By Ram Puniyani
07 March, 2013
The acts of violence led by the Islamists, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) are tormenting our neighbouring Bangla Desh, more than 50 dead, injuries and destruction of Hindu, Buddha temples amongst other losses. Its spill over is also being felt in Kolkata to some extent (Feb-March 2013). In Kolkata a strong crowd owing allegiance to Muslim communalism, different organizations like Minority Youth Federation, and others went on rampage. All this in response to the death sentence given to Delawar Hossian Sayedee, the Vice President of JI by a war crimes tribunal after he was found guilty for mass killing, rape and atrocities during the nine month war against Pakistan.
He is the third office bearers of JI to have been convicted of the crimes during Muktijuddha (liberation war) of 1971 of the then East Pakistan people’s resistance against the atrocities of Pakistan army. Sheikh Hasina Government has set up the tribunal from last three years and now the verdicts of the tribunal are being handed down. Currently in Bangla Desh a large number of youth, believing in democracy are demanding stricter action through protest at Shahbagh against those who were hands in glove with Pakistan army while Jamaat wings are out on streets opposing the sentence to the guilty of 71 liberation war. In India also the Jamaat-Islami has opposed the Shahbag movement and is opposed to punishing the JI elements that are guilty of 1971 war crimes. JI was opposed to the 1971 liberation war led by Mukti Bahini under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and supported by most of the people from Bangla Desh. The attack by Pakistan army led to the killing of nearly three million people, rape of nearly 200000 women, by rough estimates. During this period the East Pakistan’s intellectuals and many political workers were done to death.
The tragedy of partition has a long and painful tale, which is refusing to die down even now more than six decades after the painful event. India was partitioned on the strange ground, Pakistan in the name of Islam and India as a secular democracy, apparently to solve the communal problem. British have left a long and painful legacy of politics in the name of religion, violence in the name of religion, which is continuing to dog the sub-continent. The twin pillars of success of British policy of ‘divide and rule’ were the persistence of feudal classes, in the face of rising industrialization and the deliberate British ploy to recognize Muslim League as the representatives of Indian Muslims right since its formation in 1906. Muslim League was initially formed by the declining sections of Muslim Nawabs, Landlords and later was joined by the section of Muslim educated classes and elite. In no way it represented Indian Muslims. Similarly the Hindu Mahasabha, the body parallel to Muslim League, came up from amongst the Hindu Rajas, Jamindars and later joined in by the section of educated classes and elite castes. Their agenda was totally opposed to the one of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which was the foundation of freedom movement of the country.
There are lot of parallels between both these communal streams (Muslim and Hindu), they could join hands in forming coalition ministries in Sindh and Bengal just before the partition, they kept aloof from freedom movement and opposed the social transformation of caste and gender relations of the society. Their lip service to some social reforms notwithstanding, they stuck to the status quo in matters pertaining to social norms and political relations.
After partition the Pakistan (East and West) came to be dominated by the West Pakistan economic and political elite who occupied important positions in the army, bureaucracy, economy and polity. In the elections held in 1970 the Awami League (East Pakistan) led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman swept the polls, and emerged as the majority party in Pakistan. Still, army backed by Zulfiqar Bhutto did not permit the formation of Awami League Government. Here one can see the difference between religion and politics. While Islam calls for ‘all men are bothers’ the politics in the name of Islam coming from Pakistani regime, discriminated not only against people of other religions, Hindus in particular, but also against the others Muslims. Muslims of East Pakistan were being dominated and suppressed by the dominant ‘Muslims’ of West Pakistan.
With Awami League being denied the formation of Government and in the absence of democratic channels of protest, alienation grew in East Pakistan and Mujibur Rahman launched civil disobedience movement. Massive protest erupted all over in East Pakistan and Pakistani army, cracked down on its own citizens. In East Pakistan, army unleashed a reign of terror; murders and rapes. Hindus and Muslims both were targeted. The citizens from East Pakistan were regarded as enemies and rampage went on till the Mukti Bahini, with the help of Indian Army succeeded in defeating Pakistani army to declare the formation of People’s Republic of Bangla Desh.
The formation of Bangla Desh decisively and irrefutable proved the futility of the theory that Nations are synonymous with religions, that religion can be the basis of nationalism. The ‘Two Nation theory’ that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations met its graveyard in the formation of Bangla Desh. Still the communal elements were not wiped out from the country and they do keep coming up now and then. We had also noticed the response of Muslim Communalists from Bangla Desh when they wanted to march to India, in response to the demolition of Babri mosque. The plight of minorities in Bangla Desh is pathetic. Many of the Hindus and Muslims became refugees and came to different parts of the country. Part of this contributed to the Hindu communalist’s propaganda and creation of scare about Bangla Deshi immigrants. The issue of sub continental politics has been presented on communal lines.
Sixty years down the line the seeds of communal politics which came up from the declining sections of landlords, were given ideological veneer by section of elite-upper castes, and were cleverly nurtured by the British. As such actually it was these communal elements that fed in to the British policy of ‘divide and rule’ and led to partition of the country. In the three countries which emerged in the subcontinent, the degree of communal poison today; is of course very different in intensity. Pakistan suffered maximum at the hands of colonial-imperialist powers, the minorities there, Hindus and Christians are having intimidating time. In Pakistan the army has become the ally of communal forces and keeps opposing the democratic aspirations of large sections of society. In Bangla Desh, the democratically rooted parties have to face opposition from the communal elements.
India, not to be left behind is being gradually weekend by the Hindu communalists, who have been harping on the identity issue like Ram Temple. They have given communal hue to the ‘left over’ problems of colonial rule. Bangla Desh is seen as the source of infiltrators, despite the fact that the poor Hindus and Muslims who fled the country in 1971 had to leave to escape the brutality of Pakistan army. Kashmir, which again partly is a leftover colonial parting kick supplemented by the ultra nationalism of Pakistan-India on one side and communalism on the other. Tragically this issue is also seen through the prism of Hindu and Muslim alone.
Thus all the three countries in the subcontinent have to grapple with this communal demon. To obfuscate the difference between religion and politics has been the biggest ‘success’ of communalists, cutting across the religious divides. Criticizing these communalists can easily give you a label of being against that religion. Does it need a rethink on the part of the democratic people of these countries to collaborate with each other to bury the demon of communalism, politics in the name of religion? Will communalists, who are dominating the scene in India, or Pakistan or Bangla Desh let it happen? Communalists are adept at creating the tempest of hysteria in the name of their religions, and can do the intense breast beating that the secular democratic efforts are a threat to their ‘religion. The task to save or promote democracy in the subcontinent is a mammoth one. Can those elements yearning for a freedom and democracy in the sub continent come together on this agenda?
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades. He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD.