Spread of Islam in Bengal:
West should know the history of the development of population in Bangladesh to some extent to understand the social dynamism of the country. On Bangladesh there are narratives which often leave many among us confused.
The area where Bangladesh is located now was not inhabited by people until fifteenth century. The area was thickly forested. Around the sixteenth century, a branch of the river Ganga changed its track and began flowing through the area. It was called Padma. As river Padma flew through the area it made the area fertile and livable. Then, Mughal emperor Akbar allowed people to reclaim forest areas, and convert them into farm lands and establish settlements. In every settlement people were asked to set up a religious place according to their own faith. It was around the same time that the Mongols were on the prowl in the area. Then, huge number of Turkish Iranians and Pathan Muslims took up the jobs to clear the forests in the area. They were Muslim and they spread Islam there. Almost all of the Islamic shrines they established in the area still exist in today’s Bangladesh and those who built them are viewed as holy Muslim men and religious leaders.
Permanent Settlement: Breaking the ties of society
In 1793, after the agreement of Permanent Settlement of Bengal was signed between the British East India Company and mostly the local Bengali businessmen, they turned into landlords. We should not equate them with feudal lords of Europe. As a political category, they are completely a new phenomenon. This way a landlord class, which was largely Hindu, was born in Bengal. And, it was mostly the Muslims who turned their subjects, after losing their lands.
It was around that time that the area began witnessing a class struggle between the landlords and their subjects- who had lost their lands. Since the two sides followed two different religions, an expression of the class struggle appeared as religious one. During the British colonial period, many peasant movements took place in this area which was then called East Bengal. It was the struggle to get back their lost lands which triggered those peasant movements. This struggle later gave rise to the movement in support of the establishment of Pakistan. Those who launched movement in support of abolition of zemindary or landlord system gave birth to Muslim League party. Muslim League was floated largely because Congress, the main political party, did not support the peasants’ movement for abolition of the landlord system. In fact, Congress opposed the peasant movement. Muslim League was the first political party that committed itself to fight for the abolition of the zemindary system without supporting the landlords’ demand for compensation. So, all those who led the peasant movement joined the Muslim League.
Division of Bengal:
Although Muslims are in minority in India, in undivided Bengal they were in majority. They did not support the partition of Bengal. Historian Joya Chatterjee recently found during her research that Muslims had in no way been responsible for the partition of Bengal. Hindus did not support the political authority of the Muslims. So, they supported the creation of a Hindu majority state where they wanted to be in authority.
After Pakistan was created in 1947, the landlord system was abolished by the new government and the lands were returned to the peasants in the area. After the landlord system was abolished, the former landlords and their estate workers lost their social and political authority in East Pakistan. Then they left Pakistan, crossed over to India and took refuge in West Bengal state of the Hindu-majority country.
Root of the Hindu Muslim conflict:
Permanent Settlement of Bengal in 1793 created a historical divide in the society. But that divide continued to exist in the society even after the Permanent Settlement of Bengal Act of 1793 was abolished. The former landlords and their workers, who took refuge in India, began blaming the Muslims for their misfortune. They even blamed the Muslims for the partition of Bengal. The historical enmity between Hindus and Muslims turned into a hidden rivalry between two states.
Why India supported the liberation war of Bangladesh:
India militarily supported Bangladesh’s liberation war largely because it wanted to weaken Pakistan, its enemy. It was not the case that India extended the cooperation during the war solely in the interest of Bangladesh as its good friend. Why has India surrounded Bangladesh with barbed wire on almost all sides if it viewed it as a friend? Are the people in Bangladesh all criminals? On the border every year India’s Border Security Force kills around 50 Bangladeshis. I do not know if there is more violent border anywhere else in the world.
Why Bangladeshis oppose the Indian domination:
India has long been building dams at the origin of the common rivers flowing into Bangladesh. The rivers during their stretches inside Bangladesh often run dry and are dying. India has long been extending an immoral support to Bangladesh’s current regime which is unpopular and fascist in nature. In 2014, India’s foreign minister pressured different political parties in Bangladesh to take part in the general election. Pranab Mukherjee, when he was the President of India, assured the army chief of Bangladesh that he would not lose his position and he kept his word.
India hopes, Bangladesh should forever remain grateful for its contribution to the liberation war of Bangladesh. Whenever some differences in views surface between the two countries India sees the ghost of Pakistan in Bangladesh. India believes people of Bangladesh find themselves in natural proximity with Pakistan because majority in both countries follows a common religion and they are not grateful to India despite its contribution towards the birth of Bangladesh.
How War on terror shaped Bangladeshi politics:
When the operation of the War on Terror began, India was entrusted to lead the fight against terrorism in the region. America said it would view the fight against terrorism in the region the way India did. Then, India presented its own version on the terrorism in the region. It called the Kashmiris’ fight for their historical rights to self determination as terrorism. In the same way, Sheikh Hasina called her political opponents militants in attempt to eliminate them.
