There are too many constraints, too many limitations, too many restrictions when it comes to accepting people in Bangladesh.
I suppose these same problems, to some degree, exist in every corner of the world. Even then, that alone shouldn’t be a reason not to strive for an alternative, for a better life.
Acceptance had been strangled, put on a pike, and spat on. Tolerance has bled out, and is barely breathing, limping on, trying to scream and breathe fire to tell us that we need it to grow and achieve a better world wrapped in “Digital Bangladesh” banners.
I mean, what is it to become “digital,” to achieve “middle-income” status, to stand in par with the top developing economies in the world, and strive for all the glory in the world, when we utterly and shamelessly fail to be tolerant, and, in effect, civil?
Strictly speaking, our country is a “Muslim majority” one. Belief, faith, and values are loud here, not a thing that can be probed or challenged when it is draped in the incense-tinged curtains of religion. I may not be an expert, but they tell me that Islam is a religion of peace, love, and generosity.
Quite the contrary, when the same group of people who proclaim to be the “true” followers of said religion pick up machetes, batons, and fuel cans to commit deeds that are anything but peaceful.
Putting hypocrisy aside, the discrimination against those who do not conform to the same faith as you (or enjoy the same bank balance as you) is a testament of our unruly civil ways of life. Be it the recent attacks in Langadu, the constant oppression of the CHT groups, Biharis residing in multiple, scattered camps across the country, the Hindu community in Brahmanbaria and elsewhere, or the Santals, the message is clear: If you’re a minority group, we don’t want your kind here.
The latest bout of intolerance which spilled over on newspapers is the story of how Ahmadiyyas in Bangladesh live under constant fear. Many would argue against it, but let’s agree to disagree here (at least try?).
Ahmadiyya is a religious sect of Islam. They do not technically fall under the category of the “Sunni” majority, and, so, although it is a branch (possibly in distant relation) of Islam, they are still a minority here in Bangladesh.
And we all know how well we treat those who are smaller in numbers than us, the chest-beating, proud and loud Sunni-Bengali majority “us.”
Politics has always been part of our lives from the beginning, like a serpent slithering under the rug; it is clever, fanged, and venomous, ready to strike and take your life. So one must tread carefully, they say.
The popular narratives, in our policies, public health, property rights, basic human rights, and what have you, do not (really) include the Santals, the Biharis, the Adivasi collective
Its omnipresence -- the inevitability of it taking over dinner conversations, after-work coffee rendezvous, school textbooks, and even murders with clear motives -- is what that leads one to understand how politics always had a hand in our national narrative.
Be it a superior political group trying its hand in furthering its own agenda by inciting communal violence, or a group with political influence trying to rob another group of its basic rights for its own greed -- we surely can do better than stand witness to a sad repetition of events in a loop. Displaced villagers, burned houses, assaulted Adivasis, tormented souls.
Tread carefully, they say.
In pursuit of Vision 2021, Digital Bangladesh, and middle-income status, can we marginalise the already marginalised? Can we burn down villages, already scorched to smithereens?
The graffiti that has many talking, by the now-renowned “Banksy of Bangladesh,” lead many to wonder how true it is that we are a nation told to be afraid to speak against the mainstream political beliefs, speak up against the popular narrative.
The graffiti suggests that common sense has taken a hike, because there is no room for it in this society. It seems to be perfectly in tune with our current socio-political climate.
Nothing to deny here, nothing to not believe
This is all merely a true representation of how things have become, how things have taken a strange, violent turn, with groups claiming to be right, and for others to stand in awe and figure out how to combat violence -- basically destruction of whatever we have built.
The popular narratives, in our policies, public health, property rights, basic human rights, and what have you, do not (really) include the Santals, the Biharis, the Adivasi collective -- the less said about the Ahmadiyyas, the better.
Aside from the grand politics which controls every muscle movement in this country, be it a corporate orgainsation, or a university, the media, or communities, or even individuals -- aside from the usual way of life that seems to be getting out of control now, we have honestly never given minority groups their rights (as if it is something for us to give).
And in our current toxic political climate, the well-being of minority groups is at a higher risk than ever before.
When the state of affairs takes a downward spiral, they take down everything else with it. So here’s hoping that we foster some semblance of tolerance, and practice what we preach in the holy month of Ramadan.
Here’s hoping that the “love and peace” part of of Islam holds some significance, and we actively do something to make everyone in the country feel included, and not threatened because of their beliefs.
Nusmila Lohani is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.