I am a displaced memory. A memory that whistles past the encumbrance of politics, eddies with the whiffs of history and settles into a calm that is paradoxically unsettling. For it veils a restlessness, an angst long forgotten and, yet, quite immediate.
I am a Hindu from Bangladesh. I have lived in the wake of the travels of Dhanapati Saudagor and Chand Sadagar, whose ships traversed distant seas in search of trade and commerce, the glories of King Shashanka and Gopala, the intricacies of Bengali Charyapada and Haridas Datta’s Manasar Bhasan.
I saw the desecration of my temples and monasteries by the Muslim invaders. I saw the brave resistance of Mukut Ray and Akananda. I saw the Mughals walk into the streets of Gauda. I saw the reign of terror of Alivardi Khan. I saw the fall of Siraj-ud-daulah. I saw the common people rise up against the British, in the Paik rebellion and Bhumij, and my saffron-adorned Sannyasi Maharaj rise up against the colonial oppressors in a tale celebrated in Bankim Chandra’s Anandamath.
I saw thousands of Bengali Hindus resolve before Kali Ma at Kalighat to boycott foreign goods and cease the employment of foreigners after my land’s partition in late September of 1905, only for the British to be forced to take this political move back in 1911, albeit with the movement of the national capital from my dear Kolkata to the far-off expanses of Indraprastha of antiquity.
I rose and fell, I moved and stalled, I advanced and regressed, I met all challenges with a smile and a resoluteness that belies belief. And then I finally ceased to act, ceased to relate to the world around. Ceased to be. My passage was occluded. My identity dismembered. My culture and people hacked down in a hitherto-unseen frenzy.
That is the day when I finally lost. I was a ferryman on the River Padma, I was a lecturer of Sanskrit in Dhaka University, I was landed gentry in Jessore and I was a pauper in the alleys of Rajshahi. I was all that and more. I fueled the pulse of the land. I synchronised the symphonies of my life with that of my motherland. And even then, I was cast aside, torn asunder, one fine morn.
As Annada Sankar Ray so poignantly puts it:
তেলের শিশি ভাঙল বলে
খুকুর পরে রাগ করো
তোমরা যে সব বুড়ো খোকা
ভারত ভেঙে ভাগ করো !
– Annada Sankar Ray. Khuku o Khoka (poem).
Here Annada points out that when a little girl breaks a vial of oil, she incurs her elder’s wrath as if it were an act of despoil, even as there are disparate ways in which petty man-children tear asunder India, so verdant and rich.
What about that? This is what I have always tussled with. This apparent man-child behaviour of fighting over parochial constructs. The moral vacuity in sacrificing the lives of innocent people for the sake of massaging the ego of a few narrow-minded politicians who sit far away from the trials and tribulations of the common man.
As I collect the broken pieces of my being, scrambling for the tidbits that can be cherished, I face a new upsurge of violence. Of systematic destruction and persecution. They say the Quran was desecrated a few days back, apparently by being placed on the knee of a Hindu deity in a Durga Puja function on 13 October, and some Muslims of my land rose in protest. Just that the protest itself comprised of deadly communal violence and ruination.
My places of worship were vandalised. It was either the wrath of these countrymen of mine or the firearms of my nation’s law enforcement agencies for me. Where do I go? What is mine? Who is mine? A rumour spreading like a wildfire led to a massive mob flocking to selected places in Cumilla to vandalise my places of worship, my shops, my own person with sticks and stones and all manner of jury-rigged weapons.
Why was I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, attacked in Dhaka, in Feni, in Hajiganj and in Begumganj after being systematically persecuted in Cumilla? What cause did the rioters have to harm me? An apparent transgression videotaped hastily.
How are those monomaniac countrymen of mine who can only think of baying for blood for an unverified claim circulated virtually any better than those Talibani wackadoodles who have brought back a medieval form of Sharia and believe in a highly misogynistic, illiberal, intolerant and obnoxiously prejudiced way of life?
There are some who rise for me. Journalists, civil society, academics and others from the liberal-minded. But the damage is too high. Apparently, around 80 makeshift temples have been damaged. Hindus have been injured and killed on a wide scale. From Chattogram, Sylhet and Noakhali to Chandpur, Moulvibazar and Kurigram, everything from Hindu idols (including Ma Durga’s, right up to 16 October), shops and temples have been vandalised.
What kind of bravery or propriety is there in “avenging” an unverified religious desecration with the killing of innocent Hindus? What justification is there to unleash such unchecked rage?
When I lost my honour and lands to Jinnah’s cry for a Muslim nation carved out of the bosom of my motherland, I did break down, only to get back up, in a characteristic Dharmic display of resilience.
