The idea of girls kicking butt!
There is yet no news of Uttam Barua. Even a year after Islamist fanatics vandalised Buddhist temples in Ramu and other areas in the south-east of the country and weeks after the inauguration of the renovated temples by the prime minister, the young man remains missing.
The bigger surprise is that no one in the corridors of power is worried about his disappearance, about whether he is dead or alive. Only his family waits, in worry and fear. Uttam Barua’s father breaks into tears. Hardly anyone pays attention to the pain that eats away at him.
What happened to the Buddhist community last year was but a lengthening of the sinister shadows that have regularly come over the religious minorities in Bangladesh. In a free, professedly secular Bangladesh, it was not supposed to be this way, for it was Bangalee nationalism which propelled the masses, in the brief five years between 1966 and 1971, toward the attainment of a non-communal political entity. It was supposed to be a nation for all Bangalees– across caste, creed, politics and social standing.
Given what happened in Ramu, given the ferocity with which communalism is being fanned in the country, the fear holds that a land of communal harmony has lost touch with its founding principles.
The facts are revealing of the reality. The Hindu population of the country is on a decline. Something is happening, quietly and imperceptibly, to push the community out of the country, into countries beyond our frontiers. The pattern, of course, was set through the partition of 1947, when millions of Hindus and Muslims left ancestral homes because of their faith. Tens of thousands lost their lives, on the eastern and western ends of what till then constituted British-ruled India.
Thereafter, a fresh bout of communal disturbances in 1950 forced another large group of Hindus to leave East Bengal for India. In that group were some of the very best of the community — teachers, artistes, upcoming writers. In a communal Pakistan, it was made clear non-Muslims had little or no place.
Fast forward to 1964, when the chaos at the Hazratbal shrine in distant Kashmir encouraged the Ayub Khan-Monem Khan clique here in a yet to be Bangladesh to fan the flames of a fresh new communal riot. Thousands of Hindus who had braved the chaos of the 1950s did not feel confident enough to stay back in a country that had historically been home to them. They left. Among them were, once more, many of the brightest of men and women in the community. Their departure left a gaping vacuum — and a gaping wound — in our nationalistic conscience.
The India-Pakistan war of September 1965 led to a further exodus of Hindus from this land. The ruling circles of Pakistan then committed a most despicable deed — they fashioned the infamous Enemy Property Act to prevent any Hindu from legally dispensing with his possessions and moving on. In time, in Bangladesh, a euphemistic turn was given to the questionable law. It became the Vested Property Act. When today the Hindu community demands changes to the law, the bureaucracy squirms.
The legacy of communalism continues to eat away into the vitals of this nation. The country’s Christians are a depleted lot; its Buddhists, for all the renovation of temples and monasteries in Ramu and Ukhia, do not believe they can trust their Muslim neighbours or the state any more. Despite the foreign minister’s inexplicable assertion that there are no indigenous people in Bangladesh, the truth remains, and remains bitter: everything is being done to deprive our indigenous population of traditional rights to their hearths and homes and to their culture. The hills were once their home. Today the hills are a nightmare they live through.
A few days ago, a middle-aged Muslim cleric, in an enthusiastic sermon at a milad, prayed that the Almighty turn all Hindus, all Christians and all Buddhists of Bangladesh into Muslims. His audience nodded in approval.
It was a worrying sign of how history and heritage could mutate into all-encompassing fanaticism. It evoked dark memories of the destroyed Buddhas at Bamiyan at the hands of the Taliban, of the razed Kali Mandir at Suhrawardy Udyan per courtesy of the Pakistan army.