Bangladesh versus Banglastan: A civil war of ideals

I had intended to post something tomorrow but such is the speed at which things are moving right now in Bangladesh that I felt compelled to write again today instead.

Links to all the sources used are included at the end for those who wish to study the originals. I admit that this post is entirely my own subjective opinion but one, I hope, that is not without some merit.

Bangladesh versus Banglastan: A civil war of ideals

I was disappointed many times yesterday after posting about the blogging situation despite receiving good response from readers – publicly and privately. The national press made depressing reading and I have to admit I’ve shed some tears today. Several times I’ve read the term ‘Banglastan’ or ‘Talibastan’ used to describe the battle going on right now and I don’t think it is far from the truth.

Alal o Dulal features and excellent analysis of where the two main political parties sit right now and how Shahbhag has changed the whole political front. I’ll come back to this in a moment but first I’ll tell you of the things that concerned me to give appropriate context.

The Hefajat group held their march yesterday and attacked the podium of the Shahbhag movement in the process, though it is being claimed that the Jamaat group had infiltrated their ranks expressly for this purpose. The group have given a 13-point demand which, according to yesterday’s Daily Star  the Government were looking at and considering carefully. This worries me a great deal and I reproduce some of the more disturbing demands here (taken from the Star):

2.   Enact a law providing for capital punishment for maligning Allah, Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and smear campaigns against Muslims

3.   Stop all propaganda and “derogatory comments” about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by the “atheist leaders” of the Shahbagh movement, bloggers  and other anti-Islamists; arrest them and ensure stern punishment to them

8.  Stop foreign cultural intrusions including free-mingling of men and women and candlelit vigils, and put an end to adultery, injustice, shamelessness, etc. in the name of freedom of expression and conscience

9.   Stop turning Dhaka, the city of mosques, into a city of  idols, and stop setting up sculptures at intersections, colleges and universities

10.   Scrap anti-Islam women policy and education policy and make Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels

I’ll make no comments on these points other than to say they worry me and I am pleased to see they worry many of my Muslim friends living here and abroad. This has nothing to do with Islam, of course, and everything to do with seizing power over people. Nevertheless, these are the points the Government are ‘considering’.

The Hefajat have given the Government three weeks to meet their demands:

““We will cut off Dhaka from the rest of the country on May 5 if our demands are not fulfilled,” Junayed Babu Nagari, secretary general of the Hefajat, told the rally, one of the biggest in recent memory…
…He said, “If you want to go to or stay in power, you have to accept our demands. Otherwise, there will be dire consequences.”” (Daily Star – bold font mine)

Another leader stated:

“The songs and dances shown on television are obscene. These must be stopped.” (Daily Star)

This may all be rhetoric but it is difficult to say. If it is not then we are surely going to see more bloodshed over the next few weeks and months. The force of these statements indicates a rising level of incitement which will not be easily calmed.

However, it was good to read that the Shahbhag movement was galvanised into action when they heard their podium area was being attacked. Hundreds, then thousands came out to show their presence though I am worried by the aggressive nature some hinted at.

Imran Sarker, fast becoming the lead name associated with Shahbhag as a/the leader was quoted saying this:

“We have been carrying out a non-violent movement for the last two months. Please don’t try to incite us [to violence] because, once enraged, we can only be appeased with your blood.” (Italics mine)

Oh no, no, no, no, no.

Although I cannot stand for all that Shahbhag demands, I have been impressed with their pacifist stance so far – and hopeful for the future it could hint at –  but when Sarker says things like this I fear the worst. When shahbhag lowers itself to the level of violence all the other political groups have used for decades then it ceases to have any meaning and this particular battle and chapter of history will be over.

I hope that Shahbhag can remember the spirit of Gandhi in all of this. They have the opportunity here to make history – not just in Bangladesh (which I think they have already done) – but to the rest of Asia at least, as an entire movement that can demonstrate the ideal he taught and practised so successfully during his life. While even Gandhi’s personality was not enough to stop rival groups fighting (especially towards the end of his life) Shahbhag is bigger than any one person and has the opportunity to keep showing the nation that it is possible to demonstrate, make a difference and change things without a single person being hurt, without a single car or rickshaw being burnt and without a single bullet being shot or person being killed.

Right now, it looks ready to be sucked into sectarian fighting.

But the blogger named ‘Phantombd’ writing on Alal o Dulal gives an excellent breakdown of the politics behind this and the demography of the votes. They write of how the whole political campaign plan for all sides changed on the 5th February when Shahbhag arose out of nowhere. What has stepped out of the woodwork from this is an ugly militancy that threatens the very nature of just what Bangladesh is. Will that nature be turned? Will Bangladesh become a militant Banglastan?

Phantombd offers a ray of hope – though not without its issues. What none of the parties seem to be allowing for is the women’s vote. This could be the crux to who wins this battle in the end – not the fundamentalists, not the intelligentsia, not the bloggers. Will women vote for the right to free speech, education and equal rights? Or will they vote according to their husbands, their fathers and their brothers? Phantombd thinks they will fight for their rights. I hope so though it is often the woman who, in the village home, is the strict and tradtional follower of Islam. Shahbhag may be too much for such a woman.

Just what it means to follow Allah (or any other deity for that matter) in Bangladesh waits to be seen but it is a tense moment for everyone right now.

Further Reading (Source documents):

Alal o Dulal – Female Voters

Daily Star – Attack reignites spirit

Daily Star – Government given three weeks

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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14 Responses to Bangladesh versus Banglastan: A civil war of ideals

  1. renxkyoko says:

    I don’t know if I should say this, but I will….. India should be glad bangladesh separated. It’s a bit troublesome.

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    • I get your sentiment though I think India has plenty of troubles of its own too! I wouldn’t want to be so dismissive of Bangladesh though. The vast majority of people in this beautiful land are wonderful, decent people and it is still my hope that though I have to return to the UK next year for several years, I want to see my days out in Bangladesh. This is a country that IS worth it🙂

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    • Imran says:

      I don’t know if I should say this considering the Bengali has been silenced so much before but…. you should be ashamed of yourself. Both India and Pakistan are disgraceful and their people should be ashamed of their legacy. The write of this blog needs to understand India is not “the mother” of Bangladesh in any way. Relations could have gone so much better if it weren’t for these things:
      1. India only intervened in 1971 for its benefit, 2 weeks before the war was over, we would have won it ourselves with their support without them intervening. They did so after 3 million had been killed and 250’000 raped. they did not enter out of humanitarian reasons.
      2. The entire country was looted by the Indian soldiers, more than we can ever know. But we must know. I want it to be found out how much they took, I want the UN to recognize the genocide Pakistan committed in 1971. I want all the Pakistani and Razakar war criminals and murderers to face justice. All I know is even my parents saw how much was taken by Indians in just Sylhet. India must pay this all back.
      3. Farakka Barrage, they have ruined our river. It must be removed.
      4. Support of Shanti Bahini and other minority separatist groups in Bangladesh. Right from the outset and to today as I type; India (and Pakistan) have done nothing but destabilize Bangladesh. They are both bitter. It is a Bangla identity struggling not to be submerged by Hindi/Urdu imperialism. West Bengal and North Bengal (a.k.a Assam) already has.
      5. The comments I see by both Indians and Pakistanis and this individual here astound me. The sheer arrogance and ignorance of what they have done are doing. The lies thrown about Bangladeshis, the mockery. Whereas when it comes to Afghanistan; it’s all peace and love and India-Afg friendship. Those aren’t Bangladeshi illegals in Assam who were slaughtered in 2012 in Goalpara region or in Arakan region of Burma. They are Bengalis in their original land. And there were more before the British left and created this mess by not giving us United Bengal (not India or Pakistan).

