03/08/2013, 00.00
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Violence in Bangladesh, born of its partition and fueled by sectarianism

by Ram Puniyani
The attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh perpetrated by supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami have deep roots: they were born from the division of the subcontinent and the verdicts of the courts of the war were the fuse. This is the analysis of the activist of the All India Secular Forum.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The partition between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has a long and painful history that refuses toile down  even after more than 60 years and has its most serious consequences in the sectarianism that is still exploited for religious and political purposes. This is, in summary, the theme of an intervention by Ram Puniyani, social activist of the All India Secular Forum, reflecting the recent violence in Bangladesh. Below we publish the full text of his analysis.

The acts of violence led by the Islamists, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) are tormenting our neighboring Bangladesh, with more than 50 dead, injuries and the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples amongst other losses. It is spilling over and also being felt in Kolkata to some extent (Feb-March 2013). In Kolkata a strong crowd owing allegiance to Muslim communalism, different organizations like Minority Youth Federation, and others went on rampage. All this in response to the death sentence given to Delawar Hossian Sayedee, the Vice President of JI by a war crimes tribunal after he was found guilty for mass killing, rape and atrocities during the nine month war against Pakistan.  

He is the third JI leader to have been convicted of crimes during the Muktijuddha (liberation war) of 1971 of the then East Pakistan people's resistance against the atrocities of Pakistan's army.  The Sheikh Hasina Government has set up the tribunal for the last three years and now the verdicts of the tribunal are being handed down. Currently in Bangladesh a large number of youth, believing in democracy are demanding stricter action through protest at Shahbagh against those who were hands in glove with the Pakistani army while Jamaat wings are out on streets opposing the sentence to those found guilty of  the 1971 liberation war. In India the Jamaat-Islami has also opposed the Shahbag movement and is opposed to punishing the JI elements that are guilty of 1971 war crimes. JI was opposed to the 1971 liberation war led by Mukti Bahini under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and supported by most of the people from Bangladesh. The attack by the Pakistani army led to the killing of nearly three million people, the rape of nearly 200 thousand women, by rough estimates. During this period East Pakistan's intellectuals and many political activists were murdered.

The tragedy of partition has a long and painful history, which is refusing to die down even now more than six decades after the painful event. India was partitioned along strange lines, Pakistan in the name of Islam and India as a secular democracy, apparently to solve the communal problem. The British have left a long and painful legacy of politics in the name of religion, violence in the name of religion, which is continuing to dog the sub-continent. The twin pillars of success of British policy of 'divide and rule' were the persistence of feudal classes, in the face of rising industrialization and the deliberate British ploy to recognize the Muslim League as the representatives of Indian Muslims right since its formation in 1906. The Muslim League was initially formed by the declining sections of Muslim Nawabas, landlords, and later was joined by the section of Muslim educated classes and elite. It in no way represented Indian Muslims. Similarly the Hindu Mahasabha, the body parallel to Muslim League, came up from amongst the Hindu Rajas, Jamindars and later joined in by the section of educated classes and elite castes. Their agenda was totally opposed to the one of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which was the foundation of freedom of movement of the country.

There are lot of parallels between both these communal streams (Muslim and Hindu), they joined hands in forming coalition ministries in Sindh and Bengal just before the partition, they kept aloof from freedom of movement and opposed the social transformation of caste and gender relations in society. Their lip service to some social reforms notwithstanding, they stuck to the status quo in matters pertaining to social norms and political relations.

After partition Pakistan (East and West) came to be dominated by the West Pakistan economic and political elite who occupied important positions in the army, bureaucracy, economy and polity. In the elections held in 1970 the Awami League (East Pakistan) led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman swept the polls, and emerged as the majority party in Pakistan. However, the army backed by Zulfiqar Bhutto did not permit the formation of an Awami League Government. Here one can see the difference between religion and politics. While Islam calls for 'all men as bothers' the politics in the name of Islam coming from the Pakistani regime, discriminated not only against people of other religions, Hindus in particular, but also against other Muslims. Muslims of East Pakistan were being dominated and suppressed by the dominant 'Muslims' of West Pakistan.

With the Awami League being denied the formation of Government and in the absence of democratic channels of protest, alienation grew in East Pakistan and Mujibur Rahman launched a civil disobedience movement. Massive protests erupted all over in East Pakistan and the Pakistani army, cracked down on its own citizens. In East Pakistan, the army unleashed a reign of terror; murders and rapes. Hindus and Muslims were both targeted. The citizens from East Pakistan were regarded as enemies and rampage went on till the Mukti Bahini, with the help of the Indian Army succeeded in defeating the Pakistani army to declare the formation of People's Republic of Bangladesh.

The formation of Bangladesh decisively and irrefutably proved the futility of the theory that Nations are synonymous with religions, that religion can be the basis of nationalism. The 'Two Nation theory' that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations met its graveyard in the formation of Bangladesh. Still the communal elements were not wiped out from the country and they do keep coming up now and then. We saw the response of Muslim communalists from Bangladesh when they wanted to march to India, in response to the demolition of Babri mosque. The plight of minorities in Bangladesh is pathetic. Many of the Hindus and Muslims became refugees and came to different parts of the country. Part of this contributed to the Hindu communalist's propaganda and creation of scare about Bangladeshi immigrants. The issue of sub continental politics has been presented on communal lines.  

Sixty years down the line the seeds of communal politics which came up from the declining sections of landlords, were given an ideological veneer by a section of elite-upper castes, and were cleverly nurtured by the British. As such actually it was these communal elements that fed in to the British policy of 'divide and rule' and led to partition of the country. In the three countries which emerged in the subcontinent, the degree of communal poison today  is of course very different in intensity. Pakistan suffered most at the hands of colonial-imperialist powers, the minorities there, Hindus and Christians are suffering intimidation all the time. In Pakistan the army has become the ally of communal forces and keeps opposing the democratic aspirations of large sections of society. In Bangladesh, the democratically rooted parties have to face opposition from the communal elements.

India, not to be left behind is being gradually weekend by the Hindu communalists, who have been harping on about the identity issue like Ram Temple. They have given a communal hue to the 'left over' problems of colonial rule. Bangladesh is seen as the source of infiltrators, despite the fact that the poor Hindus and Muslims who fled the country in 1971 had to leave to escape the brutality of the Pakistani army. Kashmir, which again is a leftover colonial parting kick supplemented by the ultra-nationalism of Pakistan-India on one side and communalism on the other. Tragically this issue is also seen through the Hindu and Muslim prism alone.

Thus all three countries in the subcontinent have to grapple with this communal demon. The biggest 'success' of communalists has been their ability to obfuscate the difference between religion and politics, cutting across the religious divides. Criticizing these communalists can easily give you a label of being against that religion. Does it need a rethink on the part of the democratic people of these countries to collaborate with each other to bury the demon of communalism, politics in the name of religion? Will the communalists, who are dominating the scene in India, or Pakistan or Bangladesh let it happen? The communalists are adept at creating the tempest of hysteria in the name of their religions, and intensely beating their breast at how the secular democratic efforts are a threat to their 'religion'. The task to save or promote democracy in the subcontinent is a mammoth one. Can those elements yearning for a freedom and democracy in the sub-continent come together on this agenda?  


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