Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hindu Tormentor Welcomed in Hindu India: General Ershad of Bangladesh

General Husain Mohammad Ershad, Bangladeshi Dictator, former President who replaced secularism by making Islam the State Religion in Bangladesh, and who let two anti-Hindu pogroms is welcomed in Hindu-majority India's West Bengal (Paschim Bangla) State in December 2009. It is also said that Ershad expressed his regret that he couldn't bring Islamic Sharia Law to Bangladesh making the indigenous Hindu minority officially 4th class citizen.

See posts, Bangladesh Anti-Hindu Pogrom 1990, and Bangladesh Anti-Hindu Pogrom 1992.

General was welcomed in 2009 and again on India's independence day, August 15, 2012 in Delhi by India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and later by India's (Bengali) President Pranab Mukherji.

Read in Bengali: 2012 Anadabazar

The Telegraph; Calcutta, India; August 15 2012

Delhi reaches out to Dhaka parties


New Delhi, Aug. 14: Nearly all visitors from Bangladesh, barring those sympathetic to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, have of late warned India against putting all its eggs in one basket.

Their message, it appears, has hit home. Delhi today started its engagements with political parties other than the Hasina-led Awami League, with former President Lieutenant General (retired) H.M. Ershad meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Sources said Delhi was increasingly becoming aware that Dhaka may have a new ruling alliance after general elections next year-end and that Ershad, who heads the Jatiya Party which has an alliance with the Awami League, could play an important role then.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Ershad’s visit was “part of our ongoing engagement with a democratic and multi-party polity in Bangladesh”. Ershad’s visit to India is on an invitation the Prime Minister sent him.

Officials said Singh and Ershad discussed issues of bilateral importance, including the yet-to-be-signed Teesta water sharing treaty and the boundary agreement India’s Parliament is yet to ratify.

“The Prime Minister conveyed the high priority that the government and people of India attach to developing the friendliest of relations with Bangladesh, which is an important neighbour,” said a foreign ministry official.

Ershad’s last visit to India was in 2010 to attend the golden jubilee celebrations of the National Defence College of which he is an alumnus.

Times of India
Ershad on nostalgia trip

Pinak Priya Bhattacharya, TNN 8 December 2009, 05:40am IST

DINHATA: Ailing and bed-ridden, Asit Chakraborty (79) couldn't recognise the face that stared at him at first. Then the man uttered three words "I am Peyara” and Chakraborty instantly knew who the man was. It had been 63 years since Chakraborty had last seen Peyara, the man the world knows as Hussain Muhammad Ershad, the former dictator of Bangladesh. The 79-year-old Ershad returned to his hometown in Cooch Behar's Dinhata to a rousing welcome from the locals. It isn't every day that a former president goes on a morning walk down the dusty streets of Dinhata. Ershad did so on Monday. Accompanied by his son Eric Ershad, he entered India through the border town of Changrabandha. Ershad spent around 30 minutes with Chakraborty, enquiring about his family and other friends who had stayed back in Dinhata. Born in Rangpur (now in Bangladesh), Ershad had studied in Dinhata, his hometown. He left for Rangpur in 1946 after completing his matriculation. Ershad's father left for Bangladesh in 1950. His five brothers remained in Dinhata and have stayed on at their ancestral house. The former president was all praise for India's role in the independence of Bangladesh. "Bangladesh can never repay India’s debt. Without the active cooperation of India, Bangladesh would never have gained independence. India has done a lot for Bangladesh's development and is still playing an important role. After all, India can never deny its responsibility towards its neighbour," Ershad said. Later in the evening, Ershad met two more friends — Bijor Roy and Sudhir Saha. Roy recalled that in his schooldays Ershad was a good footballer and played striker. The former president has been savouring local delicacies that includes Boroli, a fish found only in the north Bengal rivers and lasa, a locally grown vegetable which, Ershad claims was his favourite dish. Apart from the local bigwigs who have flocked to his residence next to Dinhata's Forward Bloc office, representatives from the Greater Cooch Behar People's Association "which has been demanding a separate state” met Ershad, seeking his support. The former president remained non-committal. The former Bangladesh president has something else on his mind for his hometown. Ershad wants a rail link between Kolkata and Dinhata, passing through Bangladesh. "I will raise this issue with the Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina and also Indian railway minister Mamata Banerjee," Ershad said. So happy is Ershad with his stay in Dinhata that he has already made up his mind to extend the nostalgia trip to December 10. Earlier, he was scheduled to leave on Tuesday.

A letter to Times of India:

Dear Editor:

It is good to know that dictator General Ershad is enjoying a trip to “Hindu India.” Indians in general and Hindus in particular suffer from amnesia. Let us not forget that Ershad let loose two anti-Hindu pogroms in 1990 and 1992 when thousands of Hindu mandirs, ashrams, smasans, libraries and tens of thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed; mothers and daughters abused. During 1992 pogrom I visited at least half-a-dozen destroyed smasans from Chittagong to Sylhet. During 1990 pogrom I visited dozens of mandirs including the Dhakeswari Mandir torched and destroyed with the deity gone forever. No one was punished. Yet he imprisoned Major Deb for years for demanding reconstruction of the 9th Century Ramna Kali Mandir destroyed by Army of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its Bengali Islamist allies for absolutely no reason. In 1987 I met his Land Minister Sunil Gupta to ascertain why 1.5 million acres of land, thousands of homes, ponds and businesses were confiscated from Hindus through Enemy Property Act by declaring Hindus enemies of the state. It is time that he apologizes to all Hindus and all Bangladeshis for his sin.

