and power centres of the nation-state – the government, the ‘NGO’s, the universities and the like. The socially alienated cannot expect people’s support and no wonder people’s support eludes them – if anything, they live in fear of their alienation and contempt being exposed in front of the people on whose name they so often speak and act. Narendra Dabholkar knew that and had been wise to avoid that posturing. I hope those who are mourning this selfless man’s death also keep that in mind.

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Filed under A million Gods, Class, Education, Elite, Faith, History, Knowledge, Power, Religion, Science, Urbanity

Eight tight slaps from Niyamgiri tribals / On giving up other ways of being human / Slippery slopes of development

[ Daily News and Analysis, 6 Aug 2013 ;  Shillong Times, 9 Aug 2013 ; Millenium Post, 9 Aug 2013 ; Echo of India, 12 Aug 2013 ; Morung Express, 20 Aug 2013 ]

You lifted one fistful of salt

And an empire was shamed.

Lift

One fistful of rubble

Now

And pour it on our shameless heads.

(Written by Gopal Gandhi on 6th December, 1992 – the day of Babri demolition)

In the United States of America, Thanksgiving Day is an example of a rather successful attempt in creating a popular and false impression of a harmonious past of North America – one of peaceful coexistence between White Christian colonizers and the colonized indigenous people. With decades of state endorsement, school indoctrination and mass-market celebration, genocide has been whitewashed into a love-in of sorts. But the descendants of the survivors still live and there is no forgetting. Certain truths cannot be buried by concrete and asbestos.

On one such day, some years ago, strolling in the Harvard campus, I saw a small group of native American youth standing in a semi-circle around a temporary structure that whispered –‘ this is a special space’. Someone elder led the invocations that exuded an unmistakable aura of sacredness to me. Before the genocide, this used to be a community celebration. Now, to the onlooker, it is a bunch of weirdos in strange gear doing their own thing in a campus that celebrates ‘diversity’ – adding to that vaunted cosmopolitan urbanscape that so many hold up as a model of all human futures, that pinnacle of rootless aspirations. Before the genocide, this was public culture. Today it is a curious performance, an act in the corner. How does it feel? I do not know. But I do know that less than 3 months from now the debi-paksha (the lunar fortnight of goddess Durga) will start and my clan-home in a village called Patuligram in Hooghly district of West Bengal will come alive to welcome the mother goddess, like every year. What if we had to do this invocation on the sly, and looked upon curiously? Could I then feel how those young people at Harvard were feeling that day? Probably not. I would not be accounting for the loss of language, community, clan-people, independence. And still they survive. For it is not that easy for everyone to give up other ways of being human.

It is partly an appreciation of this stubbornness that drew some activists, students and ragamuffins to a protest last week in front of the Orissa Bhavan at New Delhi. Niyamgiri, the holy hill, produced the valiant Dongria Kondh who have not only challenged the collective might of some of the most powerful money-gatherers and fixers of the world, but have also tripped up the trajectory of ‘progress’. What obscene cost-benefit calculation can put a price on a god and his abode? To us Bengali Shaktos (worshipper of goddess Shakti), what would be the ‘right price’ to dig up the Kali temple at Kalighat if bauxite were to be found underneath? The Dongria Kondh people have stuck to their main man, their principal deity Niyamraja for Niyamraja (the giver of law) has been sticking to them forever. Ijurupa, Phuldumer, Batudi, Palberi, Kunakadu, Tadijhola, Kesarpadi and Serkapadi are eight villages whose gram-sabhas have rejected a proposed bauxite-mining plan in Niyamgiri. In effect, these are eight tight slaps to an entire industry of consensus building that includes corporate houses, lobbyists, politicians, columnists, economists, ad-agencies, ‘development’-wallahs. CSR-wallahs, FabIndia-DSLR-NGOwallahs and probably your and my dad. Such has been the force of these slaps that the forces-that-be have pushed into action their spin-machine to concoct some ‘depth of Indian democracy’ type of bed-time story out of it. The force of the eight slaps (and there may be more) come precisely from forms of socio-political legitimacy and communitarian rights which are the bane of the forces-that-be. For all their love of swadeshi gods, like others, the saffron-party too has been exposed – that their love for alumina can easily make them sell gods on the sly.

In February, in Lakutia, near Barisal in East Bengal, I saw the ruins of a series of shiv-mandirs – corpses of places of worship. I remember muttering under by breath,  ‘never again’. Many have surrendered to those words, so simple yet so decisive – “it is too late now.” The Dongria Kondh seem to have different ideas about time and action. Far away, in southern Orissa, an explosive experiment in grassroots democracy is shaking the world. If it has not shaken your world, it better did.

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Filed under A million Gods, Americas, Bahishkrit Samaj, Community, Democracy, Displacement, Faith, Identity, Jal Jangal Zameen, Religion

The rise and rise of portable religion

[ Daily News and Analysis, 23 Jul 2013 ]

I remember a time, not so long ago, when my very Bengali brahmin family would travel outside Bengal. The visits would include religious places. Their attitude towards these places was clear – these were divine all right, but it was clearly understood within the family that these places were not ‘ours’. Sometimes such places invoked awe due to size, sometimes due to the volume of the crowds.

‘Our’ gods lay elsewhere. Among the creepers and water-bodies of a small village in the Hooghly district of Bengal, a particular mother goddess was omnipresent in the vocabulary of our family. They were in the form of a snake goddess who sat in a precarious perch near our Kolkata home, in a makeshift ‘temple’ between a bridge and a river. There was the lump-shaped Dharma Thakur, again of our village, who has had steadfastly refused brahminic mediation to this day. My family has come to live intimately with their moods and powers, their vehemence and their limits. They are ‘our’ gods.

In the last couple of decades, certain sentences have been thrown at me multiple times – scenarios I would not have expected earlier. The foremost among these is one spoken with some incredulity and an equal measure of haughtiness – ‘ Hindi nahi aata?’. A new nation-state is evolving; a new consensus is being beaten out of the badlands of the subcontinent. Gods are not unaffected in this scheme of things.

It started innocuously for such things have always happened. Young people moving away from their hometowns to other cities. Unprecedented levels of rural devastation and concomitant ‘urbanization’ for those beyond the pale of growth figures. But there has been a briskness in this process, a fast disemboweling, that cannot go unnoticed. The gods watched their devotees thinning away, overgrown groves lost witnesses to their sacredness. The story is clearly more complex than this but we do have at hand now, a generation or two, who have grown up without a conception of faith and religion that only an intimate ecology of a non-atomized society can provide. What we have in its place are unprecedented levels of scripture-literacy, a forced forgetting of the naked sacred, and shame about the practices of one’s grandmother. In this new religious worldview, older ‘superstitions’ are avoided and even condemned, with a mishmash of scriptures and lifestyle demands of modern urban society forming the bedrock of ‘eternal values’. These stances have wide currency among the rootless urbanfolk who may be religious or irreligious, but are Siamese twins when it comes to being self-servingly contemptuous of the rustic and the fantastic. The shaman of these times, Ashis Nandy provided a new language against these types when he wrote – ‘ There are superstitions, and there are superstitions about superstitions.’

So we have the rise and rise of portable religion. This is religion in its new avatar where a Quddus Sheikh from Murshidabad can go to some ‘bhavya’ mosque in Aligarh and see it as his own. This is the religion where certain gods have stolen a march on many other gods, creating a poor and sad ‘national’ pantheon of sorts – dreams of a ‘unified Hinduism’ finally bearing some fruit. From Boston to Bombay, through idioms created and perpetuated by mass media, a community is being created whose religious pantheon is dictated by that pathetic yearning for uniformity that only a nation-state can display. This is where portable religion and ‘Hindi nahi aata?’ come together as symptoms of the same disease. Sixty-six years after partition, this disease is hoping that its man from Gujarat would come to lead the nation-state.

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Filed under A million Gods, Bengal, Caste, Community, Displacement, Identity, Jal Jangal Zameen, Plural pasts, Religion, Urbanity

Close encounters of the inhuman kind / Of Sarfaraz Shah, Ishrat Jahan and the need for empathy / When protectors turn predators / The great danger of state ‘security’

[ Daily News and Analysis, 9 Jul 2013 ; Express Tribune, 9 Jul 2013 ; Millenium Post, 5 Jul 2013 ; Echo of India, 9 Jul 2013 ; Kashmir Reader, 10 Jul 2013 ; Kashmir Images, 10 Jul 2013; The NorthEast Today, August 2013 ]

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of India has found that Ishrat Jahan, the 19 year old woman killed in an ‘encounter’ in 2004, was not a terrorist. It also found the involvement of senior officers of Gujarat police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Rest assured, no other case of ‘encounter’ involving the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Gujarat Police will be heard of in the near future. Everyone learns from past mistakes – institutions learn even faster to cover up tracks. However, the expose or ‘investigation’ of the CBI by the IB has more to do with a breach of trust – that sacred compact of looking the other way.

But is there a lesson that Ishrat Jahan is teaching us?  Staying clear of trouble is what Ishrat had done all her life. That did not prove quite useful. I maniacally walk in straight lines – only son, propertied family, the curly-haired dreamer, and old parents – lots to lose that I deeply love. Fright as a method of silencing is as old as inhumanity. And I am not immune to fright. But does walking straight help?  Does it ensure safety – of life and property, as they say? If Ishrat Jahan wasn’t safe, who is? There were the words– Pakistan, terrorism – words that do not need proof for culpability. Though I inhabit that cool vantage on an iceberg, Ishrat’s murder is a rare peek into that world in the submerged part of the iceberg, icy and ruthless. And what I see scares the hell out of me.

Those involved in Ishrat Jahan’s murder are not small fry. They include quite a few higher ups entrusted with enforcing the law. Why are those people who are more likely to murder and torture than ordinary citizens so thoroughly over-represented among the ranks of certain state-funded institutions? Why are they almost always ‘protectors of law’? What is this ‘law’ that it protects? What are its contours? Is this law to be read in between the lines of the constitution? Is this law to be found in the umbra and penumbra of the constitutional guarantee to life? And still they talk, fashionably, gracefully, fashionably – like Pythia, the oracle at Delphi. If one person knew that Apollo did not speak, it was Pythia. Unbelievers always have a way of becoming priests.

Only if one eavesdrops on the players at the top, then the code in which they talk to each other, codes that are not to be found in the formal rulebook. In an interview aired by the BBC, journalist Andrew Marr asked Noam Chomsky during an exchange on Chomsky’s views on media distortion of truth, how could Chomsky know for sure that he, a journalist, was self-censoring? Chomsky replied, “I don’t say you’re self-censoring – I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.” And it is the production of this believer-citizen that is essential for ‘encounter’ murders to go unlamented for very few enjoy the spoils of being an cynical insider. The insiders may come in different colours, shapes, sizes, tongues and even faiths, but unless they shared a contempt for habeas corpus and veneration for this ‘other’ rule-book, they would not be sitting where they are sitting.

