Gandhi left a lasting legacy in Noakhali, Bangladesh where he spent considerable time spreading the message of peace and communal harmony in the region worst affected by riots in the aftermath of our partition. And Noakhali was not ungrateful! They remember him with regularity on his birth anniversary at the Gandhi Ashram which was established to commemorate his work.
Bangladesh and India’s relationship was to last longer and deeper. We were responsible for the creation of this country. India was left with no choice but to intervene to prevent a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ from exploding. Do read “1971, A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh” to get a fuller context into how intercontinental ties prevailing at that time made its birth inevitable.
It’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman then a young Student Union leader was enraged by proclamation of Urdu as the only official state language ignoring largely spoken Bengali in Pakistan’s Eastern province. Bengali language also was symbolic of pluralism and diversity of once secular Bangladesh. Secularism still remains one of the fundamental tenants enshrined in its constitution even though Islam was declared the state religion 1988.
How endangered and meaningless this core principal has been reduced to by the acts of extremists is for all to witness. Taslima Nasreen in her Lajja exposed the shamelessness with which Hindus were persecuted in the riots that followed the demolition of Babri Masjid in India in 1993. Her book was banned and she still lives in exile. The government did nothing, the international community but for a few reports here and there, a mention or reference in Amnesty International and United States Commission on International Religious Freedom chose to keep it on the backburner, India and its noisy media who often indulge in brouhaha failed to create much needed awareness perhaps the ‘religion’ of the victims invoked less sympathy in Hindu majority but staunchly “secular” India.
A series of bloggers, atheists, LGBT community, intellectuals, minority groups including Shias were mercilessly attacked and hacked to death. My hope was that at least open fire on worshippers in a mosque will shake the government into action since they at least shared a faith and prophet but alas! No.
Today reading about the hostage crisis in a café in Dhaka, it dawned upon me that it is not about communal beliefs as I initially thought, it is not about they being Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists (a 75 year old Buddhist monk was choked to death in May of this year and collapse of a building in 2013 killed mostly poor Muslims) it is about failure of the state machinery, failure of the majority to endure all this without bursting out in an uproar, it is a democracy after all with still more space for open rebellion, failure of leaders at all levels, failure of the world community to apply pressures, severe diplomatic ties and impose barriers if required, failure of its next door neighbor; India which exercises more clout economically but refuses to flex its muscles by using soft power to compel them into some kind of agreement to take a hardline approach on terror, at least to get the Head of the country, Sheikh Hasina to acknowledge threat from IS as she recently seemed in complete denial blaming local terror groups associated with the Opposition Party instead.
Despite so many warning signals, they and we, failed to see this latest emergency come, more importantly take measures to prevent it. Radicalization of a once secular Bangladesh happened before our very eyes, step by step and we once again turned a blind eye like we did in the late 1960s until India was left with no choice but to fight a full scale war. With a nuclear Pakistan and India, war is no longer an option but something urgent in terms of dialogue is the need of the hour.
An unstable Pakistan and now a fear stricken Bangladesh should compel us into more rigorous action. Finally, our sleepy diplomatic policies also seem to ‘shake the chains’ fallen on them under the leadership of a vocal Modi.
This latest strike in the holy month of Ramadan is a reminder that as much as terrorists are unmindful of religion, if majority of Bangladeshis and other nationals were more mindful of atrocities on Hindus in the first place they could have prevented this escalation. Hate often starts with an onslaught on ‘soft’ targets, immigrants and minorities, sexual, religious and economic alike and slowly spreads its venom, first signs itself should be tackled with severity. This is also a time to wake up as Indians and challenge all extremist elements in Hinduism and Islam alike and not color our vision due faith of either perpetrators or victims, because if not for the glue of “secularism” (in the true sense not pseudo secularism for playing vote bank politics) and “democracy” we too would have fallen apart like our next door neighbors.
It is definitely late but this disaster provides that ripe moment to jointly counter Bangladesh’s rapid degeneration and radicalization and if pure selfish reasons of national security are not enough then for whatever remains of Gandhi’s memory, Mujibur’s socialism, Tagore’s anthem, Shankhari Bazar’s Durga Pooja celebration, fervent love of Bangladeshis for their ‘Bengaliness’.
By Twisha Twisha