The past is past, and yet, not quite. The study of the history of the persecution of the Hindus in Eastern Bengal, as well as that of the attempts to hide this bit of history, must be put to use to ensure two things : first, that the killings, the bestialities, the rapes, the sowing of insecurity, do not happen again. This is what the wall at the concentration camp at Dachau teaches us. Secondly, to further make sure that the ten million-odd Hindus, including the few Buddhists and Christians, of present-day Bangladesh remain secure in that country, and do not have to migrate to India to seek refuge. It is not easy to ensure either, as has been seen from the instances of persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, described in Chapter 9. Yet it must be done if Bengali Hindus, as an ethno-linguistic-religious group, are to survive, even in India.
Here we must come face to face with a truth : notwithstanding the presence of the large urban, educated, enlightened middle class among the Bengali Muslims of Bangladesh, the presence of the other side of the chasm, the fundamentalists, the tupi-dariwallahs cannot be wished away. However much education spreads in Bangladesh, however much tolerant the people become, however much they choose their Bengali identity to reign supreme over their Muslim one, the latter is always going to remain supreme with a substantial number of people. These people shall continue to be proud to call themselves tupi-dariwallahs - and occasionally cause very serious trouble for the Hindus. How occasionally, and how serious will be determined by how powerful they are compared to the other lot in whom the Bengali identity predominates.
Sir Vidia S. Naipaul, the famous Trinidadian author of Hindu Indian ancestry, now living in England, in the prologue to his book 'Beyond Belief : Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples'[i][i] has made certain very perceptive remarks that are very topical here and deserve to be quoted in full :
"Islam is in its origins an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert's world view alters. His holy places are in Arab lands ; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own ; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved ; the turning away has to be done again and again. People develop fantasies about who and what they are ; and in the Islam of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. Such countries can be easily set on the boil".
Bangladesh was not one of the countries that Sir Vidia visited, either in the course of writing this book, or its forerunner "Among the Believers : An Islamic Journey"[ii][ii]. Yet, in the background of what we have seen so far, these observations are of Bangladesh and Bengali Muslims appear to be uncannily true!
In Chapter 6 we have seen Benoy Mukherjee describing Nehru as imagining 'secularism' to be the panacea for all centrifugal and divisive tendencies. He chose to forget that there was such a thing as pan-Islamism, that Islam called upon all its followers to unite regardless of nationality, that Allahu Akbar was not merely a religious slogan but a political exhortation as well. What Sir Vidia had said was merely a restatement of the same truth, in his inimitably expressive language. This is the truth that the so-called secularists of India do not see, or do not choose to see.
The anti-Hindu pogroms of Bangladesh are merely cases of, as Sir Vidia describes it, the country being set on the boil.
Now on to ways of saving the Hindus of Bangladesh : basically there are three methods of trying to ensure that Hindus are no longer persecuted in East Bengal, that is today's Bangladesh, and do not flee to India. First, we can choose to depend on the Bangladesh government to look after their own minorities, as all civilised governments are expected to. If Bangladesh does not live up to such expectations, some world opinion may be mobilised and brought to bear upon the Bangladesh government. Second, we can expect India, as by far the largest Hindu country in the world and the natural refuge of persecuted Hindus everywhere, to take more than a little interest in the plight of Bangladeshi Hindus, and bring unusual diplomatic pressure to bear on Bangladesh if need be. Considering that more than ninety-five per cent of Bangladesh's land border is with India, and the bulk of Bangladesh's external trade - both legitimate and otherwise - is with India, such pressure can be quite effective.
The third method, however disagreeable it may seem or sound at first, must be stated and argued out. It consists of India making a public declaration that if Bangladesh, despite all the pressure, cannot or does not ensure the security of its religious or ethnic minorities, then India, despite all best intentions, may also find it equally difficult to do so. The result may be a movement of refugees from India towards Bangladesh - unless Bangladesh decides to rein in its Hindu-baiters. It is not as if Bangladesh has never seen such reverse movements. Myanmar had driven out a large number of Rohingiya Muslims from its Arakan area across the Naf River into Bangladesh.
Let us now take a hard look at each one of these alternatives.