Similar to what Michael Moore said, I have never been slapped by a Pakistani army man for I was walking too briskly on Srinagar streets, never been murdered in broad daylight in the streets of Imphal by special forces from Pakistan, never been kidnapped in Gujarat by the Inter Services Intelligence, never been tortured for days together in jails by Sindh Police, never been detained, blindfolded and then shot through the head by a Pakistani Army man. But there is no opportunity for competitive gloating to be done here by Pakistanis either. For the near-daily murder and torture of pro-independence Baloch youth are now too numerous to deny. For Ishrat Jahan of Gujarat and Chongkham Sanjit of Manipur share just too many things with Sarfaraz Shah, gunned down in Karachi in broad daylight by the Pakistan Rangers. Sarfaraz’s howls, his pleadings, the utter helplessness in front of the law enforcement agencies, that moment when the gun fires, that look on the face of Sarfaraz a moment before he is shot – a look that shouts out ‘Please’ in a way that would make the Himalayas crumble if the gods were as benevolent as they are said to be  – these are all too familiar on the other side of the Radcliffe. Something else is familiar – that the Rangers will not pay for their crime. There is far too much that is common between the subcontinental badlands – commonalities that make a mockery of the exclusive pride that some seem to possess.

Every time we ignore an extra-judicial murder, it brings us that much closer to being a cold reptile. We have a stake in this. ‘The freedom of others extends mine infinitely’ said a famous graffiti from Paris 1968. And when this ‘other’ is the one where all our collective prejudices and hate converge, ensuring that ‘other’s’ freedom has ripples everywhere. The flood of empathy needs such ripples now. We owe it to us and to the Ishrat Jahans and the Sarfaraz Shahs of the subcontinent. We must never forget what Avtar Singh ‘Paash’ had articulated so poignantly years ago.

‘Jey desh di surakhya eho hondee hai
key be-zameeree zindagi lei shart ban javey,
akh di putli vich han ton bina koi bhi shabd ashleel howe,
tey man badkaar ghadiyan de samne
dandaut’t jhukiya rahe, tey saanu desh di surakhya ton khatra hai’ ( If a life without conscience is a pre-condition of the country’s security, if anything other than saying ‘yes’ in agreement is obscene, and the mind submits before the greedy times, then the security of the country is a danger to us).

*** DNA version ***

The man-eater insignia is so ubiquitous in the Indian Union that the pack of maned carnivores appears docile. In moments of tricolour pride, they may even look like protective mascots. The possibility that they might have been staring down at you all this time is an unsettling thought. I maniacally walk in straight lines — only child, propertied family, the enchanting curly-haired one, the old parents — lots to lose that I deeply love. Fright is a silencing method as old as inhumanity.

Does walking straight help? Does it ensure safety of life and property? If Ishrat Jahan wasn’t safe, who is? But then she was Muslim. Then there were the words– Kashmir, terrorism, Pakistan — incandescent words of certitude that stick to one’s skin till they char the flesh down to the bones. But I have never been slapped by the Pakistan military for walking too briskly on Srinagar streets, never been murdered publicly in the streets of Imphal by the 10th Balochistan Rifles, never been kidnapped in Gujarat by the Pakistani intelligence, never been detained in West Bengal, blindfolded and then shot through the head by a policeman from Pakistan. Who should you be scared of — you, of the right religion and a law-abiding, flag-saluting, Dhoni-cheering, Raanjhanaa-adoring, jhamela- avoiding citizen of the Union of India?

Ishrat’s death shows our collective helplessness and what is possible. One such death is a deep ocean of unredeemable injustice — injustice that brutally squeezes out the milk of human love out of a mother till blood oozes forth. That it is possible to kill with impunity with multiple higher-ups involved. That it is possible to expose that with ease if power-politics demands so. Ishrat is exceptional in that her murder had some scavenge value — she posthumously has become a wedge that ensured ‘investigation’. Very few such ‘encounters’ have this wedge-like quality — usually the four lions hunt together. The animals are at their vilest in plainclothes and not in khaki, just like real news is what transpires between panelists during a talk-show break.

The detailed understanding of the anatomy of ‘encounter’ that has been displayed by the principal political parties is sinister. It is akin to the knowledge that police has about every crime in a locality, but ‘solves’ specific ones based on self-interest. Then there is the deeper layer of being complicit in the crime. What does this tell us about other ‘encounters’.

Some very big-shots are involved in Ishrat Jahan’s murder. What is this monstrous system that is designed to provide upward mobility and gallantry rewards for the scum of the earth? Why are those people who are more likely to murder and torture than others found mostly among the ranks of certain state-funded agencies? Why are they almost always ‘protectors of law’? Is the Constitution really an ornate cover to some deep law of the state for whom ‘encounter’ murders are ordinary policy?

Every act of private gloating by that demon within some of us that cheers a Muslim death brings all of us that much closer to being a cold reptile. There is an acute need for a flood of empathy to sweep away our collective prejudice and hate. Where is the purifying flood? Where is mother Ganga when she is needed the most? She owes it to us and to the Ishrat Jahans whose cases would never be reopened.

I do sincerely hope that the Mother-goddess Durga will secure us against ‘security’. There is no buffalo — only 4 lions in sight that she thinks are her own. When will my demon-slayer mother open her third eye?

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Filed under Army / police, Foundational myths, India, Our underbellies, Religion, Rights, Scars, Terror

Bad moon rising / A dangerous connivance /

[ The Hindu, 6 Apr 2013 ; The Friday Times (Lahore), April 19-25, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 10 ; Kashmir Monitor, 25 Apr 2013 ; Himalayan Mirror (Gangtok), 12 Apr 2013 ; Himalayan Mail (Jammu), 7 Apr 2013; South Asia Citizen’s Web, 23 Apr 2013 ]

Many in West Bengal are looking to the Shahbag protests in Dhaka with a lot of hope and solidarity – as an important and necessary step that would usher in a rollback of the creeping communalism that has afflicted the People’s Republic of Bangladesh since 1975. 1971 is still fresh in the mind of many Bengalees from the West, when a massive relief and solidarity effort was under taken on that side of the border to reach out to a large mass of humanity trying to escape a situation that has been described variously – from ‘civil war’ to ‘genocide’. The then leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami in East Bengal and its students wing organized murder and rape squads, at times in collaboration with the armed forces. The specific crimes include mass-murder, rape as a weapon of war, arson and forced conversions. They escaped prosecution due to the by generals who used them to cast an Islamic veneer of legitimacy over their illegal capture of power. They were gradually rehabilitated until the present Awami League led government came to power – whose manifesto among other things, promised the trial of war criminals. Thus started the proceedings against them in the War Crimes tribunal. The Shahbag protests have demanded maximum punishment for the guilty.

In West Bengal, a few meetings and assemblies have happened around Shahbag. However, to the shock and dismay of many, the largest of these assemblies was a massive rally held in central Kolkata’s Shahid Minar on 30th March, explicitly against the Shahbag protests and in support of the war criminals convicted by the tribunal. Various Muslim groups including the All India Milli Council, All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, West Bengal Sunnat Al Jamat Committee, Association of Protection of Civil Rights, Milli Ittehad Parishad, West Bengal Madrasa Students Union, Ashikane Rasul Committee, All India Minority Association, All Bengla Muslim Think Tank, All India Muslim Majlish E Mushawarat, Aminia Jamiat E Muttakin Committee, Ulama Parishad, Magribi Bangla Anzumane Wayejin, Bangiya Imama Parishad and All Bengal Imam Muazzin Assiciation convened the meeting. People had also arrived in buses and trucks from distant districts of West Bengal like Murshidabad and Nadia, in additional to those from the adjoining districts of North and South 24 Parganas, Haora and Hooghly, among others. Students of madrassas and the newly minted Aliah Madrassa University were conspicuous at the gathering.

They rallied because ‘Islam is in danger’ in Bangladesh. Never mind that that post-1947, that part of the world through all its forms ( East Bengal, East Pakistan, People’s Republic of Bangladesh) has seen a continuous drop in the population percentage of religious minorities, in every census since 1951.This rallying cry is not new. It was heard in 1952 when the mother language movement of was in full swing, in 1954 when the United Front led by Fazlul Haq and Maulana Bhashani challenged the Muslim League, in 1969 when the Awami League made its 6 demands and in 1971 when Bengalees fought for independence and now in the context of Shahbag in 2013 – basically during every secular movement for rights and justice. One of the main accused in the war-crimes trial, Golam Aazam (also the leader of the Jamaat in East Pakistan in 1971), had used this old trick in the hat when he has stated in 1971 “the supporters of the so-called Bangladesh Movement are the enemies of Islam, Pakistan, and Muslims”. Replace ‘Bangladesh’ with ‘Shahbag’ and ‘Pakistan’ with ‘Bangladesh’ and you have the same logic. Terming the struggle in Bangladesh to be one between Islam and Shaitan (Satan), it was announced at the meeting that they would cleanse West Bengal of those who were trying to support the present Prime-minister of Bangladesh and the war-crime trial effort. It was also threatened that those political forces that support Shahbag would ‘beaten with broom-sticks’ if they came to ask for votes from Muslims. Just like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, Sheikh Hasina will also be kept out of Kolkata – they added. They also supported the anti-Shahbag ‘movement’ in Bangladesh. The last assertion is especially worrisome as this anti-Shahbag movement has let loose its fury on the religious minorities of Bangladesh. This has resulted in a wave of violent attacks on Hindus, Buddhists and secular individuals, with wanton burning and destruction of Hindu and Buddhist homes, businesses and places of worship. Amnesty International communiqué mentioned attacks on over 40 Hindu temples as of 6th March. The number is over 100 now and still rising.

Given the recent trends of politics in West Bengal, this large gathering and its pronouncements are not shocking. The writing has been in the wall for a while. A collapse in the Muslim vote of the Left Front is an important factor in its recent demise after more than three decades of uninterrupted rule. Various Muslim divines like Twaha Siddiqui of Furfura Sharif, have explicitly pointed that out as a point of threat to the present government. The Trinamool Congress wants to ensure a continued slice of this vote. The present government has tried to hand out sops to build a class of Muslim ‘community leaders’ who eat of its hand by its unprecedented move to giving monthly stipends to imams and muezzins. Very recently, it has been decided that such a cash scheme might be worked out for Muslim widows too. Given that it is beyond the ability of the debt-ridden, vision-poor government to solve the problems that are common to the poor, it has cynically chosen to woo a section of the marginalized on the basis of religion using handouts. These are excellent as speech-making points masquerading as empathy and social justice. This is dangerous politics to say the least. It sets into motion currents and gives fillip to forces whose trajectories are beyond the control of the present political groups. The Left Front’s political fortune has not improved after its humiliating defeat. It has cynically chosen not too oppose this communal turn to West Bengal’s politics, for it too, believes that silently waiting for the incumbent to falter is a better roadmap to power. The damage that is doing to the political culture of the state in immense and may well be irreparable. The incumbent’s connivance and the opposition’s silence are largely due to decades of erosion in the culture of democratic political contestation through grassroots organizing. Both the incumbent and the oppostition parties deal with West Bengal’s sizeable minority population primarily via intermediaries, often doing away with any pretense of political ideology while indulging in such transactions.

For their part, organizations owing allegiance to a particular brand of political Islam ala Moududi, have used this disconnect to the hilt. An emerging bloc of divines and ex-student leaders of certain organizations have used the students that they can amass at short notice to launch specific protests, aimed in getting a leverage in terms of policy. Sadly, this blackmailing is hardly aimed at uplifting the living standards of West Bengal Muslims in this world. Rather, its string of victories started with successfully driving out the famous persecuted humanist writer Taslima Nasreen during the Left Front regime. The most recent example was the governmental pressure that was exerted on their direction to keep Salman Rushdie out of a proposed event in Kolkata, after he successfully did such events in Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai. This slowly pushing of the envelope fits into a sequence of events that are increasingly stifling the freedom of expression. At the same time, its double-standards are explicit. On March 21st, a medium-sized group consisting of little-magazine publishers, human rights workers, theatre artists, womens’ organizations and peace activists had announced that they would march in solidarity with the Shahbag protests and express their support to the Bangladesh government’s war crimes trial initiative by marching to the deputy high-commission of Bangladesh. Even after prior intimation, the rally was not allowed to move by the police due to ‘orders’ and some of the marchers were detained. The same police provided security cover to pro-Jamaat-e-Islami organizations as they conducted a rally submitted a month earlier and again later when they submitted a memorandum to the same deputy high commission demanding acquittal of convicted war criminals. Last year, it issued a circular to public libraries to stock a sectarian daily even before its first issue had been published! The role of the state is explicit in these actions – it possibly thinks that it can play this game of brinksmanship with finesse. The flight of cultural capital from the self-styled cultural capital of India is but a natural corollary of such unholy alliances with the political class playing tactical spectators and tactical facilitators to apologists for one the largest mass-murders in the last century .

The recent bye-election to Jangipur, a Muslim majority constituency carried certain signals. Prompted by the elevation of Mr.Mukherjee to Presidency, this election saw the combined vote of the 2 main parties fall from 95% in 2009 to 78% in 2012. The major beneficiaries were the Welfare Party of India, a thinly veiled front organization of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the Social Democratic Party of India, an even more radical group of a similar ilk. Such groups are armed with a programme of ‘tactical pluralism’, quite akin to the tactical defence of Taslima’s freedom of speech by majoritarian communal political forces in the Indian union. The rallying against Shahbag has blown the cover of faux pluralism. There was another significant beneficiary and predictable in the same election, the BJP. Communal tension has been on the rise in recent years – there has been serious disturbance by West Bengal standards in Deganga and Noliakhali. The majoritarian forces smell a subterranean polarization of the polity. Mouthing banalities about Bengal’s ‘intrinsically’ plural culture is quite useless – culture is a living entity, that is always in flux, created and recreated every moment. It is being recreated by the victimization discourse by fringe groups like Hindu Samhati. It is being recreated in certain religious congregations in parts of West Bengal of Aila where unalloyed poison produced by divines like Tarek Monawar Hossain from Bangladesh is played on loud-speakers. Thanks to technology, such vitriol produced in a milieu of free-style majoritarian muscle flexing in Bangladesh easily finds its way to a place where the demographic realities are different. Hence the popularity and consequent defence of one of the convicted war criminals, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who in his post-71 avatar had become something of a superstar in the Bengali waz-mahfil (Islamic religious discourse congregation) circuit. What are the effects of the subterranean cultural exchange of this kind? The rally is a partial clue. A defence of Sayedee and claiming him to be innocent, as was repeatedly done in that rally, is like perpetrating Holocaust-denialism.

Just a day after the anti-Shahbag rally in Kolkata, almost as a divine reminder of starker realities beyond the defense of Islam, nearly 45 lakh unemployed youth, Hindus and Muslims, sat for the appointment as primary school teachers recruitment examination for 35000 empty posts. Roughly 1 in 128 will succeed. There is no employment exchange worth its name, including the ‘minority’ employment exchange set up by the incumbents, which would absorb the unsuccessful 44 lakh. West Bengal is one of the few states that have petitioned for a relaxation of the minimum qualifications for primary school teachers in the Sarva Shiksha Abhijan scheme, as stated in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009. There is a rot at the base with every community affected. It has been long in the making. The promotion of religious education is hardly the way to empowerment and livelihood generation for minorities, especially in a state where they have been grossly under-represented in the all white-collar services. There are no short cut solutions to this.

Majority and minority communalism in West Bengal, though not generally overt, can be found easily by scratching the surface. A combination of circumstances can awaken it. Will more such circumstances arise, or will more responsible politics prevent a potential communal unraveling of West Bengal? Bengal’s past experience with communal politics is distinctly bitter, both in the west and the east.  The west lives with half-sleeping demons. In the east, the demons never really slept, and have been in and out of power.

 

 

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Filed under Bengal, Community, Democracy, Dhaka, History, Identity, Kolkata, Language, Pakistan, Polity, Religion, Scars

Clothing the sacred in the vain / The race to Riyadh / Religious imperialism at the heart of a plural society

[ Daily News and Analysis, 10 Apr 2013; Millenium Post, 11 Apr 2013; Echo of India, 14 Apr 2013 ]

In the amazing race to match cities like Riyadh and Kabul, famous for free-thinking, art and culture, Mumbai stole a march on Kolkata by threatening Maqbul Fida Hussain and disrupting the exhibition of his paintings of goddess Durga and Saraswati. Not to be culturally outdone, the so-called ‘cultural capital’ struck back by expelling Tasleema Nasreen, giving in to the threats by some angry Muslims. In a classic ‘one-two combo’, Kolkata followed up this act by successfully keeping Salman Rushdie out of its limits. Mumbai had actually hosted him – it had fallen back in the race. But recently it roared back in the race by despatching its best sons of the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti to the Jehangir Art Gallery to remove paintings of goddess Kali by Kolkata-based painter Eleena Banik. Game on.

But this is a dangerous game. For people of faith, it is important that gods and goddesses be taken back from the loudest and the most threatening. Rather it should be asked that in a plural society, how is anyone able to violently attack, threaten, issue death-threats and shut down other voices. The plurality of divine forms in the subcontinent does not originate from scriptures and strictures, but from the agency of humans, however negligible in number, to be able to own, disown, partially own and partially disown the divine. No definition of how gods and goddesses ought to be or ought not to be can be enforced by force in a civilized society. If a group thinks that they are the thikadars of divine beings, I feel it is important to remind them that I did not appoint them to such a post, as far as my gods and goddesses are concerned.

The Hindu Janjagruti Samiti’s targetting of mother goddess Kali has forced me to respond, especially because I am from a Bengali Shakto ( followers of the divine mother) family. Our ancestral worship of the divine mother goes back at least four hundred years. We take our Kali seriously. Till now, Bengali Shaktos have not had the need to look to any Hindus from Mumbai or elsewhere for its ‘jagruti’. We have been worshipping mother Kali before Mumbai got its first temple for Mumbadevi.

The saffron neophytes who forced Eleena to take down her paintings of goddess Kali did not approve of the fact that she had painted her without the garland of skulls. Her breasts were visible, because she has them. The mother goddess does not wear garlands to cover her breasts from the scandalized. She is both maternal and sexual. And if your like your goddess to have lesser qualities than my mother goddess, that is your problem. If you feel ashamed of my naked holy mother, thats your problem, not mine. Keep your shame to yourself. Dont come draping my mother with your cloth. Your mother may like being told by their devotee-sons what to wear. My holy mother has a divine mind of her own.

People have conceived goddess Kali variously in different times, in different places. For someone to dictate how my conception of the goddess ‘should’ look like is religious imperialism. While a monolithic Indian Union nation-state helps such pan-subcontinental ‘standards’ to gain wider currency, the goddess is older than the constitution. Those who take their definitions of shame from the sensibilities of the Victorian British have long been ill at ease with the naked glory of goddess Kali. They have tried to make make the garland an essential accessory, have made the garland-heads bigger, have made the goddess always have her hair in front of the shoulder spread out on her body – essentially every cheap trick in the book to cover her breasts. Breasts are sexually desirable. Breasts are also symbols of motherly love. If you have a problem with a sexually active, breast-feeding mother goddess, try a ‘nirgun’ god. Don’t come draping my goddess.

Sometimes we do not realize how recent some of our imaginations of gods and goddesses are. For example, many consider the blouse of the goddess to be a ‘sanatan’ item of clothing – just that it was virtually unknown in the subcontinent in that peculiar form before Empress Victoria’s reign. My holy mother is older than that. Maqbul Fida Hussain, that sterling admirer of goddess Durga, had liberated her form from the patently mid-19th century blouse clad look, re-imagining her in naked matriarchal glory. You expect me to give up my holy mother’s timeless antiquity for your second-rate desi version of imported Victorian sensibility?

By way of distortion of an oft-half quoted line by Karl Marx, one can say that in a plural society, religions have to be defended from becoming the tool of bigoted creatures, the face of a heartless worldview, the mechanical output of scripture-reading zombies. It has to be defended from becoming the enemy of a plural society. So-called ‘distortion’ is the long-term life-blood of plural, democratic societies. Joy Ma Kali.

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Filed under A million Gods, Bengal, Culture, Eros, Faith, Gender, Plural pasts, Religion, Sex

Shahbag: A story of two hangings; differences in their dynamics / Shahbag live from Dhaka / Shahbag Live

[ Daily News and Analysis, 23 Feb 2013 ; Millenium Post, 21 Feb 2013 ]

It is indeed unfortunate that the name Shahbag will not evoke much response from the Indian pretenders to ‘global citizenship’. They may have heard of Tahrir Square and in their amateur glee, may have done the absurd comparison of an antic or two in Delhi and Mumbai to it. Dhaka is the city many Indians believe that ‘they’ liberated in 1971. In fact, the liberation war has not ended. It is still ongoing at Shahbag. Shahbag is one of the main street intersections of Dhaka where the events taking place as I write may have historic consequences.

Take the road that leads from Dhanmondi, Dhaka towards Nilkhet. Turn left at Science Lab and keep on walking. If you hear passionate slogans from the young and old shaking the ground beneath your feet, you have reached Shahbag. After the 1971 Liberation war of Bangladesh, the governments of the states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh reached a tripartite agreement. One of the despicable results of this was the granting of clemency to some of the worst perpetrators of crimes against humanity in the last millennium. The few Bengali collaborators of the Pakistani occupation forces indulged in mass-murders and rapes that have few parallels in recent memory. They have never faced the judicial process, until now. The International War Crimes tribunal in Bangladesh has been pursuing some of the biggest leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Razakar, Al-Shams and Al-Badr militia – a process that has stupendous public support in that nation. One of the most hated of these characters, Kader Mollah, has been handed a life sentence and not a death sentence. This resulted in a protest assembly started by a bloggers and online activist network that was quickly joined by progressive and left-wing student organizations. The result has been an unprecedented mass assembly that has been going on continuously since February 5 with people from all walks of life joining in. People are singing, making new slogans, giving new life to old slogans which had been made into lifeless clichés, drawing giant murals on the streetside, doing multiple street theatre performances at the same time in different locations of that busy urban intersection and what not. Having been witness to the Anna protests in Delhi last summer, all I can say is that if that was warm Jacuzzi or a stove-flame (depending on your perspective), Shahbag is a veritable volcano. It was briefly called off after February 21 only to start again a day later.

