Last week, a friend of mine shared a tweet from Aparna Sen, a Bengali-speaking Indian actress and movie director. She had tweeted: “What has happened to Bangladesh? Is it turning into Pakistan? One keeps reading and hearing about Bangladeshi Hindus being tortured and killed! Stop! Please stop! The whole planet is becoming such a violent place!”
Aparna Sen is a Bengali speaking Hindu who lives in India. As such, it is understandable that she was upset with the recent communal tension in Bangladesh when Islam’s Holy Book – the Qur’an – was desecrated in some Hindu temples, being left over at the feet of Hindu idols by some miscreants during the Durga Puja, a popular Hindu festival. Reportedly, some Hindu mandirs were later attacked by some angry Muslims. Five Muslims were shot dead by police, a fact obfuscated in media reports in India to polarize public opinion against Bangladesh. More than a hundred individuals have also been arrested.
Deploying the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), hundreds of Muslims were arrested in a nationwide swoop inside Bangladesh. Most notably, the two “foot soldiers”, Iqbal Hussain and Saikat Mandal, who placed the holy Qur’an at the feet of Hindu goddess Durga and telecast it live on Facebook respectively, to whip up religious passions were hunted down using CCTV footage. The duo’s handlers are yet to be caught, though.
As I noted elsewhere, these sacrilegious acts surely could not have been planned by either any God-fearing Muslim or any sane Hindu. In all likelihood, such abhorrible acts were planned by individuals as part of a wider conspiracy to create tension between the otherwise peaceful religious communities inside Bangladesh.
Truly, Bangladesh has been an oasis of religious harmony – by no means a perfect score though – in a region that has seen some of the worst forms of intolerance and bigotry in countries like India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Unlike her neighbors, where religious bigots rule, Bangladesh is ruled by a highly secular political party (the Awami League) that has often been accused of appeasing and empathizing with the minority causes more than those of its Muslim majority.
So, my question to solving the case around the true culprits is: who benefits from fomenting tensions inside Bangladesh? If one were to remove the faithful adherents of Islam and Hinduism as the perpetrators, suspicion shifts to the foreign agents like the RAW of India. After all, the RAW and Modi’s Indian Government have been unhappy with the turn of events in the geo-political tug-of-war in which Bangladesh is perceived to be more inclined towards China than the next-door India. The pro-China tilt of Bangladesh is an outcome that is unacceptable to India for its not-too-subtle hegemonic goal in South Asia.
The relationship between the two neighbors has deteriorated considerably for a number of years, esp. in recent years in which the Government of Bangladesh did not find its counterpart in India to be sincere enough in easing border tensions and trade relations. Hundreds of Bangladeshi farmers and cattle-herders continue to be killed, tortured and abducted by India’s trigger-happy Border Security Force (BSF) inside the Bangladesh territory on suspicion that they have crossed into India; the share of major international rivers has never been fair to the lower riparian Bangladesh, whose vast territories get flooded during the monsoon season and remain inarable and unnavigable during the dry seasons. On the other hand, the waterways inside Bangladesh, including major seaports have all been opened up to India for easy transfer of goods to its north-eastern states that are almost landlocked. Even the roads and highways inside Bangladesh are opened up almost toll-free for using Bangladesh as a corridor to transporting goods and services to those north-eastern states. And yet, to the great dismay and frustration of her people, the Hasina-government has gotten nothing in reciprocity out of such generous concessions and overtures to Modi’s India.
Worse yet, Bengali-speaking Muslims are pushed out of India to Bangladesh under the false pretext that they are intruders. Conveniently forgotten by Indian government is the mere fact that during the British rule of India, its inhabitants comprising Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus lived together and moved and settled freely wherever they liked or where their jobs had taken them to generate income or livelihood for their family members. So, when the Muslims of the border territories like Assam, in spite of having official proofs and decades of existence, predating the Pakistan-India Partition of 1947, are depicted wrongfully as illegals inside Modi’s India, it is like backstabbing by a mendacious neighbor who has never abandoned its evil self.