The first one is doubtless the most civilised, but it also requires civilised behaviour on the part of the host country. Sadly enough, the record of Muslim-majority countries, so far as their treatment of non-Muslim minorities is concerned has so far been found to be less than satisfactory - and Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, to boot. The record of Turkey in their mass murder of Christian Armenians has already been seen. Iran had driven out its Zoroastrians in the distant past, and its Baha'is in the recent one. The fundamentalist Taliban government in Afghanistan has just completed the demolition of the historic Buddha statues of Bamiyan, and has ordered its microscopic Hindu and Sikh minority (this was a substantial minority till Najibullah's days) to hang a yellow cloth in front of their homes. Pakistan, after having driven out their Hindu and Sikh minorities to the last person (the Granthis at the few Gurdwaras are exceptions), practises silent but terrible persecution against their tiny Christian minority and their substantial Ahmadiyya minority (who have been declared non-Muslims) through operation of their anti-blasphemy law and countless other measures. Saudi Arabia prescribes stiff penalties for possession of idols for even private worship. Even relatively tolerant countries like Egypt and Malaysia practise heavy discrimination against non-Muslims - in the former case against their Coptic Christian minority, in the latter in favour of their Bhumiputras (ethnic Malay Muslims).
Why is it so? It is so because Islam, so far as conduct towards followers of other religions are concerned, is absolutely, fundamentally different from all other religions. A detailed discourse on the subject would be outside the scope of a book such as this, but the concept of Jihad, meaning holy war, something fundamental to Islam, may be singled out for a close look. The duty to wage and fight Jihad is a duty extending to all times. And, the hairsplitting by the mystic Sufis about Jihad-ul-Akbar and Jihad-ul-Asghar notwithstanding, to a simple man trying to follow the tenets of Islam, the religious duty of Jihad means killing an infidel, raping his women and expropriating his property. It is as simple as that. This is not to say that every Muslim does it - most do not. However, the ones that do, do all these with an absolutely clear conscience. And it is this aspect, this peculiarity of being able to kill, rape and plunder with a clear conscience which is important. Ahimsa (non-violence) of the Gandhian variety is totally powerless against it, because Ahimsa relies solely on the awakening of the perpetrator's conscience by the victim's lack of resistance. On the other hand, fired with the zeal of Jihad, the Mujahid (Jihad-soldier) perceives this lack of resistance as the inherent weakness of the victim's faith and the corresponding strength of Islam. Ahimsa would not have lasted for half an hour against Aurangzeb. This is something that is either not understood, or (more probably) if understood is deliberately sought to be obfuscated by the Left-Nehruvian secularists of India. This aspect has been discussed earlier - see Chapter 3 and the author's analysis of the Noakhali pogroms.
So far, in Bangladesh the conduct of the Awami League governments at the national level have been found relatively satisfactory, though that of the functionaries of the same party at lower levels has often been quite the opposite. Still it can be said that Awami League governments are not avowedly intolerant. On the other hand, the Islamist parties of Ms. Khaleda Zia, her husband General Ziaur Rahman, the Jatiyo Party led by Gen. Ershad and most particularly the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami have acted in a brazenly anti-Hindu manner. One of the worst offenders against Hindus has been the Islamic Chhatra Shibir, the fundamentalist students' outfit affiliated to the Jamaat. Of these, Khaleda had declared in 1996 during her last election campaign that if the Awami League is voted to power the sound of Azaan calling the faithful to prayer would soon be replaced all over Bangladesh by the sound of blowing conch-shells ( a part of Hindu rituals). In the runup to the 2001 elections however, Ms. Zia has visited the Dhakeswari (Guardian Goddess of Dacca) temple for the first time, and has assured all protection to the Hindus.
In spite of the Awami League being the best bet for the beleaguered Hindus of Bangladesh, persecution of Hindus has certainly not abated in Bangladesh, as has been seen in Chapter 9. The latest position is available at the websites of www.mayerdak.com or www.hrcbm.org. There are few pogroms now of course, but a large number of isolated incidents all over rural Bangladesh of intense pressure on Hindus to sell their land for a pittance and go away to India. There is also pressure to give their daughters in marriage to Muslims. There are robberies on Hindu property, with the police taking little or no action. There is verbal persecution in calling the Hindus Malaun (an Arabic term, meaning 'accursed'), and in constantly reminding them that this is not their country, that they had better go away to India. And there is persecution of Hindu women : catcalls, obscene gestures, threats, molestation and rape.