As I stand in Shahbag, soaking in this immense human energy, I cannot help compare this to another such urban assembly I was recently witness to, where too, calls for hanging (something I am personally opposed to, under any circumstance) were the primary chant. These were the India Gate protests after the Delhi rape and murder case. At India Gate, Kavita Krishnan and others tried their best to inject sanity into the folks demands for death and castration. There the political was trying to reason with the expressly ‘apolitical’. Here in Shahbag, from the very outset, it was very political. However, it was not partisan. The difference showed. In Shahbag, the politicized students and youth mood that bordered on uber-nationalism was blood-lust was interrogated, at the square itself, by mass chants, that challenged simplistic understandings of nation, nationalism and revenge. The slogan ‘Tumi ke, ami ke, Bangali, Bangali’ (Who are you, who am I? Bengali, Bengali) was often changed to ‘Chakma, Marma, Bangali’ to include other ethnicities in the state of Bangladesh. The former 2 ethnic groups were involved in a long armed insurrection with the government. This is not easy, especially in a nation-state formed primarily on the basis of an exclusivist ethno-linguistic nationalism. Imagine saying the K-word or the N-word as different from ‘Indian’ in the Delhi chants. But Dhaka could, and they could precisely because Shahbag is political. The media covers Shahbag, it does not dictate it. It does not repeat the world ‘apolitical’ like a ghost-busting mantra as those in Delhi studios did as soon as the ‘Damini’ protests started. In Shahbag, it was demanded that whole organizations that were involved in rapes and murders be banned. In the Indian Union, can we even dare to name the organizations and agencies to which the highest numbers of alleged rapists are affiliated? The amateur flash-in-the-pan nature of Delhi protests showed when it was all but broken but a Lathi-charge. The brutal murder of one of the organizers of the Shahbag protests, blogger Rajeeb Haidar, only strengthened the resolve of the square. In Shahbag, the government is trying hard to appropriate the movement for justice. At the India Gate, the Delhi Police meted out instant justice of another kind. Shahbag is also a call for a different political direction – the youth wanting to resolve issues that happened before their birth. This bursts the myth that today’s young only react when things affect them directly. The hip metro youth of India, are still sadly, in a state of political infancy in this regard.

I stood mesmerized by the slogan-chanting figure of Bangladesh Chhatro Union’s Lucky Akhtar, who has now been nicknamed ‘slogankanya’ by Shahbag itself. Lucky has been hospitalized multiple times, once after being pushed by the ruling party operatives keen to take the stage. Whenever Lucky led the sloganeering, it was hard to separate the aesthetic from the political. And why should one? In this assembly for justice against crimes that also includes innumerable rapes, there were thousands who were there not as somebody’s mother, daughter or sister, but as politically inspired women. And it matters. And that showed.

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Filed under Bengal, Change, Democracy, Dhaka, History, Religion, Scars, Terror

Unholy winds from Jangipur / Disturbing signals from Jangipur

[ Echo of India, 27 Oct 2012 ; The Daily Star (Dhaka) 19 Nov 2012 ]

It used to be said, what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. That was a different Bengal and a different idea of ‘India’. If the recent by-election results from Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency of West Bengal is any indication of how Bengal might start thinking tomorrow, that would indicate no small shift in the political landscape of post-partition West Bengal as we have known it. So, what has happened?

After Pranab Mukherjee was made the President of the Indian Union, the Jangipur seat fell vacant. The Indira Congress had declared that Abhijit Mukherjee, the President’s son and MLA from Nalhati, would be their candidate for the seat. In the post-schism scenario between UPA and Trinamool, the latter in an apparent gesture towards the president, decided not to contest the seat. This was astute, as this put the Trinamool in a win-win situation. A triangular contest might have caused a CPI(M) victory, inspite of Trinamul participation. A CPI(M) victory in Trinamul’s absence would not have been so damaging. The Indira Congress candidate won the seat by the slimmest of margins, 2526 to be exact. His father had won the seat by a margin of 1,28,000. There are no indications that there is a sudden ground-swell of support for the CPI(M). In fact, its own vote percentage came down by nearly 2 percent since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Indira Congress vote was down by a staggering 15%. A rather damaging revelation is that a significant portion of Abhijit Mukherjee’s ‘lead’ came from booths were opposition polling agents were allegedly not allowed. So the established parties, both of which can be considered secular, together polled about 95% of the votes during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. This time, their combined total is about 78 %. Where did all those votes go?

They went to what are parties which have not had much traction in West Bengal politics and are distinguished by their sectarian appeal to voters, however concealed they may be in the language of generality. The demographic status of the Jangipur constituency is relevant. It is in the district of Murshidabad, with about two-thirds of the voters being from the Mohammedan community. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has for long tried to develop a base in such areas with a significant Mohameddan population by playing on real or perceived insecurities of the Hindu population. Typically this has involved playing up the issue of illegal immigration from East Bengal, but this time around, that was not really important. Curiously, the BJP partly benefited from a portion of the Muslim vote which swung away from the Indira Congress due to the central government’s decision of forcible acquiring vast swathes of land at Ahiron, Murshidabad to set up the much touted second campus of the Aligarh Muslim University. Something else also helped the BJP. This was the entry of two parties into the fray, namely the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and the Welfare Party of India (WPI). Much like the BJP, these are outfits that are formally secular, but are implicitly sectarian. Like the BJP’s non-Hindy faces, the Mukhtar Abbas Naqvis and Shahnawaz Hussains, these groups also have show-piece non-Mohameddans. The SDPI is for all practical purposes an extended arm of the Popular Front of India, a sectarian organization whose members have been implicated in creating communally charged scenarios in Kerala. The WPI is a newer outfit, created in 2011 by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. Between the SDPI and the WPI, they polled  66311 votes (  8 percent ). The BJP received 85,857 votes (about 11 percent). In 2009, the BJP polled less than 2.5% of the votes.

It is well known that in a communally polarized polity, the poles feed each other. In the process, people’s issues that cut across sectarian lines, take a backseat. The question is, whether this result happened due to the peculiar characteristics of this election in this constituency or this has the potential to become a broader phenomenon in West Bengal in the days to come. It is true that the land dispossession of farmers and a non-local Indira Congress candidate helped the opposition. But the principal opposition party, the CPI(M), could not reap its benefits. The Trinamool too has its own vote, however small, in the area. In the event of its non-contestation, it is clear that all of it did not transfer to the Indira Congress. Part of this vote went to the BJP, SDPI and WPI. Significantly, it is suspected that ‘town’ Hindus have voted for the BJP in significant numbers.

It is now generally agreed that among the reasons behind the CPI(M)’s demise from power in West Bengal, a collapse in their Muslim vote was a significant one. The Trinamool Congress wants to ensure a more permanent slice of this vote. This has resulted in a slew of largely cosmetic measures like giving monthly stipends to imams, opening minority employment exchanges, building a gigantic Haj house, vaguely promising reservations, inaugurating trains that go from Bengal to Ajmer and the like. This rather public posturing, especially things like the imam stipends, have ruffled feathers in sections of the majority community. West Bengal’s veneer of secular politics is not something that has a very long past – both Shyama Prasad’s Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League had strong bases in various parts of Western Bengal. Those strands of political thought have not found legitimate expression for sometime and hence generally have not shown up in voting numbers. But they exist nonetheless. BJP’s performance in Jangipur could be replicated in other areas – it depends on how large is the majority community that has not taken well to the Trinamool’s courtship of minorities. In a scenario where the CPI(M) can only oppose the substance of the courtship but not the courtship itself, it is unlikely that the disgruntled will go to them. The assertion of parties like the SDPI and WPI may help such a communal consolidation of the majority community. And that cannot be good news. Communalism in West Bengal, though not generally overt, can be found easily by scratching the surface. A combination of circumstances can awaken it. Will more such circumstances arise, or will more responsible political parties prevent a potential communal unraveling of West Bengal politics? Bengal’s past experience with communal politics is distinctly bitter, both here in the West and in the East.  The west lives with the sleeping demons. In the east, the demons never really slept, and have been in and out of power, thus seriously undermining the plural heritage of Bengal.

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Ram, Ramu, Ramna – the dangerous slide of Bangladesh / Buddha weeps in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

[ Daily News and Analysis, 15 Oct 2012 ; Dilip Simeon’s blog ; South Asia Citizen’s Web, 16 Oct 2012 ; The Friday Times (Lahore) October 19-25, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 36]

You lifted one fistful of salt

And an empire was shamed.

Lift

One fistful of rubble

Now

And pour it on our shameless heads.

(written by Gopal Gandhi on 6 December 1992 – the day of Babri demolition)

On 29 September, in the Ramu area of the Cox’s Bazar district of the Republic of Bangladesh, an estimated 25000 strong crowd of people belonging to the majority religion destroyed 22 Buddhist temples and monasteries and 2 Hindu temples. The participants in this orgy of violence included, among others, many functionaries of 3 major political groups – the party in goverment Awami League, the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. The purported ‘cause’ was the offence caused by a Facebook post – an absurd theme in an area with very poor internet reach. Also, the serious preparedness as exhibited by the modus operandi also suggests otherwise. It was clearly not simply a Rohingya response to the Buddhist-on-Muslim oppression in Burma. Ramu can be reached by the N1 highway after taking a right from Feni. Feni is not too far away from Noakhali, where in 1946, in my opinion, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi got closest to some of the ideals he talked about.

When the British administered areas of the subcontinent were partitioned amidst massive violence, a popular conception was blown to smithereens. That was the twisted idea that minorities in partitioned area would be akin to collaterals that would ensure peace and safety of life and property. This would be as follows – Hindus in East Bengal would be safe because attacks on them would risk retribution on Muslims in West Bengal and other areas were Muslims were minorities. In Punjab, a near-complete ‘population exchange’ was conducted with millions of lives being paid as a price of that politico-demographic barter. With clinical efficiency, ethnic cleansing happened in Sindh, Rajputana and the Punjab. No sizeable minority remained in the post-partition areas. Those who were left were at the mercy of the majority, sections of whom have periodically shown immense mercilessness ever since.

The story of the eastern partition was somewhat different. Here, the second partition of Bengal was incomplete and haphazard. Even, mass uprooting and forced migrations of people, sizeable minorities remained in West and East Bengal. However, there was a certain asymmetry in these migrations. Many more migrated from East Bengal to West Bengal than in the opposite direction, indicating, among other things, the difference in security and threat-perception of minorities in the two adjacent Bengals. In fact, this is the long partition, for this migration of persecuted minorities from the East to the West continues up until this day. East Bengal ( in its East Pakistan and present Bangladesh avatars) has recorded a continuous decade on decade decrease in the percentage of its Hindu and Buddhist minority population. This ought to be a matter of shame to any state. The deeper tragedy lies in that the Liberation war of 1971 was also believed by many to be a triumph of secularist forces against the forces of religion-based politics. This is a matter of particular shame to the present avatar of the East Bengal state, Bangladesh because it was founded by defeating currents that denied human rights to minorities. In the run up to 71, sectarian hounds of the majority religion brutalized the populace indiscriminately – Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. Such a trial by fire, like the one that Germany had during the 1940s ought to act as a bulwark against the socio-political legitimacy of majoritarian oppression of this grade.  Unfortunately, this has not happened.

From the long saga of second-class treatment of Hindu and Buddhist refugees from East Bengal by the government of the Indian Union vis-à-vis its treatment of refugees from West Punjab to the present day denial of citizenship to persecuted Bengali refugees fleeing the Republic of Bangladesh, this story of a long-unfolding and relatively unsung humanitarian crisis has not engaged the attention of the Subcontintent as it should have.

Valiant people like the famous Shahriar Kabir and the lesser known National Awami Party functionary Shamim Osman Bhulu, both belonging to the majority community of East Bengal have toiled hard, often risking their own lives, to protect the minorities and uphold the values of 71. It is love for one’s land and basic humanity that makes people do these things. A plural ethos takes time to build, and is even harder to rebuild. Humanity in some can be very hard to kill. But they are powerless in front of a crowd of 25000, a constitution that discriminates and a state that is apathetic to the plight of the minorities, at best.

