Bangladesh has seen more coups than Pakistan. It probably came close to one recently, by alleged Islamists in the army. I say probably because when it comes to military intervention in Bangladesh, who-what-why-when have often been unclear. For example, a few majors seized the country’s tanks and killed the founding president and his family in August 1975. Was it a few disgruntled officers with personal disputes, as was claimed by the contemporaneous foreign media? Or was it part of the complicated and brutal Cold War geopolitics, with the involvement of senior officers and politicians, as many believe? Even though the perpetrators of the massacre have been convicted, and a few hanged, Bangladeshis still debate these questions.
It’s been like that for all military interventions over the years. What may have happened in recent weeks is unlikely to be the exception. As such, one should not necessarily conclude that Saleem Samad’s officially sanctioned account in India Today is the full story.
So, this is how the borders of the Republic of India are also defended. With sticks, ropes and bluetooth enabled mobile phones. Eight soldiers of the Border Security Force, hold down a young Bangladeshi man accused of cattle smuggling. He is stripped naked, hogtied and then thrashed. He screams in agony and humiliation. The soldiers act as if they are out on a picnic. They discuss whether or not to give him some tea. Where to hurt him, on which body parts. How big a stick to use on him. Someone says “cut his ear off”. They stroll casually around him as he is humiliated. They laugh. He cries, as people usually do in these circumstances, and seems to call for his mother. Someone, probably one of the soldiers, records it all on video, on the 9th of December, 2010, somewhere along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Murshidabad, West Bengal
Lagaan was a groundbreaking film, but a Bollywood film nonetheless. My favorite song-dance sequence is the one where the villagers, well Gauri and Bhuvan and friends, celebrate Krishna’s birthday. In the song, the girl complains that Radha is anxious about Krishna’s philandering ways and the boy replies that Radha should be understanding because there’s no one else in Krishna’s heart but Radha.
When the meaning of the song is explained to her, Elizabeth asks Gauri: Is Radha Krishna’s wife?
Oh no, Krishna’s wife is Rukmini!
Of course Radha-Krishna are anything but married. Imagine the shock the Victorian girl would have felt upon realizing that the villagers were celebrating an extra-marital affair with such fanfare.
It is not just that Bollywood village in the high noon of Raj. Gita Govinda and other songs celebrating Radha-Krishna are sung in every modern Indian language. And not just in India. Songs on the theme were thriving in an unexpected place, in an unexpected time. Among Bangladeshi youth, in the early years of this century, when the country seemed to increasingly Islamicising. Partly influenced by the music coming out of the diaspora in Londonistan, songs like this one, celebrating the union of Radha-Krishna in the Nikunja Temple became massive hits.
Over the fold, let me note a few examples of Bangla rock – and let’s not be pedantic here, I’ll use rock as a shorthand for western-influenced urban music, including pop, reggae, hip hop and other genres.
Nirad C Chaudhuri and Jatin Sarker were both born in Hindu families in the Mymensingh district of eastern Bengal, now Bangladesh. Chaudhuri, about four decades older than Sarkar, wrote his autobiography before India held its first election, and ceased to be an unknown Indian. Sarker also wrote his life story. Unlike Chaudhuri, Sarker’s was in Bangla, published in Bangladesh, never translated in English, and not available in India or beyond. He remains unknown. Which is a pity, because if you want to know what has happened to the land where both these men were born, Sarker is a far, far better guide than Chaudhuri.
Sarker, of course, stopped being an Indian on 14 August 1947, when Mymensingh became part of East Pakistan — the eastern wing of Jinnah’s moth-nibbled land of the pure. His family didn’t move to India. They were not atypical. Many Hindu families remained in East Pakistan. Perhaps it was the presence of Gandhi. Perhaps it was the fantastical belief that Subhas Chandra Bose would return in 1957 — a century after the Great Uprising, two centuries after the Battle of Plassey — to reunite Mother Bengal. Continue reading The Banality of Bengal: Jyoti Rahman on the Tribulations of the Bangladeshi Hindus→
In a Q&A session with five newspaper editors recently, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had this to say about the Indo-Bangladesh relations:
With Bangladesh, we have good relations. Bangladesh government has gone out of its way to help us in apprehending the anti-Indian insurgent groups which were operating from Bangladesh for a long time. And that is why we have been generous in dealing with Bangladesh. We are not a rich country. But we offered it a line of credit of one billion dollars, when Sheikh Hasina came here. We are also looking at ways and means of some further unilateral concessions. We are also looking at ways and means of finding a practical and pragmatic solution to the sharing of Teesta waters. I plan to go there myself. The external affairs minister is planning to go later this week. So, Bangladesh, our relations are quite good. So with Bangladesh, our relations are quite good. But we must reckon that at least 25 per cent of the population of Bangladesh swears by the Jamiat-ul-Islami and they are very anti-Indian, and they are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI. So, a political landscape in Bangladesh can change at any time. We do not know what these terrorist elements, who have a hold on the jamiat-e-islami elements in Bangladesh, can be upto.
Exactly ten years ago yesterday, upon arriving at a friend’s place, instead of ‘Shubho Nobo Borsho’ (Bangla new year greeting), I was greeted with: ‘Have you heard the news? Call home now. Hope family’s okay!’ Militant jihadis struck the new year’s dawn cultural events in Ramna, the major park at the heart of Dhaka, killing over half a dozen people. Since these events are attended by most of my family in Dhaka, and by most of my friends, we were worried. Frantic phone calls and MSN chats (or did we still do ICQ then, I forget) ensued. Fortunately, the families were safe. But this wouldn’t be the last time such phone calls were made.
Over the following years, militants bombed cinema halls, killed progressive politicians, carried out suicide attacks against judges, and tried to enforce shariah rule in rural northern parts of the country. Things got so bad that when a friend called to tell me about Muhammad Yunus winning the Nobel Peace Prize, upon hearing, ‘Have you heard about Yunus?’, my first reaction was ‘Oh no, another assassination’. Continue reading Still Bangali: Reflections on a New Year: Jyoti Rahman→
Singing Amar Shonar Bangla with the whole stadium — the highest point during a cricket match attended by fellow blogger Rumi Ahmed.
For those of us born in Bangladesh, which turns 40 today, along with the red-and-green flag, there is an instinctive, natural identification with Amar Shonar Bangla. Less recognised is the fascinating history of the song, which also tells us the twists and turns in the history of the 20th century Bengal. Continue reading Why Bangladesh?: Jyoti Rahman→
Bangladesh will mark its 40th year of independence in 2011. The celebrations have already begun, and will continue until next December. The TV channels are already playing patriotic tunes. One such tune is Shona shona shona. The song says the land, mati, of Bangladesh is better than gold, and under this land sleeps many heroes: Rafiq, Shafiq, Barkat, Titu Mir and Isa Khan.
Who are these heroes? Rafiq, Shafiq and Barkat were killed by the Pakistani authorities during the language uprising of 1952 — a milestone moment in Bangladesh’s nationalism. Titu Mir defied the East India Company and organised a peasant revolt in the 19th century. Isa Khan was a Bengali chieftain who resisted the Mughals in the 16th century.
Notice how all of these heroes are Bengali Muslim men?
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHhas released an 81-page report that documents the situation on the border region, where both Bangladesh and India have deployed border guards to prevent infiltration, trafficking, and smuggling. They found numerous cases of indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary detention, torture, and killings by the security force, without adequate investigation or punishment. The report is based on over 100 interviews with victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, journalists, and Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles’ (BDR) members. You can read the report here and download it here (.pdf). Given below are the report summary and recommendations.
I am grateful toJYOTI RAHMAN, a Bangladesh-focused blogger, for contributing this guest post
Once upon a time, slaughter of cow was a major political issue in Bengal. There was a clause about it in the Bengal Pact — an agreement which, if implemented, could have avoided partition. And now, six decades after partition, there is a thriving trade in cows from India to Bangladesh. A recent LA Times article reports:
This is guest post sent by DEEPTANIL RAY from Jadavpur University
Seven weeks after the cyclone Aila hit West Bengal, the situation in the Sunderbans remains alarming. Some of us, teachers, research scholars and students at JU, without any affiliation tags, have tried over the last month and are still trying to reach out to some of the remote areas with materials and distribute them first hand, though our efforts are feeble and insignificant compared to the magnitude of the crisis. Last weekend, we had gone to one of the remotest villages of the Hingalgunj island in the Sunderbans— with the forests on one side, and the Bangladesh border on the other.
As most of you know, Hingalgunj is a Sundarban island on the south-eastern tip of the North 24 Parganas District of West Bengal, with the Sundarban Tiger Reserve Forest on one side, and a small river separating this country from Bangladesh on the other. It is one of the block areas to suffer most from Aila— with over 28,000 families and more than 1,26,000 people affected, according to modest government reports. Continue reading A Month and a Half after Aila: Jadavpur Academics→