In his book ‘Thy Hand, Great Anarch! India 1921-1952’ Nirad C. Chaudhuri alludes to a Hindu-Muslim riot in the 18th century and says, “In 1729, when the Mughal Empire was breaking up and Mohammad Shah was Emperor, there was a notorious Hindu-Muslim riot in Delhi, which has passed into history… At the request of the Emperor the Grand Vizir himself, Qamar-Ud-din khan Itimad-ud-daulah, went down to Jami Mosque to quell the riots, but all he could do was to stand helplessly near the north gate…” With the tumultuous and gory days of Partition of India in 1947, one would have thought to see an end to those days. But, this was far from being true in the case of Pakistan and then post-1971 Bangladesh.
‘Dawn’, the largest and the oldest surviving newspaper in today’s Pakistan, quoted Jinnah on March 1, 1946, saying, “In Pakistan, We will do all in our power to see that everybody can get a decent living.” Even the Urdu advertisement of the Muslim League in 1946 went like this: “Muslim League tamam kamzor jama’aton ke huq chahti hai!” (The Muslim League unequivocally demands the rights of the underprivileged.) This must-have lured many, like the towering Dalit Hindu leader Jogendranath Mondal, into believing in a peaceful Pakistan. However, from Jinnah to Liaquat Ali, Ayub Khan to Yahya Khan’s ‘operation searchlight’ in 1971 or even after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in independent Bangladesh, Hindus in that part of the subcontinent have always suffered the grunts of the majority community. This legacy of subordinating the minority Hindus continued even in 21st century Bangladesh, which is even more alarming because this country professed to be ‘secular’ in nature after its creation.
The migration of the Hindu populace from East Bengal (East Pakistan after 1947) started immediately after the Noakhali riots in the second week of October 1946. Gopal Halder wrote in a magazine Porichay, “Even after Gandhiji’s appeals, most of them were not ready to go back. Where more than 80 per cent are against us, they argued, how can we risk our lives on the assurances of mere 20 per cent?” In 1946, Noakhali had a population of 22.15 lakhs where the Muslims were a clear majority with 16.83 lakhs as against 4.11 lakhs Hindus. So, any communal riot would have been numerically horrendous for the Hindu populace of Noakhali and even the adjoining places of East Bengal. An anonymous letter published in Deshapriya, a popular newspaper from Barisal, clearly stated that “it was the fear of conversion that compelled the Hindus to flee their homes.”
Then came the dreadful days of 1964. The headline of a newspaper report published in Amrita Bazar Patrika on February 11, 1964, reads ‘Recent East Pakistan carnage worse than Noakhali riots’. The report refers to this as an “organised carnage”. This was completely different from the Noakhali riot in terms of carnage and governmental indifference, and structural crisis created by the political authorities. Interestingly enough, the entire episode of the Prophet’s sacred relic missing from the Hazratbal Shrine proved to be a rumour, and it was found in its original place.
The creation of Bangladesh in 1971 should be seen as the culmination of a long drawn chronological journey commencing in 1947 or possibly even in 1905. However, one can’t deny that what began as a cultural revolution emphasising a linguistic freedom from the Islamic (Urdu) clutches of West Pakistan could hardly remain secular in nature, at least in terms of West Pakistan’s communal vengeance. This period of Liberation was arguably the time when nearly two lakhs Hindu women were molested, abducted and raped. Bina D’Costa, Australian–Bangladeshi Academic writes, “It was this deeply engrained idea that Pakistani Muslims were the vanguard of the nation- that they were born to rule the new state and to ‘instruct’ the Bengalis on how to become ideal members of the nation- that was largely responsible for the indiscriminate killing of Hindus and the mass rape of Bengali women.”
In 2016, there were as many as 30 well planned deadly attacks on the Hindu populace in several districts like Kusthia, Natore, Pabna, Dhaka and many others. One wonders if there is an end to the systemic repression of Hindus going on since 1947 in that part of the subcontinent
A copy of the supplementary report of The Hamoodur Rahman Commission was produced in the online edition of ‘India Today’ on August 21, 2000. It is worth mentioning that Hamoodur Rahman was a Bengali chief justice of Pakistan and former Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University. His report clearly describes the gory sight of communal violence in 1971, which partially eclipses the secular nature of the Liberation war. One can find the tales of atrocities in the second chapter of part 5 of this report. Here I quote a couple of lines from the report to show the nature of communal violence: “The statements appearing in the evidence of Lt. Col. Aziz Ahmed Khan (witness no 276) who was commanding officer of 8 Baluch and then CO 86 Mujahid Battalion are also directly relevant… General Niazi visited my unit at Thakargaon and Bogra. He asked us how many Hindus we had killed. In May there was an order in writing to kill Hindus. This order was from Brigadier Abdullah Malik of 23 Brigade.”
Nothing has changed since then. Despite the fact that Bangladesh was declared to be a People’s Republic in 1971 rather than an Islamic state, political compulsion from all corners brought forth the fundamentalism inherent in pro-Pakistani parties. Even Mujib had to bring back the same Islamic Academy in 1975 that he had abolished in 1972. In fact, since the formation of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party by Ziaur Rahman, Hindus in Bangladesh have been compelled to live as subservient, either by violent force or cultural hegemony. Ziaur Rahman even considered the famous slogan ‘Jay Bangla’ un-Islamic. After the assassination of Mujib in 1975, Bangladesh had witnessed a long period of military rule that only ended in December 1990.
What we are witnessing in Bangladesh for the last few days is a standard modus operandi of Hindu repression exercised at regular intervals. It was even more brutal after the 2001 election. Even the Awami League has not been successful enough in restraining this unbridled communal tension. For instance, just in 2016, there were as many as 30 well planned deadly attacks on the Hindu populace in several districts like Kusthia, Natore, Pabna, Dhaka and many others. The attack on the ISKCON temple in Bangladesh’s Noakhali during this year’s Durga puja only reminds us of the Noakhali massacre in 1946. Time has given birth to a new nation in 1971, albeit without any security of minority Hindus in Bangladesh. One wonders if there is an end to the systemic repression of Hindus going on since 1947 in that part of the subcontinent.