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How not to be an activist

  • Published at 12:06 am July 23rd, 2019
Priya Shaha, Donald Trump
Pictured: Bad activism

Will Priya Saha’s actions do more harm than good?

What Priya Shaha said is not a revelation.

Some of the data is known, though they have been questioned. She has claimed that she drew from a research with Professor Barakat.

When that was made public, it was criticized but not countered. Bengali minds are not necessarily comfortable with data and analysis -- they like political ranting.

What made it an issue now was where it was said: The White House. The reaction to it in Bangladesh was over the top. It was as if Bengalis had been shaken beyond repair by her actions and words.

The reactions also came from several Awami League ministers who wanted to: (a) Ask her what she meant; (b) try her for xyz.

Many people, of course, wanted to do worse, and even the Hefazat chief said he was observing the situation, which actually sounds quite ominous.

Many anti-AL groups saw conspiracies and AL leaders who have no idea what to say, unless sanctioned from the very top, either kept silent or made tut-tut noises.

By Sunday evening matters had cooled down and by then the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Priya Shaha should be given a chance to explain.

Just before that, the law minister was also saying that what she said doesn’t amount to “treason or sedition.”

Some enthusiastic lawyers filed such charges but the courts discarded them making it obvious that the government wasn’t keen to move on this issue against her. Meanwhile, cases against the case-filers have also been made.

Three things were proven in the rush: First, filing cases to harass and punish is now an established culture in Bangladesh. Second, no quality control of research exists. Third, deep fissures and misunderstandings between faith communities continue to exist.

The social media reaction and Donald Trump

Social media reactions also showed a degree of denial about minority inclusion in the mainstream: People were not challenging the data Priya quoted. Nor did they provide counter data or even explain the situation let along try to understand the psychology of minorities in Bangladesh. 

In other words, the response was: If you disagreed or said something which went against the majority sentiment, you were a traitor. This applies to many other sectors including the narratives of 1971.

But why Trump? 

It showed a naivety that is hard to explain but, obviously, the United States is still the country of last resort to many.

No other person or place could be worse in the world from a minority perspective than Trump as he is an established racist.

A man who has asked his own citizens to “go back where you came from” is hardly the best person to counsel those who are expressing grievances for experiencing minority discrimination. 

In a way, Priya and her sponsors’ entire strategy was lost when the pitch was made to possibly the worst person at the international level who could listen to her community’s angst. Unless she was hoping to cash in on Trump’s Islamophobia.

State of minority situation analysis needed

Having said that, it’s obvious that Bangladesh needs to do a situation analysis on the state of the country’s minorities and the marginalized communities.

And the need for inter-faith community-based organizations is high as Priya’s outfit is sectarian and has lost its credibility more or less permanently. 

In the absence of a multi-community outfit, the minority rights movement, which is both valid and necessary, will be left to be handled by less-than-articulate activists like Priya Shaha, who has damaged it.

If any anti-Hindu groups were looking at the scenario, they would welcome someone like her to do what she did.

The lady in question can serve as an excellent example of how not to be an activist. 

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.