If this is the condition of Hindus under the relatively benevolent, Hindu-friendly Awami League rule, one can very well imagine what it would be under the Islamic Oikya Jote (Islamic Coalition, consisting of BNP, Jamaat, and several other small parties) rule. The conclusion is clear : as things seem to be at present and in the foreseeable future, the Bangladeshi government, of whatever colour, cannot be relied upon to look after its Hindus and give them a reasonable measure of security.
Now we come to the second alternative : the Indian government taking more than a little interest in the welfare of Bangladeshi Hindus, and using necessary pressure on Bangladesh to ensure their security. It would be apparent at first sight that this proposition is in complete antithesis to the legalistic view earlier taken, namely that Bangladeshi Hindus are foreign nationals in a foreign country, and India cannot interfere in their affairs. This is the view that was canvassed to justify India's inaction in the face of Pakistani bestialities of 1950. This view is in complete negation of the reality of Hindu-Muslim equations in the subcontinent, and the time has come to snap out of this Nehruvian delusion.
Why is this called a delusion? Because any insecurity that Hindus may be subjected in Eastern Bengal will immediately result in an exodus into India. As said earlier, apart from being the nation with the largest Hindu population in the world, India is the natural refuge of Hindus all over the world, and any Hindu feeling insecure anywhere - Uganda, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Fiji or Bangladesh will run to India. India, therefore cannot, and should not, remain indifferent to their plight, and has to apply pressure on the country where such Hindus are feeling insecure. Such pressure can take the form of normal diplomatic pressure, commercial and financial pressure, involving third countries, involving the UNHCR and so on, down to some arms-rattling.
Now on to the third, and disagreeable alternative : can or should India contend that in the face of insecurity of Hindus in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, India cannot ensure the security of its own Muslim citizens? Can the pressure extend so far?
It cannot be denied that this extension would be a very logical outcome. Put very simply, if Muslim-majority Bangladesh cannot ensure the security of its Bengali Hindu minority, how can Hindu-majority India be expected to ensure the security of the Muslim minority? And why should it be so expected?
The answer to this simple question is also very simple : life is not logic, life is experience. Granted that it would be very logical to do unto the Indian Muslim minority what Pakistan or Bangladesh did to their Hindu, Buddhist or Christian minorities, Hindu India will not do it, cannot do it. Because Hindus are not in the habit of doing it, because it goes against the very nature of the country, the Hindu ethos, the Hindu experience. Because Hindus are Hindus, and if that means that they are illogical, soft, even cowardly, then so be it. The Muslim minority will continue to live in India without fear or favour, as proud citizens of multi-religious India, as will the minority Christians, the Zoroastrians, the few Jews that are still left in this country, incidentally one of the few in the world that has known no anti-Semitism, ever. Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains of course had their religion born in this country, and they are not minorities at all in the sense the others are.
To put it differently, Hindu India will proudly tell the world that no matter what happens, it refuses to persecute its minority, or even to threaten to persecute them.
On the other hand, a caveat : just as Hindu India will not persecute its minorities, it must also not go to the opposite extreme, a typical Hindu failing. It must not bend over backwards to please the minorities because they vote in a block, and give them undue favours - in other words it must not, in a roundabout way, persecute its majority, something which is possible in the world only in Hindu India. It must not countenance extra-territorial loyalties within the country in the name of putting up with religious nuances of minorities. It must not countenance persecution of Hindu minorities elsewhere, especially Bangladesh, because Hindus everywhere are India's business, no matter what the legalities are. It must, under no circumstances, let its demographic composition be altered, even locally, through infiltration or widely dissimilar birth rates. It must remain a democratic country, a civilised country, a tolerant country, a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multilingual country - but a country, one country, one strong country. And the only way to ensure that is to ensure that India remains an overwhelmingly Hindu country.
[iii][i] Beyond Belief : Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples, by V.S.Naipaul, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, India, 1st Penguin Ed. 1998, p. 1.
[iv][ii] Among the Believers : An Islamic Journey, by V.S.Naipaul, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1st Ed., 1981