The Nehru-Liaquat pact in the wake of the 1950 massacre of minorities in East Bengal, especially in Dhaka and Barisal, was supposed to develop a framework that would safety and security to minorities in Pakistan and the Indian Union. The Government of India deserted the cause of the minorities of East Pakistan soon after. It was only much later in 1970, when tens of millions of refugees, mostly of minority religions, arrived in West Bengal and Tripura to save themselves from selective extermination in East Pakistan, that the Government of India planned a response that suited its geo-political interests. I mention this because few of the wrongs that were done to the minorities of East Bengal during the Pakistan period were reversed. The famous Ramna Kali temple that dominated the skyline of Dhaka at the time was bull-dozed to the ground by the Pakistan army. Lamentations notwithstanding, successive governments of the Bangladesh republic, secular or not, elected or dictatorial, have not rebuilt it. However, the worst point of minority persecution comes through the destruction of their economic means and homestead. As of 1997, through various version of the Enemy property act, 1.64 million acres (6640 square kilometers) of land owned by Hindus have been forcibly taken over since 1948, with a large portion of the usurpation happening after 1971. The amount of land translates into 5.3% of the total land area of the Republic of Bangladesh that is equivalent to 53% of the total proprietary land of the Hindus, affecting 4 out of every 10 Hindu households. Most of the land was snatched between 1972 and 1980. This was the result of pain-staking research by Professor Abul Barkat of University of Dhaka. He also showed that the largest proportions of the snatched away lands were with those affiliated to the ‘secular’ party Awami League.

The subcontinent, divided the nation-state, each of them of confessional character, explicitly or implicitly, is a tinderbox that is never too far from explosion. What happens in one nation-state exacts a heavy price in another. The destruction of the Babri mosque structure in Ayodhya and the anti-Muslim rioting in Mumbai led to anti-Hindu riots in Bangladesh with many temples destroyed. This was the old theory of mutually assured violence prevention in the post-partition nation-states turned on its head. This was not the first time either. That is why, when one sees the perpetrators of anti-Muslim rioting in the Indian Union shedding copious tears about the state of minorities in the Republic of Bangladesh, it is important to call out their dangerous game of cynical and selective concern for minority rights. The solutions to peace do not reside in any one nation-state of the Indian subcontinent, but by making sure that all the butchers of Gujarat 2002 and Mumbai 1992 are prosecuted to the last man and woman, if need be by extra-ordinary judicial commissions, one gains the moral right to condemn the brutalization of minorities in the Republic of Bangladesh. If one believes that his or her faith is one of love, they might do well to dwell on what Cornel West said, that ‘justice is what love looks like in public.’

Certain followers of Ram want the Ramna rebuilt and Ramu violence condemned, while maintaining silence on the rubble at Ayodhya. This silence needs to be broken by others. The voices of the Shahriar Kabirs of the world are strengthened by those of the Teesta Setalvads and Ansar Burneys of the world. The subcontinental walls are designed to shut-out voices of despair and voices of hope, voices that sound much akin to ours. Asian Dub Foundation, that trans-subcontinental band had given an important message to all of us, way back in 2003 – Keep Bangin’ on the Walls.

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Filed under A million Gods, Bengal, Faith, History, Nation, Partition, Religion, Scars, Terror

Distrust of mass media / Fighting rumours

[ Echo of India (Port Blair) 29 Aug 2012]

 

I am the only member of my family who has visited Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan, in the last 20 years. I have often thought naively about my mother’s family — why did they migrate during the partition days? After all, East Bengal, as defined by the Radcliffe line, had more than 30 percent minorities and they would not have been a pushover very easily. But still they fled, first in droves and then in an unfaltering stream, sometimes strong, sometimes weak. And still nearly 20 percent of all Bengali minorities are still in East Bengal, not as equal citizens but not constantly persecuted either. Around 1947, many had been personally threatened — the day of the Kojagari Lakshmi Puja in 1946 is forever etched in the collective memory of refugees from Noakhali and their descendants as a day of holocaust. But still, many, many more were not directly threatened. But there was the perception of threat, of unknown fears. There were rumours. People’s social acumen and street-smartness were tested to their limits when they were reduced to second-guessing rumours — rumours of killings, beatings, conversions, rapes, desecrations.

This subcontinent has seen this with unending regularity. Post-partition, rumours and resultant riots have tended to hurt the minorities the hardest. Rumours that have devastated lives, broken fragile peace. With the recent exodus of Nagas, Axomias and Manipuris from large swathes of the Indian Union, the sinister efficacy of new social media and technological innovations have come to the fore. This has led the government to ban bulk SMS. Nothing else has been done on the ground. And, this is where the mis-diagnosis lies. It is a self-absolving view of reality that leads us to think that rumours, or for that matter riots, can be fully dealt with by the non-human enablers like technology or arms. While that is a necessary short-term step, neither SMS nor social media, is responsible for the periodic flare-ups that lead to the scenario when an otherwise absurd hearsay starts gathering characteristics of truth. As the subcontinent has seen in the past, the ‘bush telegraph’ can be as deadly, if not more, than contemporary technology in instilling fear and hatred.

Effective rumours do not start in a vacuum. They need a fertile backdrop. They originate, propagate and gather steam in a certain social context. Social contexts also have a run-up to them. Also, one needs to seriously examine existing political and media culture and their practices to decipher the stunning appeal that rumour often has.

Take the media. In the Indian Union, large sections of the media often is so compromised by political and corporate patronage that it will not even follow the basic tenets of unbiased journalism like attributing claims, not putting claims and screaming headings, report an event from multiple perspectives and then verifying claims and counterclaims. In the most dangerous scenario, it can concoct stories of suppress stories. These things happen too often. This is why people, who may be in the know of a specific event but find things being reported quite differently, develop a deep suspicion of public media.

It is in this atmosphere of justified cynicism, that other kinds of ‘fact’ and ‘news’ sources start competing for the faith of the suspicious. On the face of it, this is not necessarily a bad thing, for it opens up a space for bottom-up citizenry driven media and I don’t mean the ‘citizen journalist’ charade that many media outlets have started peddling of late. But it also opens up the space for manipulators. This manipulation has a more vicious edge in an atomized world where one’s sense or identity is increasingly made less by an organic community but by the confessional and exclusionary messages of supposed persecution. Such messages work up the consumer into a private frenzy. A long cooking period is necessary. It is in this backdrop, that a rumour takes its toll, when the prepared mind decides to act, or flee.

Confessional enmities have a self-perpetuating character. Whether a rumour becomes believable or not largely has to do with the immediate temporal and socio-political context. Hence nothing fights unfounded rumours more than an open and free polity where the powerful are accountable. One can say that today easy communication across large spaces have resulted in confessional solidarities across larger swathes of people. A rumour can start anywhere, even outside a locality, or in a different continent.  Part of the deliverance would come from asking questions about claims and not be callous about checking the veracity of especially incendiary ‘news’. The key is to doubt everyone, especially the powerful and doubt everything, especially rumours. What remains after the collective exercise of doubting top-down stories is not less but more real news.

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Filed under Bengal, Hindustan, Media, Polity, Religion, Scars

A non-Bengali greeting this Ramzan / Fasting, feasting and politicking

[ The Hindu  11 Aug 2012 ; South Asia Citizen’s Web  12 Aug 2012 ; Globeistan 15 Aug 2012 ; Glimpses of Future (Jammu) 11 Aug 2012 ]

In this subcontinent of a million gods, a cynical display of public secularism is played out on specific days that mark particularly holy events. The federal ministers, chief ministers and other demi-gods gladden newspaper owners by buying full-page ads, typically exhibiting their own beaming faces, often with a nimbus that makes it hard to distinguish who the god or goddess of the day is – Durga, Krishna or the ‘dear leader’. The quarter page or full-page advertisements generally pass on bland greetings which sound uncannily like telegram messages to ‘the people’ for this occasion or other. Given that a large proportion of the citizens of the Union of India cannot read, one wonders why almost all such greetings are directed towards the literate, but lets put aside that macabre example of distributive injustice for the moment. There is a certain tragicomic element in the fact that people’ money is spent in crores to greet and congratulate them hapless souls. The Islamic month of Ramjan has already seen its share of greetings in newsprint this year.

There was nothing extraordinary in these annual banalities till an advertisement from the Ministry of Information and Culture of the government of West Bengal came along. In newspapers and magazines, it has published a large advertisement that shows the smiling face of the Information and Culture minister (who also happens to be the Chief Minister) with the silhouette of domes structure, ostensibly a mosque with two tall minarets – a design that was virtually unknown in West Bengal during much of the Islam has been around in this area. Bengal developed its own exquisite syncretic architectural style mosques which are as Mussalman and as Bengali as they get. Given that this advertisement is directed towards the ‘Mussalman brothers and sisters’ of West Bengal, it was the first departure from things that are both Bengali and Muslim. There is also a faint hint of an intricate design of Indo-Persianate extraction that is quite commonplace in the upper Gangetic-Indus plane but not in Bengal. For centuries, Bengal has had its own designs traditions interwoven with its Muslim practices. This was the second departure, but the design is faint and could have been the only things can came up on Google image search that could be photoshopped into the design. So that is fine too, I guess. But the most striking feature of the advertisement is the text.

It starts “ The holy roja (roza) of Romjan, mandatory for the adherents of the Islamic faith, will start.” This is quite an extraordinary statement coming from the head of administration of West Bengal. The government, using public funds, has made a publicly advertised pronouncement on what kind of behaviour is mandated (or not) for adherents of a particular faith – something it has no business doing. However, the subtext is more important than the text. Mussalmans of Bengal are a varied lot – some fast for the whole month of Romjan, some fast for a few days, some do not fast at all, some offer the namaz 5 times a day or more, some once, some do not, some are teetolares, some drink. At its core, it is a human society – not marked by its fallibility but resplendent in its human variance and vibrations. When the government of the day marks out its job to point out what the some of them are mandated to if they are adherents of Islam, it is clearly overstepping its own mandate. What is the more sinister is an official sanction and patronage of certain behavior forms among the Musslamans of West Bengal, in effect delegitimizing the Mussalman-ness of those who are doing (or not doing) certain things.

Much of this is posturing in front a class of go-betweens that have developed between the government and the Mussalman communities of West Bengal. The government cynically uses Nazrul Islam to announce certain initiatives that carry the poet’s name more vociferously in Mussalman congregations, Recently the government has stepped up its patronage for Urdu in a state where Mussalmans are overwhelmingly Bengali-speaking. It has announced monthly stipends for thousands of imams and muezzins to be paid from the public exchequer. No wonder these divines are happy to advice the government on the faith as they see it. These divines need to remember that Bengali Islam is much older than they would like it to be and it was an adult confident faith acting as the ballast of millions way before Roja became commonly practised in Bengal or the Koran was translated in Bengali. Arabo-kitsch like the palm tree motifs, the copied minarets styles dwarf in front of the creativity and adaptivity that Bengali Islam has shown for centuries. It is largely Manik Pir, Satya Pir, Bonobibi, Bahar Shah,Bagha Pir and rice-eating Aulia-Ghaus-Qutubs who have made Bengali Islam what it is. Official patronage of the interlocuting divines, whose mindscapes are exposed by their frequent Hindustani peppered Bengali, can only diminish the potentialities of this deltaic faith.

