POST TIME: 28 July, 2019 11:26:48 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 28 July, 2019 11:29:26 AM
Half-truths are more dangerous than lies
Priya Saha's allegation about the condition of the religious minorities in Bangladesh is not wholly untrue. But her facts and figures do not match with the reality
Abdul Gaffar choudhury

Half-truths are more dangerous than lies

A storm is still brewing in the tea cup in c caused by the comment of a Bangladeshi lady Priya Saha in a conference at Washington relating to religious freedom. This conference is a regular feature arranged by the American President and this year also it was held in Washington in the presence of President Donald Trump. The conference was attended by religious representatives of different countries and this year Priya Saha attended it from Bangladesh. She is not a known figure but her comment made her known at home and abroad. Her comment made in the religious conference was very controversial and people, especially in Bangladesh are alarmed by it. The controversy has not died down and its far reaching impact is yet to be seen.
Priya Saha's allegation about the condition of the religious minorities in Bangladesh is not wholly untrue. But her facts and figures do not match with reality. She said that religious minorities are victims of the repression of extreme fundamentalist groups. 3 crores and 70 lakhs members of the minority communities have disappeared from the country and the remaining 1 crore and 80 lakhs are living in pitiable conditions. Priya Saha, holding the hands of President Trump made an appeal to him to save the religious minorities in Bangladesh. Her comment was not welcomed in the larger section of the religious minorities in Bangladesh. They thought that her appeal will not help the minorities but this half-truth will be used to create religious and racial tension between different religious communities of the country. The controversy is still going on and it is almost a provocation to harm the existing communal peace and harmony. I hope with proper discussion and by unveiling the real truth this controversy should end otherwise it may become a weapon in the hands of the enemies of the people and they might try to use it not only against Hasina government but also against the country.

Why did Priyanka Saha create this storm suddenly, is a big question. Some people say she has done it from her personal anger against Sheikh Hasina government. She had asked for a nomination from Awami League in the last election but was rejected. Some say her husband is a high ranking officer of DUDOK and his due promotion is delayed. The couple is not very happy with the present government. And getting the chance in Washington expressed their anger publicly. Some other say that there is a new conspiracy to undermine the credibility of Hasina government in Washington and Delhi and Priya Saha knowingly or unknowingly stepped into this conspiracy. She might be encouraged by strong anti-Hasina lobby in Washington and supported secretly by a section of our civil society in Dhaka. It is notable that when there was a turmoil in Dhaka media over her speech on the first day, the speech did not appear in a Dhaka daily, which is known as a mouthpiece of the so-called civil society. This gave me a clue that by not covering her speech and ignoring it totally her secret patrons wanted to remain hidden and not to come out openly. I think this time also their overt and covert attempt to malign Hasina government would fail. Government should reveal the real facts and ignore her comments.

If there is a motivation in Priya Saha's mind that uttering a half-truth in the world stage she would have a good publicity and be renowned in both inside and outside the country and it would help to fulfil her political ambition in future by becoming a controversial figure, she has not helped her case. Sheikh Hasina's government survived many dangerous propaganda wars in its last two terms. The propaganda that the government could not prevent-the rise of the fundamentalists in the country proved to be untrue. The government very successfully prevented the political unrest created by BNP and Jamaat. The worldwide propaganda against the legality of the trials of war criminals of 71 and all the conspiracy to foil it failed miserably. The civil society's attempt to paint this government as an illegal one and the elections held under them as not proper did not cut any ice with the world.

Hasina government with some political failures achieved great success in economic development and people though not happy with her dysfunctional political organization (Awami League) are happy with her strong and powerful leadership and her role in the entire South Asian politics. The opposition although united in the national unity front could not stand up with any political porgramme except one futile demand- the demand of the release of Khaleda Zia. People are not responding to that demand so far. So, what last straw they can hold against this government except raising the communal tension and tempo in the country. They may have thought that this will attract the anti-Hasina lobby in America and India. But my presumption is that this government will handle the situation with ability and the same efficiency.

In reality the religious minorities are not enjoying equal rights in Bangladesh fully. The discrimination and repression started from day one of the division of the subcontinent on the basis of religion. In India, though the country is a democratic one minorities are seriously repressed and their condition is still not good. After the division of India in both East and West Bengal there were communal riots one after another. In 1950 these communal riots escalated so much that a treaty between India and Pakistan was signed called Nehru-Liaquat treaty. According to it India agreed to accept religious communities of the-then East Pakistan affected by the riots. According to official statistics more than a crore religious minorities left the country and went to West Bengal, Assam and Tipara. This exodus continued till 1964 when there were again communal riots in several parts of India and the-then East Pakistan also. It followed the war between India-Pakistan in September 1965. There was again a large number of exodus. Ayub government promulgated enemy property ordinance and started grabbing minority property. Opportunists from majority community irrespective of their party colour started to grab minority property, even forcing their minority neighbours to leave the country.

Priya Saha alleged that more than 3 crores people of minority communities have disappeared from Bangladesh. While this might be true but they did not disappear. They left the country, some willingly the majority unwillingly under the pressure of the-then ruling communal parties. Muslim League and later on BNP and Jamaat were responsible for that. Since 1950 Awami League led the fight against communalists and halted many communal riots especially in 1964. When Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib took the leadership of Awami League it was a non-communal party and the war for liberation was a combined fight of Hindu, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians. In independent Bangladesh communal parties were banned and the religious minorities were absorbed in one nation. Again there was a counter revolution in 1975 and after overthrowing the national government the communal section of politicians and military people grabbed the power. Under their leadership the silent pushing of minority people to India continued. They tried to imitate the Pakistani policy towards minorities.

In 2001 election of Bangladesh the minorities were indiscriminately tortured, killed and raped by BNP and Jamaat supporters. Like Purnima Shil hundreds of minority women were tortured and raped. In the-then CPM government’s report 10,000 of minorities left for West Bengal in one month. During the rule of Ershad and Khaleda Zia many Hindu temples and holy places were destroyed and they had to perform their religious rituals under police protection. The situation changed after Moha Jote led by Awami League came to power in 2008. The protection of the minority communities was strengthened. A new minority middle class start growing and they are getting places in the higher strata of administration but the undercurrent of social and economic communalism could not be completely abolished from the society. It is a century old disease patronized by British and Pakistani governments and it will take time to be erased from society. India and the European countries also could not eradicate racism and communalism from societies in spite of strong anti-racist laws.

Priya Saha alleges that only minority people are tortured by the extreme fundamentalists. This is also not true. In the last 10-15 years those who were tortured and killed including the bloggers by extremists, most of them belong to the majority community. The women who are raped are mostly Madrassah students not only minorities. By begging mercy and help from President Trump who has been alleged by his own countrymen also as a dangerous racist and fascist, whose regime is torturing the immigrants keeping them in camps like Hitler's concentration camps the minority in Bangladesh will get nothing from him. The allegations and appeal of Priya Saha to the semi dictators will not achieve equal rights for the members of the minority community. It may be achieved by helping this government and the secularist politics of the country and fighting communalism jointly. These allegations will only help the propaganda of the communalist and reactionary forces of the country.

 London, 26th July Friday, 2019