Simple Talk

A Tale of Pathos

Muhammad Zafar Iqbal

I am feeling myself impure for the last few days. It seems that my entire existence is tormented by sin. Not only me, innumerable people in Bangladesh have the same feeling; a large section of our nation is caught in the web of melancholy.

I guess, all of you understand the root of my pathos. Celebration of the Durgapuja,expected to be a joyful festival for the Hindus, has been the centre of macabre vandalism this year. I can’t console myself by believing that it is an isolated event. The vandalism started in Kumilla and seems to have spread throughout the country. It signifies that dangerous communal people reside in every corner of the country. They do not take shelter in hideouts, but assert themselves openly. According to the data of Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh, there have been 3689 instances of attack on the Hindus in the last nine years. Those who are not alarmed by this number should be reminded that almost everyday there have been attacks on the Hindus, once or more, somewhere in the country. The actual number of such attacks are much more than that shown in published data. This country did not develop in the way we imagined. The Hindus constitute 10 per cent population of the country. If they are asked to tell whether they are well in the country, would anyone of them say that they are happy? The best way of understanding the governance of a country is to ask the minority community how are they living. If they say that they are not well, then we should understand that the country is not well governed.

Really, we too are not well. For the last few days, I hesitate to talk to my Hindu friends. I am suffering from a deep sense of shame and guilt. This feeling has been activated in the wake of the recent event. It does not mean that such an event has happened for the first time or is an isolated one or some people have suddenly committed it for political reasons. This dangerous communalism has its roots in the long past. Some of us have tried to deny it by falsely consoling ourselves. Some have treated it as an insignificant issue. But, why do we deny that we are immersed in sin? Why we pretend that everything is all right? If we probe deeper into the issue, we will feel that all is not running well. Why a child of the Hindu community trembled with fear during the Durgapuja festival, when (s)he was supposed to be in a blissful state of mind? Why couldn’t we give protective shelter to those children in our chest?

When the puja time comes and the idols are in the process of making throughout the country, my mental peace gets disturbed. Inevitably, I come to know instances of idol breaking from different parts of the country. When the puja starts, I suffer from suffocation. The miscreants who did not hesitate to throw bombs in the congregation of Id at Sholakia, what misdeed will they commit during the puja festival, I feel scared. My mental peace is restored only when the festival is over.

If an ordinary citizen like me suffers from a suppressed sense of disquiet regarding the issue, should not the people entrusted with maintaining the law-and-order situation of the country,lose their sleep? Herein lies my pathos. I know that they can stop such vandalism if they wish so. The police force is very much active in our country in recent times. They have a much better understanding of such issues than us. So, I can’t mentally accept that even after hearing the rumour of the imagined conspiracy in Kumilla at 7 am, vandalism was allowed to happen from 11am onwards. We have come to know that the officer-in-charge (OC) of the police station himself was present at the site from the morning. Such events happened in the country many times in the past. So, everyone knows how such things take shape. It is not unknown that the religious fanatics got new life in Bangladesh after the victory of the Talibans in Afghanistan. Bomb attacks at the mosque is almost a regular event during the Friday namaz in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have been noticing for a long time that there is showdown after the Friday namaz in the wake of crystallisation of a bigoted religious conspiracy in this country too. We all know this by virtue of our common sense. How could we believe that the force of law-and-order does not know it or can’t take precautionary measures against it? Even if the State builds houses for the extremely poor and destitute fishermen after all their belongings got burnt by fire, would we be able to address at all the deep-rooted fear, frustration, sorrows, sufferings and helpless hurt-feelings deep inside their hearts? How could we accept that, in spite of being citizens of Bangladesh, they have to live their lives with great fear, only because of their religious identities?

The State has a great responsibility in this regard. However, we have a feeling of despair, when we listen to the speeches of big political leaders in charge of the State. When such macabre things take place, they instantly pass the blame on the rival political party to prove their innocence. Even if there is an iota of truth in their allegation, it seems that even the ordinary members of their own political party do not believe it from their heart. This is so because of the stereotyped nature of their political speeches. The ordinary people take it for granted that the State or the leaders of the State do not have a genuine intention of solving the problem. May be that they want to take advantage of it by projecting it as a political issue. However, the main thing is very simple: There is nothing to gain from knowing a sound explanation for the macabre event, but much to gain if it does not happen.

For solving a problem, first of all we must accept that the problem exists. Next the problem should be understood. Then a solution comes out on its own. But, if we deny a problem, how can we solve it. To say that some miscreants have suddenly committed the crime is nothing but bypassing the problem. We must first of all confess that the miscreants have got a free zone in our country for committing such crimes.

The present government of our country carries the legacy of our freedom struggle. Naturally, we have a greater claim on it. We were disheartened when communalisation of textbooks took place after getting threats from Hefazat-e-Islam. So, if we are not convinced about the good wishes of the government to address the communal question, who can blame us?

I am an optimistic person throughout my life. I didn’t sacrifice my hope even in dark moments of my life and found that my dream has come true. I want to nurture my hope in the present crisis also, and want to dream that someday the poison tree of communalism will be uprooted from this great land. However, this will not happen automatically. One has to act to fulfil this dream. In my understanding, now this is the biggest challenge before Bangladesh.

One of the few truths I have discovered in my life is that the beauty of the world lies in its diversity. The real existence of beautiful life in a particular country lies in the fact that people of different castes, cultures, religions and language groups cohabit with each other and share joys and sorrows of others. There is little diversity in the composition of people in our country. So, we should try our best to protect whatever diversity is there in our life world and make our children learn that tradition. The people should learn the beauty of other religions before learning the rules and rituals of their own religion, so that they develop a sense of respect for all religions.

The people of our country are not arrogant by virtue of their tradition. They don’t like excess in any field of life. The worldwide rise of religious bigotry has spread to this country and some people are trying to make use of it. What was not possible in the past is now being accomplished through the Facebook: Storing and Spreading of mentally repulsive information. The person whose deliberation was given no importance in the past is now able to circulate utterly objectionable opinion to all. Not only that, the person is committing macabre deeds by instantly mobilising miscreants. This problem is not unique to Bangladesh, but a big worldwide problem. We don’t know how other countries in the world will respond to this problem; Bangladesh should address it as an urgent issue for our own sake. There was a time when all political, cultural and social organsations, students and teachers used to come out in the streets in the wake of a communal outburst. Now, everyone wants to finish his/her responsibility by giving an opinion in the Facebook.

The cultural activities, which were found in the villages of the country in our childhood days, have now vanished. We no more hear children singing with harmonium in their homes. No one attends night-long jatras or palagan festivals. We do not have a chance to listen to bhatiali songs of boatmen sailing in the mid-river. The school children or children in our neighbourhoods no longer act in the Sirajdaulla drama, wearing zari cloths, in the hajak light. Highly exiting football matches in the playground with players wearing colourful team jersey are missing. There is no boat racing in the river. Now, living the life of a baul is often treated as a crime, and court cases are filed against the bauls. In a sense, we have lost the tradition of our Bengali identity. The vacuum created in our cultural world is found to be getting filled up by the bigoted religious community.

Time has come to recreate consciously our Bengali identity. By virtue of our Bengali identity, we got our language in the past. Then we got our country through assertion of our Bengali identity. Now, it is the time to de-communalise our country with the same identity.

(Translated by Arup Kumar Sen from the Bengali article of the author, published in DainikJanakantha, Dhaka, Bangladesh, October 22, 2021)

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Vol. 54, No. 22, Nov 28 - Dec 4, 2021