Saturday, November 04, 2006

I shout ...

Naeem Mohaiemen is a filmmaker and media artist based in Dhaka and New York.

In his blog, and in an article in The Daily Star, he has written about being a “minority” in Bangladesh.

I salute Naeem’s sensitive heart, his conscience, and his rage at the apathy and inhumanity of his fellow countrymen.

Naeem writes:

My uncle used to tell the story of the maulana who stood in front of a temple in 1940s Noakhali, using his body to defy those who wanted to burn alive the Hindus who had been their former neighbors. This is in Noakhali of all places, a blight in 1940s partition narratives for so many examples of brutality, including the apocryphal story of Muslims who slaughtered Gandhi's goat (is it true? I have never been able to find any evidence). If that village elder found an interpretation of religion that taught compassion, how are we in this backwards trap fifty years on?

He concludes his article with the cry:

I shout at all of you with rage, because I refuse to accept a haven for me that is a nightmare for others. There is still time to stop this with our words, our actions and our bodies.

Did we want this Bangladesh?

Sadly, I find myself in a similar position here in India, in West Bengal, where the Muslim minority languishes, is reviled, manipulated and used, and their dreams and dignity crushed under the prejudice and apathy of my countrymen.

So it was gratifying to read Annu’s comment on Naeem’s blog, which I reproduce here.

"Unfortunately, this is true of West Bengal too. Even if people refuse to acknowledge it, the childhood taunts against minorities transform themselves into open discrimination in adulthood. Recently, when my father and sister went flat-hunting in Kolkata, one of the owners said ‘this is a good decent building, we don’t rent out to Muslims or Christians’ maybe assuming from my sister’s Hindu name ‘Savitri’ that we were Hindus. Increasingly, Muslims in West Bengal are using non-Islamic names such as ‘Gulabi’, ‘Sonali’ to ‘pass off’ and not be discriminated against by the Hindu majority.

Of course what also adds to discrimination in West Bengal is caste and one’s rural origin. When I stayed in the Sundarbans, I was surprised to find that the few successful relatives of people living there had changed their rural and low-caste surnames - such as ‘Pod’, ‘Aulia’, ‘Majhi’, ‘Pramanik’ - to ‘appropriate’ Brahman-Kayastha ones. I also found that school teachers there had forcefully changed the names of Hindu children with ‘Muslim’ names such as Ghazi and Jorina. When I asked why, I was told that their parents didn’t know the difference between Hindu and Muslim names and had ‘mistakenly’ named their children and it was their duty to rectify the ‘faults’ of these rustics.

More recently, when I went back to Bangladesh (after 10 years), I was surprised to note how this time people obsessively asked me my religion. When I refused to answer I was asked my name. This was as much in Dhaka as in little villages. And to think that barely a hundred years ago, many of the villagers of southern Bengal did not know whether they were Hindu or Muslim (if you look at the early censuses it is fascinating to note how in some years people categorised themselves as ‘Muslims’ and in some others as ‘Hindus’ – even O’Malley remarks on this!!)."

Thank you Annu for pointing this out. I think I know this Annu! She wrote last year about how the West Bengal govt betrayed the East Bengal refugees and the poor and marginalised.

Read Sandip Bandopadhyay's article on caste in West Bengal here.

1 comment:

irving said...

A sad commentary that is repeated in many countries that consider themselves cililized, including the US. May God help us all.

Ya Haqq!