Dr. S. G. Dastidar

December 8, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Calcutta : 300 : Kolkata - Memoirs of a Diverse City

Calcutta : 300 : Kolkata
Memoirs of a Diverse City - Overseas Tribute to Calcutta on Her Tercentenary
Edited by
Sachi G. Dastidar
Published by
South Asia Forum, U.S.A.
October 16, 1992
ISBN 0-9634363-0-9

Bangladesh Muslim Cartoonist Gets Hard Labor

Bangladesh: Muslim cartoonist gets hard labor for hurting religious feelings of Muslim community

Name (Naam) by Arifur Rahman
[Frame #1]
Man: Hey boy, What's your name?
Boy: My name is Babu
[Frame #2]
Man: Before your name you have to say Mohammad
[Frame #3]
Man: What's your father's name?
Boy: Mohammad Daddy
[Frame #4]
Man: What's that in your arm?
Boy: Mohammad Cat

A court in southwestern Bangladesh yesterday found a cartoonist guilty of “hurting the religious feelings of the Muslim community” and sentenced him to two months of hard labour,.
Arifur Rahman, 25, was tried in absence over the drawing, which sparked street clashes and riots in the capital Dhaka when it appeared in a satirical magazine two years ago. Rahman, who was arrested but later bailed, said that he was unaware of the trial. The cartoon appeared in Bengali newspaper Prothom Alo’s weekly and now defunct magazine Alpin. “He has been given a two-month, hard labour jail sentence and a 500-taka ($7.40) fine,” said magistrate Kaisarul Islam, who presided over the case in the city of Jessore. “I am not on the run and have not been told about the case,” Rahman said in Dhaka. “I will speak to my lawyers.” ~ end

An interview with Arifur Rahman at Cartoon News here.

The government confiscated all copies of the now-defunct satire magazine in which the cartoon was printed. Amid a protest by Islamic groups, Prothom Alo’s editor and publisher apologised for printing the cartoon, and fired the cartoonist.

On Feb 4, the High Court ruled Arif’s detention illegal and ordered his immediate release. He was freed on Mar 20 this year. The cartoonist’s arrest and detention also earned criticism from local and international rights groups. In January, human-rights watchdog Amnesty International demanded Arif’s release, terming him “a prisoner of conscience”.

In one of his cartoons published in Alpin (17th September, 2007 issue), an old man was asking the name of a child with a cat in his lap. The boy answered and was scolded for not putting Mohammad before his name, as he was Muslim. Then the man asked about the animal and the scared boy put the holy prophet’s name before the cat as suggested by the elder. Things turned bad the moment it hit the stands. The furious mullahs were on rampage and Arif was suddenly the enemy of the state! His story really starts from here:

So what was the idea behind the cartoon? Why did you draw it?

Well, i never thought this was going to be such a big issue. The joke I used is a common one in our locality, infact in that zone. I heard it when as a kid and even when I grew up. My idea was to highlight the faulty religious teachings by some of our elders where they advise to put the name of our holy Prophet before every name, when they should also clarify where it shouldn’t be used. What surprised me, I learnt after my release that the same joke was used in a publication of Islami Chatra Shibir name Kishorekantha (November, 1998 Issue).

Are you safe? Do you feel the JMB are done with you?That’s the thing still haunt me even in my dreams. I usually keep a low profile; never in anywhere have I introduced myself as Arif. But still I don’t feel safe; they can be anywhere and even kill me if they want. I don’t even work in the shop where I used to.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Ai Bangla, Oi Bangla (This Bengal, that Bengal)

Ai Bangla, Oi Bangla (This Bengal, that Bengal)

a collection of short stories based on lilfe of monorities in Islamized Bengal


Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar

Published by:

Tulat Publilshers

13B Sree Krishna Lane, Calcutta 4, India

Publication Date: Mahalaya B.S. 1398; October 1991

Price: Rs. 50; $10 in the U.S.

Book review:

Desh: Ai Bangla, Oi Bangla : This Bengal, that Bengal

Desh (Bengali Weekly), Calcutta, India
19 August 1989
Oi Bangla, Ai Bangla (This Bengal, that Bengal)
Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar


Unnatural Disaster: Pogroms have KIlled Hundreds of Bangladeshi Minorities

Cultural Survival, 1992

Unnatural Disasters: Pogroms have Killed Hundreds of Bangladeshi Minorities; Millions more are Refugees in India

G. R. Chowdhury


A Aamar Desh: This is My Home

A Aamar Desh (This is My Home)

a collection of 24 Bengali essays and short stories by

Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dasstidar

on Bangladesh, West Bengal - India and the United States


Samiran Chowdhury

College Street Publishers (Private) Limited

13 Bankim Chantterjee Street,

Calcutta 700 073, West Bengal, India

January 1998 Calcutta Book Fair

Price: Rs. 40; $7 in the U.S.

2012 papperback

2012 low-cost paperback, modified edition published by Milita and Five Star Printing, Kolkata 9, India.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Hindu Monk’s Pilgrimage to Bajitpur, Bangladesh

A Hindu Monk’s Pilgrimage to Bajitpur, Bangladesh
Swami Amarnathananda

I first visited Bajitpur in 1992 and my experience was not a pleasant one. At that time I was living in Delhi, India so I had to come to Kolkata by train and then to Bangaon border by road. Crossing the border between India and Bangladesh and then another long road journey to Bajitpur of Madaripur District (of former Faridpur District) of Bangladesh (former East Bengal, India) was troublesome. I accepted that journey as part of my spiritual practices and I said to myself that this will be it; I am not coming back here in this lifetime anymore.

