Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Why is there so much fuss about Hindi?

Image result for three language formula

From time to time the diatribe against the imposition of Hindi on non-Hindi speaking people of India has become a sort of fashion, or rather a political weapon, to be flashed in public in order to flaunt nothing but a form of hollow chauvinism – it could be termed anything like provincial, regional, linguistic, ethnic, etc. – and mislead the innocent people with a fake sense of psychological safety against an imperial or federal onslaught. For reasons better known than often told, Hindi has been seen as a symbol of imposition and a threat to the pluralistic identities of India.

But strangely, the same threat is not felt for English, which, warns the prominent French linguist Claude Hagege, “may eventually kill most other languages". That itself says a lot about all these protests. These are just selfish acts of politics “concerned with the self-interest of a pugnacious nationalism”, to use Tagore’s apt words. I dragged Tagore into this because his views about “nationalism” are perhaps the most practical and relevant ones, even today. The “nationalism” he has referred to would be very clear from what he has to say about “nation”.

“We have no word for Nation in our language,” he clarifies. “When we borrow this word from other people, it never fits us… Not for us, is this mad orgy of midnight, with lighted torches…”
Orgy of midnight, with lighted torches? Did the poet have a premonition of all the candle-lit vigils at the India Gate?

We will come back to Tagore. For now, let’s talk about something more recent. The moment the draft of the National Education Policy 2019 was made public, “lighted torches” came out in the night, accusing of, the same thing – imposition of Hindi.

I actually went through the draft.

It says, “Because research now clearly shows that children pick up languages extremely quickly between the ages of 2 and 8, and moreover that multilingualism has great cognitive benefits to students, children will now be immersed in three languages early on, starting from the Foundational Stage onwards.”

It then goes on elaborating the Three Language Formula: “[It] will need to be implemented in its spirit throughout the country, promoting multilingual communicative abilities for a multilingual country. However, it must be better implemented in certain States, particularly Hindi Speaking States; for purposes of national integration, schools in Hindi speaking areas should also offer and teach Indian languages from other parts of India. This would help raise the status of all Indian languages…”

What’s offensive in this? I don’t see any.

Just in case people think that the draft came from some arbitrary people, it must be reminded that the chairman of the committee is none other than K. Kasturirangan, former Chairman of ISRO. Few members are Vasudha Kamat, former Vice-Chancellor of the SNDT Women's University, Bombay, Manjul Bhargava, R. Brandon Fradd Professor of Mathematics at the Princeton University, USA, Mazhar Asif Member, Professor at the Centre for Persian and Central Asian Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, and others. I don’t think these people could be categorized into any genre of arbitrariness.

In case people have second thoughts about the benefits of multilingualism, let’s consider these.

Brainscape, committed to improving how the world studies, using the latest cognitive science research, has cited many benefits of being multilingual. Multilingual people, they say, tend to be more effective communicators. Multilingualism can even delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by an average of five years! Multilingual people better perform on tasks that require high-level thought, multitasking, and sustained attention. Perhaps this is why they are often seen as more intelligent than peers with similar innate intelligence, education, and background. They tend to solve complex problems in more creative ways than their monolingual peers, no matter what kind of problem is being solved. They are faster learners, more likely to make rational decisions, keen observers of the world around them, and more skilled at identifying and correctly analyzing the sub-context of a situation and interpreting the social environment.

An article in The Guardian says, multilingualism has been shown to have many social, psychological and lifestyle advantages.

To the question whether we should raise our children to be multilingual, The British Academy says, “My answer is an unconditional yes.”

In addition to facilitating cross-cultural communication, a paper says, multilingualism enables children as young as seven months to better adjust to environmental changes and seniors to experience less cognitive decline.

So I believe the question why three languages should be taught from early days is answered quite well. Let’s move on to the most important thing – the explosive topic of learning Hindi for non-Hindi speaking people.

Let’s rewind a bit. In 1918 Gandhi wrote a letter to Tagore asking if Hindi could be the “possible national language for inter-provincial intercourse in India”. Tagore’s answer was very interesting. “Of course Hindi is the only possible national language for interprovincial intercourse in India,” he asserted. “But… I think we cannot enforce it for a long time to come. In the first place, it is truly a foreign language for the Madras people, and in the second, most of [us] will find it extremely difficult to express [ourselves] adequately in this language for no fault of [our] own. So, Hindi will have to remain optional in our national proceedings until a new generation… fully alive to its importance, pave the way towards its general use by constant practice as a voluntary acceptance of a national obligation.”

Almost 20 years later, in 1937, Tagore wrote to Gandhi, “It is imperative … to organize an all-India movement to foster and spread the growth of a language which is potentially capable of being adopted as a common medium of communication between the different provinces… However, I hope that the language which is to claim allegiance as the lingua franca will prove and maintain its complete freedom from any communal bias…”

Intentionally I didn’t cite any or Gandhi’s words in favor of a lingua franca for India, because I felt, Tagore’s views are more universal in many aspects, and hence shouldn’t be colored either with left or right. Interestingly, Gandhi, who went a long way fighting for Hindi to be made as National Language (which hasn’t been ever implemented), and Tagore, both were non-Hindi speakers. But still they felt the need of a lingua franca, which has more relevance to trade and commerce than anything else. If the provinces were to stay in isolation, then there wouldn’t be the need for any lingua franca. But then, no province can grow in isolation. Unless there’s exchange of money and mind (thoughts), no race, province, nation can ever grow. And the first step for such an exchange is a common language, a lingua franca.

Neither Gandhi nor Tagore could be accused of anti-colonialism in not choosing English as the lingua franca. Whoever thinks that as an option is surely not a practical person. It’s ludicrous to think that a mason from Bengal and working at a construction site in Gujarat would bargain in English with the local fisherman, or, a Central Government employee from Madras, transferred to Assam, would teach the local cook, in English, how to make good sambar. It’s a no brainer that, even now, more than hundred years after Tagore had written that letter to Gandhi in 1918, Hindi is still the most likely solution to Tagore’s lingua franca for cross communication between provinces.

Many centuries ago, even the Mughals had felt the need of a lingua franca, for better administration and trade across the vast country of many races and languages. They too chose the prevalent Hindustani language of the day as the lingua franca. Of course they introduced a lot of Persian and Arabic words of administrative and judicial use. Thus, the Sauraseni Prakrit language of the medieval India, the immediate ancestor of Hindi during the first millennium, got a little different flavor in the second millennium, which later took the name Urdu, perhaps coming from the word vardi, meaning uniform, implicating that the language was nothing but a lingua franca for the people in uniform – either in the army or government jobs. Like Gandhi and Tagore, wisdom prevailed among the Mughals – they didn’t try to make Persian, their preferred language, the lingua franca. Persian, like English, stayed the official language for education, art and literature, whereas the lingua franca was the native Hindustani-Urdu.

More than two millennia ago, Ashoka too had a lingua franca –  a form of the Magadhi Prakrit language (forefather of Bengali) spoken in Magadha, comprising present day Bihar and Bengal, Ashoka’s native. It might be relevant to note that in all of Kalidas’ Sanskrit dramas, the dialogues of the common people – the artisans, peasants, fishermen, even thieves – were always in Magadhi Prakrit, wherever they would be from. The only plausible reason for this could be that, Magadhi Prakrit was indeed the lingua franca of the common people across the country.

Ashoka’s rock edicts, few of which have survived till date across the Indian subcontinent, from Kandahar in Afghanistan to Bangladesh, from Delhi to Karnataka, had local variants of the Magadhi Prakrit, depending of the location, very much like the present day lingua franca, Hindi, which is spoken in different variants in different parts of India. The caricature and type cast of the Hindi spoken by the Bengalis and the South Indians, as immortalized in Bollywood by Asit Sen/Keshto Mukherjee and Mehmood respectively, says all about lingua franca – it’s more of a sort of an assortment of a number of mutually intelligible creoles rather than any uniform grammatically correct language. You like it or not, Hindi has already acquired that stature and no other language can replace that, how much ever “mad orgy of midnight, with lighted torches” you do!

Going further back, even during the times of the Indus Valley Civilization, in the second and third millennia BC, the entire Central Asia, the melting pot of civilizations, races, cultures and languages, extending into parts of northwestern India, is believed to have had a lingua franca – the Burushaski language, vestiges of which now exist only in a few villages in Kashmir. Quite interestingly, the word Sindhu, the eponymous river which lent the names and identities to India, Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan, and even Indonesia (literally meaning Indian Islands), and the far off Indians of the Americas and the West Indies, is of Burushaski origin – it has survived as a linguistic fossil of the once grand language and the lingua franca of the most important locus in the annals of human civilization.

Lingua franca is the foundation for growth and prosperity, without which, the people survive in isolation, without any interaction and exchange of mind and money. Bangalore reaped the benefit of exchange, as it was never averse to the lingua franca, Hindi, and hence attracted labor and talent pool from all across India, thus boosting the growth of the city. From a sleepy pensioner’s paradise even thirty years back, it’s now the forth richest city in India (with respect to overall contribution to GDP, after Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta), much ahead of Madras, which is still averse to Hindi. Not many people would feel comfortable relocating to Madras. But no one would have a second thought about Bangalore. Almost the entire construction industry in Bangalore is supported by laborers from Bihar, Bengal and Orissa, as is the new age IT, ITES and BT industries by people from all across India.

Despite all the hullabaloo about “Bombay for Marathas”, Bombay is still the most cosmopolitan city in India, attracting people from all walks of life – Bollywood is the biggest example. Bombay’s like a miniature India, and not surprisingly, the lingua franca is Hindi. No wonder it’s the richest city in India. Calcutta too, till very recently when the CM started talking about the Hindi speaking outsiders, was never averse to Hindi and outsiders from any part of India. That corroborates its position as the third richest city in India.

It’s not for nothing that the Tamil speaking Shiv Nadar, co-founder and present Chairman of the USD 8.5 billion HCL, famously said that Hindi shaped his career. He even asked students in Tamil Nadu to learn Hindi. Knowing Hindi immediately breaks many social barriers. In one moment, everyone becomes a member of a single large fraternity, irrespective of the backgrounds, castes, creeds. I realized this the best the moment I landed in Kharagpur, at the IIT. The initial discomfort in communicating in Hindi was overcome soon and I slowly started speaking a heavily accented Bong version of Hindi – not much different from how Bollywood depicts. Everyone at the IIT knew English, but it was only in Hindi that we could share the camaraderie and bonhomie which remained with us forever. The same level of jokes and jibes and fun and frolic is unthinkable in English, not because it’s incapable of the same level of humor, but because it perhaps lacks the mitti ki khushboo, the smell of the Indian soil which only a highly agile and extremely fluid variant of Hindi (or Hinglish, whatever you may call) has.

It’s quite clear that anyone who would be averse to learning the lingua franca would do more harm to the community or fraternity than any good. Relevant are Tagore’s words, again. “Swaraj is not our objective,” he says, in criticism to the overt “nationalism” during the pre-independence era. “Our fight is a spiritual fight, it is for Man. We are to emancipate Man from the meshes that he himself has woven round him — these organizations of National Egoism.” Language chauvinism is just another organization of egoism, nothing else, and the protectionism of the language in the name of nationalism is nothing but the “meshes … woven around”. Tagore adds, “The butterfly will have to be persuaded that the freedom of the sky is of higher value than the shelter of the cocoon.” Any sort of protectionism is nothing but sad attempts at keeping people in cocoons.

The very thought that a language would be threatened by Hindi is nothing but demeaning that language, trying to protect the language in a cocoon.

That’s bondage.

That’s like breaking the world “into fragments by narrow domestic walls”.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Not Islamophobia, it was the Hindutvaphobia of the opposition which attempted futilely to divide the country

Hinduphobia is real, and NaMo needs to act now

Just after the results of the General Election 2019 were out, all hell broke loose among a section of people and media, who had expected very badly an anti-BJP government to come to power. Their hatred for BJP and Modi is so great that they were fine even with the directionless and narrative less Congress and the motley group of corrupt politicians like Lallu, Mayawati, Mulayam and many more, all of whom have dismal records when it comes to human rights, safety and development, forget corruption.

Someone said, “India is a full blown fascist country. Its transformation to fascism is now complete. Majority of Indians that voted this fascist political outfit are fascists. Once we recognize these basic facts, we can begin considering appropriate strategic responses to India and Indians…”

Someone else made a clarion call, “Those friends who are still sane, still believe in love and solidarity, like my friends in Calcutta, shall we walk the street tomorrow, in a walk where we talk about togetherness, sing about love, standing with our neighbors who speak to different Gods? This day is so disheartening, scary, unnerving!”

A major media house in the west scared the hell out of everyone. “Intoxicating voters,” it cried, “with the seductive passion of vengeance, and grandiose fantasies of power and domination, Mr. Modi has deftly escaped public scrutiny of his record of raw wisdom… He triumphantly reaped one of the biggest electoral harvests of the post-truth age, giving us more reason to fear the future…”

Fascism might be an understatement. What had been the narrative of a section of people, obsessed with liberalism and secularism, was actually a myth about Hindutvaphobia, a fear of a mysterious demonic entity that would devour the whole country and regress her to the stone ages of violence and darkness. It was as though, a group of illiterate and uncouth people from the hinterlands of India, without any basic wisdom and knowledge of Indian culture and civilization, of what all India stands for – things like pluralism, inclusiveness, etc. – have suddenly occupied the hallowed seats of power, of course through deceit and magic, and want to unleash their frenzied dark energies into the society and take full control over the lives and ways of the country’s elite and intellectuals, who have taken to themselves the grandiose task of maintaining the secular fabric of the country and upholding all the values and righteousness they have been custodian of, since God knows when.

Rarely has there been such vicious attacks, by a section of the media and intelligentsia, on the people in power, purely because the latter doesn’t align with the ideologies and thoughts of the former. And lo, the former are the ones who talk about liberalism and tolerance, where as they come about as the most intolerant to anyone who wouldn’t belong to their fraternity. Not only upon the BJP, the ire of the former very soon fell upon everyone who voted them back to power, again. So, the 38% of the Indian electorate became “fascists” and gullible of being “intoxicated” and “seduced by passion of vengeance”.

Overnight, the Modi haters came up with theories of massive consolidation of the Hindu votes against the myth of Islamophobia, allegedly purported by the BJP. In doing so, they totally ignored the real reasons behind Modi’s stupendous win. Rather, I would say, they were so blind in their own vision that they couldn’t see the realities on ground.

In the 2019 General Election, BJP has got around 38% vote share and 303 or 53% of the total seats, against Congress’ 20% vote share and 52 or 9% seats. In fact, in the seats where BJP contested, its vote share was as high as 46%.

With 37.6% vote share in rural constituencies, BJP has improved its performance in non-urban areas by close to 7%. In the seats it contested in rural areas, its vote share was close to 46%, compared to Congress’ 23%. This is totally in contradiction to the stories of rural distress, propagated so much by the opposition. I don’t imply here that there was no rural distress at all, but I do have reasons to say that the rural electorate did see some value in getting BJP or rather Modi back to power, if not we accept the ridiculous proposition, put forward by many, that Indians don’t know what they have done.

BJP has got 42% votes from the least (quartile) educated and around 40% from the least prosperous people in India, improving its tally with the latter by almost 30%.

It has improved its vote share in the SC and ST constituencies by 6-7%. It has got 11% more votes from areas with significant Dalit population. More people from the Adivasi dominated areas have voted for BJP than they did in 2014.

Interestingly, BJP has increased its vote share by close to 10% in areas with 20-40% Muslim population. Overall, around 11% Muslims have voted for BJP in 2019, compared to 8% in 2014, which is a close to 40% improvement. For instance, the vote share of BJP has increased by 5-10% in the Muslim dominating Shivajinagar, Chamarajpet and Shanthinagar assembly constituencies in Bangalore, compared to 2014.

Close to 50% of the GenZ population (born after 1996), all first time voters, have opted for BJP.
So, BJP has been accepted over a large spectrum of electorate.

A little engagement with the masses would have made it very clear what the pulse of the nation was before the election. Few anecdotes would make things very clear.

One day, a month before the election, my wife had asked me if I knew anything about a scheme called Saubhagya. I vaguely remembered the name – one of the many schemes launched by Modi in the past five years. I asked her the context. She said that our maid, Kamala, had given her a lecture in the morning about many such schemes – she managed to remember only one name. What I figured out was that, Kamala was actually trying to “sell” Modi to my wife, because she had an inkling that the “rich” people, perhaps not among the beneficiaries of any of Modi’s schemes, might not bring him back at the helm of everything once more. She was worried that they, the “poor” people had lot to lose if Modi didn’t come back to power. Kamala is from a village in Karnataka, not far from Bangalore.

The next day I asked my driver, Sunil, whom he would vote for. He proudly told me that he hails from the same village as Aravind Limbavali, the BJP MLA from Mahadevpura, the assembly constituency we are part of. He pleaded me to vote for BJP. I asked him why he liked BJP so much. He requested me to come to his village and find it out myself. His village, he claimed excitedly, is not much different from the place we stay in Bangalore. Many roads there, he said, were better than Bangalore. Few days later he flashed his RuPay debit card. He also talked about the new LPG connection at his house. He was proud that he too had the privileges which had been merely aspirational to “them” in the past, privileges which only the “rich” in the cities had, but were now a reality even in his village.

Both Kamala and Sunil felt they were empowered.

Last year, I’d been to Delhi for some work and I’d taken a cab on rent for day. I have the habit of chit chatting with the cab drivers as I always get to know a lot of interesting facts and figures from them – the facts which are generally not published in the main stream media. I asked him what did he think about Yogi Adityanath’s government in UP, now that it was almost a year since he had come to power. He smiled sarcastically and sneered at me. “You, the educated lot,” he mocked, “you won’t understand.” That was rather rude, I felt. “The police have started working finally [in UP],” he said. “Isn’t that a badi baat, a big thing?” I remembered, some time ago another cab driver too had told me a similar thing about the Delhi cops. “Since Kejriwal becamethe CM,” he had told me, “we’re no longer harassed by the police. I have the number of my MLA – the son-of-a-bitch-police know very well that I can call him anytime…”
For the lesser privileged, or rather the “poor”, I realized, the taming of the police was also a sort of empowerment – it gave them a sort of psychological safety.

After the 2019 General Election, when I was trying to figure out what magic had Modi done, I remembered Kamala and Sunil and the Delhi cab drivers. The empowerment came in various forms.

15 Million people have subscribed for the Atal Pension Yojana, a government co-contribution scheme to assure a monthly income up to INR 5000 after the age of 60, for all employees in unorganized sector. 

There are around 360 Million beneficiaries of the Jan Dhan Yojana, one of the earliest welfare schemes launched by Modi. It’s a massive financial inclusion scheme, which starts with a bank account, a RuPay debit card, an INR 5000 overdraft facility and an INR 1 Lakh accident insurance. The main usefulness of this scheme is actually the immediate transfer of all benefits from the government directly to the account holders, by-passing any middleman. More than USD 100 Billion worth of benefits have been already transferred till date directly to the account holders. 

Close to 60 Million have subscribed to the Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojona, an insurance scheme for all account holders, with a premium of roughly INR 1 per day, and a life coverage of INR 2 Lakh.

1.5 Lakh Km of roads have been constructed in villages across India, under the Gram Sadak Yojana. Commuting to and from a village to the nearest big hospital or school or workplace at a town closely is no longer a tyranny of fate.

Non-Corporate Small Business Sector (NCSBS), comprising small manufacturing units, shopkeepers, fruits and vegetable vendors, truck and taxi operators, artisans, street vendors and many others, is perhaps one of the largest disaggregated business ecosystems in the world, sustaining around 500 million lives in India. The Mudra Yojana, aimed at extending, among others, financial support, in the form of refinance, to this sector, has sanctioned 180 Million loans, amounting to about USD 130 Billion.

Under the Awas Yojana, aiming at providing a pucca house with basic amenities to all houseless householder and those households living in kutcha and dilapidated house, financial assistance up to INR 1.5 Lakh per house has been provided for the construction of more than 15 Million houses.

As per the Fasal Bima Yojana, aiming at supporting sustainable production in agriculture sector by providing financial aid to farmers suffering crop loss/damage due to unforeseen events, among others, the farmers have to pay only 1.5-5% of the sum insured as the premium, with the government paying more than double the amount. The calculator available at the official website of the scheme gives an idea of the premiums. For example, the farmer’s contribution to the premium for insuring 1000 hectares of land for cotton cultivation in the kharif season in Latur district of Maharashtra would be INR 2.15 Lakh, with government chipping in INR 4.73 Lakh, for a sum insured of INR 4.3 Crore. Close to 150 Million insurance covers have been registered under this scheme till date.

More than 25 Million households have been electrified under the Saubhagya scheme. More than 100 Million toilets have been constructed under Swachh Bharat. More than 70 Million LPG connections have been released under Ujjwala Yojana.

Even a pessimistic estimate would reveal that more than 200 Million households would have been benefited from one or more schemes launched by Modi. That’s more than 400 Million adults or around 40% of the total electorate. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that BJP got a vote share of around 38%.

Turning a blind eye to such magnanimous amount of welfare, and designating the 38% of the electorate as “fascist” people, who voted for BJP just because of Islamophobia, or because of their zeal for creating a Muslim-free society where Hindutva would rule the roost, is not just ludicrous, but also, I would say, racist, intolerant, parochial and above all, utterly stupid. It reminds me of the opening lines of a poem from Tagore’s Gitanjali – I’ve conceded defeat! Whenever I wanted to push you, I’ve only hurt myself. I would rather like to paraphrase it: You’ve been defeated. Whenever you’ve wanted to push [them], you’ve only hurt yourself

The vitriolic and venomous attack on Modi, calling him “chor” when not a single scam from his tenure could be proved till date, spreading the fear of Hindutva and indirectly painting the entire Hindu community as an intolerant fraternity who would kill all its Muslim neighbors the moment Modi would return to power, the repeated usage of the terms like “Hindu Terror” just to counter balance the rise of the Islamic Jihadi terrorism worldwide and more closely in Kashmir, supported by Pakistan, would have turned any Hindu, who perhaps was not a great fan of Modi, away from the Modi hating opposition. 

So actually, it was not Modi that has divided the country through any rhetoric of Islamophobia and consolidated the Hindu votes against his opponents, but it was rather the latter, who have united almost the whole country against their hypocrisy, against their demeaning of the Indians in the name of Hindutvaphobia, against their baseless propagating of the fear of an apocalypse should Modi come to power again.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that the issues of mob violence against the cow traders, the communal barbs from the fringe elements of the BJP, the increase in unemployment, the increasing distress among the farmers in many parts of the country are all concocted. Modi has to surely tackle all these. But many of these were blown out of proportion for the sake of creating an air of Hindutvaphobia. Few fringe and stray incidents don’t skew the statistics of the overall crime and violence of any form, whether communal or not. Each crime needs to be investigated and the criminals punished, whether it’s communal or political or otherwise. 

It’s the collective wisdom of the Indian electorate that they chose wisely. Despite the ills and negatives – no one can be sacrosanct – they still felt they had some sort of psychological safety and a sense of empowerment in Modi’s tenure, whether it’s his schemes or the surgical strikes against anyone who raises against the country.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Broken Amoretti - The Background Story

The Broken Amoretti, just released, is my third novel, after The Ekkos Clan (2013) and The Aryabhata Clan (2018). It's co-authored by Aparajita Dutta.

When I started writing seriously, and I was working on my first book The Ekkos Clan, the idea of writing a novel set in Kharagpur, or rather the IIT KGP, where I spent one of the most crucial four years of my life, would often pop up in my mind. I'd stayed in hostel for eight more years before setting my foot on the sprawling campus of IIT KGP in 1992. It's not that the previous hostel life is less important or less memorable to me. In fact, the first six years in hostel in a nondescript place called Purulia - one of the poorest and most barren districts of India, in the western frontier of West Bengal adjoining Jharkhand - played a very important role in my overall learning process. Had I not been to Purulia, I wouldn't have seen a totally contrasting part of the world I had known till then, known a particular disciplined way of life and acclimatized myself to a sort of austerity, all of which created a foundation universal enough to hold and sustain my future experiences from round the world.

