Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Need a Long Term anti-Fundamentalist Policy

Need a Long Term anti-Fundamentalist Policy
Sachi G. Dastidar

For some time, American and Western record against extremism has been inconsistent, especially against Islamic fundamentalism. 9/11 has changed all that. During Cold War we have supported many anti-secular, anti-democratic, pro-fundamentalist regimes contradicting our publicly-stated policy. Recently in order to win Cold War we supported Taliban against a secular Afghanistan, albeit then pro-Soviet. Taliban monstrosity made women non-person and drove her indigenous Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist minorities away. Taliban destruction of ancient Bamiyan Buddhas were well reported, but not the destruction of scores of Hindu-Sikh temples. Now the liberated nation has approved an ‘Islamic Constitution!’ Our anti-Cold War vigor overthrew a secular regime in Iran giving birth to an authoritarian Shah, which led to myopic Islamists. We have supported intolerant, Islamic dictatorships and ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims in Pakistan against a pluralistic India. In 1971 Nixon Administration opposed the first-ever independence movement in a Muslim-majority nation for a secular constitution: Bangladesh. Pakistan’s Islamic dictator embarked on genocide of its Hindu minority and secular Muslims. Army of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its Bengali Islamist allies killed 3 million mostly-Hindus in 9 months, yet no one was punished at Saudi, Islamic, Chinese and Western pressure. We did not have normal relation with the new nation until the pro-secular president was murdered in 1975 along with his extended family, including a 3-year old grandson. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan recognized the new regime within hours of that killing, and provided heaven for those killers. Those and many other Islamist nations provided shelters of the mass murderers of 1971 genocide. Surprisingly many of those killers found shelter in the U.S. as well. Now Bangladesh is ruled by Islamists, including pro-Taliban parties. They are brazenly attacking minority Hindus, Buddhists and Christians and pro-secular Muslims. In June 2004 they attacked a rally targeting the pro-tolerant former Prime Minister killing 22. In October 2001 pro-Islam parties came to power on the backs of Islamic pride after 9/11 and by systematically attacking and disenfranchising Hindu minorities.

Our public policy of supporting fundamentalist, dictatorial, anti-democratic regimes has been contrary to our pro-tolerant, secular, democratic pluralism that Americans believe in. Rest of the world finds the contradiction of popular belief and public policy with surprise, unease and disbelief. We have been protecting an intolerant, anti-women, anti-non Muslim, jihad-producing anti-democratic regime in Saudi Arabia with which we have nothing in common. After the first Gulf War we gave a liberated Kuwait an Islamic theocracy instead of a secular, constitutional monarchy like Japan and parts of Europe after WWII. Kuwait still restricts its overwhelming majority any form of political participation. Almost all the extremist Islamic madrassa schools in fur-flung nations from Indonesia to India, Pakistan to Philippines, Bangladesh to Nigeria, and from Sudan to Sri Lanka are funded by our ‘friends’ — Saudi and other intolerant Islamists. Before 9/11 we ignored the Saudi-funded extremism as it affected Asia and Africa, not us. Sadly though only two of 50-plus Muslim-majority nations have had secular constitution but enforced though military: Turkey of Kemal Ataturk and dictator Saddam’s Iraq. For tens of millions of victims of Islamic ethnic cleansing like us the post-liberation Iraq’s rise of Islamic extremism is quite disturbing. Liberation from a mad dictator must not end up with even more merciless intolerant society. A large number of Christians who lived under Saddam have already fled the country as attack on churches increased after liberation.

During the unchallenged days of Rule Britannica, the imperial power used divide-and-rule policy to create divisions among groups. Ironically one of their first experiments to divide a people was Islamism in India in 1905 when they partitioned a homogeneous Bengal Province into ‘Muslim Bengal’ and ‘Hindu Bengal,’ where that chasm didn’t exist. Within four decades of that short-term opportunism two intolerant Islamist territories would rise: Pakistan, West (now Pakistan) and East (now Bangladesh.) Colonial rulers planted political Islam in order to divert Indian independence movement involving peoples with multitude of languages and religion. Such colonial divisiveness continued from Ireland to Cyprus, Nigeria to Sudan, Iraq to Fiji, and from Palestine to Ceylon (Sri Lanka.) All those regions are still suffering devastating consequences from that policy adopted for colonial rule. However, Imperial Britain ruled her colonies with long-term objective as if they would be there for ever. Thus even after decolonization she retains significant influence over her former colonies. To win over extremism, including intolerant Islamism, we must devise a long term policy aligned with our national ideals and support local progressives to create tolerant, secular, pluralistic societies.

