The curious incidence at Hathazari
There has been two very disturbing incidences in Bangladesh recently, suggesting that my fear of a return of overt communalism may be materialising. Equally worrying is the lack of concern about these worrying trends. If not for the students of Dhaka University, most people wouldn’t have even heard that something happened in Satkhira. Meanwhile, the incidence at Hathazari is forgotten except for some outposts of the blogosphere such as this, this and this.
The silence in both cases is puzzling and distressing. Puzzling because in both cases, the government appears to have done the right thing. These weren’t communal riots. Riots require two sides. These were brazen attacks on Hindus. And in both cases, the government moved as quickly and decisively as might be expected in Bangladesh. One would have thought the government’s PR wing to be in full swing to trumpet the prime minister’s leadership. Why the silence then?
And why is there a silence from the progressive activists, both within and outside the Awami League? Never mind the mainstream media outlets like Prothom Alo. Where is the progressive blogosphere that got into a frenzy over Meherjaan?
It would appear that just like protesting BSF killings is something that only happens when Awami League is in power, concern for the minorities is something for only when BNP is in power. Needless to say, these selective outrages are both disgraceful.
Now, the regular reader would know, I don’t really do outrage. Of course, bigotry in every form is to be condemned unequivocally. But beyond that, is there anything more to say?
I think there are a few things about the incidence in Hathazari that should have been followed up. I am not in a position to answer any of these questions, but let me ask them.
1. Who determined the route?
The trouble in Hathazari begun when a procession to celebrate the founding of a local Hindu institution passed a mosque. Now, the ‘contested sacred space’ is not a new thing in the subcontinent. Hindu processions near a mosque or Muslim processions near a temple used to cause communal trouble a century ago. They shouldn’t create trouble now, because across the subcontinent, the local administration should know how to deal with them.
The founding anniversary of Loknath Sebasram wasn’t exactly a surprise that sprang on the community. And I doubt the mosque was established yesterday. Who determined the route of the procession? Isn’t there any road other than the one passing the mosque?
2. Who vandalised the mosque?
From all accounts, there was a bit of kerfuffle, which was settled by the local murubbis. Then someone apparently vandalised the mosque. That some hot headed Hindu youth would do this seems very unlikely. But then, who did it?
3. Who benefits?
Communalism in Bangladesh has a secular angle — property. Is it too difficult to imagine some Muslim men showing up at one of those Hindu-owned businesses attacked in February, politely making the owner an offer that he can’t refuse? Is it too difficult to imagine the Hindu shopkeeper being told ‘Dada, perhaps it’s time to see your relatives on the other side’?
The thing is, if these Hindu properties are to be grabbed, who will be doing the grabbing?
Dokhol is the Bangla word for grabbing, of land, businesses, local government tenders, bus stands, and anything and everything all the way to the Bangabhaban. And it’s usually the ruling party that plays the game of dokhol. Why should we think Hathazari is different?
4. Something more sinister?
As one might expect, Jamaat has been linked to the incidence. Apparently this was about foiling the war crimes trial. But exactly how, no one is told.
Never mind. Suppose it was indeed Jamaat. The thing is, the situation was brought under control with no loss of life, and far lower level of violence than, say, 2001. As I said above, the government could (and should) have trumpeted this as success. And it’s not like anyone is shy about kicking the ‘evil’ Jamaatis. Why the silence then?
Perhaps it wasn’t Jamaat. One of the country’s major qaumi madrassah, Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam, is located there. And contrary to what many believe, qaumi madrassahs aren’t exactly Jamaatis. Could it be that the mob was led by some madrassah hujoor?
If so, what does that tell us?
Who attends these madrassahs? A cross-section of rural and semi-rural Bengali Muslims, often from the lower strata of the society. If communalism is returning among them, then everyone should be worried.
Dear reader, are you worried?