Talking to a community of people through the limited lens of religion is at best, ill conceived and at worst, dangerous. It privileges certain kinds of voices within the community over others, who then go on to call the shots and seek to determine socio-political trajectories and limit the possible futures of the community. The Mussalman in Bengal is not only a Mussalman – he/she has aspirations not quite different from other inhabitants of Bengal, lives much more in the world of Bengali than in the world of Arabic, spends much of the day not praying, not in the mosque, not thinking about afterlife. And they are hungry. Very hungry.  According to the National Family Health Survey III, 43.5% of children (0-3 years) of West Bengal are under-nourished. A 2006 study by Mallik and colleagues showed in a sample study that the proportion of children suffering from malnutrition is even higher among Mussalmans, at about 66.7%. With 2 out of 3 children of Musslamans in Bengal suffering from malnutrition, along with endemic poverty, it can be predicted with certainty that many of them with grow-up to be malnourished and diseased adults. Rather than ‘naseehat’ about obligatory fasting, they might appreciate some food. In much of rural West Bengal, it is semi-roja through the year, whether they like it or not, and I have a suspicion and this Romjan, wont be an exception. This is a world very distant from haleems and iftars.

It is Romjan. And in keeping with Bengal’s tradition, it ought to be a Romjan for Muslims – fasters and non-fasters, hungry and haleem-packed, Hindus and others. Rather than posturing around Romjan, the government might want to stamp out corruption from Wakf boards and ensure that encroachers of Wakf properties are brought to task. It just might want to think about employment- for Hndus and Muslims. Islam does not suffer from malnutrition or unemployment, Mussalmans of West Bengal do. If a survey is done, I doubt the wish list of Mussalmans in Bengal will read – Roja greetings, Haj house, Imam and muezzin stipend and madrassah education. I have a feeling, food, shelter, employment and functioning government schools might top that list.

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Filed under A million Gods, Bengal, Class, Community, Elite, Faith, History, Identity, Plural pasts, Religion

This land is my land / Decoding the Assam riots / Loss of familiarity

[ The Friday Times (Lahore) -August 03-09, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 25 ; Daily News and Analysis (Mumbai) 2 Aug 2012 ; Millenium Post (Delhi) 4 Aug 2012 ; The Kashmir Monitor (Srinagar)  4 Aug 2012 ; Countercurrents 2 Aug 2012 ]

The Assam state of the Indian Union has seen violence flare up suddenly from July 6th.  With more than 40 people reported dead and upwards on one and a half lakh displaced in a week, the Kokrajhar riots between Bodos and Muslims have again brought in focus certain issues that are not limited to Kokrajhar district, or for that matter to Assam. There will be the usual game of getting as much mileage from the dead and the displaced. There will be a lot of talk Assam becoming another Bangladesh or even Pakistan, with careless fear mongering thrown in for good measure. There will be others, who will sell the absurd fiction that almost no illegal migrants from the Republic of Bangladesh exist in Assam. To go beyond this, let me focus on two contexts – regional and global.

If one looks at a special kind of map of the world, the type where different population densities are marked with different colours, something sticks out very starkly. The part of the world with one of the biggest continuous stretches of the highest range population density is Bengal – East and West. Now incompletely split along religious lines, the Bengals are veritable pressure cookers – with millions of desperately poor people looking to out-migrate to any area with slightly better opportunities. At this point, it is important to realize that when ethno-religious communities are awarded a ‘home-land’, be it a province or a country, a process of myth-making starts from that time onwards, which aims to create a make-believe idea that such a formation was always destined to be. In the minds of later generations, this solidifies into a concept as if this demarcated territory always existed, with vaguely the same borders, with vaguely the same culture and demography. This process is both creative and destructive. It is creative in the sense that it gives the ethnic-mentality a certain ‘timeless’ territorial reality that is often exclusive. The destruction often lies in the twin denial of the past of the region and also the rights of those who are neither glorious, nor numerous. With this in mind, let us come to Assam.

To take the issue head on, the elephant in the room is the Muslim, specifically the ‘Bengali’-speaking Muslim in Assam. I saw ‘Bengali’ in quotes, as many of the ‘Bengali’ speakers in Assam are more correctly described as Sylhoti speakers. And Sylhet is an important part of the story. Today’s Assam state with its Axomia core and a few other communities is the successor to the much larger province of yore, which included the whole district of Sylhet, much of which is now in the Republic of Bangladesh. Sylhet has for a long time represented something of a frontier zone between Bengal and Assam. And most Sylhetis are Muslims. So when Sylhet was a part of the province of Assam before partition, the idea of Assam was very different. In the Assam legislature, most Muslim members were elected from Sylhet. In short, they were an important contending bloc to power. In fact, before partition, the premier of Assam for much of the time was Mohammad Sadullah, a Brahmaputra valley Muslim, who was solidly supported by the Sylheti Muslim legislators, among others. Though a Muslim leaguer, he stayed back in Assam after partition. Unknown to many, the Assam province, like Bengal and Punjab, was also partitioned in 1947 – the only one to be partitioned on the basis of a referendum (held to determine the fate of the Muslim majority Sylhet district). The largely non-Muslim Congressites is Assam in fact did not even campaign seriously for the referendum, for they were only too happy to see Sylhet go, so that they could have a complete grip over the legislature minus the Sylheti Muslim threat to power. The Sylhetis are but reluctant Bengalis, but that is another story. What I want to impress here is that the origin of the feeling of being slowly outnumbered and besieged also has a certain past. This feeling never died out. The post-partition demographic shift of Assam has again started sliding back, with an increasing proportion of the populace now being Muslims. Whether it is differential fecundity rates or Bengali-speaking migrants from the Republic of Bangladesh, or a combination of both, the net effect is a slow growth in this siege mentality. It is important to note that really are many illegal settlers from the Republic of Bangladesh. This has often led to accusation leveled against the Congress party that it shields the illegal migrants by creating captive vote-banks out of their insecurity. This may be partially true, given its reluctance to fulfill the terms of Assam accord that was signed to end the Assam agitation of the 1980s. Among other issues, it sought to identify illegal settlers and take legal action. Given that onus is on an accuser to prove that someone is not a citizen of the Indian Union, rather than the onus being on a person to prove whether one is a citizen of the Indian Union, the illegal settler identification process has been a gigantic failure. So the issues remain, the tempers remain, so does the politicking and the volatility that could flare into violence, as it has done now.

Now let us come back to the population bomb that is Bengal. If it appears from the story till now that this is some Muslim immigration issue, one will be mistaken. To the east and north-east of Bengal are territories that have been inhabited by tribes for centuries. Due to the post-partition influx of refugees, some of these zones have essentially become Bengali-Hindu majority homelands. One prominent example is Tripura. This tribal majority kingdom, inhabited by many tribal groups, most notably the Riyangs, is now a Bengali-Hindu majority state. There is the same kind of tribal son of the soil versus settler Bengali conflict as in Assam with a crucial difference. Here the game is over with the Bengalis being the clear victors. The future of the tribal groups possibly lies in tenacious identity-preservation in ‘Bantustans’ called autonomous councils or slow cultural assimilation into the Bengali ‘mainstream’. Sixty years can be long or short, depending on who you are.

A similarly sad saga is unfolding in the Republic of Bangladesh where the government in its immense wisdom settled large groups of desperately poor landless Muslim Bengalis in the hill tracts of Chittagong. The Chittagong Hill Tracts, one of those ‘anomalies’ of the Radcliffe line, had a solid tribal-Buddhist majority, all through the Pakistan period. The large group of tribes, the Chakmas being the foremost, have a distinctive culture, lifestyle and religion, quite different from the Muslim Bengali settlers. After active state supported migration schemes, now the Chittagong Hill Tracts are Bengali Muslim majority, except on paper. The army is stationed there largely to protect settler colonies as they expand. Clashes between the indigenous tribes and the settlers are common, with the military backing the settlers to hilt. Human rights violations of the worst kind, including killings, rapes, village-burnings and forced conversions, have happened, aided and abetted by the state machinery. The indigenous tribes of the Chittagong Hill tracts are fighting a losing game. Like Assam, here there has been an accord in response to insurgency by the tribes. The accord remains unimplemented. The state possibly believes that the indigenous tribes will take to Sheikh Mujib’s heartless advice to them in 1972, ‘to become Bengalis’.

All of this is happening in a global context, where the questions of ‘special’ indigenous rights are being raised. Some of it takes the form of racial politics of the majority as in certain European nations. There are the interesting cases of ‘cosmopolitan’ cities like Mumbai and Karachi – with sons-of-the-soil in and out of power respectively, but both with a strong undercurrent for rights of the local. It is easy to label these as ‘xenophobic’ or ‘prejudiced’, especially in the ‘interconnected world of the 21st century’ or whatever global consumer culture calls such dissidents now. Yes, this too is dissidence and of a primal variety that dare not tell its name in these times when the contours of what is dissident and what is sociopathy have lost their human connection, to become ‘discourse’ categories. I am not talking of ‘nationalism’ but a variety of ‘ethnocentrism’ which has known and lived in a territorial space and now finds too many ‘outsiders’ in that space, playing by different rules, making their ‘own area’ less recognizable, all too sudden. The reaction to this loss of familiarity and challenge to position from ‘outside’ groups constitutes a strain that cannot be shouted down for its supposed political incorrectness. While many may think that it is inter-connected-ness that feeds life, and that there are no ‘pure’ indigenous, the rate of such change is crucial. When some clans of Kanauji Brahmin migrants to Bengal became Bengalis no one knows, but now they are undeniably Bengali. At the same time, modern transportation now enables mass movements in short periods of time that was unthinkable earlier. Such migrant communities change local demography all too quickly and by quick I mean decades. Often, such migrations happen in spurts and successive waves, where kinship ties are crucial. Such settlers have more in common with co-settlers than the indigenous. Often the settlers have a perilous existence, partly due to the animosity of the indigenous. This leads to huddling with knowns rather than huddling with unknowns. Thus this new ghettoisation, both geographical and psychological, inhibits the kind of integrative processes that in the past led to the formation of new, syncretic communities.

The notion of a legally uniform country, where anyone is free to settle anywhere else, is geared towards the rights of the individual, with scant heed to the rights of a community to hold on to what it has always known to be its ‘own’. The modern nation-state forces such communities into playing by the rules of atomization, for the only entity that the state seriously recognizes is the individual. And in a flat legal terrain, the rights of the citizen can be used against rights of a community, not even his own. Bengal, Assam, Burma – have hard cartographic borders and soft physical borders. The nation state aspires to a uniformly hard border, often working against the reality of culture, ethnicity and terrain. In the specifically charged context of demographic change, it is useful to realize that no one comes to live a precarious life in an unknown place with few friends and many enemies to embark on a 200 year plan to effect demographic change. People simply live their lives. However, from the vantage of the indigenous, this sudden settlement is a change and a concern, a concern that animates itself as demographic projections. In the absence of any sanctioned way of controlling the speed of change or the nature of influx, ethno-religious theories of ‘being besieged’ provide a way to gain a wider moral sanction for extra-legal intervention. Our porous subcontinental realities require an approach that devolves power and rights that would protect against such massive change. Just like the elite quarters of the cosmopolitan city, everyone has a right to preserve what is dear to them, before it becomes dear to someone else. If this sounds like a scheme to rationalize the tyranny of a communitarian xenophobia, that is possibly because many of us have loss the sense of intimate belonging to a community. Living creatively with differences assumes a certain element of consent between the communities. That consent is important. Fear of total change, loss of self-identity and self-interest hinders consent. Metropolitan diktats of assimilation deny communities that dignity. Communities assimilate in their own way. Speed is a new factor that needs to be dealt creatively. Lack of a serious move towards according communities to determine the future of their locale and futures would end communities as we know them.

