Saturday, March 23, 2013

The shame which weighs us down

The shame which weighs us down
Ground realities by SYED BADRUL AHSAN

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star,. Wednesday, march 13, 2013


As a citizen of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, I am embarrassed that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reminded us of our responsibilities to the religious minorities in our land. I am embarrassed not because they have come in with an expression of their concerns, but because we in this country have today created the perfect conditions for our Hindus and our Christians and our Buddhists to feel unsafe once more in a land that has been home to them for centuries and for generations.
It is shame which assails me and my fellow Bengalis, for we have all along conveyed what now appears to be an untruth that ours is a land of religious harmony. I am ashamed because the harmony we speak of has actually been a reflection of the silence brought on by fear of the religious majority in Bangladesh. The silence of the minority is often, in our part of the world, a metaphor for fear. We have tried to pass off that silence as an instance of peaceful, happy coexistence between and among followers of the various faiths underpinning the geography of this country.
As a Bengali proud of his heritage, proud of being part of history that had us triumph at the end of a twilight struggle for freedom in 1971, I am ashamed that Hindu homes have been ransacked in this secular land, Hindu temples have been torched and Hindu idols have been insulted by men who have nurtured the seeds of evil planted in their souls long ago by their masters in pre-1971 Pakistan. It is my shame to turn around and observe some of my co-religionists tell me and people like me that my religion is in danger from its own followers, from the likes of me.
My embarrassment is in knowing that there are yet peddlers of fanaticism who keep denigrating my Islamic faith through humiliating, in systemic and systematic manner, those of my fellow citizens who believe in different gods and pray in different ways. That is my shame, as deep as the shame which assails those good Pakistanis who must suffer the agony of seeing the homes of their hapless Christians go up in smoke because a wicked Pakistani, a Muslim to boot, has found reason to accuse these followers of Jesus of blasphemy against Islam.
It is my shame, as a Bengali holding fast to the principles of secular politics, that neither I nor my fellow citizens have been able to save others of our fellow citizens when they have come under attack from mobs who, in the name of preserving Islam, have committed apostasy, have become heretics, through setting the images of Lord Buddha on fire, through putting to the torch centuries-old religious scriptures treasured by his followers, in Cox’s Bazar. And we still speak of religious harmony?
In the enormity of my shame, I cannot look my Hindu friends in the eye because when my Muslim co-religionists destroyed their temples and homes in Banshkhali, Joypurhat, Noakhali, Laksam and other places in a country we do not call Pakistan any more, I was unable to lift a hand or even a finger to save them from those pseudo-Muslims who have for decades brought Islam into disrepute.
My shame acquires deeper shades of worry when a section of politicians in the land, despite having wielded political power and in the interest of pushing a perfectly legitimate government from office, feel absolutely no shame in serving up the falsehood of Muslim sentiments being under threat in a country for whose liberty all Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians waged war more than four decades ago. These politicians do not hear the heart-breaking cries of Hindus whose homes have turned into cinders, whose gods have been flung from their pedestals by elements whose earlier generation killed and raped in the name of a communal state we eventually put down. These politicians, free of shame and free of conscience, do not ask my Buddhist compatriot why he does not feel at home any more in Bangladesh. They look the other way when my Christian fellow citizen cowers in fear as a fanatical mob approaches his home, to destroy it, to have him abandon it.
My shame is shame that touches the generational. My father was ashamed when his scholarly Hindu teachers in school made their way across the post-partition frontier because the land of their birth was not ready to protect them from the fanatical activists of Pakistan. My father’s generation wallowed in deep shame when Gandhi made his way to Noakhali and none among the heroic defenders of the two-nation theory did.
It was Gandhi who calmed passions in Calcutta in 1946. He did the same in Noakhali a few months later. Where were my leaders, those who told my father’s generation that Pakistan was to be a land of the pure, that the beauty of Islam would guide us into the future, in all this fire and fury engulfing the country?
They destroyed a country. They blasphemed against Islam.
It is my shame that I must watch self-styled Marxists and so-called political commentators on television go out on a limb to paint bad men in the garish colours of false respectability and say nothing about those who have borne the pain of being part of the religious minority. My shame is in knowing that men like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman do not live any more. It is in realising, almost with a start, that what he and his generation of Bengalis did to douse the flames of communal frenzy in 1964 is not about to be repeated by an equally powerful leader in 2013. The flames leap up to the skies again. The man who will tame them is nowhere to be seen.
It will be our everlasting shame if we do not keep this country away from the grasping hands of those who would destroy it brick by brick. It will be embarrassment of the deepest black if those who remember the War of Liberation do not seize the moment and take Bangladesh back to where it was on the afternoon of December 16, 1971. And that was an afternoon of celebrations of the Bengali spirit of nationalism, a moment when Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians came together to proclaim, once more, that history was theirs to shape and the land was theirs to inhabit — for all time.

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