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Bangladesh’s Shame

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When a faith comes under assault, when the deities of a religion turn into targets of men whose sinister objective is one of pushing society into chaos, it becomes the responsibility of the state to do what it is constitutionally ordained to do. And that is to come to the aid of men and women who are insecure, to go after the dark elements who have with impunity pounced on these men and women because they practise a faith they believe in from the depths of their souls. It is not enough for the state to come forth with the worn-out platitudes of informing the nation that none of the criminals will go unpunished. The state contains multitudes. The state is home, in this country, in our Bangladesh, to Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and Christians and everyone else who resides in it.

And, therefore, when those mobs, whipped into irrationality by self-appointed merchants of faith masquerading as defenders of their religion, went into a festival of breaking into Hindu temples and smashing Hindu idols in as many as twenty-two districts around the country, they were sending out the sinister message that majoritarian belief was all, that none of the other faiths practised by Bengalis had any space in this country. Today, as Bijoya Doshomi in all its colours and power of faith speaks to the Hindu soul, the rest of us have our heads hang low in the depths of shame. The shame is that old one, coming down to us through the years, with vandals smearing social media with rumours and with falsehood to create the perfect ground for social disorder.

Not many years ago, it was Buddhist temples and homes which bore the brunt of criminality in Ramu. And in these past many years, with Durga Puja making an annual re-entry into our lives with its message of devotion to divinity for the followers of the Hindu faith, villainy has consistently come into play, shaped and powered by men whose disloyalty to their own faith has become manifest with each strike they have made on a Hindu god and goddess in the sanctity of temples. It is a horrible legacy we have endured through the decades. It is a shame we have borne for ages. In the 1940s, the power of faith, Hindu as well as Muslim, was wasted in the orgy of killings which left the streets of Calcutta drenched in human blood. In 1950, Muslims and Hindus once again left their ancestral homes to find refuge in places they were not familiar with. In 1964, the very government that took its orders from a bigger government in Rawalpindi went out on a limb to provoke communal riots in East Bengal.

But then we as a people turned around, to inform the world in 1971 that the state we were struggling to construct out of the crucible of war, that we brought into fruition on a winter’s day was a land for all Bengalis. We were Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and Christians. But our larger identity was our Bengali nationhood. It was Bengali nationalism which redefined our approach to the world. With so many Hindus and Muslims done to death by a rapacious alien army, it was but natural that Bangladesh would be a habitat for everyone who lived within its parameters. Where has that state, so assiduously constructed by the secular political leadership of the time, gone missing? When today we hear the screams of frightened Hindu women and children pounced on by fanatical mobs even as they are in prayer before their deities, when men with bloodshot eyes smash their puja mandaps and their idols, we feel in the depths of our souls a music that is funereal, that is heard all across the land. We weep, for our very own Bengalis are under assault by fellow Bengalis in whom majoritarian belief has taken sinister hold, in whom nothing remotely remains of their Bengali-ness. We wallow in shame. We turn into creatures small.

There are the questions we need to ask. There are the answers we seek to those questions. Why has our Christian community been dwindling in number over the years? Why do those Buddhists who have gone through the old horror in Ramu do not yet feel safe in this country? And why is the Hindu population, once a vibrant, large intellectual segment of Bengali society, today a mere shadow of its former self? It is an embarrassment for a country when its citizens, not feeling safe in the land, cower in fear or begin to think of making their way out to safer shores simply because their faith has become an albatross around their necks amidst a nation that once promised them and all their fellow citizens all manner of happiness and every right enshrined in the constitution. The heart in a Hindu man breaks when his gods are subjected to indignities. It is then for his Muslim neighbours to feel his pain, to reassure him that vandals are men who are strangers to divinity, that those who seek to intimidate him and his co-religionists are elements who are enemies of God and of Creation. They operate the machinery of hate.

But beyond that reassurance must come that necessary action on the part of the state. Track these villains down and bring them to swift justice. That is, of course, easier said than done. The saying bit is ours, the doing part must belong to the state. In all these years, how many of the vandals who have desecrated Hindu temples been brought to justice? These men and their patrons have been walking free, with nary a thought about the law catching up with them. The state has not hauled these men to court; the law has not touched them. And all that we have had are periodic assurances that the guilty will be taken to task. And then there has been, always, a loud silence.

The assault on Hindu temples and mandaps has not endeared us to the world beyond our frontiers. It has pushed us into unmitigated shame. It has given rise to the feeling that in this land, of whose rich Bengali heritage we keep speaking and writing about, we do not have the power or the will to protect those whom the mobs would, if they could, drive out of the country the world knows as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. That is our shame, individually for every citizen, collectively for an entire nation.

No prophet through the chronicles of time has advocated that people of a different faith be humiliated. No saint has ever suggested that religious denominations turn into warring armies ready to do battle against one another. No preacher who knows of the power of faith has ever told the generations that the mosque and the church and the temple and the synagogue work at cross purposes, that they are citadels aiming their fire and fury at one another. Religion is never a battle of the gods, but it is always a search for purity that will infuse the soul with respect for and devotion to every faith on this blighted planet we call home.

On this deeply sad Bijoya Doshomi, it is time for all of us in this country to go into soul-searching. It is that moment when the state must reassure us, all of us, that these dangerous times we live in will be rolled back — by the power of government in cracking down on evil men, by policies that will reconstruct the secular national edifice we built and lost decades ago.

Courtesy – BDNews24

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