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A minor issue

  • Published at 12:03 am November 22nd, 2016
  • Last updated at 02:38 pm November 22nd, 2016
A minor issue

When your best friend tells you that you’re being a Hindu because you refuse to pay for the meal despite earning a hefty paycheck, it’s a minor issue. And, his response is the same as you walk to the place where you want to meet, sweating from the equatorial heat: “You stink like a Hindu, man.” Then, too, it’s a minor issue.

When someone from my family addresses me, using my nickname (spelt Aninda, pronounced Onindo), outsiders say, “Oh, why do you have a Hindu name?” or, more simply, “Oh, a Hindu name.” I clarify and say, “No, it’s a Bangla name,” but my explanation falls on deaf ears. But I can ignore it for, you see, it is but a minor issue.

In Brahmanbaria, when temples are burned to the ground because of a Facebook post, it’s nothing for us to worry about. You see, the kind of mentality that is required to incite a group of youths to hatred and violence and destruction is not something we are exposed to. Sure, it’s a lot of people, but they’re a non-representative collective, and as such, this is small sample size and hence, a minor issue.

The fact that this was presumably a systematic way of inciting hatred -- much in the same vein these so-called religious leaders have done before, by hacking into a Facebook account for the nefarious purpose of inciting hatred and division -- is scary, but expected of the rural and uneducated working class, whose minds are as of yet not developed enough to think for themselves. It would never happen to us and, for that, it’s a minor issue.

As a result of which, hundreds of Hindus leave Bangladesh daily. According to a study by economist Dr Abdul Barkat, in 30 years, there will be no more Hindus left in the country. But that is not part of our reality. After all, our friends and acquaintances, some of whom are Hindus, none of them has ever left the country because they were persecuted, were they? Not because they felt that so not-at-home? A mountain out of a molehill must be a minor issue?

And then you hear about Santals and Rohingyas. The cordoning off of their existence to a single paragraph speaks volumes, but little is heard. They are killed and brutalised. They remain on the fringes of society, thereby never really becoming people you know, or understand, or can see in the culture that you inhabit.

According to a study by economist Dr Abdul Barkat, in 30 years, there will be no more Hindus left in the country. But that is not part of our reality. After all, our friends and acquaintances, some of whom are Hindus, none of them has ever left the country because they were persecuted, were they?

They are a people and individuals amongst them are rare. Most of us have probably never heard of Santals before the murders? We’ve heard of ethnicities in the hill tracts, who sometimes are part of our culture, with their surnames of Barua and Chakma, but that’s about it. Surely, then, it’s a minor issue?

And when we speak of Chakmas, we place the tips of our fingers against the edges of our eyes and pull ever so slightly, blinding ourselves to each of their individual characteristics, their historic fight against the stereotype, and go: “Oh, look, I’m Chinese!” We laugh because we can’t really help it; it’s not that difficult to admit that it is kind of funny. It’s not difficult so it must be a minor issue.

And then we write editorials, ministers and heads of state make speeches of the inclusivity in the history of the Bangladeshi nation, how each and every race and religion is given equal treatment, while, simultaneously, the constitution changes to start off with an Islamic quote.

There is that older narrative of how Bangladesh was united by language, and not by religion or ethnicity, and we have always boasted diversity in our culture, an intermingling of faiths.

But in whispers, the narrative breaks down; wasn’t there always a division of religiosity and religion, of piety, of race? Where are they in the stories they tell us, in the faces of our leaders, in the perpetuity with which this kind of separation has been allowed to fester? Another minor thing, part of another minor issue?

Even in this bubble we have created for ourselves, for the reality is difficult to approach and willfully encroach, there is a sadness that wells up at the thought of the inability with which a human being can be treated as nothing more than the identity they had no choice in being born with. We do it, in small ways, when we are irrevocably attracted to another person, and when we are, contrastingly, repulsed.

We do it in slightly bigger ways when we wrinkle our noses at the way certain people celebrate their culture: Pork and pre-marital sex, the smell of incense, the yellowed walls, the butchering of animals, the non-butchering of animals, the colours, the music, the infinite jest, the freedom, the lack thereof. This isn’t representative of us because this bubble is impenetrable. Minority issues? Sure, we have them, but that’s merely a minor issue.

SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.