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Munjho desh Sindhudesh – remembering Bashir Qureshi (1959-2012)

[ Kashmir Times, 17 April 2012; IPA 13 April 2012; Frontier(web)]

There are many in post-partition India who did not  accept partition. However, there are various strains within this non-acceptance. One strain has to do with the idea that religious sectarianism cannot be a basis of uniting or dividing peoples and culture into nation-states. To them, those are in West Punjab, Sindh, Azad Kashmir and Pakhtunkhwa continue to be of our own, in a broad but warm sense of the term. While there are others to whom the denial of partition comes a hatred of the idea that anyone can even think of dismembering some 19th century apparition called ‘Bharatmata’, irrespective of whether people have any emotive belonging to the concept. To this latter group of Bharatmata worshippers and Indian-state nationalists, the borders are sacred, but wrongly drawn. They should have been drawn to include within the Indian state’s domain what they consider rightfully their’s but circumstantially lost. They claim the land, but not the people. Which is why when a tragic earthquake strikes Azad Kashmir, they do not think our people died. When bomb blasts happen in Lahore, they dont think our blood was spilled. This blind-spot has had a most ironic effect. The people from West Punjab and Sindh who are most well known to those in post-partition India, are the one’s some Indians like to hate. More Indians know of Zaid Hamid than Asma Jahangir, they know Hafeez Sayeed but few have heard of Ansar Burney, that sterling specimen of a humane desi. Due to this strange blind spot, we have lost our ability to appreciate and engage with personalities, who in some other world, and in some other time, would not have been so unknown and ‘foreign’. The untimely death of Bashir Qureshi gives us an opportunity to ponder upon our collective myopia as we develop an increasingly restrictive notion of ‘our own’, a trait that is so uncharacteristic of this plural Subcontinent.

Sindh has a strange position in our memory. It is the well-spring of some of the most time-tested syncretic traditions of the Subcontinent – if not of the whole world.Sindh was not a major flash-point of partition violence at first. When Mohajirs from United Provinces, Bihar, Gujarat and elsewhere would change the character of Sindh forever. This started soon thereafter, when for fear of life, the Sindhi Hindus started leaving in droves, carrying with them  parts of Sindhi culture and identity. In Sindh, the ferocious eviction drive was mostly led by newly arrived non-Sindhis. Without a land to call one’s one, without the organic connection with the Sindhu river and its land, its customs and crucially Sindhi Muslims, Sindhi Hindus have been slowly rendered identity-less in India, slowly but surely. The Sindhi cultural centres or Sindh’s mention in Janaganamana give a false impression of vitality. Bollywood is a more accurate barometer of reality – the conspicuous drop in the appearance of a caricature Sindhi character.

Sindhi Hindus may have heard the slogan ‘Tunjo desh, munjo desh, Sindhudesh, Sindhudesh’ but have never heard it in a mass political rally. This is partly why few in India and few Sindhis in India ever heard of Bashir Qureshi, aged 52, who died last on April 7th. The Sindhu weeps as it passes Ratodero, Larkana, Budhapur and Goth Chelaram at the demise of a worthy child. Calling for the autonomy of Sindh and an end to Punjabi hegemony, he started as a student activist of the Jeay Sindh Students Federation. He was also a fighter  against Zia ul Haq’s religio-autocratic regime. Unlike other leaders who had cushy pads in the West,  Bashir Qureshi did not leave Sindh. Repeatedly incarcerated and inhumanly tortured along with other activists, Bashir Qureshi emerged as the pre-eminent Sindhi nationalist figure, after the death of Saeen G.M.Syed. He would come to spend nearly 7 years in jail. Those were testing times for Sindhi nationalists with the movement hopelessly divided into many factions. Bashir Qureshi’s organizational skills and his constant on-the-ground fight helped transform his faction, the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) into the influential Sindhi nationalist organization it is, easily eclipsing lesser Bhuttos like Mumtaz Ali Khan Bhutto.

Very recently, the JSQM under Bashir Qureshi’s leadership had made a clean break with the 1940 Pakistan resolution of the Muslim League and had called for Sindh’s autonomy. JSQM under his leadership had been among the very few political parties which publicly protested the regular events of forced conversions of girls from the beleagured Sindhi Hindu community in Sindh. Parties which eloquently trumpet their concern for minority rights like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) have been conspicuous by their absence at such protests. Most recently Bashir Qureshi had taken up the case of Rinkle Kumari, a hapless Sindhi Hindu girl, forcibly converted and forcibly married, only to be dealt with inhumanly by the courts when she simply petitioned to be freed so that she could return to her parents. Bashir Qureshi was among the few who believed, lived and embodied that plural, syncretic Sindh, where Islam and Indic religions shared saints, pirs and other divines. In the present day circumstances in Pakistan, where even the killing of the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer goes publicly unprotested due to sheer fear, Bashir Qureshi and JSQM’s vigorous public protest for the cause of a non-elite Sindhi Hindu girl cannot be a starker contrast.

In Pakistan, he was, predictably often painted as an ‘Indian’ agent. He was not an ‘Indian’ agent – for India has not given justice to its own Rinkle Kumaris, victims of Delhi riots of 1984 and Gujarat riots of 2002. He was an agent of humanity – standing for the rights of those, who fear to cry when it pain, lest they be singled out as ‘anti-national’. His love for Sindhudesh went beyond that geo-strategy laden toxic male hobby called nationalism. Bashir Qureshi represented the best of Sindh in the same tradition of Allah Baksh Soomro and Saeen G.M. Syed.

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Dhaka Street – Anti-minority riots in Nandirhat: Bad moon rising

[ Frontier (web)  1 Mar 2012 ; The Common Times (Orissa) 7 Mar 2012 ; Frontier Vol. 44, No. 38, Apr 1-7, 2012 ]

Before the present Awami League (AL) regime, the tenure of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) regime was marked by a conspicuous increase in attacks on religious and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh. The rising tide of killings, forced conversion, arson, rape, abduction and threats was partially stemmed during the interim caretaker government. In the present AL times, the scenario for religious minorities have been relatively less violent. Unlike in the Indian Union, the minorities of Bangladesh do not have multiple political allegiances to chose from . AL with all its inadequacies ( the sordid backtracking on a clearly secular constitution and economic devastation of minorities by the Enemy/Vested property acts being the most egregious) has been nearly the sole beneficiary of the minority votes in Bangladesh. Numbering nearly 10 percent of the population, they are crucial for AL’s design of holding on to power.

Riding on the wave of popular discontent against the rampant corruption of the BNP, AL also benefitted from the people’s organizations that are staunchly committed to the secular ideals of the Liberation struggle – Shommilito Shanskritik Jote, Sector Commander’s Forum, Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee among others.However this apparently secular consolidation belies a slowly boiling Islamic radicalization of significant sectors of the population. Recent events at Nandirhat – Hathazari are a stark reminder. In what was a classic scenario played out so many times in the subcontinent, a religious procession with drums ( in this case, Hindus from Lokenath Sebashram) passed by a mosque. This resulted in an intolerant retaliation and a period of classic Bengali dhawa-palta dhawa. While a section of local elders were mediating to defuse the scenario, another faction went on a rampage, ably supported by the local Madrasha. During this vandalism, a number of Hindus temples namely Sri Sri Jagadeshwari Ma Temple and Jagannath Bigroho Temple at Nandirhat, Raksha Kali Temple, Jalakumari Bari Temple, and Sita Kalibari Temple at Sadar Upazila were desecrated. Attackers also set fire at the Sri Sri Jagadeshwari Ma Temple. About 50 homes and businesses belonging to Hindus were also attacked, damaged and looted.

This area houses Bangladesh’s oldest and largest madrasha, Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam. The boro-hujur of the Madrasha is also a leader of the Islamic Oikyo Jote ( Islamic Unity Alliance), an important partner of the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami. This madrasha has produced graduates who volunteered for the Afghan ‘jihad’ during Taliban rule. Given the large influence institutions under its Depbandi sway wield locally, the events at Nandirhat were the perfect excuse to demonstrate the pent up venom that was being injected for sometime. The local police remained slack onlookers for the first 24 hours, where massive attacks happened in atleast three different waves. Intervention from the highest levels resulted in the imposition of Section 144. Things have been relatively violence-free thereafter.

This area, in Chittagong division in many ways represents the Bengali Muslim frontier more specifically.Between the hinterland of East Bengal and the Buddhist-animist groups of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the areas represent the sharpest edge of Bengali Muslim expansionism. The Tripura area in the Indian Union has seen a similar take-over by Bengalis (primarily Hindus in this case). These areas of Chittagong remain very close to the pulse of the ‘deep state’ of Bangladesh. The AL hunts with these hounds but also runs with the hares when it deems politically expedient. The two-faced nature of its politics, the tokenism in its professed secularism and its wariness to challenge entrenched religious fundamentalism is largely drawn from its self-awareness that the party itself (including sections of its middle leadership) is not a bulwark of muscular secularism. Unsurprisingly, the most vocal secular voices in the AL are mostly those who joined AL after long stints with Communist Party affiliated groups like the Chhatro Union and Jubo Union. AL has shirked responsibility for the incident, instead choosing to engage in political one-upmanship by blaming the Jamat-e-Islami and its notorious students wing, the Islami Chhatro Shibir.

There is undoubtably a planned and conspiratorial element in the whole affair. The police have held Jashim, a construction worker from Hajipara, who has confessed that he was given money to break a section of the wall of a local mosque by  Mohammad Lokman, the chief functionary of the Hajipara Jam-e-Moshjid. One is reminded of Bhishma Sahani’s ‘Tamas’. The formal and informal links between militant religious organizations, ‘charities’, expatriate supporters, political groups, local police and underemployed youths have created lasting cesspools. The AL can chose to look away from the growing radicalization at its own peril. In the upcoming elections, they need a spirited turnout from the base. While frightened minorities have voted the AL, a significant section might just stay home. Fright after all cannot be long-term political capital. That fixed deposit matures after sometime. AL needs to reinvest in building up the secular fabric of Bangladesh. Leaving solidarity actions only to expressedly left-secular organizations is a cynical strategy at best. A majority can still be forged against the growing clout of fundamentalism. That politics is arduous but the future of Bangladesh and the subcontinent is connected to the outcome of that struggle.

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Dhaka Street – The ‘coup’ attempt

[ Echo of India, 29 Jan 2012 ; Frontier (web) Jan 2012 ; Frontier Vol. 44, No. 34, Mar 4 -10, 2012 ]

On January 19, the Bangladesh army declared in a press conference that a possible coup attempt had been foiled last month. Dhaka has had a shave with destabilization of the elected government. How close the shave was, we might not know soon – especially because the Bangladesh Awami League (AL) government, quite predictably, has seized this opportunity to bolster its image, which had taken a serious beating in the last one-year, as evidenced from the results of the local body elections.

Already from certain AL quarters, there are allegations being thrown about the involvement of the principal opposition group, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in the coup attempt. According to the Bangladesh army press
brief, the main players in the coup attempt were “some non-resident Bangladeshis” and “some retired and serving army officers with fanatical religious views”. Specifically an Islamic fundamentalist organization with branches world over including Bangladesh, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT), has been implicated.