Small Bajitpur village is the most important pilgrim center for us, for our monks, for our devotees and to all who love Bharat Sevashram Sangha. In meditation, in jap (japa), in religious discourses and in all other spiritual thoughts Bajitpur village come to our mind as part of all these practices. Because it is the holy birthplace of Acharya Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj, it is the place of his tapasya and it is the place of the beginning of Bharat Sevashram Sangha monastic order and social work (meaning Order in Service of India-Mankind.) It is the place that gives us the divine touch of the presence of Acharya Sreemat Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj.

After living for such a long period of time in the West, it is not an easy thought to visit Bajitpur in Bangladesh again, so I gave up the thought to visit there anymore. But recently Swami Subhranandaji was insisting that I must visit Bajitpur once again, he said that he will make sure that my journey will be a pleasant one and spiritually motivated.

According to our plan, I flew out of John F. Kennedy International airport in New York on Wednesday, February 4, 2009 by Emirates Airlines to Dubai. As I was waiting for my flight from Dubai to Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, I was surprised to see the huge number of people waiting to board the same flight. I realized that many people from Bangladesh work in the Middle-Eastern countries and were going back to visit their motherland. The unfortunate thing was after repeated announcement by the airline authority that all passengers has a booked seat and should board the flight quietly and orderly, nobody was ready to listen. As a result, you can imagine the unpleasant situation at the boarding gate. It was a very tiresome boarding for me.

I reached Zia International airport, Dhaka by evening and Swami Subhranandaji who already reached Dhaka from India was at the airport with Brahmachari Swapan Maharaj who was waiting to receive me. Our Meghna’s Barra JamaiBabu (eldest brother-in-law) Mr. Abinash Paul arranged a car to pick me up from the airport. At Dhaka, I was expecting a small airport and lots of hassle, but surprisingly, as soon as I landed at the airport I fell in love with Bangladesh. The airport was huge, clean and the officers and people were very friendly. Honestly speaking, I fell in love with Bangladesh immediately.

Arriving at Dhaka airport from Dubai

Dhaka is the national capital and the largest city of Bangladesh. Here you can find many universities, academies, intellectuals, writers, politicians, business people and it is also the place of origins of many movements. The city witnessed the presence of British, the Pakistanis, its own independence movements and the killings of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the creator of independent nation of Bangladesh. I was shocked to see the present-day Dhaka City. The city has beautiful high rise buildings, well maintained roads, new modern cars, beautiful apartment buildings and I also recognized mass use of mobile phones. Next day we all went to visit some important historical places in the city such as Dhaka University, Ramna (Kali Bari Temple) Maidan (green), Dhakeswari Durga Bari (Hindu temple), overcrowded book fairs, modern parliament house, famous Dhanmandi area and the house of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman where almost his entire family was killed.

Our Ashram in Bangladesh is known as “Shri Shri Pranab Math (Mott).” The office of Dhaka Pranab Math is situated in Tikatuli area. It is actually based at a portion of Dhaka Bholagiri Ashram. With many years of experiences and for some practical reason, I am sure that Swami Digvijoyanandaji who is the in-charge of our Dhaka Center thought it will be in the best interest of the Ashram to lease a place for our office there, and so he didn’t go ahead to purchase a property for our own in Dhaka city.

Entrance of Sri Sri Pranab Mott at Bajitpur
Maghi Purnima was on Monday, February 9th 2009, so without any delay we left for Bajitpur by road. Mr. Abinash Paul and his family very kindly arranged a mini van for us to travel. I must say that since the independence of Bangladesh, I could see that the country has improved tremendously. The transportation system, new roads and new bridges are delightful to look at and the people are very hospitable. This was a great opportunity for me to see the real Bangladesh. Its green rice field, many rivers and canals, mud houses, coconut, mango and kathahar trees, and peaceful village people made the country extremely beautiful. Over all, it was a joy listening to beautiful sweet Bengali languages. It was almost six hours of road journey from Dhaka to Bajitpur. On our way we had to cross the famous Padma River by ferry boat. And crossing the Padma River by ferry boat was a wonderful experience. We have heard so much of Padma River, its destructive nature, its huge size and its inseparable nature from Bangladesh country. It’s indeed a unique experience to be on the ferry boat on the Padma River.

Ferry Boat at Padma River

It is almost sixteen years since I first visited Bajitpur. Now I am finally at the gate of our Ashram. Nested in mango, jackfruit, supari and coconut trees and surrounded by a canal, Bajitpur village is one of the most beautiful villages in entire Bangladesh. Here is where Bharat Sevashram Sangha started in 1917. It is the birth place of Guru Maharaj and his mortal body is resting here too. In the Ashram compound and the entire village of Bajitpur you can feel the touch of that great saint. The dust on the roads of Bajitpur are sanctified with his holy foot print, the air of this village is purified by the touch of the divine body of Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj and the sky up above is the witness of the many wonderful human leela of that great son of this soil.

On the occasion of Maghi Purnima, there were three days of celebration, and tens of thousands of people will be visiting this place. They will be attending puja, havan (fire worship) and partaking of maha prasadam (blessed food.) There were almost twenty five swamijees who came from India to attend this year’s festival. My heart was filled with joy to see them after one year. If I was not away from India, I wouldn’t understand the greatness of India and if I was not away from my brother monks, probably I wouldn’t understand how sweet and dear they are to me.