When I landed up in KGP, the foundation had already been created, quite firmly I would say. But what made KGP stand out from the previous experiences was perhaps the sudden exposure to India - yes that's what I would like to call it. KGP is a crystallized India, and a part of the world too, to some extent. With the diversities in everything ranging from languages and cultures to ethnicity, social status, political connections, economic background and above all, intellect, KGP is like a vessel boiling a soup with an unending number of ingredients - it was up to me to acquire the taste of it, relish it and use it as a creative tonic. It was the wholesomeness of the experience that had far reaching consequences later, in life and work. Overall, it did have enough ingredients for writing.

Another thing that came to my mind, at the same time, was that writing a novel based on hostel life had already become quite cliched. Enough had been already written about it and there was a beeline of books, both popular and unpopular, in the market. So I was certain that I didn't want to write 'another' college romcom story. But whatever I did, it was also certain that I must write about some unique aspects of the KGP life which I knew would be quite exotic to anyone else.

As I was busy with The Ekkos Clan, I didn't get time to ponder over the KGP based novel. Once done with the first draft of The Ekkos Clan, in late 2010, and having nothing to do till I heard back from someone I'd given the book for a thorough critique, I again got back to my idea about the KGP novel. Though I wanted to expand The Ekkos Clan into a trilogy, I didn't want to immediately write the second installment of it. One thing that I had missed while writing The Ekkos Clan was the scope and space to explore relationships, as it was predominantly a thriller. I decided that I would next venture into a love story, which wouldn't be a run of the mill romance, but would delve deep into various forms of relationships.

The writing of The Ekkos Clan had already made me quite inquisitive about Indian culture, history and mythologies, and my interest in linguistics and the history and evolution of the Indo-European languages lead me to the Greek mythologies. I got intrigued with the fact that despite the wide range of relationships talked about in the Indian and the Greek mythologies, the oldest two in the world, there's a certain relationship which is almost conspicuous by its absence or oblique reference and veiled narration. When it comes to unconventional relationships, the Greek mythologies might be among the most vociferous ones. There too, I didn't find much about it. I became curious. Why was is it so? That apart, I wanted to create a story around, not only that particular relationship, but also all unconventional ones, which are often tabooed in most societies and cultures. I felt all these relationships, which have been silenced across the world for long, should get a voice.

The LGBTQ and "queer" activism has of course given a much needed voice to many people, who still  experience social stigma in may cultures and countries. I wanted to expand the term "queer" to encompass not only the relationships widely discussed in the LGBTQ circles, but also other unconventional ones which too are discussed in hushed voices or totally brushed under the carpets citing religious, cultural or even medical reasons. I strongly felt I should weave a story around relationships which can't be confined to any conventional boundaries.

A line of Gulzar keep on haunting me -
haath se choon ke isse rishton ka ilzaam na do,
sirf ehsas hain yeh, ruh se mehsoos karo,
pyaar ko pyaar hi rahne do, koi naam na do. 
Don't touch it with your hands and accuse it of relationships,
It's only an aura, feel it with your soul -
Let the love be just love, don't give it a name.
I think that's the essence of the story I wanted to weave - love without a name, love that can't be touched, love that can be only felt with your soul. It's not about what is legitimate of what's not. It's all about what your heart yearns for, it's all about what you believe in, it's all about what comprises your consciousness, what gives you your existence, meaning in life.

When I was convinced about the theme of the book, I felt there couldn't be a better place than KGP for the backdrop of my novel. After all, KGP has the atmosphere of universality that's needed to nurture such a grandiose concept.

This is what I wrote in the acknowledgement about KGP:
The IIT life, and of course the place called Prembajar, which adjoins the campus at one end, left so much a mark in my mind that I couldn’t have not written about it, especially when I decided to take up writing in a serious way. Prembajar is not an autobiography or even a story inspired by real incidents. Nevertheless, many characters and incidents would have camouflaged into the narration so well that I myself wouldn’t be able to sieve through the layers of obscurities and identify the real ones.
I started thinking about the book in late 2010 and I started writing it in early 2011. Without any other apt name for the book, I called it Prembajar. In between writing Prembajar I had to also rework the various drafts of The Ekkos Clan, based on the feedback from my editors. Finally I completed the first draft of Prembajar in October 2013, few months after The Ekkos Clan had been released in July 2013.

As the seed thought of Prembajar had come from the Indian and the Greek mythologies, something which had attracted a lot of some academic researches for better analysis and understanding, I felt, I needed an academic side to Prembajar too. It was at this point, immediately after the completion of the first draft of Prembajar in late 2013, that I felt I would need a co-author, from a comparative literature background, who could bring in greater authenticity and make everything about the book appear correct by construction, which, I've no qualms in accepting, I knew I alone wouldn't be able to do.

It could be argued that it's after all a fiction, so why should it be so authentic? And if it's meant to be very authentic then where's the room for creativity and where's the creative license? There's of course a very fine line that an author, I believe, must tread very carefully. Authenticity, I feel, is not an impediment for creativity. Rather, it's the fuel for creativity, the main driving force. Where the scientific inquiry ends, starts the realm of creativity. It's just a tool to extrapolate what's authentic. The believability of the extrapolation or the creative license is a direct function of the authenticity of the facts and figures it draws heavily on.

So I embarked on a task of getting a co-author who would make Prembajar look as authentic as possible.

Luckily I found Aparajita, who was at that time doing her masters in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University. After reading the draft of Prembajar and after a series of long calls between Bangalore and Calcutta she was bought into the project. Thus, in 2014, began the the first rewriting of Prembajar. I soon realized that Aparajita's involvement was adding certain finer nuances and subtleties to the women characters - in their dresses, mannerisms, body languages, reactions, dialogues and above all in their development as characters in the novel - which had been totally missing earlier. Perhaps a woman can better create another woman. As Prembajar turned out to be a women centric novel, it was indeed a great decision to have Aparajita in the project as a co-author.

So, it's indeed a long journey, starting in late 2010. Prembajar, rechristened The Broken Amoretti before publication, is finally getting released in 2019, almost after eight and a half years later.

Few things that we, as authors, kept in mind all along are:

  1. Though the book is centered around a very unusual theme, a particular aspect of LGBTQ, it shouldn't sound like activism.
  2. It should delve really deep into different shades of relationships, which might be apparently taboo in most cultures, but still beautiful, natural and evocative.
  3. The book should be the voice of the many people who have fostered, silently, unusual relationships throughout their lives, don't think like everyone else in the world, but still believe strongly in pure love.
  4. The book, though set against the backdrop of the IIT Kharagpur campus, should be universal enough to alleviate it from being another college romcom.
  5. The book should create new standard in conventional romcom novels, breaking the norms and going deeper into the gloss candy college romance.

All these are very lofty things and we attempted each of these to the best of our capabilities. How much we've been successful, only time will tell.

There's also a parallel sub-story in the book about the cut throat tech-world of the Bay Area, where law suites are the norm of the day and companies thrive by killing competitions through unscrupulous means.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Partition of Bengal - The Real Story

Refugee is much more than just a ‘crisis’, as it’s generally relegated to in popular narratives in media or intellectual discourses. There’s a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and there are the United Nation’s 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Refugee Protocol. It’s not that the world is not all ears to the wails of the refugees, but perhaps only a refugee knows the real pain of being a refugee. No convention or protocol can ever do justice to a refugee. Few lines from a popular poem by the Bengali poet Krishna Chandra Majumdar might be apt: Always pleasure loving, someone seldom feels the agony of distress. How will he know how painful the poison could be, if he has never been bitten by a scorpion?

The Bengali word for refugee is udbastu, which loosely translates to homeless in English. The word “bastu” or “vastu” in Sanskrit derives from the root “vas” – akin to the English “was” –, which signifies not only a dwelling, but also existence. So “ud-vastu” would mean someone without existence, not just homeless, and that’s perhaps the word which conveys the real meaning of refugee, only to some extent though. There might not be ever a complete remedy for a refugee’s real agony and trauma, but still, if she got someone who could empathize with her, listen to her stories, make her feel that she’s no longer alone in the new world, that would surely act as a soothing balm, calm her down a bit. The biggest enemy of a refugee is not the perpetrators who has raped her or uprooted her from her home. Her biggest enemy is perhaps the feeling of loneliness, the loss of her self-confidence and trust on others. The only way anyone can help a refugee is by gaining her trust, reviving her confidence in herself. And hearing her stories, feeling her pains is perhaps the best way to let her know that that someone is there for her, that she’s not alone any more.

