By Piya Mayenin
Extreme views have seen deaths of freethinkers in Bangladesh since 2013. Over the last few years news of Hindus and Buddhists and their temples and shrines being attacked in Bangladesh has also dominated Bangladeshi and even international newspapers. Earlier this year a shocking atrocity where foreigners and foreign born children of Bangladeshi citizens were hacked to death in a café in ISIS fashion killings is perhaps the most chilling and terrifying of its sort to ever happen in Bangladesh. From the onset of Hindu Diwaali this year news of temples and idolatries destroyed dominated newspapers once again. Then, last week was the news of a young man that has allegedly shared a face book post that some believe has denigrated the Masjid- Al-Haram, the great mosque of Makka, a holy site for Muslims.
Islamic group protesters gathered in Nasirnagar in protest and demanded the death of this young man who was hurting religious sentiments. The young man denied sharing this post and the police arrested him. However, this did not quell the angry mobs who were given permission to gather repeatedly. They gathered and used mosque loudspeakers to gather more and more people. They attacked Hindu people with sharp weapons including Hindu priests, burned down Hindu homes in the Brahmanbaria district of Eastern Bangladesh temples and idolatries were broken down throughout many parts of Bangladesh from Nasirnagar to Chattak. It is reminiscent of 2012 when 25000 Muslim rioters burned Buddhist temples. It has been reported that the current and ongoing attacks in Hindu homes and Hindu temples has seen over 17 temples and 100 homes burned across Bangladesh. Some claim it is as much as 300 homes.
The shocking part for me was the news that a Minister allegedly reacted to this young man by publicly saying something equivalent to ‘get those Malauns‘. I have not read that report however I have read many media defending the Minister stating that members of the Awami League ( Ruling party in Bangladesh) had stated that it is perhaps a word he used in private not in public. I have also read reports of the Minister stating ‘I will resign if anyone can prove I have said Malaun‘. I believed this Minister has said this and in protest of this ongoing attacks on Hindu population in Bangladesh I changed my profile ID to a slogan ‘Ami Malaun‘, meaning I am a malaun in support of friends, brothers sisters of Bangladeshi origin who have been subject to these atrocious and this slur word throughout their lifetime. Since then another thing that has happened is that I have had unsolicited approach from unknown people (who were on my face book list but not known to me personally) telling me to ‘Take it off’ and that I ‘should be mature about it’. On seeing the same message on my ID, I replied there that it was in protest of what the Minister allegedly said and even if he didn’t it was in support of this ongoing hatred against the decreasing Hindu population of Bangladesh since 1975. However I continued to get private in-box messages that were ‘educating me’ from the same individual and others who were asking me if I knew what Malaun meant and that I should take it down without asking my reasons for putting it up in the first place.
As a human being, I felt it was utterly disrespectful the tone and manner of ‘educating’ me. As a mother of three, two that are teenagers and as an educated individual, I found it alarming, surprising and patronising. As a woman I knew that a large male population feel that they are entitled to educate the woman, the lesser being, in this patronising manner.
If I was approached respectfully I would have had the mindset to communicate the following:
The word Malaun is a term derived from Arabic which means ‘accursed’ or ‘deprived of God’s mercy’. It is commonly used by Bangladeshi Muslims and Muslims of Bengal to ethnically slur a Hindu. If this is said by a Minister of a Country, be it in a slip of tongue or to incite violence then it must be protested.
There are some who suggest that this is a manipulation by the current government in order to create tensions and communal violence, while it flies over my head why any government would do that we should remember that attacks on minorities in South Asian countries are not unknown and religious sentiments are incensed to provoke atrocities on minorities. In Bangladesh Hindus are the second largest religion although only 8% of the population. Further please recall the communal violence that has a history of thousands of years in these countries.
Initially the invaders brought trade and the spread of Islam to Hindu and Buddhist region, not to mention the other tribal religions that existed and still exist in those regions. Then invasion in a the temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh when Mahmud of Ghazni came down the Indus plains from Afghanistan and plundered Hindu temples of gold jewellery and money. By 1024 he returned and went all the way to somnaath, now known as Gujrat and plundered more with feeble resistance from Hindus who thought that the lord Shiva had punished them. According to historians 50,000 Hindus were killed and temples were destroyed to the ground. Then came the Muizzu’Din of Turkey in 12th century and the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century and Tughluqs in the 14th, and Timur in 1398 who is said to have seen 5 million deaths. Other names not to forget in Bengal is Alauddin Khilji the early 13th century and Hazrat Shahjalal from Delhi who arrived in Sylhet in 1303 with 360 disciples. A dispute with Gaur Gabindh created a fight which he won. The tensions continued in the Mughal era being the descendants of Timur and Genghis Khan. It was the 16th century Akber the Great who brought a long and ushered Golden Age. He married a Hindu princess and appointed Hindu ministers and this golden era was somewhat undone by Aurangazeb 1658- 1707. However, even during these times Hindus and the growing Muslim population managed to live, on the whole, harmoniously. It is reported by Indian psychoanalyst and author Sudhir Kakur that ‘It was a multicultural co-existence rather than any merger into a single, composite culture.’ I explain that as Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and other religions were getting along with each other and accepting each others ethnic similarities and their religious differences.
The modern violence and it must be said that no other violence that flared up was the one that did during the British rule in India. Despite of Mahatma Ghandi’s attempt to unite, the demand to split up Pakistan and India on the basis of religion from Mohammed Ali Jinnah giving it a two state solution was never a solution as communal violence continued between India and Pakistan. What more West Pakistan which was over a 10000 miles away from East Pakistan and very intolerant and non accepting of Bengali people who were culturally linguistically different. Bengali’s had a history and language of thousands of years and thus were not ‘Muslim’ enough and not clean enough for the rulers of Pakistan based on religion. This was the backdrop of the independence of East Pakistan which is now Bangladesh.
The point of this extremely brief history is that this attitude has not changed. Generation after generation an inherent ignorance and hatred of each others’ religion has continued. The same loot and attacks over religious rhetoric. It is astonishing that large groups are given permission to gather in this way in full knowledge of communal violence of south Asia and which is increasingly happening in Bangladesh. A Hindu person commented that even in 1971 Nasirnagar was a safe place for Hindus.
It is the responsibility of the leaders of a nation to change this rhetoric and to change this scene and to change it now. It does not happen overnight but the permission to gather over communal rows must be stopped. It is despicable that a Minister is implicated in all this and that is why whether he said it or not he should resign. The use of slurring word such as ‘malaun’ must be banned and a fine imposed so that eventually people learn to live within the law.
History of other developed nations has demonstrated that within time peoples attitudes and vision change. Allowing communal tensions to fester and giving in to violence is an easy and an extremely dangerous option which is hovering over the head of every Bangladeshi person especially Hindus.
For a country that prides in its secular democratic vision, in practice very little is done to bring about unity and cohesion and tolerance in Bangladesh. A successful nation is one where it is fine to be different. Every evil in the Human world seems to stem from the intolerance of difference which often renders injustice to the minorities. When it is truly learned in Bangladesh that progressive nations work toward harmony though allowing everyone to live under the rule of Law with their own beliefs and with equal dignity.
The author is a solicitor, a women’s rights activists and a member of community women’s blog who speak for the rights of all community women and men.