Unity in troubled times

Syed Hasibuddin Hussain


For the first time in history, our land is facing a threat of being permanently divided along the religious lines. While some progressives do squirm at the sight of tupee-daree and consider Muslim motifs unfit in our Bangalee expression, I feel that our polity by and large do not have any contradiction between the two motifs. We wear punjabee as comfortably for Eid as we do for Pahela Baishakh.

The fault line is a work in progress of the manipulators on the ignorance of both groups.

What Shahbag has taught us is that each of us hold a unique position about  the present situation. Each position has a different mix of ingredients. The primary attribute is not the previously assumed AL and anti AL division but a more fundamental one where our perception of our developing identity is at play.

The two poles are Bangalee and Muslim. All of us are a dot in  a different spot of the spectrum. I feel that a serious soul searching is needed to find where we are in order to understand how and why we differ. Expecting “Mukijuddhyer Chetona” is far from adequate to address the impending challenges.

In this fragmented time it should help to know where in our history the divide started.

Our history is riddled with examples of adoption of a strategy of divide at the time of a change of guard. The great Palas from the Eighth century were the first locals to have ruled our own polity.  During their reign they implemented Pali as the court language even when the Sanskrit flourished under the great Guptas. When the Senas took over, Sangskrit was reinstated as the court language and the populace were converted en mass to a caste centric brand of Hinduism that suited their South Indian religious preferences. Later in 14th century when the Sultanate of Bengal took over as the fist Muslim independent dynasty of Bengal, the court language again was changed and this time to our beloved Bangla.

Even though the rulers of the Muslim era all the way up to the Mughals showed great tolerance to the local religion, the ruling class however was almost entirely comprised of foreigners.  During the mid Mughal reign mass adoption to Islam took place due to the land reform measure enacted to increase the land revenue where mosque building as a part of the forest clearing programme worked as a great motivator.

By the time the English came to power Bengal was a majority Muslim province. This lend itself as a great opportunity for them to practice their ploy of divide and rule. They picked the marginalized Hindu religious elite to create a subservient class that could help them with their governance. To accentuate the divide the disgruntled Muslim elite went back to their Farsi text and rejected English. Eventually though when this Hindu elite started to assert themselves due to their western education the Raj decided to again turn the tables by partitioning Bengal based on religious lines. The Muslim leadership was pro partition and the entire Hindu community was against it. This was the start of the riots of Bengal.

The first riot took place in Comilla in March of 1907. The spark was, on the Muslim side a pamphlet that was distributed by Anjuman-e-Mufidul Islam which instructed Muslims to dissociate from the Hindus and on the Hindu side the adoption of Bande Mataram as the war cry of the Shodeshis glorifying Shivaji the Marathi tormentor of the Mughals. Later this riot moved to Jamalpur and became a frequent feature in different parts of Bengal but stopped after a few months. It returned with full vengeance in 1946 in Calcutta and caused havoc in places like Noakhali and Bihar.

During the Pakistan period riots were intermittent and often caused by retaliation of what was rumoured to happen across the border. Due to the religious conditioning of Pakistani Army, the liberation in 1971 meant complete disintegration of all Islamic parties. However all banned Fundamentalists came back with pomp when Ziaur Rahman called them back as his alternate power base vis-à-vis AL. The silenced middle class anguished while the fundamentalist expanded their power base. The anguish compounded as the fundamentalists continued to flaunt their presence and ultimately Shahbagh gave them the avenue to release their pressure.

In the analysis of our history then we find that two things happen at the change of guard

a.       Prevailing support base are marginalised

b.      Marginalised based is favoured to create a support base to sustain power

Analysis of the riots tells us that

a.   A subset of the community needs to feel some genuine grief

b.  A campaign from political leadership is needed  to instigate violence

At this moment I am sure that our children reading in madrassah feels marginalised in our society, when they see the glitter of consumerism flourishing around them. He knows that he is not a part of it and that he is not competitive. The fundamentalist leadership is in an existential threat therefore they feel the urgency to mobilise a line of defence and finds the madrassah student and low income clerics easy recruits in their cause. On the progressive side the anguish is partially coming from the unstoppable rehabilitation under the support of political equation and the unfinished chapter of justice for the war criminals of 71. A subliminal play spawning from global media to our own also works to agitate the middle class.

As a strategy then we should be doing the following:

a.     Increasing the opportunity of our madrasah children and the clerics

b.      Wedging in a moderate Muslim leadership in the Fundamentalist camp

c.       Enforce zero tolerance to inflammatory communications on both sides of the isle

d.      Appease the progressives with some precedence of justice

e.      Increase understanding about our Islamic component of our identity

f.       Lead the vision for a prosperous future for the country

The leadership needs to work tirelessly on uniting the nation by focusing on places on agreements. And us citizens need to go beyond our hypothesis of differences and work on keeping the unity intact. It is a battle for a better future for our children therefore every one must do their part.

Syed Hasibuddin Hussain, an IT and telecommunication professional, runs an export oriented manufacturing unit in Dhaka.

Source: bdnews24


  1. A very explicit writing indeed! Thanks a lot to the writer. But one thing may be mentioned here. Though Muslims hold 90% majority here in Bangladesh, most of us know very little of Islam. The divide was created since education system was divided into two classes: religious and secular. Over time the two systems have put the followers poles apart. One having the least knowledge of the other or rather an apathy to each other. That’s why ‘moulavis’ call the secular educated ‘nastik’ and secularists call madrasa educated ones ‘fundamentalists’, more harshly, ‘jungis’. Had the system been one-directional the divide could not have widened as has been now. Secular educated people hardly care for what there is in Islam and most of the religious educated people hardly know about the development of science & technology dominating our life at present. The solution lies in the change of our education policy. And religion must be a compulsory subject for each community till 8th grade at least because every religion in essence calls ‘good’ what is good and ‘bad’ what is bad and harmful. So far as the atheists are concerned, they lack in human values since human values do not encourage or inspire anyone to hurt ones sacred and delicate feelings. In Bangladesh the govt is following the same game as the British played with us: divide and rule. We have not been real ‘free’ anyway.


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