I did not go to Bajitpur Ashram this year just to attend the festival. I went there for my own spiritual purposes. It was a soul-searching mission for me. I went there to seek the blessings of Shri Shri Guru Maharaj and to be present where our divine Guru Maharaj spent many of his priceless years doing his own tapasya (silent meditation.) All those holy places inside the Ashram such as the Samadhi Bedi (mausoleum), Rajmancha, Pranab Kunda, Dhyana-gumpha (meditation cave), Havan Kund, Ashirvad Manch, Big Tin Chala, Bura-thakurani Sthan, Radha Krishna Mandir, Abhisek Mancha, Guru Maharaj Bishram Mandir, are there where you can feel the divinity of Guru Maharaj. Among all of these, at the Samadhi Bedi Guru Maharaj’s divine body is resting permanently is the most spiritually uplifted place in the entire Ashram compound. Just imagine, to whom we have been worshiping and praying daily, whose divine appearance we have been meditating upon daily and to whom we are offering all of our unuttered prayers, that Swami Pranavanandaji’s divine mortal body is resting right here in this temple of Bajitpur and in this Samadhi Bedi. To all of us monks, devotees and visitors, this is the most sacred place to sit quietly and pray.

Birth place of Sri Sri Guru Maharaj

Famous Tulsi Mancha at the birth place of Sri Sri Guru Maharaj
Then there is the parental home “Bhuiya-bari” of Guru Maharaj. This is the house where Acharya Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj was born. That famous Tulsi Mancha (holy tulsi-plant pedestal), Chile Kotha (attic room) everything is still there and well maintained. One of the main activities of this three-day Maghi Purnima (full moon on the winter month of Magh) Festival is a religious procession in and around Bajitpur village. The procession usually stops at those places and houses where Guru Maharaj visited and also meeting village people. This was a good opportunity for me to see real Bajitpur village. The first day when we took part at the religious procession, we visited ‘Prince Edward High School’ where Guru Maharaj attended and we also visited Bajitpur Bazar where Guru Maharaj’s name is connected for subduing a bully on the way to Bazar. We also visited many houses and every home we visited people treated us with great affection. At one point Bajitpur was a Hindu-majority village, but the number of Hindus has declined rapidly. The bad side of this procession is that we had to cross couple of bridges made of bamboos. As you know we usually do not walk on bamboo bridges, as we were crossing one of these bridges, I fell down. People took the opportunity to make a joke, they said that “Bangladesh is standing but America fell down.” “America parchhe Bangladesh darraiya ache.” It was very difficult for me to accept that joke.

Second day of the festival was full of activities like Acharya-varon (head-teacher adoration), Abhisekam (installation), lectures, annakut (food grain offering) and arati at several places. On the third morning was the Ashirbad (blessing) ceremony, havan and in the afternoon there was full Dol Mahotsav (festival of colors). Thousands of people attended these three days of festival. They came from far and near to listen to the wonderful words of Guru Maharaj and at the end of the festivity each day they took prasadam (blessed food). Another attraction of Bajitpur Maghi Purnima festival is the mela or village fair. At the mela, people usually get an opportunity to buy many rare village productions. And there are big size rosgollas (syrup-dipped round cheese-balls) and many other essential items.

I observed there were lots of changes in our Bajitpur Ashram. When I first visited Bajitpur Ashram in 1992, apart from the mandir, there were some small houses made from hogla (tall) grasses. There were no proper sanitation and bathroom facilities. Now in 2009 there are almost 100 rooms with attach baths. The entire Ashram compound has concrete wall, a water pond and a beautiful flower and vegetable garden. Thanks to pujya Sreemat Swami Ramanandaji Maharaj, the vice president of the sangha, for his continuous efforts for this great improvement.

Bajitpur gave us the touch of Sri Sri Guru Maharaj. All Guru Maharaj’s children want to visit Bajitpur at least once in their life time to see where Guru Maharaj was born, where he did his tapasya, where the Sangha started and finally where his divine mortal body is resting. As I see the situation, with friendly Bangladesh government, it is easy for us to visit all these memorable places now and have darshan. With the divine blessings of Guru Maharaj, Bajitpur also give you sweet coconut water, fresh khejur rosh (date-palm juice) and famous Bajitpur patali (hard flat molasses bar).
I am with pujya pada Sreemat Swami Ramanandaji
Maharaj the vice president of Bajitpur Ashram

Madaripur is one of the main cities in the former district of Faridpur. I heard that Madaripur became a district now. Madaripur Ashram was the second Ashram Guru Maharaj built. This Ashram has many memories of Guru Maharaj. The entire Ashram and surroundings is sanctified by the foot print of Guru Maharaj. Unfortunately, after partition of India, the Ashram deteriorated badly. When I came here in 1992 there was couple of sheds only made of bamboos and tin. But with strong determination, good fortune and hard work of our Swami Satyapriyanandaji Maharaj the entire Ashram is now changed to a very beautiful, clean and organized place. It has temple, monk quarter, student hostel and flower and vegetable garden, all these made the Ashram very divine.

In front of Madiripur Ashram, Bangladesh

We all heard of the huge ‘Kandari’ boat of Guru Maharaj and his preaching mission in the interior villages. Bangladesh is full of rivers and canals. With low lands and lots of rainfall, these rivers and canals overflow with water. Road connections were almost impossible in many villages. Guru Maharaj made a huge boat and named it ‘Kandari’ (leader). He and hundreds of monks used to go from village to village on preaching mission with Kandari boat reaching out to the people all over the country.

Swami Gitatmananda of SriRamKathi Ashram is another dynamic and intelligent monk. He is a visionary too. To reach out to the villagers, he designed a boat with a temple, space to sit down and pray, his living quarter, preaching library, sound system and cooking facilities. In this way he dose not depend on anyone and he could go freely into the deep interior villages for his preaching mission of rural Bengal.

