WHEN Indian Hindus are moved by the plight of Palestinians, they are perhaps influenced by the fact that Palestine belongs to the third world and Asia. In the case of Bangladeshi Muslims, an additional layer cements the bond — religion. In addition to race and ethnicity, adherence to a common faith is a basis for identity formation for large swathes of the world. Can I, therefore, be blamed if I cringe at periodic reports on the lynching of Muslims in the hands of self-styled cow vigilantes emanating from India? Painfully, per credible sources, the authorities are known to have looked the other way.
India shows clear signs of a lurch towards the right. Provocative and fiery speeches by politicians, severe restrictions placed on foreign non-governmental organisations, and jingoism displayed by certain sections of the media and similar anecdotes are on the rise.
It is reported from Maharashtra that history books have all but been purged of Muslim periods. Does the footprint of history depend on somebody’s whim? Compared with the small size of India’s Muslims, about 15 per cent, India’s Islamic past casts a long shadow that is jarring to followers of Hindutva. The demolition of the Babri mosque must have emboldened hardcore proponents of this strident brand of nationalism and inflamed passion in the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party. This has led to a tyranny of the majority bent on punishing a minority for giving India the Taj Mahal and a beautiful language — Urdu.
India’s Muslims are lagging behind on many counts — jobs, for example — because their influence, wealth and power have been waning from the mid-19th century. It is wrong to punish members of the minority community who are by and large law-abiding and patriotic for the sole purpose of getting even for perceived slights. Was it possible for the Mughals to have ruled without the tacit support and outright collaboration from a section of the majority community? Who are we to judge yesterday’s alleged wrongs by today’s moral standards?
There are other examples of anti-Muslim bias. The 2014 elections returned not a single Muslim member of parliament from the BJP. In the last parliament, there were 22 Muslim members, a mere 4 per cent of the Lower House. The analogy with Myanmar is eerie. When preparing for the 2015 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi purged her party of Muslims. The BJP’s parochial message is not lost on the Brahmins. There have been incidents of upper-caste Hindus lashing out at members of the lower caste.
Secularism, a pillar of India’s constitution, and its analogue, tolerance, seem emaciated under the new dispensation. In contrast, India’s relationship with Muslim-majority countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt and Indonesia remains hunky-dory.
This is not to say minorities in Bangladesh have not suffered in the hands of individual bigots. Cases of torture and eviction do occur. Contributing reasons must be greed, over-population and the scarcity of land. However, the government takes up seriously the issues of infringements on the law and religious freedom and largely spares no effort to bring perpetrators to book. Bangladesh successfully prevented a repeat of the Holey Artisan Bakery massacre three years ago in the face of an incipient tide of Islamic fundamentalism. This proves that Bangladeshis value religious harmony. This is not surprising given its long tradition of peaceful co-existence and a culture steeped in Hindu symbolism. It is not possible to strip a cheetah of its spots.
The contrast between India and Bangladesh gives the latter a moral high ground. This fact should be exploited whenever Bangladesh holds official parleys with India. India has as much to win, or lose, by maintaining, or not, cordial and expanding bilateral ties as does Bangladesh.
An annual report card may be compiled by Bangladesh where acts of religious bigotry in India, coupled with official inaction or foot-dragging, are recorded. The most egregious incidents should be brought to the attention of the Indian side for no reason other than to show that no government can remain oblivious to the sentiments of an overwhelming majority of its constituents. Should India reciprocate in a similar way, Bangladesh will welcome it to improve its record and image.
Raihan Amin is a university instructor.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion