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North-east Must Read Salam Azad

North-east Must Read Salam Azad

Author: Bikash Sarmah
Publication: Sentinel Assam
Date: January 13, 2005

While there are many in India, mostly religious minority leaders championing the cause of their well-defined "suppressed community" and befuddled Congressmen getting motivated by the defunct Left ideology every new day, who constantly set up socio-political warning systems of the kind that pseudo-secularism would like being attuned to, it escapes the conscience of a whole lot of politicians here as to what obsessive secularism, distorted and moulded anew to suit petty political interests, might mean - spelling a doom for a nation battered in all ways. If it is a tragedy that the Sangh Parivar wants India to return to the folds of Hindutva on the ground that Hindutva alone could save the Indian identity and reshape all past glories, it would turn out to be a greater tragedy if our leaders, particularly from the North-east, do not yet learn the practicalities of politics and hear what Bangladeshi dissident writer Salam Azad has to say about his own homeland.

Salam Azad at 38 would have loved his homeland embracing the ideals of their founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who though he had to pay a heavy price for what he doggedly stood for - a Bangladesh respecting its creator, India, and liberal enough to tolerate and accommodate all opinionated intellectuals and activists. Salam Azad would want Bangladesh to be secular - and let us not be again hypocritical to surmise how good it would be if Salam Azad weaves a pseudo-secular pattern for Bangladesh as well. Salam Azad would have loved dying in a Bangladesh that tolerates the tenets of other faiths, especially those of Hinduism, exactly like India that does tolerate all faiths and that goes a step further too. Salam Azad would love to write brilliantly for a Bangladesh that does not send Islamist mercenaries to India's North-east, that does not imagine of a greater Islamic state where Hindus would be mercilessly butchered, and that does not shelter the terrorists (are they insurgents?) of a land as democratic and secular as India.

In December 2003, his celebrated book Contribution of India in the War of Liberation of Bangladesh was published only to be banned by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led government of Begum Khaleda Zia whose ally today is the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami as well as Islami Oikkya Jote. And why should not the book be banned? After all, it speaks of India's contribution! And anything that is contributory from the Indian side, even if that had happened 34 years back, should be scoffed away in Bangladesh in utter disregard to what historical realities might force upon it. That is today's Bangladesh. But that will not be tomorrow's Bangladesh. Because it will then be fully Talibanized by the likes of Bangla Bhai (whose real name is Siddiqul Islam) who leads Jagroto Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), an Islamist organization working on designs of a Taliban-like State in Bangladesh.

That is why the book Hindu Sampraday Keno Bangladesh Tyag Korcche (Why the Hindu community is leaving Bangladesh) evoked such widespread condemnation in Bangladesh. By choosing such a title, Salam Azad was being audacious enough to confess what Talibanized Bangladesh would like to glorify - that from Bangladesh the minority Hindu community is fleeing not for reasons like poverty (of course, most Hindus are rich there, and well-educated, which peeves the Talibanized mindset), but to escape any possible carnage of the worst kind, though incidents like rape (of Hindu women) are not of the type to hit headlines there. Naturally then, why should a writer like Salam Azad be tolerated? Do we not remember what happened to Taslima Nasreen? And why should we not conclude that today's Bangladesh needs the Talibanic jehadis more than progressive and secular thinkers like Salam and Taslima?

To get a synoptic view of what really is happening there and how the portents endanger the security set-up and demographic stability of the North-east, let us hear what Salam Azad blurts out: "I have compared Bangladesh as it existed before 1947 with its present identity. One reality of our present-day lives is the flourishing madrasas patronized by this fundamentalist government (of Begum Khaleda Zia). What do you think is taught in these madrasas? Children are taught that Muslims are the most superior community in the world. They are also brainwashed that converting a non-Muslim to Islam is an act of faith."

"I don't agree with this kind of fundamentalism. Can humanity accept it? At the time of graduating from the madrasas, the youth are told that if you kill a non-Muslim, then the doors of paradise are open to you. They are also told that if they bring a non-Muslim woman into the fold of Islam through marriage it is another way of serving your religion."

This is what Salam Azad tells Tehelka (December 18, 2004 issue). According to him, the Christians escape the Talibanic onslaught primarily because Bangladesh, a wretch economically, depends on Christian non-governmental aid for sustenance. That means since Christian organizations and agencies are feeding the growing breed of Talibanic jehadis, their definition of Islamic culture allows only the Hindus to be chased and chastised. Salam Azad adds: "The Hindus are being targeted because they own large property. They are also the ones who are most educated and hold white-collar jobs. You won't find a single Hindu rickshawallah in Bangladesh. You won't find a Hindu beggar. There are no bekaar (unemployed) Hindus simply because if they were so who would give them anything to eat. On the other hand, there are many government organizations and NGOs wishing to dole out support to the Muslim unemployed."

Salam Azad candidly speaks of two things more. According to him, if a Hindu women is raped, no police station in Bangladesh would take "cognizance of the crime," and worst, even the judiciary makes it a point to 'not' entertain any such case. Secondly, he goes political: "Nowhere in the world is there a national law that permits the government to take over property of ethnic minorities without assigning any reason whatsoever. The Hindus in Bangladesh are being stripped of their property. Everywhere else in the world, minorities are given special protection, but in Bangladesh the Hindu minority is subjected to State-sponsored suppression. I have addressed these realities in my books."

Is secular India listening? It does not matter to mainland India though, because a Bangladeshi jehadi drugged by the Talibanic dose would hardly venture out to North or South or West India and declare any jehad there. But when it comes to the North-east, the possibility is that any such fanatic from Bangladesh, religiously well-trained in stealthy warfare by JMJB operatives and backed politically by the BNP-led government, could play havoc with indigenous lives here for three main reasons. First, the North-east, especially Assam, entices a typical Bangladeshi to come and settle in lot many open 'geographical' spaces safeguarded well by as many 'political' spaces, and this truth is as evident as anything if one realizes the geographical proximity of the North-east to Bangladesh. Secondly, an already settled Bangladeshi population, legal or illegal (but mostly illegal by all means), would lend a helping hand to that typical Bangladeshi infiltrator on the ground of either historical nostalgia or religious kinship or possibly similar "final goals." Thirdly, in Assam where the ruling Congress government seems to conceive of newer plans to appease the religious minority every other day, our typical Bangladeshi would be welcomed by the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983. To summarize, the notorious IM(DT) Act (which the scholar in Dr Manmohan Singh finds highly humane) would pave the way for a glorious life for any illegal Bangladeshi in Assam and who then would go about his clandestine designs in utter "humanitarian freedom."

Is the North-east listening then? Does Assam, in particular, realize what Salam Azad signals? One needs to be politically imaginative too, to analyse Azad's worries. This bold writer talks of Talibanization of Bangladesh in the sense that many illiterate or semi-literate or sometimes even literate Bangladeshis are being cocooned rapidly in the warp of un-Islamic Islam in the land of Mujibur Rahman. The basic reason why the North-east, in particular Assam, must read Salam Azad is that while a huge Bangladeshi population has already boomed illegally in this region under the very nose of a secular regime, this very population might very easily be Talibanized as well, given that so many Islamist mercenaries are reportedly having their field day in areas like Karimganj and Hailakandi. What is it that prevents us from not accepting that even the madrasas in the Barak Valley are being influenced to further the Talibanic ideal of a greater Islamic State formed by carving out 'suitable' areas from the North-east? And to be true to Salam Azad, such a State would persecute all minorities who now would be mostly Hindus, and remotest of all, Christians too, in most areas of Assam. Surely, it is time!

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