With some devotees, Swami Gitatmananda brought this ‘Kandri’ boat to attend Maghi Purnima festival in Bajitpur. Plan was made that we the Swamijees will travel with this boat to SriRamKathi so that we can feel the touch of real Bangladesh. In this way we can experience how Guru Maharaj used to travel and crossed so many rivers, canals and villages while he was on his preaching mission to many places.

Accordingly, almost eleven of us monks with some devotees started our journey by the ‘Kandari’ boat on the river Kumar. Guru Maharaj travelled this river Kumar many times, so there were lots of memories of Guru Maharaj here. We were all very happy with this Kandari boat journey. It was altogether eight hours of journey by river. On our way we crossed many villages and green farmlands. What we saw at the two sides of the rivers was amazing and it will stay in our memory forever. What shocked me the most is that there are always religious tension between the Hindus and Muslims, but when we saw these simple village people and their families, we did not feel that way at all poor. They were very loving and caring people and were curious to know who we are, because they have not seen so many holy men at one place in a very long time. There were many bamboo bridges across the Kumar River and the adults and children walked on these bridges with no difficulties. I often wondered how difficult life must be for them.
People crossing bamboo bridge over Kumar River
We reached near SriRamKathi Ashram in Pirojpur (former Barisal) district by evening. To our surprise, there were lots of people waiting for us by the canal side where our boat will dock. It was a touching moment to see the school children waiting for us with their band and music. SriRamKathi Ashram is one of the most beautiful ashrams you can imagine. It consists of a mandir (temple), rooms for monks and guests, and a beautiful primary school for the village children. The Ashram is surrounded by devoted neighbors. There are lots of mango, supari and coconut trees and rivers around. It gives the Ashram a serene and divine environment. I need to mention here that the main assets of this Ashram are the dedicated devotees. The way they treated us with unconditional love, respect and gave us what little they have, it is indeed incomparable. Under the leadership of our dedicated Swamiji and the dedicated devotees, one day, surely our SriRamKathi Ashram will be a pride of the organization.


On February 12, 2009 we started in the afternoon for our journey to Khulna by road. We were about thirteen people in our group. We rented two mini vans for this trip, which usually takes about six hours to reach Khulna. On our way we again passed through the villages which were full of coconut and supari trees. Bangladesh changed tremendously since it gained independence. The government built many beautiful bridges and highways. The highways are built in such a way that it made traveling by road very easy. To reach Khulna Ashram we had to cross Bhairav River by ferry.

Khulna Ashram played a very important role at the beginning stage of Bharat Sevashram Sangha. This Ashram produced many famous monks of the organization and Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj himself visited this Ashram many times. It has a long history and endless memories of the divine leela of Guru Maharaj. Swami Suddhatmananda, the present Swamiji in-charge, is a young intelligent and vibrant monk. He is trying his utmost to preserve and protect this Ashram. The Ashram is situated at the bank of the Bhairav River. It has a serene environment and is a very beautiful place for tapasya. Khulna main city is at the other side of the river. If you stand on the roof of our Ashram and look at the other side of Khulna city, it will remind you so much of famous KashiDham (Varanasi). I know that KashiDham is the heart of Hinduism and a prominent pilgrim center in India. On the other hand, Khulna is a commercial city in Bangladesh, but it has its own beauty. Unfortunately, we could not spend a long time in Khulna Ashram as our plan was to go to Noagoan. Myself, Swami Subhranandaji and few devotees from Jamshedpur left for Noagoan next morning. Swami Suddhatmananda, the monk-in-charge of Khulna Ashram accompanied us to Khulna railway station. But before we get to the railway station, we had to cross the Bhairav River once again by boat. When we reached Khulna the night before it was dark, but now it was morning, very sunny and bright. We were able to see the real beauty of the Bhairav River. It is really similar to KashiDham (Varanasi), except, there are many commercial big boats waiting to carry passengers and goods to other cities of Bangladesh. It is a very busy commercial area.

We are in the boat crossing Bhairav River, Khulna

We left for Naogaon by Rupsa express train. Swami Subhranandaji was kind enough to book a first class AC chair car seat for me. I must say, after the British left in 1947, there is hardly any improvement in the entire railway system. Road transportation system improved rapidly, but there is hardly any investment in the railway system. Though, many people like me think railway journey is much safer and pleasant. It was almost eight hour journey from Khulna to Naogaon. In-fact, train do not go directly to Naogaon, it stops at a distant station. Swami Digvijoyanandaji Maharaj, the monk-in-charge of Dhaka and Naogaon Ashram arranged to pick us up from the railway station. Swami Digvijoyanandaji is a dynamic leader and an eloquent speaker in Bangladesh. People, especially youth, look up to him as a source of inspiration and for good spiritual guidance. He travelled frequently in and around Bangladesh speaking on the glories of Hinduism. Naogaon Ashram is one of the largest ashrams we have in Bangladesh. It has a hostel to accommodate collage students, then there are guest house, mandir and monks quarter. I heard that Naogaon collge is one of the prominent colleges in Bangladesh. And I also heard that the Hindu and Muslim communities live in harmony and peace for a long time here, even though in other cities there are sometimes religious tensions. In the evening, there was a public gathering, so we were asked to speak for few minutes.