This eastern part of Bengal has seen successful and unsuccessful coups in the past. The last such unsuccessful coup was partly a standoff between the president and Chief of Army Staff and then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on the other. While both General Zia-ur-Rahman and General Ershad were beneficiaries of a coup, their immediately loyal constituency does not exist in the Army as it did some decades ago. In spite of the AL allegation, it is unlikely that he top echelons of the BNP had any systematic collective ole in the purported coup attempt last month. During the oft-coup by Moin U Ahmed, under the garb of the care-taker government, both AL and BNP leaders had been tortured. Extremely active in certain mosques of London’s East end, a Bangladeshi hub, the HUT also enjoys considerable support in Malaysia and Indonesia, two countries with large Bangladeshi immigrant populations. Hence it is not uprising that certain nodes of the alleged conspiracy point to these places of HUT presence. However, the fertile reception of the toxic, anti-democratic ideology of the HUT n the Bangladeshi army can be partially traced back to the Zia and Ershad years when under their programme of conscious Islamization of the Bangladeshi polity and state institutions, the army was one of the first institutions where this was carried out.
It has been a slow process. It is not easy to transform the Army of 71 into the Army of Islam. Neither has such a complete transformation happened. But what cannot be denied that the some of the young captains and lieutenants who were recruited in the Bangladesh army during the Zia and Ershad years of Islamization are now Colonels, Brigadiers and other higher-ups. The Junior Commanding Officers (JCO) of the units have also grown up with them.
They have grown up in a period when a not so veiled communal discourse ran rife in official circles of East Bengal. In addition to realpolitik, it is this ideological bent that might have the biggest potential to bring down the elected government. The people of Bangladesh have never voted overwhelmingly for staunch Islamic groups. Their leaders and people of influence though have quite willingly allied themselves with illegitimate governments of Zia and Ershad. Much of the BNP and Jatiyo Party top brass are essentially erstwhile civilian collaborators of illegitimate martial administrations, be it that of Zia or Ershad. Even during the dangerous flirtation with the caretaker government, many civilian leaders sent not so covert signals that they would have to have an extended honeymoon with the unelected dispensation.
That the Bangladesh Jatiyo Sangshad (parliament) is largely dysfunctional does help matters and only serves to alienate certain sections of the opposition spectrum into finding ways of securing change, as they would like to see it, via roads that run opposite to that of an elected national assembly. The BNP has done a marathon boycott of the Jatiyo Sangshad. They can claim that the AL had done the samewhenBNPwasinpower.Thereismorethanagrain of truth in that allegation. The physical absence of the BNP in the Sangshad as well as the small number of seats the BNP holds anyways may give the AL leadership a false sense of an overwhelming majority. Recent BNP street mobilizations and their win in local body election show that they clear represent much more than what their Sangshad strength might suggest. AL’s ham-handed suppression of opposition political rallies will only serve to delink certain fringe elements of the opposition from open street politics to conspiratorial politics that has its own discreet charm.
The Indian Union fits into the Bangladeshi political scene as a convenient punching bag for the opposition – the street ones to the underground fundamentalist cells. India’s trigger happy Border Security Force which routinely liquidates and tortures Bangladeshi ( as well as Indian) nationals in the border areas provides real ground for hostility. Add to this India’s brewing plans on the Tipaimukh dam and not doing a comprehensive settlement of outstanding water sharing issues, especially that of Teesta. This leaves the AL government in Dhaka in a distinctly unenviable position. Whether the Indian state wants to help rout the AL at the hustings next time is really upto it.
The next legitimate election in Bangladesh will see an unprecedented combat. The AL plans to tighten the noose around the Jamat-e-Islami and certain BNP leaders implicated in war crimes as collaborators of Pakistan during 1971. This is a high stakes game. If the AL loses, it is almost inevitable that there will be political violence against AL cadres, the constant trickle of Hindu and Buddhist emigration to West Bengal and Tripura might spurt, while the top AL leaders might decamp to safety to UK and USA, where most of their sons and daughters live anyways. The results of that election will have huge effects on the security, demographics and struggle for resources in the Subcontinent. This coup does give a small but real fillip to the AL in that struggle.

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How not to love thy minority in Pashchimbanga

[ The Daily Star (Dhaka) , 13 Feb 2012]

February is the month of Ekushe – in both Bengals, East and West. A curious declaration may make it seem that the government in the West has lost sight of the political currents that led to that watershed moment of 1952. The Pashchimbanga governmenet has declared that the cabinet had decided that Urdu will now be treated as a second-language in those parts of Pashchimbanga where the number of Urdu speakers exceeded 10 percent of the population in the 2001 census. Readers from the East might be astonished and may ask where in the West does the population or Urdu speakers exceed 10%. In fact, it does, in Kolkata itself and certain areas of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly industrial belt where there are large colonies of recent and not-so-recent immigrants of Bihari and Hindustani origin from the upper Gangetic areas.

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with this declaration. After all, preservation and the means to use one’s mother tongue in all walks of life is an inalienable right of every human being. Of all people, Bengalees should be most sympathetic to this, something they tend to forget when they talk of Chakmas and Riyangs among others in Parbotto Chattagram (Bangladesh) and Tripura (India). Urdu, like any other language, is most dear to its native speakers. However, the matter is not so simple. This becomes clear when one closely looks at page 42 of the English version ‘Vision document’ of the ruling party  of Pashchimbanga, the Trinamul Congress (http://aitmc.org/vision_document_english_2011.pdf) that was published in 2011, prior to the state assembly elections that brought it to power. It outlines its Action Agenda that it promises to implement within the first 200 days of coming to power. Most interesting is the sub-heading “Creation of new universities, colleges and schools to meet people’s aspirations.” Among the 10 points under that particular topic, 6 are as follows – ‘Muslim Universities & Colleges’, ‘More Madrasas, and Urdu Schools’, ‘Implement the recommendations of the Sacchar Committee and the Ranganathan Commission, where 10% Urdu speaking Muslims are there’, ‘Set aside a portion of the State’s Budget for plans intended for the educational and economic uplift of Muslims’, ‘Give, without any hindrance, official recognition to Urdu educational Institutions, thereby facilitating them with all the constitutional benefits, which they lacked of hitherto’ and finally ‘Special Budgetary provision should be made for imparting technical education in Madrasas.’ That 6 out of 10 action items on the important front of creation of new educational institutions for the masses have kept the largest religious minority of Pashchimbanga in mind is certainly commendable. These points are revealing in so far as they give us a picture of how the party think-thank views the aspirations of the Muslims of Pashchimbanga and more importantly, their conception of Muslim polity in the state. The picture that emerges is extremely problematic, to say the least.

First of all, what is apparent that the government conflates Muslims and Urdu. Urdu is simply a language of communication like any other, not a ‘Muslim language’ ( whatever that strange entity might be). However the government thinks that by favouring Urdu, it is somehow helping Muslims. Note how Madrasas and Urdu schools come to mentioned together. The Koran was not revealed in Urdu, so its relevance vis-a-vis Madrasas only show a shoddy attempt at clubbing together what the government conceives as ‘all things Muslim’ and making a curious goodie bag out of it. At this point, it is important to remember that most Muslims of Pashchimbanga have no connection to Urdu whatsoever. To create this association willy-nilly is a high-stakes game for this game has a flip-side. The people of the majority faith are also being fed this rubbish that implies some intrinsic connection between Muslims in Pashchimbanga and Urdu. For right-wing bigots in the majority community of Pashchimbanga, this only helps consolidate their long-standing charge of Muslims of Bengal being less Bengalee than their Hindu counterparts. Among the gadinashin pirjadas of Pashchimbanga who may at times suffer from Urdu-envy and consequently view Bangla as ‘less Islamic’ might do well to meditate about the long tradition of Bangla-speaking pir-aulia-ghaus-qutubs. Urdu belongs to a poor Bengalee Muslim in Murshidabad no more than the treasury of Murshid Quli Khan belonged to a landless Muslim farm-hand from Murshidabad. Bangla has no less class or gravitas in expressing matters of faith. By separating Urdu issues and Muslim issues, Ms.Bandhopadhyay’s governnment shall do well not to fan the ‘Muslim-ness’ of Urdu. She must censure S. Nurul Haq, her minority affairs secretary and ask him to  clarify what he means, when he says “There are many borderline areas in the 2001 Census. In those places, the Urdu-speaking population must have exceeded 10 per cent in the past decade. Such areas will be gradually included.” Why would Urdu-speakers proportionally increase more than others? Does he not consolidate the existing prejudice regarding the greater population growth rate of Muslims? Irrespective whether that is factually correct or not, this public statement yet again considers Muslims and Urdu-speakers as one and the same, and even more ignorantly, the Muslim community as a monolith about which it can make random predictions about future population growth rates.

During British colonial times, Muslims interests in Bengal had been represented by a handful of non-Bengalee so-called sharifzada families stationed in Kolkata and Dhaka. Being largely alienated from their surrounding milieu, these intermediaries found solace and consonance in Urdu and things Islamicate in the North-Indian sense. Rafiuddin Ahmed, in his seminal work ‘The Bengali Muslims 1871-1906’, has clearly shown the pernicious role played by these self-styled intermediaries of Bengal’s Muslims to the British Raj, by recommending the compulsory study of  Urdu, Arabic and Persian for Bengalee Muslims boys, but no Bangla. Times have changed, not as much as they should have.

Ms.Bandopadhyay’s government may be earnest about the uplift of the lot of Muslims of Pashchimbanga. But it cannot do so by policies which separate Muslims from the mainstream. This is especially dangerous for one can never guess at what point some reactionary political current in the majority community may take an explicitly communal overtone. This has not happened, but this is certainly not impossible, and is to be avoided at all costs. Creating a separate employment exchange for religious minorities as she announced is certainly not a step towards social cohesion. Faith is important to any community. However, making Aliah Madrasa into a university ( and ridiculously naming it Aliah Madrasa University) or building a much-needed new Hajj House for Umrah pilgrims are not the utmost priority for the Pashchimbangio Muslims. While such pronouncements and activities are instantly newsworthy and sources of cheap political capital, it is also myopic. It may curry short-term favour with certain self-serving Muslim leaders, but in the long term, does nothing to address the issues that face most Muslims of Pashchimbanga, that is, food insecurity, lack of adequate and accessible health facilities, job opportunities and education that is relevant in contemporary society and economy. Unsurprisingly, these issues are the same when it comes to people of Pashchimbanga in general, irrespective of creed.

One thing most Bengalees irrespective of creed admire and hold dear  is our poet Nazrul Islam. Ms.Bandopadhyay wants to set up a brand new Nazrul research centre. That is all very good. But when she goes on and on about it, especially when in a predominantly Muslim gathering, like the recent one  organized in the Netaji Indoor stadium by the West Bengal Minorities Development Corporation, she is playing a dangerous game, and not a very subtle one at that. While it may be sincere, to softly underline the Muslim identity of Nazrul Islam reminds me of that unfortunate off-hand line in a Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay piece where he talks about a football match between Bengalees and Muslims. We know that these soft pronouncements of separateness and exclusiivity, declared or foisted upon, in time do become Frankenstein monsters. Our subcontinent knows that only too well. When Ms.Bandopadhyay wants to deal with Muslims of Poshchimbongo, she may want to remember that the following line by Mashuk Chowdhuri hold true for her Western desh too, as much as it does for the East.

“Edeshe aashe na fagoon, ashe Ekushe February.”

( slightly different version published at TwoCircles.net

http://twocircles.net/2012feb16/how_not_love_thy_minority_pashchimbanga.html )

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