2 Bangalees talk across the border

Garga Chatterjee talks to a fellow Bengali from across the Border about Minority Rights 

Garga Chatterjee talks to a fellow Bengali from across the Border about Minority Rights After the anti-Hindu communal attacks in Bangladesh’s Brahmonbaria in end October, social media was abuzz with it as its “breaking” news. This news competed with Bangladesh’s victory against England in a cricket match. News of such things alerts a section of West Bengal’s populace more than anywhere else beyond the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. On my Facebook page there was a discussion about the minority situation – with participants from both Bengals, both Hindus and Muslims on both sides. It was in no way representative and that’s not the story here. I just wanted to share one of the most beautiful conversations I have had in Facebook where I was confronted with such a richness of understanding and compassion, weaving in stories of the Hindu in Bangladesh to something much wider, pointing to forms of inner demons in all of us.

We were discussing how economic migration and differential fertility rates don’t fully explain the scale of Hindu flight from Bangladesh, unless we account for reasons that are fully communally charged. At this point, Mustaque Ahmed, who hails from the east of Bengal and now lives in the USA jumped in.

Garga Chatterjee (GC): We also have to understand why between a Muslim and a Hindu of the same class, the Hindu is a softer target.

Mustaque Ahmed (MA): New Jersey I took my son for swimming. He was scared and crying. There was a white kid who was doing the same. The lifeguard asked us to leave because we were disrupting the peace. I challenged him why he was doing it to us, not the other kid. He said he was not a racist. I told him I didn’t call you a racist, you are a coward, you do this because you think you can get away, because you think I won’t know what to do, how to defend myself.

GC : But the situation of a brown man in white USA shouldnt be the situation of Hindus in Bangladesh, right?

MA: Of course not but it happens

MA: it is discrimination because someone is different, perceived as weak

MA: I will tell you another story. I took my car to a mechanic in NY. He was a Jew from Libya. He learned I was a Muslim from Bangladesh. He asked me whether Muslims are conspiratorial, secretive, work in healthcare, education, handicrafts, etc. I asked who told him these things. He said an Indian gentleman told him these things a few days ago. I told him I heard these things about Hindus in Bangladesh. I asked whether he was familiar with this narrative. He started laughing and said some Libyan Arabs said these things about Jews. Because minorities are discriminated against, they work in private sectors in certain jobs, may stay within their community, behave in a certain way – a survival method, a coping mechanism. Majorities fail to integrate them in the society, give them equal rights and blame them for being “weird”.

MA: At Syracuse University, an Indian friend and I were talking to an American who asked me whether Hindus are discriminated against in Bangladesh. I said Bangladesh is a backward country in many senses and there is not much of a rule of law. But I may not know these things well because I am not a Hindu. Even if I feel there is no discrimination, a Hindu person may feel differently; you have to walk in their shoes. Then he asked the same question to my friend from India who said, “absolutely not, we had Muslim presidents, cricket captains, Bollywood actors”. Ha ha ha.

GC: “you have to walk in their shoes” – thats the key.

MA: Yes, as individuals we have to be decent human beings, have to have some core values, the ability to see beyond color and religion but that’s not enough. We have to have laws in place and implementation of those laws. That was my point.

MA: The other day someone from Algeria asked me where I was from. Then he asked whether I was a Muslim. When I said yes, he had a big smile, ‘hey brother’. Yesterday, I was waiting in the repair station to get my tire fixed, I heard someone talking in Bangla on the phone. I went over and asked whether he was a Bangalee. He is from Kolkata, gave me a big smile, we exchanged phone numbers. If we can do these abroad where we are all minorities, we should be able to do such things back home too.

MA: In the meantime minorities should be aware of their rights, feel confident in asserting their rights, be productive citizens, build bridges across the communal line and not be used as vote banks or political pawns.

GC: Often, they do not have a real choice.

MA: I agree, very unfortunate

MA: These are difficult issues. We won’t solve these in days; being combative, shaming a community or individual won’t help. But most human beings are decent and rational. We all can always try to be better and strive for a situation where all human beings are treated equally and differences are celebrated, not frowned upon.

MA: I don’t mean to be sectarian but we Bangalees have a special bond. If you are a Bangalee, amar kachhe tomar shat khun maf


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Garga Chatterjee Written by:

Brain scientist. Columnist. Bengali. He received his PhD from Harvard and is a faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

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