India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), National Population Register (NPR) and other laws, aimed at denying citizenship to millions of Muslims living inside India are bigotry-ridden, and are simply criminal and unlawful. Let’s also not forget India’s revocation of the Article 370 that took away the special status of Muslim-majority Kashmir. Such irresponsible acts of the Hindutvadi BJP government, epitomizing intolerance and bigotry, have soured the relationship beyond repair, or so it seems, between the two governments.
Let’s not forget also the almost regular lynching of Muslims inside India under the pretext of protecting the cow. Muslim peasants and cow-herders have been killed with impunity, reminiscent of the dark days of Hitler and Mussolini’s fascism. The Indian police and the BSF have often been a willing party to the abuse, torture and crimes against Indian Muslims. No Hindu vigilante from a knife-wielding mob to the police to the Border Security Force has yet been punished in Modi’s India for such crimes. India’s utter negligence to punish Hindutvadi criminals says that they don’t value Muslim life and property, and are, thus, not serious about peaceful co-existence with its non-Hindu neighbors.
No wonder, outside a very small number of sycophants and paid agents, BJP-ruled India is viewed very unfavorably inside Bangladesh by its inhabitants, esp. the Muslims, who find themselves surrounded by hostile neighbors. But such highly emotive matters of grave concern have not dissuaded the Indian agents who dream of an Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) to conspiring against Bangladesh.
Consider a video clip that is going viral on social media that shows Gobinda Chandra Pramanik, leader of Bangladesh Jatiyo Hindu Mahajote, delivering an indoor speech, espousing the restoration of Akhand Bharat, which is essentially an RSS project, and expressing hopes that the Hindutvadi fascist BJP government in India returns to power time and again. By the way, Pramanik is not the only one in making such statements. Many Bangladeshi Hindu organizations are known to have ties with the Indian establishment.
On July 18, 2019, during Trump’s presidency, Priya Saha, organizing secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (HBCUC), had no bite of conscience to making “false, purposeful and treasonous remarks“ against Bangladesh in a meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. Interestingly, she was picked up by the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka for the White House visit. [Note: In his presidential campaign in 2016, Donald Trump said: ‘I love the Hindus’.] During the talks, Ms. Saha sought American help to protect “18 million minority people” in Bangladesh and told Trump “please help us, we don’t want to leave our country, just help us stay. I’ve lost my home, they’ve burned my home, they [have] taken away my land, but no judgement [has] yet taken place”. Her ridiculous claims were an embarrassment for her own party. “We are embarrassed… the comments she made were her own and not ours,” HBCUC spokesman Kajal Debnath later told PTI.
As to the outside provocateurs, consider, for instance, the remarks of a Hindutvadi leader. Days after the alleged attacks on Hindu temples during this year’s Durga Puja in Bangladesh, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy reiterated a provocative suggestion he has made in the past—India should invade its eastern neighbor. On Monday, Swamy tweeted a media report from 2018 that quoted him as saying, “If Bangladesh does not stop torturing the Hindus, I would recommend that our government invades Bangladesh and takes it over”.
The BJP in West Bengal, where by-elections were held for four assembly seats on Saturday, 30 October, predictably exploited the communal flare-up in Bangladesh to harvest Hindu votes after the defeat at the hands of Trinamool Congress in the Legislative Assembly elections. It is difficult to ignore the motivation for a BJP/RSS and RAW-inspired communal flare-up in Bangladesh that may weaken Mamata Banerjee and her ruling party in this by-election.
As the short list above suggests, Bangladeshis have ample reasons to be gravely concerned about Indian hegemony and its machinations.
The dream for an Akhand Bharat has never faded from the psyche of many Hindus, esp., Indian politicians from the ruling BJP that is aligned with the Hindutvadi agenda of the RSS. And what could be a better excuse than annexing Bangladesh under the pretext of ‘protecting’ its ‘suffering’ and ‘threatened’ Hindu minority!