The voluminous narratives about the Jews in the popular culture, art, literature and movies over the past hundred years perhaps created the most effective support system for them, while they struggled to cope up with their bereavements, uncertainties and fear for the unknown in newer lands. The very fact that the whole world has wept for them gave them a sort of psychological security, even though they might not have got any real support from anyone in their lonely struggles to create their worlds anew, from scratch, bit by bit. The most unfortunate thing about the seven to eight million Hindus of East Bengal, who became refugees after the partition of India in 1947, and the many thousand more who wanted to flee East Pakistan and then Bangladesh later, there was no one even to empathize with them, because their very existence remains unacknowledged till this day. It is, as though, they never existed.

Whenever anyone talks about or refers to the partition of India, it’s always the Punjab side of the story – it’s seldom the Bengal side. There’s a total lacuna in the awareness, and also information, about the Bengal side of the narrative, except for the extensive oral traditions, which have survived even after a few generations among the East Bengali Hindus worldwide. I myself grew up with a staple dose of stories from the hallowed homeland of my family in East Bengal. Even though I never visited East Bengal, now Bangladesh, I still have a vivid idea of our home and village, over there, the rivers, the vast green fields, the floods, the flea markets, the village fares, the crops, the festivals, and of course the horrific conditions under which my father’s family had to suddenly flee their homes, leaving behind everything. The sad part is that, these stories were never heard outside Bengal. Not only that, there has been always a concerted effort at various levels to brush the Bengal side of the partition narrative under the carpet. This particular aspect needs to be talked about.

Let’s rewind a bit and see what exactly had happened in 1947, when India was trifurcated into three moth eaten parts – with India at the center and the disjoint West and East Pakistan at the two sides. The idea was to carve a Muslim majority Pakistan out of the undivided Indian subcontinent. The original Muslim League demand was for a Pakistan comprising the whole of the five Muslim majority provinces, the Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan, and North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to the west and Bengal to the east, and also, curiously enough, Assam, a Hindu majority province, adjoining Bengal in the northeast. But, given that Punjab and Bengal had considerable proportions of non-Muslims – mainly Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab and Hindus in Bengal – and the serious concerns looming ahead about their wellbeing in the totalitarian Muslim regime, the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha, in the interest of the non-Muslims in these two provinces, convinced the British government to partition the Punjab and Bengal and retain the non-Muslim majority portions in India.

Accordingly, the Punjab and Bengal provinces were partitioned. The western part of the Punjab, comprising the contiguous Muslim majority districts, became a part of Pakistan, retaining the eastern part in India. A similar formula was applied for Bengal. The Muslim majority East Bengal, designated presently as East Pakistan, was attached as an appendage to Pakistan, separated from the western part by more than 1000 miles of Indian landmass, which retained the Hindu majority West Bengal.
Figure 1: Partition of India - 1947

The extraordinary misfortune of the Hindus in Bengal started with the boundary itself, of the partitioned province. Some facts and figures here would make things clearer.

Oscar Spate, an eminent geographer and an unofficial advisor to the Muslim League, especially on the matter of the desired boundary of the Pakistan side of the Punjab, said in the paper The Partition of the Punjab and of Bengal, published in December 1947 in The Geographical Journal, "I favor the Muslim case in the Punjab … and in Bengal my leaning is towards the other side." [1] In the same paper he elaborated why he said so.

The proposed boundary in the Punjab left 3.5 to 4.5 million minorities on either side. Western Punjab had a population of 15.8 million, of whom 11.85 or close to 75% were Muslim, and the rest 25% predominantly Hindu and Sikh minorities. East Punjab had a population of 12.6 million, of whom 4.4 million or roughly 35% were Muslim minorities. Presently, both sides have only around 3% minorities. Almost the entire minority population changed sides soon, amidst the fast deteriorating atmosphere of insecurities and brutal violence of unthinkable magnitude inflicted upon the minorities on either side. Enough has been written about this violence and the Punjabi, Hindi and English literature have a significant volume of poignant narratives of the horrors of this chapter of the partition.

The boundary of the partitioned Bengal was unduly favorable to the Muslim side. For example, whole of Khulna district with 49.3% Muslim population was awarded to Pakistan, for reasons even Spate couldn’t figure out. West Bengal had a population of 21.2 million, of whom only 5.3 million or roughly 25% were Muslim minorities, whereas East Bengal had 39.1 million people, of whom a staggering 11.4 million or roughly 30% were predominantly Hindu minorities. Presently only 8% of East Bengal, now Bangladesh, is Hindu, whereas West Bengal is still 27% Muslim, compared to 25% at the time of partition. 
Figure 2: Displaced People & Migrations after Partition

By 1948, as the great migration drew to a close, more than 15 million people had been uprooted, and between one and two million were dead. [2]

Anything between seven to eight million of the 11.4 million Hindus were forced to flee East Bengal or East Pakistan and seek refuge in West Bengal and other parts of India, over the years, in a staggered way, during which there was formidable resistance even from the newly formed India government in accepting them, or even acknowledging their status as displaced people, forget settling them respectfully. On the contrary, as pointed out by a Bangladeshi writer in an article published in the New York Times during the seventieth anniversary of the partition of India, “only 700,000 moved to East Bengal… Bengali Muslims suffered less violence than other groups. For many of them the move was voluntary, indeed opportunistic… [in the] hope of a better future, rather than the mere search for a safe haven.” [3] We will try to figure out the plausible reasons behind this later. For now, let’s put the numbers in perspective.
Figure 3: Bengal Partition and other major Refugee Crises in the World

The World War II created something between 11 to 20 million homeless people, displaced from their original homeland. [4] Indian partition created 15 million, [2] out of which only the Hindus from East Bengal (“Bengal 1947” in Figure 3) comprise a staggering seven to eight million. What’s interesting is though the fact that the latter gets almost no space in the entire narrative about Indian partition both in India and elsewhere, as if, they never went through anything called partition, whereas they might be the second largest displaced community in the world, only after the Jews. Again, let’s take some examples here, to understand what I mean.

There were a number of articles in the Indian and western media in August 2017, commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the partition of India. One in the Washington Post, 70 years later, survivors recall the horrors of India-Pakistan partition, [5] doesn’t mention anything about the Bengal partition, even as a passing comment. Another in The Guardian, ‘Everything changed’: readers’ stories of India’s partition, [6] and one in Daily Mail, The children of Partition remember the bloodshed and heartbreak 70-years after India-Pakistan split, [7] also have no reference to Bengal. Even India Today, in an article published in its August issue in 2017, True-life tales of families separated during Partition, [8] gives Bengal a total miss.

Not only in the media, the art and literature too give the Bengal partition a near total miss. A list of the 25 best books about Indian partition, compiled by Penguin in August 2017, [9] includes the likes of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Ismat Chughtai’s Lifting the Veil – a collection of his Urdu writings, Nisid Hazari’s Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition, Kamleshwar’s Hindi novel Kitne Pakistan (How many Pakistans?), Krishna Baldev Vaid’s autobiographical Hindi novel Guzra Hua Zamana, translated into English as The Broken Mirror, three translations of the Urdu works of Sadat Hasan Manto, Bhisham Sahni’s Hindi novel Tamas and Khuswant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, among others, most of which deal only with the Punjab side of the partition. The obscure The Train to India by Maloy Krishna Dhar is the only one in the list which deals with the Bengal side of the partition in a similar way.

Given the prolific Bengali literature and the epoch creating works by some of the finest writers of our times who have lived through the partition, it’s indeed very unusual why none of them wrote anything on the horrors of the partition. Sunil Gangopadhyay’s three volume magnum opus Shei Samay (Those Times), Pratham Alo (The First Light) and Purba Paschim (East & West), about the history and evolution of Bengal, the Bengalis and the Bengali culture and geopolitics over the past two centuries, spans through the period of the partition of Bengal in 1947 and the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, but surreptitiously bypasses the horrors of the partition, thus depriving the Bengalis and the Bengali literature of the partition narrative so poignantly created by the likes of Krishna Baldev Vaid, Bhisham Sahni, Khushwant Singh, Amrita Pritam Singh and Sadat Hasan Manto in Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. 

In the review of Krishna Baldev Vaid’s Broken Mirror in India Today, [10] the reviewer points out, “Nearly every Punjabi writer, from Bhisham Sahani to Amrita Pritam, has at least one opus about the horrors of Partition. It is the Indian genre of civil war writing, a geopolitical literature which is no doubt the compulsive muse of any aspiring writer of that particular cultural experience.” It’s indeed a big exception that not a single contemporary Bengali writer found the Bengal partition an experience moving enough to be chronicled. The victims of the Bengal partition, predominantly the Hindus of East Bengal, are deprived here too.

The prolific Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak’s partition trilogy Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud Capped Star, 1960), Subarnarekha (The Golden line, 1962) and Komol Gandhar (E-flat, 1961) are among the best works in Bengali touching upon the problems created by partition. 

But here too, Ghatak bypasses the horrors, violence and genocide during the partition and rather deals with the agony and trauma of the refugees, their insecurities, nostalgia for the homeland they had to leave and their struggle to sustain their existence in the alien land they are trying to make their homes. So technically, his works are refugee narratives, not partition sagas. Even more correctly, as pointed out by Anustup Basu, faculty of English, Media & Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC), at a panel on Borderland Narratives of the Bengal Partition, organized by UIUC in April 2019, Ghatak’s trilogy, and many other movies in the 50s and 60s in both Hindi and Bengali were “filled with different kinds of loneliness.” In Basu’s words, they were “melodramas of loneliness. That of negotiating loneliness in a strange and alienating city.” [16]

In this context, Basu invokes an apt line from Rahi Masoom Reza’s memorable 1966 novel Adha Gaon (Half Village). In rough English translation, it goes like this: “In short, with independence, several kinds of loneliness had been born.” Basu also refers to Bhaskar Sarkar’s book on the Partition and Indian Cinema, Mourning the Nation, where the author says that “in the first few decades after independence, there was very little cinema made, either in Bombay or Bengal, that directly addressed the Partition”. Sarkar forwards a Freudian explanation for this – a culture needs some time to absorb, work through trauma before it can start talking about it. 

Looks like, the Hindi cinema overcame the trauma and the loneliness of partition, but the Bengali didn’t. Or is it that, the intellectual and over sensitive Bengali film makers pretended to have never overcome the trauma, and just kept silent?

Now, let’s delve into why the Bengal partition has been totally neglected in all spheres – politics and arts. We need to again do a rewind.

The Government of India Act 1935 gave a good amount of autonomy to the 11 provinces of British India and paved way for the first Provincial Election in 1937. Congress got majority and formed governments in eight of the 11 provinces. The secular Unionist Party representing the interests of the feudal class of the Punjab and supported by the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, formed the government in the Punjab. Congress with 54 seats, was the single largest party in Bengal, but didn’t get a majority. AIML, All India Muslim League, led by Jinnah, later the first President of Pakistan, failed to create government in any province. But it got 85% of the total Muslim votes across all the provinces, vindicating its stand and claim that it was the only party representing the interests of the Muslims. This implied that the Congress was not the party of the Muslims, as claimed by Jinnah. This also implied that the Congress, in contrast, was the party of the Hindus – notably, apart from Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, there was no other prominent Muslim leader in Congress either. This was not acceptable to the Congress, which, under the idealistic Gandhi, couldn’t swallow the Hindu tag. [11]

Perhaps that was the beginning of designating anything associated only with the Hindus as ‘communal’. Now, to shed its ‘communal’ tag, the Congress went all out to woo the Muslims to its sides, and started a mass contact program. That was perhaps the beginning of the legacy of Muslim appeasement in India, just for gaining some political mileage, something that later acquired dangerous proportions with more dangerous consequences in Indian politics.

This did more damage than good, as the Muslims became suspicious of Congress’ intention and agenda. To top it up, Jinnah raked up enough fear among the Muslims against their fate in a majoritarian Hindu regime under Congress. So neither did the Muslims get attracted to the Congress, nor was the latter ready to be seen as a Hindu party. Such was the zeal to remain ‘secular’, that the Congress didn’t want to form a coalition government in Bengal even with Fazlul Faq’s Krishak Praja Party (Peasant’s Party), which had 36 seats, one less than the League. It was as though, entering into a coalition with a ‘Muslim’ Party would have branded Congress as a counter ‘Hindu’ party. In doing so, as Tathagata Roy points out in My People Uprooted: The Exodus of Hindus from East Pakistan and Bangladesh, [12] [13] the Congress lost a golden chance of keeping at bay the League hardliners like Suhrawardy or Nazimuddin, who later became Prime Ministers of Bengal and inflicted irreversible damages to the social and political structure of Bengal. We’ll come to that soon. Fazlul Haq, who didn’t have good relations with the League, felt betrayed by the Congress, and went ahead reluctantly to form the government in Bengal with the League, which remained in power till the last day of the undivided Bengal.

In the next provincial election, in 1946, the League formed governments in Bengal and Sind, and the Congress in the rest of India. In the Punjab the Congress entered into a coalition with the Unionist party and formed the government. League’s Suhrawardy became the Prime Minister of Bengal.
As a part of the process to handing over India to the Indians, the Cabinet Mission came to India early 1946, for setting up an Interim Government to form the Constituent Assembly, which would be creating the constitution of the free India.  In its “16 May” statement, the Mission proposed a three tier structure, where the “Provinces” would be at the bottom, Hindu and Muslim “Groups” of provinces would be in the middle and the “Indian Union” at the top. It was proposed that the five Muslim majority provinces – the Punjab, Bengal, Sind, Baluchistan, NWFP – and, curiously again, the Hindu majority Assam, could merge into two Muslim-majority “Groups” in the Union.
Jinnah accepted 16 May. Congress didn't – they waited for the Interim Government to be formed and then play the cards.

In the subsequent “16 June” statement, the Mission announced the Interim Government, with no Muslim member from the Congress side. Understandably, Gandhi was vehemently against an all Hindu Congress team. The Clause 8 of 16 June said that if the statement was not acceptable to any party, then the Viceroy would unilaterally proceed with the formation of an Interim Government, which would be as representative as possible of only those willing to accept 16 May.
Jinnah thought Congress would reject 16 June and expected to form a new government without the Congress. But at the last moment, defying Gandhi, the Congress accepted 16 May, evoking protests from Jinnah, who insisted the Viceroy shouldn’t accept Congress’ late acceptance of 16 May, to which the Viceroy didn’t relent.

Jinnah declared Direct Action Day on 16th August 1946 – “Direct Action” to achieve Pakistan. Rajmohan Gandhi, in his magnum opus Mohandas, [11] quoted Jinnah as saying, “Today we bid goodbye to constitutional methods.” What ensued was mayhem in the streets of Calcutta, killing thousands of Hindus. On 20th August the British owned The Statesman reported, “The origin of the appalling carnage – we believe the worst communal riot in India’s history – was a political demonstration by the Muslim League.” The Great Calcutta Killing, as the daily reported it as, unleashed the chain reaction of communal riots in India, something which would attain more sinister forms in the next hundred years. The Suhrawardy government in Bengal did literally nothing to stop the killings in Calcutta. That was the beginning of the Hindu genocide in Bengal, something which would be very soon brushed under the carpet. The Great Calcutta Killing is the mother of all communal riots in India, setting off an unending fission chain reaction of killings and destructions. 

Every action has a reaction, and the reaction another retaliatory action, which again triggers a reaction, creating a sort of an avalanche. The Hindu killings in Calcutta on the Direct Action Day immediately triggered Muslim killings in Calcutta and elsewhere, which in turn triggered horrific riots in Noakhali in East Bengal in October, unleashing another round of Hindu genocide, which led to the Bihar killings of the Muslims, which again had catastrophic impact on the ongoing Noakhali riots. The Great Calcutta Killings left 7000 to 10000 dead, both Hindus and Muslims. In the Noakhali riots more than 5000 Hindus were killed, villages after villages were burned, innumerable Hindu women were raped and many were forcefully converted to Islam. In Bihar 2000 to 3000 Muslims were killed. The Noakhali riots were so horrific that Gandhi had to camp there for months, to get things under control. [14]

By end of 1946, it was clear that the League wouldn’t allow the riots to stop till the demand for Pakistan was met. 

When the partition finally happened in 1947, East Pakistan had a staggering 11.4 million Hindus, who by now, had realized that they wouldn’t be safe, for sure, in what had already become East Pakistan. Unlike Punjab, here it was not possible for such a huge population to flee East Bengal overnight. As they trickled into India slowly, over the years, carrying with them never heard of horrific stories of one sided Hindu genocide of massive proportions, Nehru, then the Prime Minister, came up with an ill-conceived idea, much to the protests of people like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of the organization which eventually evolved into the present Bharatiya Janata Party. [12] 

To prevent the Hindu exodus from East Bengal, Nehru entered into a pact with the government of East Pakistan to help create favorable conditions for the post 1950 Hindu refugees to go back to their original homes in East Bengal. It’s really surprising that such a plan was never implemented in the Punjab. 

The only reason for such an action could be the same old fetish for a ‘secular’ garb, at any cost, something which we had come across a decade ago when the Congress didn’t want to enter into a coalition with a Muslim party, lest it got tagged as a counter Hindu party. Accepting the disproportionately large number of Hindus from East Bengal would destabilize the Hindu-Muslim parity in the share of violence inflicted by each side. It would expose the uncomfortable truth that in Bengal the violence was inflicted predominantly by the Muslims against the Hindus. The very fact that only 700,000 Muslims migrated to East Bengal from the west, against the eight million Hindus who would eventually move into India over the years, is proof enough that the violence in Bengal was one sided, against the Hindus. In Punjab though, it maintained the much sought after parity, which would make both the Muslims and the non-Muslims equally devil. Any disparity in this regard would be uncomfortable for the idea of secularism. The Bengal side of the partition didn’t fit into a particular kind of narrative of Hindu-Muslim equality, which is rather more impractical and utopian than idealistic. The disparity also had another danger – the retaliation. The moment the rest of India would come to know of the magnitude of the atrocities against the Hindus in East Bengal, there ought to be retaliation and chain reactions of communal violence. It might not be an over statement, if it’s said that India owes its secularism to the Hindus of East Bengal, who never got to tell their stories to the world.

Proponents of secularism (or should we call them Hindu-Muslim parity seekers?) often try to underplay the one sided nature of the violence against the Hindus in East Bengal by highlighting sporadic cases of Muslim killings and violence against them in West Bengal during the partition. There’s no denying the fact that there was indeed some amount of violence against the Muslims too, but that didn’t create an atmosphere of mass exodus of the Muslims from West Bengal to East Pakistan. The present demographics in West Bengal corroborate the same. The proportion of the Muslims in West Bengal during partition was 25% [1] and now it’s actually more, 27%, whereas the proportion of Hindus in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) has come down from 30% [1] during partition to 8% now.

Figure 4: Comparison of Demographics in the Punjab and Bengal - 1947 & Now

Nehru, very smartly, tackled everything with a single master stroke, by giving an impression to the rest of India and the world that things in East Bengal were so favorable to the Hindu minorities that they were returning to their “home”. Much to Nehru’s relief came the Bengali intelligentsia, the writers and the poets, most of whom had left leanings, and felt the same about the Hindu-Muslim parity. For them too, the acknowledgement of the plight of the Hindus in East Pakistan would conflict with their utopian idea of Hindu-Muslim equality.  So, no one uttered a single word, and a big part of the narrative of the Bengal partition was consciously brushed under the carpet. Not surprisingly, India didn’t sign the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and subsequently, the Bengal partition escaped the attention of the world. 

Under Pakistan, the condition of the Hindus in East Bengal deteriorated drastically. They were always looked at with suspicion, as though they were all Indian agents. When the people of East Bengal, irrespective of religion, protested against the imposition of Urdu on them by the federal government, the Hindus were again at the receiving end of the Pakistan Army’s wrath, as they thought the Hindus, with their India leanings, were instigating, influencing and corrupting the Muslims of East Bengal. Even a theft of a holy relic from the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar, in Kashmir, lead to killings of Hindus in 1963. Hindu genocide, on any pretext, continued for years, and it culminated in 1971, during the Bangladesh war of liberation, when around 2.5 million Hindus were killed by the Pakistan Army. [15] Compare that with the five to six million Jews killed in Holocaust. [14]

Figure 5: Hindu Genocide by Pakistan Army in 1971 & other Genocides in the recent past

The Hindu genocide in East Pakistan and Bangladesh, since the Bengal Partition in 1947, might need a little more background for a better understanding. Dr. Hans Hock, a faculty of Linguistics & Sanskrit and an Emeritus Professor at UIUC, summarized it quite well in his talk Banglatā, Islam, and Language, at the panel on Borderland Narratives of the Bengal Partition. Dr. Hock said, “there is and has been a dual identity for many Bengali Muslims, especially in East Bengal, a tension between what may be called Banglatā and Islam.” [16] Banglatā, or the Bengali ethnic and linguistic identity of the Muslims of East Bengal or East Pakistan, often superseded their Islamic religious identity. For the Hindus though, there was never any confusion with regards to the identity – they were just Bengalis. Right after the creation of Pakistan, Banglatā posed a severe threat to the very idea of Pakistan, which very strictly centered around an exclusive Islamic identity. Any other identity was not at all acceptable. 

Immediately after 1947, Hock said in his talk, the government of East Pakistan proceeded to remove Bangla from its currency and postal stamps. The minister of Education, Fazlur Rahman, started the procedure of making Urdu the single official state language. Students protested in December 1947 and March 1948. They were joined by numerous East Bengal intellectuals, both Muslim and Hindu. Jinnah condemned the Bengali language movement as an effort to divide Pakistan. He said, “The State Language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without one State Language, no Nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore, so far as the State Language is concerned, Pakistan’s language shall be Urdu.” 

This subsequently led to the violent suppression of the Bhasha Andolan, the Bengali Language Movement, in East Pakistan by the Pakistan Army on 21st February 1952 – the day commemorated now as the Mother Language Day worldwide. Tensions continued, and then, in 1971, “Operation Searchlight” by the Pakistan Army against the Bengali intelligentsia and cultural institutions, as well as the Hindu minorities, lead to some 10 million fleeing to India, and some three million being killed, of which a massive 2.5 million were Hindus. Interestingly, the Urdu-speaking Biharis, who had moved to East Pakistan from the Indian state of Bihar after 1947, played a major supporting role in the genocide. Finally, with intervention from India, Bangladesh was declared independent in December 1971, at the end of a very decisive war between India and Pakistan, where the latter had to swallow and very inglorious defeat.

It was expected that Bangladesh, the country which was created on linguistic lines, would turn out to be secular. But, sadly enough, “atrocities [against the Hindus] recurred numerous times after 1971, driven by Islamist groups. At the same time, many Bangladeshi intellectuals protested against these events, including the well-known writer Taslima Nasrin [she wrote the controversial book Lajja, Shame], who had to go into exile in 1994 and, [ironically], met with opposition in India as well.”
Though the Banglatā, Hock referred to, does play a crucial role in the identity of the Muslims in Bangladesh, but there have been numerous instances when the frenzy Islamic identity overtook the ethnic and linguistic identity, ever since the Muslim League declared the “Direct Action” in 1946.
Unlike the population migration in the Punjab, which happened in one shot, the Hindus left in East Bengal, and then Bangladesh, have been trickling into India continuously, over the years, till this day, being constantly under the threat of violence and genocide. They were always unwanted and never accepted properly, or rather legally, by Indian government. 

The very tenet of the partition of India was to carve out a safe “home” for the Muslims. This simply implies, by contrast, that the rest of India should provide safety to the non-Muslims of the sub-continent, because otherwise there wouldn’t be any “home” for them. So, providing sanctuary to the Hindus of East Bengal and Bangladesh was the moral obligation for India. Here too, the same obsession for a particular form of secularism played a big role. It was as though, accepting the Hindus facing persecution in Bangladesh would be tantamount to being partisan to the Hindus, and hence being communal. 

The complete denial of the plight of the Hindus in Bangladesh, and more shockingly, the banning of Taslima Tasrin’s books about the same in secular India, seems to be in continuation of the leftist zeal of finding a Hindu-Muslim equality, something which has been in vogue for a long time, as we’ve seen earlier. That’s the reason why one of the biggest genocides in modern human history – that of the Hindus in East Pakistan and Bangladesh – has been thoughtfully and very consciously sunk into oblivion. It is as though, till there’s an instance of an equally massive Muslim genocide by the Hindus, talking about the Hindu genocide in East Pakistan and Bangladesh would disrupt the much desired Hindu Muslim parity. Secularism is “the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions”. So, going by that definition, the very act of the state (whether India or West Bengal) of controlling (read erasing) the narrative (read plight) of one particular religious community (read Hindus), is nothing but the state itself acting like an institution with vested religious interests. Hence, this overzealous attempt of trying to be secular actually makes the state as communal as it could be. Then, there’s no difference between Pakistan, which has very consciously tried to eradicate its non-Islamic past, and West Bengal or India, which, has also very consciously tried to eradicate an un-Hindu past (of the Hindu genocide in East Pakistan and Bangladesh). A similar attempt is never taken, in the name of secularity, when sporadic contrary incident happens. Even a military action against Muslim terrorists in Kashmir is painted in communal colors, as the subjugation of the minority Muslims under a Hindu majority state.

Something even more curious is the case of creating the myth of Hindu Terror. The CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury has recently said that Hindu mythologies like Ramayana and Mahabharata prove that "even Hindus can be violent". [17] In January 2013, the then Congress Home Minister of India, Sushil Shinde, used the term "Hindu Terror" in an official statement. In August 2010 too, the then Congress Home Minister of India, Chidambaram, used the term "Saffron Terrorism" in an official statement. [18] Secularism has really come down to creating "parities". If there's terrorism perpetrated by Islamist radicals like the ISIS, there must be a “Hindu Terror” too, just for the sake of parity.

It’s important to delve into the real narrative of the Bengal side of partition, not with an agenda to create communal divide, but to know the truth. Suppressing facts to serve a particular agenda, to align everything to one particular narrative, is not secularism – it’s as totalitarian and majoritarian as being extremely communal.  

Selected References
[1] The Partition of the Punjab and of Bengal, O. H. K. Spate, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 110, No. 4/6 (Oct. - Dec., 1947), pp. 201-218
[2] The Great Divide, The violent legacy of Indian Partition, William Dalrymple, Jun 22, 2015
[5] 70 years later, survivors recall the horrors of India-Pakistan partition, Vidhi Doshi and Nisar Mehdi, August 14, 2017
[6] ‘Everything changed’: readers’ stories of India’s partition, Anna Leach and Guardian readers @avleachy, Mon 14 Aug 2017 15.26 BST
[10] Book review: Krishna Baldev Vaid's Broken Mirror, Tackling Partition horrors, Ravi Shankar, October 31, 1994
[11] Mohandas, Rajmohan Gandhi
[13] Some Aspects of the Bengal Partition, Chhanda Chatterjee, June 30, 2017
[14] Wikipedia
[15] Hindu Genocide in East Pakistan, Shrinandan Vyas
[16] Transcript of “Borderland Narratives of the Bengal Partition”, April 25 2019, Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign


Borderland Narrative of the Partition of Bengal - Professor Hans Hock @ UIUC, 25 April 2019

Event Date: Thursday, April 25, 2019
Time: 4:00 pm–5:00 pm

Location: Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana, IL

Co-sponsored by the India Studies Fund at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC)

Banglatā, Islam, and language.

In this presentation I take a somewhat broader historical view, trying to contextualize the relationship between East Pakistan/East Bengal/Bangladesh with West Bengal, with special focus on language as a marker of identity.

In addition, I invite you to join me in entertaining the idea that there is and has been a dual identity for many Bengali Muslims, especially in East Bengal, a tension between what may be called Banglatā and Islam.

1905: Curzon partitions Bengal (reunification in 1911)

Initial reaction by Muslim intellectuals is highly negative
The Central Mohammedan Association of Calcutta condemned the proposed partition of Bengal at a meeting held in February, 1904. Most of the speakers at the said meeting were very important Muslim leaders of the time. They were Mir Motahar Hussain, Zamindar of Barisal; Seraj-uI-IsIam Chaudhary of Chittagong, member Bengal Legislative Council; and Abdul Hamid, Editor of the ‘Muslim Chronicle’.

Soon after, the local population of East Bengal realizes that there are economic benefits, and they support the division.

Subsequent Hindu reactions lead to the view among Muslims that the National Congress serves Hindu interests; this makes the Muslim League more attractive.

Bangla vs. Urdu (first take)

Late 19th century: Social activists such as the Muslim feminist Roquia Sakhawat Hussain were choosing to write in Bangla to reach out to the people and develop it as a modern literary language.
1937 Lucknow Session of the Muslim League: Bengali delegates petition that Bangla to be recognized as a language of Indian Muslims. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and most non-Bengali delegates reject this petition and argue that only Urdu can be the national language of India’s Muslims. This marginalizes not only Bengali Muslims but also Muslims from other areas, such as Malayalam-speaking Muslims of Kerala. Similarities to the attempts to impose Hindi as national language of India (and to Bengali and South Indian resistance)

1947 vs. 1971 — Partition of India vs. Partition of Pakistan.

20 June 1947, Bengal Legislative Assembly, in three separate votes, agrees on the partition of Bengal, with even a 58:21 majority among the non-Muslim-area members.

Partition and “population exchanges” were accompanied by a large amount of violence and atrocities, but the violence was not as extensive and ferocious as that in the west.

The Bangladesh war of liberation, which ended in 1971, engendered a much higher level of violence. The (West) Pakistan army killed some 3 million Bengalis, of whom about 2.5 million were Hindus. Moreover, there was widespread destruction of Hindu businesses and religious sites.

Atrocities recurred numerous times after 1971, driven by Islamist groups. At the same time, many Bangladeshi intellectuals protested against these events, including the well-known writer Taslima Nasrin (Lajja ‘shame’), who had to go into exile in 1994 and, sadly, met with opposition in India as well.

Banglatā vs. Urdu Nationalism and the partition of Pakistan.

Right after the 1947 Partition, the government of Pakistan proceeds to remove Bangla from from its currency and postal stamps.

The minister of Education, Fazlur Rahman, starts the procedure of making Urdu the single official state language.

Student protests in December 1947 and March 1948. They are joined by numerous East Bengal intellectuals, both Muslim and Hindu, including Professor Nurul Huq Bhuiyan, Dhirendranath Datta (member of the Constituent Assembly), and the legislators Shamsul Huq, Prem Hari Burman, Bhupendra Kumar Datta, and Sris Chandra Chattopadhyaya.

Dhaka, 21 and 24 March 1948.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah condemns the Bengali language movement as a “Fifth-column” effort to divide Pakistan.

19th-century kind of arguments in favor of “one nation – one language (– one religion)’

‘But let me make it very clear to you that the State Language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without one State Language, no Nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore, so far as the State Language is concerned, Pakistan’s language shall be Urdu.’

Subsequent developments

The Pakistani government wavers between rejection and accommodation of request for Bangla recognition

21 February 1952 – violent suppression of protests in East Pakistan

“Ekushey Februyāri” Bhāṣā Andolan; later adopted in West Bengal; UN “International Mother Language Day” (1999, 2008)

Official settlement of the “language issue” in 1956

But tensions continue, both economic and cultural (with Bangla language being an essential identifier of culture)

1971: “Operation Searchlight” by the Pakistani army against Bengali intelligentsia and cultural institutions, as well as the Hindu minority – some 10 million flee to India, some 3 million are killed
Urdu-speaking Mohajirs (originally from Bihar) play a major supporting role

Declaration of Bangladeshi independence (with Indian military support in December 1971)
Recognition by the UN in 1972

Bangla becomes the official language of Bangladesh (with English playing a highly reduced role, but …)

Banglatā’s linguistic consequences

Urdu of Mohajirs marginalized

Non-Indo-Aryan “tribal” languages marginalized: Khasi, Santali (Austro-Asiatic), Kurukh (Dravidian), Koch, Garo, Mizo … (Tibeto-Burman)

Regional, often very different varieties marginalized: Bishnupriya Manipuri, Chakma, Chittagonian, Sylheti

These are especially vulnerable, since they are considered “Bangla”

“One country – One language” redux ?