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Can we all just get along?

  • Published at 12:00 am October 8th, 2019
Durga Puja
File photo of a Durga Puja mandap Dhaka Tribune

It is a shame that such strict security is called for

On Saturday evening, as I was walking on Kemal Ataturk Avenue in Banani close to 11PM, there was a pleasant difference to the usual scenario. Banani, at this time of night, is usually quiet, with the odd restaurant or eatery open.

I’ve often said that Dhanmondi, which is where I live, feels a lot safer and is generally better lit.

This Saturday was different. When it’s the week of Durga Puja, Banani lights up, and the puja mandap that is set up annually is truly a sight to behold.

This isn’t lost on the people either. For as long as I can remember, the Banani puja mandap has attracted people. Lots of people. This Saturday was no different.

While we were still a few days away from the grand finale as far as puja festivities were concerned, there was a surprisingly significant number of people lining up to enter the premises of the mandap -- waiting for much longer than what Dhaka’s general impatience would lead you to believe is possible.

However, besides the number of people, there is another sight that has gained prominence over the years at such religious events -- or most celebratory events for that matter. This phenomenon, while present at all events, seems to hold particular significance when the event is of a religious minority in the country -- as is the case with the Durga Puja. 

This increasingly prominent sight happens to be heightened security.

As I stopped to admire as much of the mandap as I could from the outside without the need to stand in line to get in, it was impossible not to notice the security -- specifically, just how much of it was present. In particular, it was the security in plainclothes, walkie-talkie in hand, ominous in demeanour, that stood out to me.

Naturally, with such increased security comes the slowing down of traffic, an inevitable bottleneck formed. The trademark Dhakaite impatience comes roaring back, questioning all the hoopla.

While it may be tempting to conclude that the presence of such security personnel dampens the spirit of festivities -- not to mention worsens our already atrocious traffic -- their presence has become somewhat of a necessity.

This is the point where I draw a comparison between India and Bangladesh.

Since the appointment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India, us Bangladeshis have looked on in horror as Muslims in India continue to be increasingly marginalized, ostracized, verbally (and even physically) abused, and, as a whole, get the treatment of being secondary citizens.

Given that Islam is the second largest religion in India, with about 14% of the population and some 200 million believers of the faith, the criticism directed at India is fully warranted.

However, the question for Bangladesh though, is looking inwards and asking: Have we been much better? How have we treated our minorities over the years?

Things are certainly better now than they once were. We have made noteworthy and laudable strides in tackling communal violence and religious intolerance. 

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that problems persist and that incidents of violence against minorities remain too high. Indeed, the very need for the security blanket thrown around the puja mandap is testimony to the continued threat.

It’s not just the threat of violence that is visible. A cursory glance through social media pages in the country is often enough to see the deep-rooted religious bigotry and intolerance that continues to pervade our society. This is everyday people, supposedly with no agenda, and nothing to gain, spewing hate against religious minorities simply because they do not agree with their faiths.

The world appears to be more divided than ever before, and certain world leaders are branding a particularly insidious brand of populist ideology in their political rhetoric.

The bigger question to ask here is why -- in a supposedly globalized world where there is more interaction and exchange with others of different identities, faiths, and mentality than ever before -- is this working as well as it is?

It is safe to say that Bangladesh does not have a leader who endorses such ideologies. Indeed, we can be proud that communal harmony has always been a core value for her.

Yet, we remain divided as a people, with traits we should not be proud of. Perhaps it is time we look within ourselves, and recognize that the real problem is within.

Until then, we have to accept the increased security at religious events. Indeed, if anything, we should endorse and applaud it -- for it at least detracts those within our society that choose to further divide us -- even if there are unpleasant side-effects.

It’s the best we can do at this point. And that’s a shame.

AHM Mustafizur Rahman is an Editorial Assistant at Dhaka Tribune.