No more violence in the name of religion
I grew up in a mixed family—my father was a practising Hindu and my mother was a practising Muslim. Even today, if somebody asks me about my religion, I fail to identify as just one of them; I am both, and definitely not one over the other. I grew up in Dhaka city at a time (1980-1990) when democracy was more under threat than religion. So, during my childhood years, I experienced a beautiful confluence of two faiths. My mother's family loved their Hindu jamai (son-in-law), and my father's family loved their Muslim bou (daughter-in-law). It was never an issue in our household whether we were celebrating Eid or Puja. We had the blessings of celebrating and enjoying both, without anyone raising any complaint about our celebrations.
Growing up in a mixed household gave me enough understanding about both religions, and I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to see and experience the beauty in both faiths. I have many Muslim and Hindu friends in and from Bangladesh, and never in my life have I had the feeling that they had any issue with my religious background. I know the recent violence in Bangladesh on Hindu communities during Durga Puja is a stark opposite of the confluence of religions that I experienced in Bangladesh. Therefore, I feel obliged to write to both my Hindu and Muslim communities.
To my Hindu community
Since 1947, the Indian subcontinent has experienced a lot of religious violence. The "divide and rule" principle of the British rulers worked well on us, and the religious people that had lived together amicably for centuries suddenly found a new weapon to kill each other. It is indeed sad, but understand that violence is the display of fear and weakness of extremists who just wait for occasions to harm the innocent. Is it okay? No. Should a country like Bangladesh tolerate it? Again, no. However, can it happen? Yes, it can, and it will continue to happen if the majority does not take a stand against it. Statistically, any country will have at least 2.5 percent of the population who lean towards extremism. The 2.5 percent of about 165 million people in Bangladesh would be more than four million, which is indeed a large number. So, yes, any minority group living in Bangladesh is at relatively high risks. However, I would say the risks or challenges of living in Bangladesh are also high for many other reasons—e.g. non-religious crimes and road accidents. Is the risk due to your religion more threatening than the other reasons? No, not at all.
So, please do not consider leaving Bangladesh fearing that your security is compromised because of the recent events. Living in Bangladesh has never been fully safe. I hope no one has forgotten the 2016 terror attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, which happened in a privileged neighbourhood of the city to an apparent majority group by another majority group (as they identified themselves as such).
To my Muslim community
I know the majority of you do not support violence against minority communities. However, not supporting violence is one thing, and staying silent and not standing up for your Hindu friends is another. Keeping silent is a crime in itself. Bangladesh has long observed and tolerated many crimes against minority groups, and the minority population in the country is decreasing at an alarming rate. If you do not stand up for your Hindu brothers and sisters now, those extremists I described previously will one day come after you. If you want your family to be safe and not be harmed by your neighbours, then please speak up, stand up for your minority friends and neighbours, and say out loud that you are there for them, and they are not alone. It is not the time to tolerate the heinous crimes that have been committed in the name of religion.
To the extremists
I would say that Bangladesh is now in a far better shape to take action against the extremists. The digitisation initiative by the current government has made crimes and criminals much more visible than before. So, do not even think that you can get away by committing a crime against humanity. Our prime minister has demonstrated her intolerance against crimes and criminals time and again; I believe that she will ensure that justice prevails.
To the general population
Religion is a personal interpretation of an individual. Because there are nearly eight billion people in the world, there can theoretically be eight billion interpretations of different belief systems. If someone has a lousy understanding of religious rules, I don't think it is fair to take it out on the entire religion. Religion itself is generally good; it is always the followers and what they do to follow their own religion that turn it bad. I can safely say that neither Islam nor Hinduism supports violence. Those who support violence are not more religious; they are just trying to diminish the humanity of the majority. It is the need of the hour that we become human first, then a Hindu or a Muslim.
The world has just started to recover from a global pandemic. Covid-19 has shown us that united we stand, and divided we fall. The British left us 70 years ago—we don't need to follow their legacy of division anymore. Let's prove to the world as a nation that breaking walls down should be the new norm, not building them; a fresh reality of harmony, peace, and compassion should be our goal going forward.
Sudipa Sarker is an assistant professor of business development and technology at Aarhus University, Denmark. The author acknowledges the support of Sharmin Ahmed in writing this article.