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A Doleful Durga Puja In Bangladesh: Spill-Over Effect Of A Restless Neighborhood? – OpEd

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With reverberations of creamy white conch shells and beating of dhaaks, the mother ‘Durga’, the destroyer of evil and protective mother of the universe as per Hindu mythology, descended on Earth, her ‘paternal home’. This year, Durga’s vahana or animal vehicle was Turang which symbolizes war, destruction, social instability and political unrest. As the deity returned to her bridal home in Mount Kailash through the immersion ritual, the ‘astrological omen’ seemingly came to a tragic realization, manifested in the pictures of vandalized and desecrated puja pandals that have been flooding our news and social media homepages. Although security was heightened across the country, Bangladesh, the shining star of South Asia in terms of religious harmony, witnessed the darkest hours of communal violence in its recent history, which erupted following social media posts about an alleged desecration of the Holy Quran at a Durga Puja mandap in Comilla on last Wednesday. As result, this regrettable violence led to at least five deaths, scores of injury cases, and thousands of arrests during the Puja celebration across the country to dent the holy spirit of autumnal celebration. 

In response, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has rightfully pledged to identify those evil-minded culprits, who are in a smear campaign to instigate communal turbulence in the country. “Nobody will be spared. It doesn’t matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished,” warned Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina in a virtual interaction with members of the Hindu community to mark Durga Puja. 

Restless Neighborhoods: What Evil Engulfs South Asia?

In addition to the government’s stern measures, a good number of political analysts are agreeing that the vandalisms of Hindu temples were “pre-planned by the evil communal forces” to “destabilize” the communal harmony of Bangladesh and also that the recent escalation of communal turbulences and state-sponsored violence against the Muslims has certainly played a ‘retributive’ role in instigating communal tensions in Bangladesh. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, in her latest comment on the recent wave of communal violence, also strongly hinted to such possibility by urging India to “take steps against any reaction at home, as it could have a fallout in Bangladesh.” The Telegraph quoted the PM as saying, “You all know that those who came to power in our country after 1975 used religion to divide people… The rise of global terrorism also has had its impact on our country. Countering this is not only our responsibility, and neighbouring countries like India should also remain vigilant… India did help us in the liberation war (of 1971) and we will remain ever grateful for the support… But they (India) have to be aware that such incidents should not take place there which would have an impact on Bangladesh, and the Hindus in our country face attacks.” 

One cannot deny that such speculations indeed bear some truth. The 1992 demolition of Babri Mosque in India, a politically-motivated ploy of a group of ultra-nationalists, opened a new chapter of polarization and communal politics in Bangladesh, leading to an unprecedented wave of reactionary violence, destruction of countless Hindu temples and neighborhoods. The ripple effect of Babri Mosque demolition did not end there. Lajja, a novel that dealt with the sensitive subject of anti-Hindu riots in 1992, led to expulsion of writer Taslima Nasrin from Bangladesh. Right wing entities such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) ultimately reaped the harvest of such unrest, but Bangladesh, paid the price. The Delhi 2020 riots also sparked fear of such retribution in Bangladesh. With the efforts from Bangladesh government and restrictions on movement due to Covid-19 pandemic, such a crisis was successfully averted. The tension, however, remained and was only fueled by hateful and divisive rhetoric employed by BJP leaders and activists in the West Bengal and Assam elections in 2021. 

Bangladesh’s trusted friend and historical ally India, once a proud example of pluralism, secularism, and democracy, is now under the helm of the BJP-led Hindutva regime that has heralded the beginning of an era of state-sponsored Islamophobia and communal violence, often explicitly aimed at making India an exclusivist “Hindu Rashtra” by subverting its democratic and secular aspirations. The Hindutva movement, under the auspices of Sangha Parivar and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is trying its hardest to marginalize, disenfranchise, and essentially disintegrate its 200 million Muslim minorities.  Since its rise to power in 2014, the BJP government has taken a myriad of controversial decisions and actions to dismantle the communal bonds and alienate Muslims that include supporting cow vigilantism, stripping the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, the enactment of notorious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the introduction of National Register of Citizen (NRC), adoption of anti-conversion laws and modification of Muslim property laws. The eviction of ‘poor Muslim farmers’ in the name of development projects, the encroachment of lands of Muslims by referring to them as ‘encroachers’, the fearmongering regarding alleged cases of ‘Love Jihad’ is among the few notorious examples of measures other than the legal ones, taking place mostly especially in the states of Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

Lessons (often not) Learned

The same idea also goes for Myanmar where decades of hate-mongering from the extremist Buddhists paved the way for a genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas, dubbed as ‘the most persecuted minority in the world’. Bangladesh is now bearing the burden of sheltering 1.1 million of these forcibly displaced people of Myanmar (FDMNs). As in 21st century, South Asia is awash with populist (and often hateful) rhetoric which pits one group against the other, a basic sense of political maturity must dawn on the leadership that such hate and violence knows no border and often finds an equally gory response, maintaining an uncanny loyalty to Newton’s famed third law. 

Understandably, it is a matter of deep grief for the people of Bangladeshi nationals as the land of Bengal has never witnessed such deplorable acts of communal tensions since its sanguine birth in 1971. More significantly, communal harmony is one of the features to uphold the constitution of Bangladesh. The religious fraternity has existed in the land of Bengal for thousands of years. In this critical moment, let us remind the words of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, “There are Hindus, Muslims, Bengalis, non-Bengalis in this Bengal. They are our brothers. It is our responsibility to protect them so that we are not discredited.”

*Tonmoy Chowdhury is an independent researcher and freelance writer. He is interested in Refugee and Migration, Human Security Issues, South Asian Politics and Economic Diplomacy. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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