Book Title: Being Hindu in Bangladesh
Author: Deep Halder and Avishek Biswas
One of Asia’s youngest nations, Bangladesh had a blood-soaked birth in 1971. A genocide by the Pakistani military claimed an estimated 30 lakh lives and displaced crores of people; lakhs of women were reportedly raped. It took a liberation war, which the Indian defence forces fought together with the Mukti Bahini, to vanquish the oppressors. Most of the Hindu victims crossed over to India, though many of them returned to their homeland after the war. This book, which is about the Hindu minority community in Bangladesh, has been written by the ‘sons and grandsons of refugees’.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, had a vision for the new nation: “This country does not belong to Hindus. This country does not belong to Muslims. Whoever thinks this country is theirs, this country will be theirs. Whoever will feel happiness seeing this country prosper, this country will be theirs. Whoever will cry seeing this country sad, this country will be theirs. This country will also belong to those who have given away everything for this country’s freedom and would do so in the future.”
Mujibur’s grand dream was brutally crushed when he was assassinated along with most of his family members on August 15, 1975, during a military coup. The next decade and a half saw Bangladesh bearing the brunt of military dictatorship. Subsequently, democracy was restored, but the nation’s journey has been tough in recent decades due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the anti-minority (and anti-India) sentiment whipped up by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. It is a matter of concern that the country’s Hindu population has come down from 13.5 per cent in 1974 to 7.9 per cent in 2022. Also, there are reports that many Hindus have moved to India over the past decade or so.
Amid the challenges, the country has done well in terms of political stability and economic growth. Mujibur’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, who was in West Germany when her family was massacred, recently began a record fifth term as Prime Minister. Her party, the Bangladesh Awami League, has been in power without a break since 2009. It comfortably won the January 7 national elections, which were boycotted by the Khaleda Zia-led BNP and witnessed allegations of human rights violations and electoral malpractices.
Though the Awami League government has been largely non-communal, sporadic attacks on the minority community are still being reported, exemplified by the violence during the Durga Puja celebrations in 2021. The onus is on Hasina to safeguard Bangladesh’s secular and syncretic identity, as envisaged by her father. Strengthening relations with India and dealing deftly with China are imperatives on the diplomatic and economic fronts.
The book charts the turbulent history of a region/nation that became ‘East Bengal’ with the Partition in 1947, was renamed ‘East Pakistan’ in 1955 and snatched its freedom from West Pakistan in 1971 to become Bangladesh. It is commendable that Bangladesh has learnt a few lessons not only from its own past but also from that of Pakistan, which has largely proved to be a failed nation. Though a prolonged one-party rule may not be ideal for a democracy to flourish, Bangladesh is certainly better off in the hands of a ruler who is apparently determined to perpetuate Mujibur’s legacy. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency. The treatment meted out by Pakistan to its minorities should spur Bangladesh to shun this perilous course. It’s up to this promising nation to do course correction whenever required and realise the dream of its founder.