When I lost my brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, parents, friends and other distant relatives, who had been brave enough to brush aside the basis of the Partition, atleast in their day-to-day existence, even though the borders between various neighbouring villages highlighted how irreparably the land had been dismembered, in the state-sponsored carnage of 1971, I crumpled and burnt, in pyres, in the arsonists’ rage, to rise again, like a phoenix.
But when the promise of a truly cosmopolitan and modern life for me, which was promised possibly in gratitude of the assistance that the largely Hindu India gave in liberating us from the shackles of oppressive Sindhi and Pakistan Punjabi despots, was culled by the swing of the proverbial sword of intolerance, I lost hope.
I lost hope placed in a true project of liberation that dissolve the rigidity of religion and promoted a more organic oneness of culture. I lost hope in the possibility of existing in a historical negotiation of identities that seemingly encapsulated humanity in its pursuits.
While Sheikh Hasina promises that no stone shall remain unturned to bring the perpetrators to book, what of the deep-seated insecurities and hatred of certain individuals against me, the Hindu of Bangladesh? What of the tendency to react in ways that are disproportionate to the possible cause of such a reaction, when it comes to Dharmic entities in the nation?
They say that minority groups are going on hunger strikes throughout the country and even abroad in front of various embassies and high commissions of Bangladesh. But what of it? Can this Gandhian mode of non-violent protest truly work when reasoning and balance seem to have long been forgotten, in the recent spurt of religious violence? Could Gandhi have been as successful as he was had there been absolute and utter disregard of human life?
Some say that the Second World War expedited the process of India’s independence, due to the massive financial crisis that Britain faced after the war. I feel it was more fundamental than that. It was the suppressed spirit, the curtailed consciousness of a people as old as the earliest of civilisations, that found expression in the play of time.
Hindus in Muslim-majority countries, particularly Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been reaching a simmering point, with the Islamist attacks and systematic and oft-systemic persecution that they face all-so-regularly. It is only a matter of time before Hindus realise the immensity of the interplay of inherent prejudices and tendency to play the victim card of, and the misuse of power-by-numbers by, certain individuals and communities.
When that happens, there shall be a peerless tryst with destiny of a people whose traditions and way of life can truly help create a sustainable, cosmopolitan tomorrow.
I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, feel the brunt of this interplay and look forward to the day when Dharmic voices unite and move forward, the world over. I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, see the imminent threat of Islamisation and possible Balkanisation (based on religion) of various parts of the Indian subcontinent. I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, am the son of the land of the Padma, which even though blossoming in New Delhi under the leadership of Narendra Modi, has much more to do, along with truly secular and tolerant voices in other countries in the subcontinent, to save the soul of these ancient lands of the Indic civilisations. I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, is tired of the politicking that I see, in the name of my interests. I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, knows that there still remain those termites who are hands-in-glove with Pakistan, just as there were natives who worked against the cause of liberation in 1971, and who are eating away at the otherwise-resilient structure formed from the awakening of the Bengali voice under the able leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, know the massive effect the recent return of Taliban in Afghanistan, after the shoddy withdrawal by the US from the war-torn nation, will have on the activities of Jihadi terrorists and Islamist radicals operating on my soil. I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, can see the irony in the Hindus in the world’s third largest Hindu populated country facing an existential crisis, with wanton violence such as those on temples in Khulna in August. I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, am part of what seems to be an endangered sub-species that is going down the same way as did the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan. But it is I that shall always look forward, even with a million falls. It is I that shall not just expose the shortcomings of my oppressors but work towards liberating and spiritually emancipating them as well.
I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, am a promise to the future. Of resilience. But most importantly, of hope. Hope that with courage and strength of mind, one can stand against regressive exclusivism and parochialism effectively. And it is for this hope that we must all stand together and fight.
It is time for Hindus around the world to realise the immense significance of their heritage and join hands to stand for it, strongly. While the days of the Turkic invaders and colonial overmasters are over for the Hindus, newer threats emerge for them – China’s neocolonialism, Islamist radicalism, leftist fanaticism, right-wing hyperbole, politics of convenience and pressures of increasing population and dwindling resources. But most importantly, what we must resolve is: why is the protection of the Hindu identity and way of life important? It is for the inherently pluralistic, compassionate and responsible orientation that the Hindu way entails. It is about living in harmony with oneself as well as with society and nature. It is this comprehensive existence that we must stand for, over and above the `sensibility’ of contemporary liberal geopolitics, since the Hindu way is deeply engaged with the human condition instead of staying aloof on various points of relevance (in a quintessential left-liberal manner), particularly the spiritual essence of everything from democratic politics and political economy to social interactions and religion.
It is a battle for the esse of humanity, where I, the Hindu of Bangladesh, must stand front and centre! ॐ