Naogaon Ashram, Bangladesh
Next morning Swami Digvijoyanandaji took me to meet some of the prominent devotes of the Ashram in the city. Swamiji and the devotees were not happy that we left Naogaon so early. But because of limited time, we had to leave for Dhaka by bus. Swapan Maharaj who was always with us came to Naogaon and joined us for our trip to Dhaka. We booked our tickets for Shyamali bus service. I must say that long route bus services are very good in Bangladesh. The highways are up to standard and you have beautiful bridges across Meghna, Yamuna and other rivers. On our way from Naogaon to Dhaka, we crossed one of the longest and most beautiful bridges in the world. We passed through famous Tangil district of which Tangil saris are very much liked by sari lovers. We passed many villages and besides the road I noticed many new garment factories. There were huge number of men and women working in those factories. Most of the productions from those factories are exported to many countries around the world.


Dhaka-Chittagong is one of the very popular bus routes in Bangladesh. Since the country has built bridges on almost all major rivers, journey by road became very easy. Many private companies also introduced luxury bus services. There are also Dhaka-Chittagong rail services, private taxies and if one wishes they can fly also. We decided to travel by bus and accordingly we booked our tickets on Shyamali Paribahan Bus sevice. Chittagong is one of the largest cities in Bangladesh and naturally it is one of the busiest bus routes in the entire country. Chittagong port is one of the prominent seaports in Asia.

On our way, we passed Feny, Comilla, and other towns and we noticed many modern facilities around the road side. This time before I left for Bangladesh, I requested Mr. Jai Prakash Biswas of New Jersey, USA, if he can help me to see Chittagong properly since he came from that city. Accordingly, Mr. Biswas spoke to his brother Dr. Sri Prakash Biswas who is a well known eye specialist in the city, so they arranged everything for us. Mrs. Biswas is also a doctor at a local hospital.
It took us six hours from Dhaka to reach Chittagong. We reached very late, but Dr. Biswas waited for us at his clinic. He received us at the bus stand and we became his guest for three days. Dr. Biswas already planned a detailed tour program for us. He also requested Mr. Basudev Saha, a prominent resident of Chittagong as well as a business man of the city to accompany us and guide us so that we can see everything in and around Chittagong. The Biswas family gave lots of donations to many charitable and religious organizations. The entire family is well known in the city for their charitable work. Dr. Biswas arranged a car for us to travel and also arranged our lunch with few well known organizations.

We first visited Seeta Kund, Chandranath Shiva Mandir, Swayambhu Shiva and Sankar Math. I think among all Hindu holy places in Bangladesh, Chandranath Shiva Mandir is the most famous pilgrim center. It is situated on top of a mountain and to reach there you have to climb many stairs in the mountain. As a matter of fact, the entire Seeta Kund is full of Mandirs, Ashrams and other religious places. Among all the Ashrams here, Sankar Math is one of the most beautiful Ashram. It is situated on top of the mountain and has all kinds of facilities including accommodations for guests. Basudev babu was with us always and he is a very social and friendly person. Most of the people know him and loved him very much. All the organizations we visited, they knew Basudev babu and Dr. Biswas family very well. According to the arrangement Dr. Biswas made, we took our lunch that day at Sankar Math. I learned that at the time of Shiva Ratri almost 200,000 people gather at the Seeta Kund area. It is a very serene and peaceful environment here, and an area where you can be spiritually uplifted. Understanding that it will be difficult for me to climb the high mountain, Basudev babu took me to the other side and we drove through the Botanical garden and all the way to the closest parking place near Chandranath Shiva temple. We climbed almost 50 stairs to reach the temple.

After visiting some of the prominent places of Seeta kund, we went to see Chittagong seaport. Because of the presence of the seaport, Chittagong is not only a large city in Bangladesh, but one of the richest city in the country. Chittagong seaport is very huge and we saw innumerable ships docking here and there. We took a short walk on the seashore, the massive waves were trying to reach us. It was indeed a joyous experience.

Chittagong is well known for its participation of the independent movement to free mother India from the British rule. Among all freedom fighter here, Masterda Surya Sen and his seazer of weapon storage of British is very famous. Basudev babu took us to some of the places where his name was related.
It was an entire day tour, so we were a little bit tired. But our tour continued and while hearing the many past and present stories of Bangladesh from Basudev babu, we reached Kalbalyadham. Kalbalyadham is one of the most famous pilgrim center for all who love Sri Sri Ram thakur and his divine teachings. It is a huge compound and it has many divine memories related to the divine leela of that great saint. This place was vandalized many times whenever tension grew for many reasons in the country. We also met the president of the entire organization. He was very busy answering many letters, but he was kind enough to spend some time with us and offered prasadam.
I am in front of the Chandranath Shiva Mandir situated on top of a mountain, Chittagong
According to the plan of Dr. Biswas, on the second day of our tour we left to see the famous Medha Rishi ashram. It was a long journey, it took almost four hours by road to reach there and the roads were very bad. But the delightful company of Basudev babu and all the information he was giving us made our journey pleasant. We were all happy when we reached at the foot of the mountain. We began to climb well constructed stairs to reach at the top of the Ashram. While we were climbing, we were listening to the past and present history of this place.

Hindus all over the world worship mother Durga as the most regarded Goddess. But Bengali people has a different place in their heart for ma Durga. Durga Puja is the national festival of Bengal and Chandi Path is the very essential part of Durga Puja. Medha Rishi and his Ashram are the center point of Durga Puja and Chandi Path. I had no idea that Medha Rishi Ashram is situated at Chattal mountain of Chittagong. Before I left U.S.A. Mr. Jai Prakash Biswas shared this information with me.
A king and a business man were kicked out of their Kingdom and home by their own people. Even though they were thrown out of their home mercilessly by their own people, they constantly thought of them. They wondered what could be the reason for them to think for those people who were so cruel to them. While they were wandering in the jungle and mountain area, they noticed an Ashram nearby, and a saint performing puja to some Devi. The King and the Businessman entered the Ashram and bow to the saint and asked him if he can tell them why they were still attached to these cruel people who threw them out of their home and Kingdom. The saint replied, it is maya, it is the illusive power of maha maya Durga. The saint described the origins of the Devi, her abode and the divine actions of the Goddess. He also taught them how to worship her. According to the instructions of the saint, the king and businessman made a murti of ma Durga from mud and they began to worship her. Finally, one day the mother appeared in front of them and fulfilled their desire. The King wanted bukti or bhoga. He wanted to re-capture his lost Kingdom and in his next birth he wanted a Kingdom of unchallenged. The businessman wanted mukti, completely annihilation of material desires and continuous bhakti. The mother fulfilled both of their desires.

The saint was none other than the famous Medhas rishi of Saptasati Chandi and the king and businessman were famous King Surath and Samadhi Baisya. It is the place of origin of modern Durga puja into our society and this present Ashram compound where we are standing here today is that ancient place of Medhas rishi. This Ashram is situated on top of the mountain and we had to walk up many stairs to reach on top. The first thing we saw was a beautiful shed called ‘nut mandir’ and at one corner was a memorial statue of the late Mr. Biswas, the noble father of Mr. Jai Prakash and Dr. Sri Prakash Biswas. He donated a large sum of money to re-construct the ‘nut mandir’ and the entire Ashram compound after it was destroyed by the enemy army at the time of 1971 war.

We then entered the main lovely Ma Durga mandir, Shiva mandir and some other mandirs situated at the top of the mountain. While we were walking on the path of these mountains, my mind went back to history of Durga Puja and Medhas rishi Ashram. Many Hindus probably don’t know of this important holy place. While myself and our friendly guide and mentor Basudev babu were exchanging our thoughts, it was time for us to take maha prasadam. Dr. Biswas has already called the people at the Ashram and made arrangement for our prasadam.

From Medhas rishi Ashram, we drove about three hours through villages to reach Aaochia-gram. There we reached at the main gate of a most beautiful temple, we then noticed lots of people waiting at the gate with flowers and garlands in hand to receive us. Many important people of the village were also waiting to meet us. There were beautiful murtis of Mother Kali, Radha Krishna, Shiva Lingam and other Gods and Goddesses in the temple. After few minutes of prayers, we sat down in a room upstairs and discussed many aspects of the temple, future for Hindus in Bangladesh, Hinduism around the world and many other things. After distributing prashad to everyone, I expressed a desire to come here once again and read seven days of Bhagavat Maha Puran Katha.

From Mandir we went to visit Jhuma’s father-in-laws ancestral home. Juma is one of my God daughter presently living in Atlantic City, U.S.A. We spent some time with the remaining family members of Juma and quench our thurst by drinking real Bangladeshi coconut water. It was late and it was time for us to go back to Dr. Biswas home. Later that evening we went to meet all of Juma’s family at their residence in Chittagong city. We spent some time with them and then returned to Dr. Biswas residence. Dr. Biswas and Mrs. Biswas were still waiting for us, we sat down togetherly for a while and discussed a little about Bharat Sevashram Sangha. Dr. Biswas told us about his active involvement with the Lions club and he mentioned that through the Lions club they are doing many social welfare services for the local people.
On the third day of our tour in Chittagong, we started our journey by visiting local Krishna mandir and then we went to Chatteswari Devi Mandir. As Kalighat is famous in Kolkata, as Dhakeswrai Durgabari is famous in Dhaka, similary Chatteswari temple is famous in Chittagong. After that we went to visit Pravartak Krishna mandir, Krishnananda Math and local Kali temple. After a long drive through many villages, we reached the birth place of Annada Thakur, the founder of Adya Peeth Dham in Kolkata, India. Local Maharaj was waiting for us. It was a serene and peaceful environment. The organization has built three temples there, among them one is dedicated to Adya Ma. We also saw the hostels they built for boys and with the financial help of Mr. Jai Prakash and Dr. Sri Prakash family, they built a charitable dispensary inside the Ashram compound. Here we felt the real village environment of Bangladesh. We took Adya Mata maha prasadam there and then took leave to visit Baba Loknath mission.
Adya Ma Mandir at the birth place of Sri, Sri Annada Thakur
It was another long journey from Adyapeeth to Baba Loknath mission. Many people says that Northern India is the place of sadhus and sanyasis, but honestly speaking it is true that Haridwar, Rishikesh and Uttarkashi are loved by the holy men, but Bangladesh is also gifted with holy men: Swami Pranavanandaji, Ramthukur, Baba Loknath, Anandamayi Mata, Annada Thakur, Sadhu Nag Mahasaya, Swami Swarupananda Paramhansa and many other famous saints were born in Bangladesh/East Bengal. These are the names of Hindu saints, surly there are many Muslim pirs and fhakirs who are spiritually enlightened, were born in Bangladesh too.

