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Crisis of Hindu Bengalis

Crisis of Hindu Bengalis

Author: Abhijit Bhattacharyya
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 15, 2001

The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party's call for imposition of Jaziya on the Hindu Bengalis (as reported in the Bangla daily, Sangbad) typifies the phrase: "History repeats itself." What was a hypothesis yesterday, however, is a reality today as Hindu Bengalis in Bangladesh are facing the grim prospect of forced conversion, inevitable death or inevitable (and ignominious) migration to India. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that even the normally indifferent regional language press of India's West Bengal - which is not known to be supportive of or sympathetic to the plight of the minorities in Bangladesh - is narrating the graphic details of the plight of Hindu refugees from Bangladesh at the various rural points and the suburbs of Calcutta.

Narrating his transformation from garment exporter to pauper, Harishchandra Das of Dhaka says he has "lost a bank balance of Rs 30 lakh" and suffers "a forced occupation by Bangladeshi Muslims of his 30 bigha land". The only silver lining for Mr Das is that his "wife and children are intact (sic)" and their penury is compensated by the open society of India.
The new victim of Begum Zia's anti-Hindu actions appears to be the prosperous urban Hindu Bengali of Bangladesh. Mr Das is a living example of this. In fact, the other two characteristics of the Bangladeshi Muslims were evident even during Partition and post-partition days, when Hindu women and Hindu land (property) were targeted. The tradition continues, notwithstanding a few incident-free interregnums.

How and why does a small Islamic country like Bangladesh resort to such cruel Hindu bashing despite the presence of 84 per cent Hindu population in the neighbouring India? Is it by design, in order to provoke the neighbour to retaliate? Or is it the Bangladeshi perception of India being a cold, supine and indolent elephant involved in its eternal trance of pacifism! Whatever be the Bangladesh Begum's perception, the past folly of the Indians in general and Hindu Bengalis in particular cannot be ignored.

Let us go back to the post-partition days. The Hindu Bengalis of West Bengal were rarely sympathetic or helpful towards their East Pakistani counterparts as they considered their migration to India a threat to their property, business interests and employment. Reading the West Bengali Hindu mind well, the local Muslims too joined hands to form a "united front" against Hindu Bengali refugees, which resulted in their delayed rehabilitation and vitiated the political, economic and social fabric of West Bengal. Instead of uniting with and supporting their uprooted and distraught Hindu brethren from East Pakistan, the West Bengali Hindus exposed their own myopia and stupidity. The Muslims of both India and the then East Pakistan discovered an opportunist and pacifist Hindu Bengali sacrificing the Hindu refugees and embracing the religious fanatics for short, tactical gain. That tactical gain of the 1940s and 1950 has resulted in a great strategic loss today.

What has made the Hindu Bengalis behave in the way they do? One may like to peep into their mind in order to understand the psychology.

The asset and liability of the Hindu Bengali is his natural flair for education, love for the English language, literatures, culture (or anything connected with England and London); and the cocktail of the land, water, air and philosophy, makes him a born "secular" in outlook and "socialist" in nature. Consequently, armed with English education and drunk on the coffee of the salons and restaurants of urbane Calcutta, a Hindu Bengali dreams of becoming a universal citizen, universal poet, universal speaker with a universal mind wherein religion ostensibly has no place for his actions, thoughts and beliefs. Understandably, the Hindu Bengali gets attracted to Marxism and Islam, both of which apparently transcend national barriers, thereby attaining the universal status matching everything universal of the Hindu Bengali mind.

However, there does come into play a slight variation in the Hindu Bengali's mind while dealing with his understanding of socialism of Marx and Mao, and secularism of Mohammad. Thus whereas Das Kapital and the Red Book can be theoretically applicable on real life, secularism and Mohammad do not find support in the minds of the followers of Islam. What then is the way out? How does one adore Islam and endear oneself without being its follower or without incurring the displeasure of its followers? By castigating one's own religion, of course. If one could read and write poems, stories and socialism in English, one could also eat beef to prove one's secular credentials. With or without Marx, Mao and Mohammad?

It would, however, be unfair to pick up the Hindu Bengali alone from the great Indian cauldron. This "secular" and "socialist" characteristics have percolated down from the Preamble of the Constitution to all and sundry. And that is what the fundamentalist elements of Bangladesh have judged well. Since neither their characteristics nor constitution nor even their official state religion gives them any scope to follow either secularism or socialism, it gives them an opportunity to do what they are universally acknowledged as being good at - minority bashing.

Hindu Bengalis, therefore, are in the midst of a gigantic pincer movement operating between the Ganges, the Doab and the Ganges Delta. In Bangladesh their existence is threatened by the Islamic state. In India their culture and language are not tolerated by the Hindi belt. In Bangladesh they require to be Bengali with an Islamic stamp. In India they need to show more of "Hindi" characteristics and less of Bengali traits. Clearly, therefore, the crisis of Hindu Bengalis in Bangladesh is a non-issue for the struggling but "socialist", "secular" and "universal" Hindu Bengalis of India.

The moot point is that if sections of Muslims all over the world can support the terrorist activities of their brethren in Afghanistan and beyond, what prevents the "secular" and "socialist" Hindu Bengalis of India to lodge their protest against the inhuman atrocities committed against their blood relations in Bangladesh by the Islamic fanatics? If the "universal" Hindu Bengali intellectuals do not protest to begin with, how does one expect the Hindi speaking Hindu population of India to do the same?

In this connection an innocuous press report may clarify the position: "Two notorious dons - Dulal Chand Pandey and Subhash Singh - in Malda in West Bengal (one of the main entry points for Bangladeshis into India), were trapped on November 3, 2001, when they offered Rs 50,000 as bribe to the Commandant of the BSF's 63rd Battalion, SS Chatrath, for permitting them to smuggle people from Bangladesh into Bengal... And with the ugly backlash on Hindus in Bangladesh being reported, the two criminals had started taking money from the hapless Hindus in return for helping them cross over to India through the porous Indo-Bangladesh border."

Clearly, therefore, the Islamic Bangladeshis understand the psychology of Hindu Indians rather too well. They know that their perpetration of loot, rape and murder on the Hindu Bengalis are unlikely to go unpunished owing to the "secular" and "socialist" credentials of Hindu Bengalis of India, and the Hindi speaking Hindus of the great Indian heartland. Perhaps, time is not far for Indians of all types in the East to convert from "Jai Hind" to "Joy Bangla". And that would be an unprecedented disaster for India.

(The author is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and the views are his personal).

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