The clerics have already denounced the festival of Pohela Boishakh, Bengali New Year as a Hindu festival and they don’t want others to celebrate it. They had elaborated and insisted that it is indeed a Hindu ritual with so much fervour that, as a result, many people over the years have distanced themselves from the festival.
From my own experiences, I’ve seen the number of participants in the festival decline over recent years. One major reason for this decline is the argument of whether the Boishakh festival is Islamic or un-Islamic.
These clerics are solely responsible for turning this vibrant cultural celebration into an un-Islamic festival.
I remember, last year, our maid told us that the Boishakh festival is a sin because one such cleric told her so. She, along with her family members, used to celebrate it, but these days, they refrain.
Not only that, the year before, I also remember how the imam of Khilgaon Taltola bazaar mosque gave a bitter sermon on a fine Friday against the Boishakh festival over loud speakers as I was passing by. These sermons are not hidden, not anymore. So he shouted: “If you go to the Boishakh festival, will you go to heaven?” A rhetorical question, right?
But all the attendees shouted in unison: “No, we will not go to heaven.”
Not to forget, the Boishakh festival is the only festival in Bangladesh where people from all religions, classes, sexes participate together
Now imagine what most of the clerics have done across the country with their acrimonious sermons against an innocent cultural festival like Pohela Boishakh.
Many people are now ambivalent about Boishakh’s celebrations. This ambivalence forecasts a dangerous future, because it can possibly lead to a gradual reluctance to engage in all things Pohela Boishakh -- even a complete rejection of the festival is foreseeable.
Does everyone agree with the clerics? Is there not any opposition to their views?
The opposition against the clerics states that the Boishakh festival is not a Hindu festival. The opposition seems liberal; and even shows evidence from the pages of history that the Mughals, who were Muslims too, introduced the festival for the convenience of tax collection, keeping the local agricultural cycle in mind.
But what is the ground for the opposition’s argument? Is its basis of argument any different from what the clerics are proclaiming -- who dismiss the festival simply because they consider it Hindu?
Of the opposition’s rhetoric I have the following understanding: Since Boishakh festival is not a Hindu festival, it can be celebrated.
How sad is this argument? The opposition’s parameters are the same. Thus, hatred against Hindus is apparently visible among both the clerics and the opposition. Not to mention, the religious identity of the opposition also becomes clear from its own statement.
This division also penetrates the idea in the society that anything Hindu is bad.
How come, over only some centuries, Muslims have such unjustifiable resentment against Hindus?
How can they forget that all Muslims in this region were once Hindus?
Thus, the question is: How liberal are the liberals? Are they liberal at all? Are they really an opposition? They are pseudo-liberals, who will be more successful than the clerics in achieving their purpose, for the former are in disguise.
This conundrum further divides people. Even if this festival is related to Hindu customs, what is wrong in it? Borrowing from each other’s cultures should show tolerance, respect, mutual understanding, and peaceful co-existence.
Thus, there is a necessity of a third party who will not differentiate based on whether a festival (or anything else) is a Hindu custom or not. The third, I hope, will celebrate diversity. Not to forget, the Boishakh festival is the only festival in Bangladesh where people from all religions, classes, sexes, etc participate -- in no other festival in the country do we have such a harmonious celebration.
For good to prevail, the third party must act in time -- so that the festival continues to thrive and celebrate our diversity in the long run. We must act in time, before it is too late.
The clerics are already becoming popular politically; in a few years, they might be determining policies on a massive scale.
We may keep in mind what Yeats stated in his poem: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Some people are full of enthusiasm to darken our paths to progress; they do not want any continuation of the arts and culture.
On the other hand, the others are somewhat silent, but they must act now and fight the good fight.
M Shakhaowat Hossain is a Senior Lecturer of English literature and language at North South University.