The anti-terrorism operation programme in Bangladesh raised many questions. According to the government version, in Bangladesh, scores of militants committed suicide by tying bombs to their bodies. Why did none of the militants attack or injure anyone before they reportedly killed themselves. Why did the militants in many cases rent the same house several times and get all of them killed in that house in a number of anti-insurgency operations? Why did MOST of the suspects, arrested following the killing of the bloggers, die in so-called crossfire or become victims of extrajudicial killing?
A critical look on Anti-Terror campaign of Awami League:
In recent years, Bangladesh government mostly blamed Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) for conspiring many attacks. JMB was also accused of launching a synchronised bomb attacks in 64 districts of Bangladesh in 2005. You will be surprised to know how JMB surfaced in Bangladesh.
Noor Mohammad, former Inspector General of Police or police chief of Bangladesh, was a deputy Inspector General of police in Rajshahi district when JMB first surfaced in the country. Mohammad recently became an Awami League party MP following the bogus December 30 general election.
When in 2004 JMB sought to submit a memorandum to the home minister in an issue, Mohammad accepted it in Rajshahi, on behalf of the government. To submit the memorandum the leaders and supporters of JMB came to Mohammad’s office in a rally which was escorted by police. Then, Mohammad said that JMB was a pro-police group and that in certain security operations the group helped police. It should be noted that Shaikh Abdur Rahman, who once headed JMB, was the brother-in-law of Mirza Azam, a minister of Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party.
I am not claiming that there is no militancy in Bangladesh. But, most of what the government projects as militancy or terrorism related incidents are trumped up cases, according to people in Bangladesh. People’s fight for democracy in Bangladesh is being branded as militancy. And, those fighting for restoration of democracy in the country are being treated like militants.
How Police violates Civil Rights:
Police fired thousands of rounds at peaceful political rallies. Many innocent and unarmed people were shot at point-blank range. Those, who try to raise their voice by writing in social media and elsewhere, are being sued under the harsh Digital Security Act (DSA). In an interview with Al Jazeera, internationally acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam narrated the situation of the country. For that reason police picked him up, tortured and jailed him for three months. He is out on bail and the cases against him are pending in the court. He could face jail up to 14 years, if found guilty under the DSA. Mr Alam has powerful friends. But, ordinary people do not have any such powerful connection and so they are in utterly helpless situation after being sued under the DSA. These days the government are preparing list of the people who criticize the government and preparing to crack down on them in many ways.
We do not know when we will be abducted and then become victim of enforced disappearance. According to the latest figure from “Odhikar”, since 2009 at least 1,877 people have been killed in so-called cross-fire. Among 486 people who were disappeared, 62 were found killed. And, 278 people returned home or were shown arrested while 146 still remain untraced after they had disappeared, the human rights organisation reported.
Among those killed in crossfire was Akramul Haque. He was killed while he was in the custody of security forces. They planned to pass it off as a killing in gunfight between two groups. But, after an audio clip reportedly recorded by Haque’s wife became public and the news of his killing was covered across the international media, the world knew that the man had been shot dead in custody.
And, then there are the cases of enforced disappearances. People disappear following abduction and many of them never return.
Media and the freedom of expression:
We cannot express our views freely in Bangladesh- there is no freedom of expression in the country. We do not have the freedom to hold political meetings and rallies. We have no freedom to protest or criticise. Even, we do not have the freedom to exercise our franchise to change a regime after five years. We have also lost our rights to vote freely.
It sounds incredible, but it’s true that we have no right to our property in the country. Anyone or any group with support from the ruling party can take away someone’s small personal property and even an entire bank. Islami Bank was taken over in the same way. Businessman Aniruddha Roy was abducted and his business partner took control of the business. Properties of opposition party leaders and activists as well as many other less powerful people are also being taken away in the same style. And, actual owners are being ousted from their properties.
The media in Bangladesh is totally under the control of the state agencies. You do not happen to know from the Bangladeshi media reports how human rights of the people are violated in the country, banks are being looted, huge amount of money from the state reserve are being siphoned off and the powerful people are crushing the poor.
One will not be able to understand the current political intricacies of Bangladesh unless he knows the complex political history of the country. There are some other issues for consideration as well. Bangladesh, which was born in 1971 following a revolutionary struggle, has failed to become a modern republic. Following the liberation war, in just-born Bangladesh, the ruling party indulged in repression, loot and corruption, and democracy became dysfunctional. It made the foundation of the new nation weak. When the one-party rule of Bakshal was imposed three years after the birth of Bangladesh, it was announced that the President of the country would remain on the chair all through his or her life without facing any election and people’s right to file writ petition to the court was taken away the state was largely destroyed.
People from different language groups and ethnicities should take all political narratives of the current ruling party of Bangladesh with a pinch of salt.