December 2004
Written for a US Journal

Educating the Poor and the Orphaned in Bangladesh and India: Probini Foundation

 Sachi G. Dastidar 
            Since 1990 Probini Foundation of New York, founded by the Sachi G.  & Shefali S. Dastidar of New York, has been helping the poor and the orphaned in Bangladesh and in the Indian states of Assam, Mizoram and West Bengal receive education. Now Probini helps education in over 30  schools and orphanages. Most of the children receiving help fall into poorest of the poor of Third World nations — sometimes families earning no more than $25 dollars per month for a family of three generations of 8 to 10 individuals. Yet those families are hungry for education. 
      The project started in late 1980s when an old student hostel (dormitory) for 70 boys in Comilla in eastern Bangladesh faced extreme difficulty during the regime of a military dictatorship. At their request Dastidars were able to help them. From 1990 till 2010 there were three attacks on the property damaging the adjacent Hindu Shiva and Kali temples, cremation area, the memorial garden and more. Pro-secular and pro-tolerant people of all persuasions came to help the dorm and its residents.
     In early 1990s Dastidar family, their two young kids, and friends started raising money by selling tea at the annual fall Hindu Durga Puja festival in New York. Following the initial success they sold flowers, donated cooked Bengali/Indian/American foods and drink, plus hot tea, of course. Soon they started raising funds by holding luncheon in late April, coinciding with the celebration of Baisakh New Year. It quickly became a popular event in Metro New York area where Probini also honored individuals with Anath Bandhu (Friend of the Orphaned), Samaj Bandhu (Friend of the Community) and Chhatra Bandhu (Friend of the Student) Awards.
     Probini (A) provides scholarships to students living in dorms paying their entire cost; (B) pays for teacher's salary; and (C) builds schools and dormitories (hostels) for the poor. Till 2013 they have built the following:
     1. Nihar Kana Bhaktabash and Bidyaloi School at Mahilara, Barisal, Bangladesh (completed before incorporation of Probini);
     2. Probini Boys' Dormitory at Pranab Ashram, Madaripur City, Bangladesh;
     3. Probini Girls' Dormitory at Andharmanik Girls' (Public) High School, Bagerhat, Bangladesh;
     5. Probini School Building at Pranab School, SriRamKathi, Pirojpur, Bangladesh;
     6. Doihari Sahid Smriti (Martyr's Memorial) Girls' High School Probini Bhaban (Building), Swarupkathi, Bangladesh;
     7. Probini Girls' Hostel at Tuthamandra Sarajubala Girls High School, Gopalganj, Bangladesh;
     8. Probini Girls' Hostel at Nayan Sadhur (Nayan Monk's) Ashram, Durgapur, Netrokona, Bangladesh;
     9. Probini Girls' Hostel at Kadambari Mahabidyaloi (School), Rajoir, Bangladesh;
   10. Probini Building at Tuichawng Ultimate Truth Preaching Mission School, Mizoram, India;
   11. Probini Hostel (Boys Dormitory), Pranab Ashram, Madaripur;
   12. Probini Hostel, Twichawng, Mizoram, India 
   13. Probini Building at Karasole Shishu Bikash Mandir (Karasole Children's School), Paschim Medinipur, PaschimBanga (West Bengal), India (Under construction)
            Once given education most students finish schools, and have become productive members of the society. The areas these institutions are located, after Probini’s help, have come be looked as sources of empowerment for the poor, including minority and women.

            However as intolerant religious and left extremism have been rising in many of the areas of these institutions. The schools have come under attack as they provide secular and tolerant education. For example, one Hindu-run orphanage has been attacked at least three times in the recent past. While in an area where Probini has built its first school, the headmaster, the teachers and families were driven out before a national election. In a separate case one orphanage was able to shelter girls, as young as 8 years, who were gang raped during a pogrom. On the other hand political extremism has posed problem in another jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Probini has been able to help groups open new schools and dormitories, provide scholarships to the orphaned and poor, and provide teachers to schools. With Probini’s presence additional social changes have taken place as in one village a 300-year old temple was saved while in another village a centuries-old festival came back to life after being shut down for fifty years, although Probini did neither fund nor initiate these two projects.
To donate to Probini please go to
or  (and indicate your donation is for Probini)
Probini is a 501(c)3 (nonprofit) organization and donations are tax deductible.
First Project: Comilla Boys Orphanage
First Fundraising in 1991 by Selling Tea, Flower and Food In Queens, New York City
Shuvo, the Fundraiserf
First Fundraiser with, from left, Mrs. Sarkar, Dr. Shefali S Dastidar, and Joyeeta
Second Fundraising, from left Aunt Mashi, Mrs. Swapna Mukherji, Dr. Shefali S Dastidar,                   Mr. Bhattacharya (Above)

Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, left, and Mrs. Purabi Nandi at a Queens New Year Fundraising

Our Probini Committee in Late 1990s (Below)

 First Building Project
Mahilara Mott Nihar Kana Bhaktabash & Bidyaloi School, Bangladesh:
Probini has built the School (on right) and Providing Teachers. Pic: Opening of the Building
Bhumi or Bhit Puja: Laying of Foundation by Poor Resitdents

Karasole Village - of Bengali tribe of Sabar and Lodha tribe - School Students, Faculty, Parents and visitors Drs. Sachi G & Shefali S Dastidar

Tuichawng, Mizoram, School under Construction after Probini's Help

Mizoram School Students, Faculty and guest S G Dastidar

Akondara Santhali Tribal Village School, West Bengal, India:

Probini is Providing Teachers 
Gopalganj, Bangladesh

Tutthamandra Sarajubala Girls' High School, Gopalganj, Bangladesh:
Probini is Building a Girls' Dormitory

New School Building after Probini Work
New Probini Dorm (Hostel) with 25 Resident Students
Probini Donor's List
Bankura, West Bengal State, India

Purokonda Orphanage of Oppressed-Caste Peoples, West Bengal, India:
Probini is Providing Teachers. It is in Bankura District of West Bengal State in eastern India. It is run by Purbanchal Ananda Foundation, and directed by Arindam Banerjee. In 2021 Purbanchl  also ran many other projects, including briddhasram (home for senior citizens), homeless shelter, etc.

AndharManik Girls' High School, Bagerhat, Bangladesh:
Probini has built the Dormitory

Surya Sen Orphanage and School, Uzirpur, Bangladesh:
Probini is rebuilding Tornado-destroyed School and Hostel, and Providing Teachers

Sahid Smriti (Martyrs' Memorial) Girls' High School, Swarupkathi, Bangladesh:
Probini has rebuilt the Tornado-destroyed School and Dormitory

Picture During Construction of Probini Bhaban (Building)