Banani Mukherjee Das (35), a PR professional from Kolkata, says India can take a lesson or two from its neighbours to make the minority communities feel safe
I have been watching the events unfolding in Bangladesh ever since the controversy erupted during Durga Puja this year beginning from Comilla. Many people have lost their lives and many a Hindu homes and businesses have been attacked. Be it any religion at the receiving end, I feel sad that people continue to fight and even hurt and kill one another over religious beliefs. More so because my family has its roots in Bangladesh. We belonged to Dhaka before my grandfather shifted to India.
It seems we haven’t learnt any lessons from the pandemic? In raging Covid days, people across the world had transcended barriers of caste, creed, religion etc. to help each other in the name of empathy and humanity. All that camaraderie looks frayed now.
There are reports that Hosain Iqbal, the main perpetrator was of an unsound mind and didn’t realise the consequences his actions would carry. But couldn’t the security have been strengthened, given it is such a huge festival, in fact the biggest festival for Bengali Hindus? And even if one person placed the Quran and then spread rumours about it, why were others so quick to believe and get enraged? The undercurrents of discomfort between communities are there in most parts of the world, they come to the surface only occasionally though.
I must add that the spirit of syncretism is alive and thriving in Kolkata and will continue to be so. According to me, Mamata Banerjee has ensured that the seeds of hatred cannot be sown in Bengal, especially Kolkata. Like Didi, I feel that the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina or in other words, most women leaders often try to douse the fire of hatred rather than fan the flames.
People across the world are unequivocally praising Bangladesh’s handling of the whole incident, and condemnation from the civil society as a singular voice. I also like how she handled the whole Rohingya crisis which could have been avoided by another woman leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Recently there was this case in Pakistan also when a Hindu temple was attacked and the Pakistani government also acted swiftly. Perhaps India could learn a lesson or two about how to handle the rights of minorities and that they should not be scared of being who they are. There have been reports that Bangladesh has overtaken India in GDP per capita, and has better employment opportunities, especially for women. India is below Bangladesh in the Hunger Index as well. I believe Bangladesh has learnt its lesson that hatred doesn’t help a country and its people thrive, only a few people benefit from spreading hatred.
When minorities are respected and feel safe, they feel freer to contribute to their maximum potential and it benefits the country at large. I loved how Sheikh Hasina said that Hindus had contributed equally in Bangladesh’s freedom fight and the same goes for India’ s freedom struggle.
I hope we can sustain the lessons we have learnt from the pandemic and not give in to hatred. We should not lend weight to rumours either. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we all survive when we help each other survive. There is always a place for love.
Last Sunday’s arrival in New Delhi of 11 Sikhs from Afghanistan
marks the beginning of the end of a centuries-old historic process of Hindus
and Sikhs moving to and from this India’s extended neighbourhood.
It may be a matter of time – perhaps a few months – before all of
them, estimated at between 600 and 1,000, a microscopic minority in an
overwhelmingly Islamic nation, may leave Afghanistan for good and seek new
lives in India that one of them on arrival gratefully called “our motherland.”
This small but epochal event sadly reduces to a mere debate what is
steeped in history. Can an Afghan
be a Hindu or a Sikh? History says yes, asserts Inderjeet Singh in his book Afghan
Hindus and Sikhs: History of A Thousand Years published in April last
There is no reliable
information on when Hinduism began in Afghanistan that once had Hindu rulers,
and when Buddhism thrived. But historians suggest that the territory south of
the Hindu Kush was culturally connected with the Indus Valley Civilization
(5500–2000 BC) in ancient times.
As for the Sikh, records show
that its founder Guru Nanak Dev had visited Kabul in the early 16th
century and laid the faith’s foundation.
Islam arrived in Afghanistan
only in the seventh century. “The Hindu Shahi rulers of Kabulistan were
replaced only by the end of the 10th century by the Ghaznavides, who maintained
Hindu forces,” Inderjeet Singh asserts in his book.
Contemporary records show that Maharaja Ranjit Singh also ruled parts of Afghanistan. About 250,000 Hindus and Sikhs had thriving trade and lived in relative peace and harmony and travelled to and from British India. Father of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used to trade with Afghanistan, carrying consignments of asafoetida (heeng).
Recorded or otherwise, this
account must make a grim present-day note of the end of the presence of
religious minorities – at least the Hindus and the Sikhs – in Afghanistan. A
small minority in an overwhelmingly Islamic nation, they survived the violent
civil war conditions that have prevailed since last King Zahir Shah was deposed
in 1973. Last 47 years have seen a decade of communist rule backed by the
erstwhile Soviet Union, a “jihad” supported by the Western nations,
faction-ridden and violent rule by the Mujahideen five years of Taliban and
since the US-led “global war against terrorism” that followed 9/11, eighteen
years of the present government backed by the United States.
The US is keen to quit its
longest war, whether or not President Trump gets re-elected. Its iffy pact with
the Taliban is not working and the way is opened for the Taliban, with their
sordid record of suppressing women and minorities, backed by Pakistan that has
its own sordid record, returning to power. That makes the status of Afghan religious minorities more uncertain than ever. That
makes India’s move, with American blessings, timely.
The Afghan minorities have already felt the heat.
Twenty-five Sikhs were killed at a Gurdwara in Paktia province in March this
year. They were targeted by an Afghan group owing allegiance to the Islamic
State (IS). Indeed, the IS’ spread has been the reason for the US, Russia, Iran
and China coming on the same page, leaving Pakistan as a key factor and India,
an ‘outsider’, yet again. History is repeating itself.
The 11 Afghan Sikhs have been granted short-term Indian visas. They include Nidan Singh Sachdeva, who was abducted from Paktia’s gurudwara in June. The rest are families of those who were killed in the Kabul Gurudwara terror attack earlier this year. Twenty-five Afghan Sikhs and one Indian Sikh were killed on the March 25 terror attack in Kabul by a heavily armed ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) suicide bomber. The group includes Salmeet Kaur who was reportedly kidnapped in Kabul but later came back.
This Sikh group hopes that India would give them long-term visas and eventually grant
citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last year. It
gives citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious
minorities from three countries –Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan with a
cut-off date of 31st December 2014.
While that may happen, for the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, the decision
to come to India poses an agonizing dilemma. In Afghanistan, they have
livelihoods — shops and businesses passed down through generations — but spend
their days dreading the next attack. Making a new start in India would most
likely mean living in poverty, they said, particularly during an economic slump
exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Lala Sher Singh, 63, who was attacked in March,
told The New York Times that the community had shrunk so much that his thoughts
were occupied “day and night” by a fear that “the next assault might not leave
enough people who can perform the final rituals for the dead.”
“I may get killed here because of these threats to
Hindus and Sikhs, but in India I will die from poverty. I have spent my whole
life in Afghanistan. In this neighbourhood close to the temple, if I run out of
money and stand in front of a shop and ask for two eggs and some bread, they
will give it to me for free. But who will help me in India?”
The New York Times reported that there was no
official reaction from the Afghan government to India’s offer. “A senior Afghan
official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the
matter with the news media, said that ‘violence affected all Afghans’,” and
that an offer of safety only to Hindus and Sikhs put religious diversity in
Afghanistan in doubt.
The Afghan official, ostensibly making no excuse
about the poor security available to the religious minorities in his country,
attributed the Indian government’s move to being “aimed at a domestic audience
in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to move the country away
from its secular, multicultural foundations and give it a more overtly Hindu
identity, while projecting itself as a champion of persecuted Hindu minorities
elsewhere.” The beleaguered Afghan authorities fighting
for their own survival amidst civil war of their own, would likely stay silent
and not mind the minorities leaving.
Truth be told, the Tibetan refugees took years to settle in India
and thousands of Hindus from Pakistan have yet to get their citizenship
documents, leave alone facilities and opportunities to settle, earn livelihood
and send their children to school. By contrast, those who come in illegally, do
manage to get their ration cards, citizenship certificates and even voter’s
cards from the grey market on payment. Despite the sentiments of those who
support this “ghar wapasi”, this is the harsh reality.
Even if necessary, this is a thankless, unending task. “Mother
India” must pay a price for embracing back its sons and daughters troubled in
their chosen homes.
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