I finished my morning cup of tea over the news of President Hamid seeking national unity to establish an exploitation-free society. As I rushed to work, the key phrases kept running through my mind: “National unity,” “exploitation-free society” -- how have we not yet achieved any of these?
As I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I came across pictures on the topic of “Women’s position in Buddhist law” in a Bengali guide book on “Gender, Society, and Development.”
Some of its lines read like this: “Buddhist women were so belittled that they were not given any name. They were engaged in adultery. Families were unhappy when a girl child was born. Ladies were shackled.” One line even misquoted Buddha’s view on Nirvana.
Unsurprisingly, the topic ends with the conclusion that Buddhism is a derogated religion that couldn’t escape the influences of Hinduism. Hence, the attack of Muslims was a necessary atonement.
I stare at the justification of an atrocity, then thoroughly read and cross-check the disturbing deviations with my lifelong learning. Helpless, I look at the names of the authors: Dr Azizul Haque Khan, associate professor, Ananda Mohan College, Dr Mahmud Ul Ala, associate professor Joypurhat Mahila College, Bilas Mallik, lecturer, Government BM College Barisal, and Ujjal Chakrabarty, lecturer, Ananda Mohan College.
What went wrong? I’ll tell you.
The topic portrays a group of helpless women, an evil force and a messiah -- a narrative set comfortably by four non-Buddhist academicians without credible expertise.
What did the layers of filtration do when the book was published? Who reviewed the book and who determines these people are qualified to publish these ramblings? Why has no one opposed it?
Between the dogmatic refusal by these academicians to research before stating opinions publicly and the seeming eagerness of some publication houses to opt in publishing false content that grants them visibility as vocal contributors to academia, the truth, which is what scholars and academicians ought to care about, is left to rot somewhere on the sidelines.
Books adopted for higher education legitimise a certain perspective over reality. At the heart of the controversy is the eclectic nature of canonising particular epistemology as “valid” knowledge that students are taught and examined in during a time when they form opinions.
When copies of the guide book in question reach the hands of fourth year students, their minds are once again fostered with prejudice
Books are material incarnations of a hegemonic discourse -- encompassing, but not limited to -- politicians, stake-holders in education, the media, and general public. The question of which views find their way into the textbooks is salient.
In the absence of contact with a particular minority community, the concerned book assumes the pivotal role of cultural intermediaries for students. This role as cultural intermediaries takes on greater salience, given the recent records of communal discord against specific groups.
The lack of diversity in documenting teachings creates a problematic representation. The lack of representation in turn hurts impressions. In the long run, integration becomes difficult, as those who are not the majority continue to be intrinsically marginalised.
When copies of the guide book in question reach the hands of fourth year students studying under National University, their minds are once again fostered with prejudice, creating a generation fed on communal ideology and distorted history.
Will I be surprised when a Buddhist woman is mistreated because she is considered as secondary as the authors decide to portray? No. It’s the simple calculation of strength in numbers.
This is what extremists feed on: cherry-picking and generalisation. And when you convince a crowd what a small group of people are like, you win in your inflated ego stemming from fear of diversity. You help a community place itself on a higher moral ground based on a fraudulent reality.
Communal violence doesn't start with only burning of houses or demolishing idols. It starts with indoctrination slowly and subtly. And when oppressors do it openly, it signals the safety net that discriminately protects them.
In a world where different schools of thoughts, even on a single ideology, are engaged in discourse, age-old stereotypes are continuously broken. Liberal interpretations are brought up to ensure the narrative is not hijacked by any party willing to misuse religion for power.
This is how we create empathy.
Imagine coming across a British citizen in a foreign land. He looks at you and says: “Bangladeshi? Eh, you farmer from a corrupted poor country.”
You start shrinking in your shell, feeling unsafe with passers-by making snap judgements about you. You wonder where he got that notion about you. And before you know it, your neighbours demand that you leave, because they know you as the filthy little thief as portrayed by documented history.
What went wrong? You ask yourself.
Myat Moe Khaing is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune.