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A requiem for unsung victim: Bengali Hindus of Bangladesh

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Even on the peak of COVID pandemic, when every person across the world is desperate to save their own life, a verified social media account reports series of instances of minority bashing taking place in several parts of Bangladesh. Not many eyebrows are raised, it is rather taken in normal stride.
Contrast it to the enactment of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India, presumably meant for the same oppressed minorities who had to flee Bangladesh. Hell broke loose. Quarters who had never known Bengali Hindus and the kind of oppression they underwent since partition, seemed to resist the marginal benefit on offer. Perhaps, nobody bothers for the agony of Bengali Hindus any longer, it has simply dissipated from public memory.

Indeed, one of the most underreported cases of persistent ethnocide in the post-colonial period had certainly been with the Bengali Hindus of East Bengal. In terms of magnitude of brutality and spread on scale of time, it has hardly had any parallel in contemporary history. Starting with one-sided massacre in collusion with the changed administration, vandalizing religious places on slightest pretext to use of rape to impregnate as a tool to proselytize (much before the world came to know of it in Bosnian carnage) Bengali Hindus of East Bengal seemed to have withstood it all and away from public glare.
The most important part is its documentation or the lack of it. It is ostensibly perceived that whatever partition and refugee related literature, film or documentaries have come up, incidentally, revolved around a central theme of ceaseless struggle of a refugee life, but having started off from the premise of Sealdah Station – a place where they used to flock after being driven away from their ancestral place in East Bengal.

But there is very little credible document presently available in public domain that would go on to chronicle the events that brought those hapless, persecuted refugees to the Sealdah Station in the first place. A handful few like, Pak Bharoter Rupokatha – Prabhas Chandra Lahiri, Jaile Trish Bachor – Trailokyo Nath Chakraborty, Udbastu (Refugee) – Hironmoy Bandopadhyay, Shikorer Sandhane (In search of roots) – Kaliprasad Mukherjee, essentially commentaries on the grisly onslaught, had long gone out of print. Obviously, most of the first hand victims or eye witnesses have perished by this time. A scanty few, who still survive, have got too scattered around to create an acceptable account for them to a bigger assembly. Thus, in effect, every concerted effort was consciously made, over a sustained period of time to write a pre-mature obituary to an unmatched cruelty. 

In a similar situation, to a more recent past in 1990, Kashmiri Pandits, too, were driven out from their own ancestral place. With savage killings around, their womenfolk ran with their children in arms to save their faith and lives. The same infants, now with the passage of quarter of a century today, grew up like a phoenix, fortified themselves with letters and then came back successfully to bring their ordeal out before the international platform.  Much of the recent positive development on the Kashmiri front was largely due to their successfully building up of a credible recital, by persistently telling their side of story to various international fora. Ironically, their tormentors, through successive generations remained with guns as earlier, and thus have easily lost the plot in a changed scenario.

Coming back to the eastern front, one of the biggest setbacks for the Bengali Hindus of East Bengal was the unexplained indifference to their plight from their first cousin just across the border. Historically speaking, there are various instances of expression of solidarity from distanced kin from around the world that actually helped to rein in atrocity in a troubled spot. Till Shyamaprasad was alive, there was a semblance of resistance from across the border. But after him, it was all over for the literally orphaned Hindus in East Bengal. No denying, Bengalis, by doing so, had woefully betrayed their long-cherished rebel image that once dared to take on, almost single-handedly, the might of English colonial masters.
Later still, an elemental redemption came from the plain-speaking of few international journalist-activists, who, with little emotional connect, started writing for the distressed Bengali Hindus of Bangladesh. Yet, these contemporary commentators like Richard Benkin (A Quite Case of Ethnic Cleansing: Murder of Bangldesh’s Hindu), Joseph Allkin (Many Rivers, One Sea) or Garry Bash (The Blood Telelgram), never got the minimal moral support from the Bengali establishment from the other side.

So, where do we go from here? Just a couple of years back, Shashi Tharoor, in his famous Oxford speech, highlighted the need for some kind of reparation from England for their heart-rending economic exploitation committed on the Indian shore.

An yearn for atonement has to start afresh. Without attempting to decode the psychological refrain of the fellow Bengalis, simply for the sake of justice for humanity, this forgotten chapter of human misery of the Bengali Hindus of Bangladesh must be brought back to the mainstream narrative.

A travel down may commence by retelling the present generation of Bengal the tale of unspeakable horror their forefathers had survived through. From re-printing of the lost first-hand portrayal of the refugees to selective translation of available material in vernacular for a wider global audience can be the stepping stone for resurrection of a tortured soul. Lest we forget…..

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