      Bengalis have been massacred and the amount of defamation they have undergone surpasses that of any other group in the world. The US and the UK have also had their hand in quashing Bangladesh from its birth (due to the Cold war era). The Nellie Massacre of 1983 reflects the process of the past 67 years. The process of destroying Bengalis and pushing them all to live in Bangladesh. Bengalis belong in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim, Bhutan, Mizoram and Arakan state. That is their home.

      We need our justice form 1971. UN and the every country in the world must recognise the Bangladesh genocide (despite it not being the suffering of an “important” people a.k.a Jews, Cambodians, Rwandans). Pakistan must recognise it,. Then they must wholeheartedly apologise. We must get all our pre 1971 assets from pakistan and all that was stolen by India. Finally, the local Bengali collaborator criminals must face justice but more importantly the actual Pakistani war criminals who have grown old and fat in Punjab need to face their punishment (the ones that are still around). 43 years wait for those 250’000 women who were raped while the world stood and watched.

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      • Imran I respect your point of view, and so allow your comment here, but I have issues with your interpretation of events.
        I’m not sure where you found the reference to India as the ‘mother of Bangladesh’ – it’s not on this post – but as Bengal separated from India in 1947 it is not an unfair term to use. The metaphor is apt.
        The history books don’t agree with you that Bangladesh was going to win the 1971 war anyway. They say the very opposite. At the very least, India’s intervention brought the war to an end much sooner than it would have otherwise and arguable saved a large number of lives in doing so. It shouldn’t be forgotten either that India sheltered huge numbers of Bangladeshis fleeing the country. I don’t pretend that India’s role was perfect nor that its relationship with Bangladesh is untarnished but India is certainly not the bad guy here.
        Moreover, referring to India as ‘imperialist’ is laughable. India is demonstrably one country which has never sought to conquer another country in its entire history. Undoubtedly India did not enter into the 1971 war for entirely ‘humanitarian’ reasons – but then no country ever has. Not even America entered WWII for humanitarian reasons – countries don’t get involved unless they have good reason to. Nevertheless, to suggest India wants to destabilize Bangladesh is pure nonsense with no evidence to back this assertion.
        Most worrying is the tone of your rhetoric which smacks of communalism through and through. For as long as Bangladeshis insist on having a ‘them and us’ mentality which you clearly demonstrate here, they will continue to suffer the pains of exactly the issues this post was all about.
        I do agree with you that the perpetrators of war crimes should be punished but I do not believe Bangladesh can continue to live in the past and your comments here are simply the kind which fuel fires of hatred rather than build the bridges the country so desperately needs.

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  2. Ruth Subash says:

    I cannot believe this is not in international media. Really shocked by this. Also is shocking that is not in the press is the Tamil struggle for creation of Tamil Eelam and justice for war crimes in Sri Lanka. Shocking things are happening in this world and it is thanks to the inherent and Facebook we are aware of these issues. Hope life in Bangladesh improves.

    Like

    • I think the Western world has yet to realise that most of the world actually lives in Asia and that what happens in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan (just to name the ones neighbouring me) which are four of the largest populations in the world (and all much much bigger than the UK) is just as important as what happens in America, Uk or France…

      Like

  3. I was in India for a week not so long ago, and in all fairness the media reporting of these issues in Bangladesh was very limited. There was more about IPL (Indian Premier League) in the news compared with Bangladesh.

    Like

  4. Rinth says:

    Thank you for yet another excellent update, Ken. My dad mentioned something about a three day long hartal coming up :?? Things are looking scarier than I expected.

    Like

    • It’s an odd situation Rinth – as you know, Bangladesh history and politics is never simple! On the one hand it sounds awful and it certainly does make us a little nervous. On the other other hand, life goes on, traffic is flowing, people are working and so on.

      I would still be happy to have someone visit here and feel safe for them to do so but they wouldn’t be able to travel around and see the sights – especially in Dhaka! It would be Gulshan and Banani only!

      As for the Hartals…there’s so many; some local, some national, it is difficult to tell…it’s all very silly really.

      Like

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