Empire's Last Casualty Author: Sachi Ghosh Dastidar Publisher: Firma KLM Price: 575
Hindus are facing existential crisis in Bangladesh, yet no one is raising the issue, says Saradindu Mukherji
Study of forced migration or refugees has been deliberately neglected by Indian social scientists primarily because of India's 'secular' politics and 'progressive' social science research! This negationism is also due to the diktat of their international patrons whose policy is to prop up Pakistan and Bangladesh as normal state systems.
Muslim separatist tendencies were the basic factors behind Partition. Pakistan was created on the specific demands made by the Muslim League, and it was duly supported by its permanent collaborators - the Indian Communists. The existing accounts on Partition usually "balance" the guilt and sufferings of both the communities in equal measure, and then, blame everything on the British. On the subsequent persecution, discrimination, dispossession and ethno-religious cleansing of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc, the literature is scanty. Herein lies the importance of the book, Empire's Last Casualty, by Sachi Ghosh Dastidar, a senior academic in the State University of New York and a refugee from East Pakistan.
The plight of Hindus in eastern Bengal (later called East Pakistan and currently Bangladesh) is one of the most traumatic stories in the history of human civilisation - comparable in scale to the elimination of the Pagans, Zoroastrians, Hindus and Buddhists by their Islamic conquerors across the world. The sufferings of the aborigines of Australia, the Orang Aslis in Malaysia and that of the native "Indians" by their European conquerors belong to the same category of brutality.
Hindus/Buddhists, who constituted 30 per cent of Bangladesh's population in 1947, have been reduced to less than 10 per cent. The "missing population" amounting to about 25 million are to be found in their unabated mass migration to India, conversion to Islam and merciless elimination. And even this reduction to 30 per cent in 1947 had occurred in a few centuries following Bakhtiyar Khilji's invasion of Bengal. Thus, the "original sin" cannot be ascribed to the British Empire!
The differences between how the non-Muslims suffered in the West and the East had been described by this reviewer thus: "In Islamic parlance, it may be said that while Hindus and Sikhs in West Pakistan were subjected to jhatka (instant slaughter) at one go, Hindus and Buddhists in East Pakistan became items for halal - the process of slow slitting of the head from the torso" (Subjects, Citizens and Refugees: Tragedy in the Chittagong Hill Tracts 1947-1998).
It must have been a challenge for Dastidar to write this book, as "documentation of migration is one thing, but the documentation of outright killing of Hindus is extremely complicated, stressful and difficult". And yet he has done this "painful" job well. Through graphs, charts, photographs and original primary source materials, he brings out the heart-rending story of the Direct Action (August 1946) in Calcutta, Noakhali pogroms and other genocides of 1950, 1964, 1970, 1989, 1992, 2001-2 and many more. This gory story of torture, cold-blooded murder and forced conversion, usually backed by the state power and the "holy" men, makes one devastated. The Bangladesh war of independence itself saw the killing of three million people, with more than 90 per cent being Hindus. He also mentions the plight of the Jumma people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and how Khulna, a Hindu-majority district, has been turned into a Hindu-minority district, and how the Muslim population is increasing dangerously in West Bengal.
Dastidar rightly wonders why the ruling political parties in West Bengal dominated by Hindu refugees from the east have never uttered a word on the tragedy of their own kinsmen left behind. He is right in asking why no one in India wanted the Pakistanis responsible for killing three million people during the war of liberation to be put on trial. Why have their harassment, humiliation and exodus continued? Why does the international community keep quiet?
With the exception of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who had resigned from the Nehru Cabinet on this issue, no high-profile person - not even Amartya Sen and Mahasweta Devi with their roots in eastern Bengal - has ever uttered a word on this unending genocide.
The Appendix provides the famous speech of Dhirendranath Dutta (who was later killed by the Pakistanis in 1971) in the Pakistani parliament, pleading for the inclusion of Bangla as one of the official languages in Pakistan. It also has the letter of resignation of Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Scheduled Caste Minister in the Pakistani Cabinet (who fled from Pakistan to India), CIA's (Kissinger!) role in the brutal coup against Sheikh Mujib and the elimination of most of his family members.
This is a book of rare candour and commitment. The editing, however, could have been more rigorous.
-- The reviewer is professor, University of Delhi, and an expert on Bangladesh