DhakaTribune
Sunday December 17, 2017 04:03 AM

Who are you, Bangladesh?

  • Published at 07:11 PM April 19, 2017
  • Last updated at 07:43 PM April 19, 2017
Who are you, Bangladesh?
Are there better things to worry about?/SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

This is about the time we start to lose our identity

Who are you? What do you do? Who are your friends, family, enemies? What drives you? When were you born?

Do you have a religion? Do you have a race? Do you dream of wealth and good health? Are you hungry, or are you starving? When you were born, was your father there? Was your mother? Were you taught good manners?

Did you suffer? Do you have children? Do they, like you, suffer too? Are you happy? Angry? Sad? Miserable?

The history you’ve inherited is a history tainted with the blood of certain individuals. When a religio-centric government tried to quash your protests under a unified-linguistic dictatorship, you protested. What else could you do?

What was the alternative? Grit your teeth and take it in stride? Hell no.

Bengalis weren’t real Muslims, they said. And real Pakistanis can’t be allowed to speak Bangla. How could they?

Languages and religions, are they so integral to the national identity? Can you not be a Bengali-speaking Pakistani? Can you not be an Urdu-speaking Bengali? Can’t you be a Bangladeshi Hindu who now resides in America and has “Western” values?

East Pakistan was the bastard child, an unwanted byproduct of the partition. West Bengal’s twin sister, but uglier, poorer, devoid of heritage. Or so it was deemed.

In a situation where you find yourself under pressure from certain elements within the society to remove a certain statue from certain grounds, no one is denying that you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. You understand how inane it is to request the removal of a Lady of Justice statue, especially when the reason is that it’s un-Islamic, or that it’s an idol.

Do you dream of a state ruled by a singular theological doctrine? Do you have a new father and mother?

What exactly is the logic behind this? The fact that there is a tendency to focus on irrelevant things in this country is prominent.

But to see this logic being catered to, to be given any sort of light of day, to be seen as being even remotely legitimate, is unacceptable in a way.

Not because this country does not value religious sentiments, but because that is exactly what it is not doing by pandering to the extremist, illogical, and insipid views of an unpredictably volatile group. If the Lady of Justice statue can be pushed back into darkness, why not the Pohela Boishakh celebrations, why not the Mongol Shobhojatra?

This is as slippery a slope as it gets. This is the slope you slide down to get into territories where religious tolerance is a myth, and other religions are pushed to the side.

This is exacerbated by the quiet apathy of the majority who seem to fail to see the importance of a mere statue when it is being forcefully removed because it doesn’t bode well with the ideologies of a select few, brushed away with “What’s the big deal?” and a “There are better things to worry about.”

There are. But this is no less.

When you try to remove a statue because you think people will be seduced by its feminine, body-hugging sari, that’s a molehill. When the government caves in to such demands — that is a veritable mountain.

It says many things. Contrary to what most might believe, this doesn’t say that Bangladesh’s identity is Islamic, though it comes close. It says that Bangladesh is struggling to hold on to it.

It says it has certain priorities and these priorities don’t care for secularism in a supposed secular country, reek of intolerance in a supposed multicultural nation, cater to the mindless demands of a group living in the Dark Ages.

One understands that this is a difficult line to balance. In certain scenarios, both for political gain and threats of violence and strikes, hartals and mayhem.

But this is about the time we, as a collective, start to lose our identity. You wonder why terrorism is on the rise, yet you are apathetic and submissive when it comes to these demands. Do you not see that both are derived from the same illogic?

If you give in, Bangladesh, who are you really? Do you now have a religion? Do you now have very specific types of friends, family, enemies?

Do you dream of a state ruled by a singular theological doctrine? Do you have a new father and mother? Are your children now all the same? Are they covered? Are they happy? Are you?

When were you reborn thus? And when did you die?

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.

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