Lest we forget, events of this kind, i.e., annexation, has happened more than once in India’s expansionist history. Just a study of the events leading up to the annexation of Hyderabad – a princely state ruled by a Muslim Nizam, Goa – a Christian enclave on the Indian Ocean in south-west India, and Sikkim – a Buddhist-majority border territory – is sufficient to show that India has used such devious ploys of protecting Hindu minorities to annexing other territories. What is common in all these cases is that days and months before such annexation, mysterious attacks on Hindus from some ‘unknown’ sources would provide the necessary justification for India to march-in with its massive forces.
So, the Durga Puja related communal unrest, albeit a short, isolated and contained one, inside Bangladesh should be a sufficient wake-up call if a conspiracy is in the making.
Is it by coincidence that all those districts inside Bangladesh where Hindu temples were attacked by angry Muslims allegedly had the top administrative positions held by Hindu officers? Is it possible they had allowed, planted or fostered such crimes at the behest of the RAW? I don’t know the answer, but can guess that it is plausible.
After the temple attacks, the Hasina government has reportedly relocated those officers for their either sheer negligence or collusion with criminal elements inside or outside the country. But such job reassignments failed to address the main concern: were they part of a criminal conspiracy against the sovereignty of Bangladesh? Justice demands that truth needs to come out in an unbiased inquiry.
Anyway, the isolated events during the Durga Puja over defamatory footage shared on social media have attracted Indian celebrities who have tweeted highly offensive remarks about Bangladesh and its people who have a history of living together peacefully and harmoniously.
Sadly, these Indian celebrities are silent when Muslims are lynched, mosques vandalized and their properties destroyed at will inside India. Where is the outrage when Hindu groups attacked mosques, ransacked shops and homes owned by Muslims in Indian state of Tripura a week after the Durga Puja tragedy in Bangladesh? Indian Police have seemingly given a free hand to rioters who resort to looting, arson, and attacks on minority households.
A comparison of the Indian attitude under the BJP government that promotes intolerance against the Muslim minorities to those of the Awami League government in Bangladesh in its favoritism of the Hindu minorities is sufficient to show the utter hypocrisy of the Indian celebrities. Not surprisingly, neither Priya Saha nor Gobinda Chandra Pramanik has been arrested for their treasonous acts. On the other hand, according to opposition parties in Bangladesh, hundreds of their party members, and other Muslims continue to languish in the prison cells under the draconian Digital Security Act for a fraction of such crimes.
The daydreamers can dream what they like, but the fact remains: Bangladesh is neither becoming India nor Pakistan. After all, while under Narendra Modi, Muslims are facing genocide from Assam to Kashmir simply because of their Islamic identity, interestingly Bangladeshi Hindus have seen unparalleled ascendancy in jobs under Sheikh Hasina. While Indian Muslims, who comprise more than 14% of the population, hold less than 3% government jobs, the share of Hindu jobs inside Bangladesh is three to five times their proportionate share of the population in most public sectors. The Bangladeshi Hindus also hold key positions in many ministries. By any measure, the status of Hindus in Bangladesh is much better than the status of Muslims inside India.
The attack on Hindu mandir is deplorable, irrespective of whether or not it had foreign connection, even of the RAW. Bangladesh government and people should never allow intolerance to breed in.
Before complaining about Bangladesh, Indian celebrities could have done us all a favor by looking inside India and addressing the sickening intolerance that has made Indian secularism a hogwash. When activism is directed to identifying the root cause of intolerance and weeding such out, it is a noble agenda that we can all feel good about and be part of enthusiastically. On the other hand, a one-sided claim that is short of facts and figures only emboldens mobocracy and paves the path for more intolerance, and nothing better.
We live in a digitally connected world where the images shown and statements made somewhere don’t remain localized any more. They percolate and can have adverse effects on others that are far and near. The same technology that has brought us together has the greater power to divide and polarize us irreparably. We simply can’t let that happen.