An entire group of young vibrant people were waiting at the gate of Baba Loknath mission to receive us. I am sure Dr. Biswas and Basudev babu informed them before. Thought came to mind, an organization which has such vibrant volunteers and followers will surely grow rapidly. As we entered the campus, my thought came to reality. The organization is very huge, it has a beautiful Loknath Mandir, Shiva Mandir, prayer hall and a huge building for hospital and school. Here also with the help of Dr. Biswas family, the hospital is under construction. After visiting every corner of the Ashram, we attended a reception ceremony which was organized to honor the guests. They also presented us a beautiful plaque describing our visit to Loknath mission in Chittagong.
On the same night we had railway reservation to travel back to Dhaka. We came back to Dr. Biswas home and took dinner together. We were only three of us traveling, but Dr. Biswas booked all four sleepers in coup compartment, so that nobody can bother us. Dr. Sri Prakash Biswas, Mrs. Biswas, BasudevBabu and some other people accompanied us to the railway station to see us off.

We reached Dhaka next morning. We then attended a family program at the home of Mr. Abinash Paul, the Bara JamaiBabu (older brother-in-law) of our Meghna. Meghna’s three sisters live in Dhaka, so Meghna called her Bara JamaBabu and informed them of our visit to Dhaka. With the help of our Meghna and her entire family in Dhaka, we were able to visit some important places in Dhaka city. We also visited our Uma’s sister Seema’s home in Dhanmandi area. Seema’s husband took us to see the famous Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s house in the area again. The bullet mark’s painful picture of Bangabandhu was at the stairs, it was very pathetic. It looked like a rain of bullets went into his body before he died. We also saw many bullet holes in the wall of the house.

It was time for us to leave Bangladesh and go to Kolkata to attend Shiva-Ratri festival. It would have been impossible for me to travel around Bangladesh without the help of Swami Subhranandaji, Swami Digvijoyanandaji, Swapan Maharaj, swamijis of Bajitpur, Madaripur, Sreeramkathi/Barisal, Khulna and in Chittagong Mr. Jaiprakash Biswas, Dr. Sri Prakash Biswas and his family, Mr. Basudev Saha, Meghna’s family in Dhaka, Mr. Abinash Paul and Uma’s family. My sincere gratitude to all of these wonderful souls.

In conclusion, I have a request for the present Bangladesh government and the people of Bangladesh nation. Our physical appearance are same, we speak same Bengali language in both parts of Bengal, our food habits are also the same, and it is true we pray in different ways, but that cannot or should not make a barrier between us. Let us together live in peace and harmony. Let us respect each other’s culture and let us make this land a more peaceful place to live for our future generations. Let everyone enjoy the great Bangladesh, the gift of God.
See: Pushpanjali, journal of Bharat Sevasram Sangha of North America, New Jersey; September 2009


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Saudi-isation of Pakistan

The Saudi-isation of Pakistan:

A stern, unyielding version of Islam is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis in Pakistan.

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA, and that madrassas are the only institutions serving as jihad factories. This is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of co-existing with anyone except strictly their own kind. The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation state.

For 20 years or more, a few of us have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. In fact, I am surprised at how rapidly these dire predictions have come true.

A full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, resulting in thousands of deaths. It is only a matter of time before this fighting shifts to Peshawar and Islamabad (which has already been a witness to the Lal Masjid episode) and engulfs Lahore and Karachi as well. The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy.

Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals and ordinary people praying in mosques have all been reduced to globs of flesh and fragments of bones. But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of the army operation against the cruel perpetrators of these acts because they believe that they are Islamic warriors fighting for Islam and against American occupation. Political leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have no words of solace for those who have suffered at the hands of Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved exclusively for the victims of Predator drones, even if they are those who committed grave crimes against their own people. Terrorism, by definition, is an act only the Americans can commit.

What explains Pakistan’s collective masochism? To understand this, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have rendered this country so completely different from what it was in earlier times.

For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula. This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years. This culture produced Mughul architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Khan Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam (Wahhabism) is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.

This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state used Islam as an instrument of state policy. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for academic posts in universities required that the candidate demonstrate a knowledge of Islamic teachings and jihad was declared essential for every Muslim. Today, government intervention is no longer needed because of a spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – still in an amorphous and diffused form – is more popular now than ever before as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state.

Villages have changed drastically; this transformation has been driven, in part, by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other sects, who they do not regard as Muslims. The Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than the Pukhtuns, are now beginning to take a line resembling that of the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from the recent decisions of the Lahore High Court.

In Pakistan’s lower-middle and middle classes lurks a grim and humourless Saudi-inspired revivalist movement that frowns on any and every expression of joy and pleasure. Lacking any positive connection to culture and knowledge, it seeks to eliminate “corruption” by regulating cultural life and seizing control of the education system.

“Classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan; the sarangi and vichitraveena are completely dead,” laments Mohammad Shehzad, a music aficionado. Indeed, teaching music in public universities is violently opposed by students of the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba at Punjab University. So the university has been forced to hold its music classes elsewhere. Religious fundamentalists consider music haram or un-Islamic. Kathak dancing, once popular with the Muslim elite of India, has few teachers left. Pakistan produces no feature films of any consequence. Nevertheless, the Pakistani elite, disconnected from the rest of the population, live their lives in comfort through their vicarious proximity to the West. Alcoholism is a chronic problem of the super rich of Lahore – a curious irony for this deeply religious country.

Islamisation of the state and the polity was supposed to have been in the interest of the ruling class – a classic strategy for preserving it from the wrath of the working class. But the amazing success of the state is turning out to be its own undoing. Today, it is under attack from religious militants, and rival Islamic groups battle each other with heavy weapons. Ironically, the same army – whose men were recruited under the banner of jihad, and which saw itself as the fighting arm of Islam – today stands accused of betrayal and is almost daily targeted by Islamist suicide bombers.

Pakistan’s self-inflicted suffering comes from an education system that, like Saudi Arabia’s system, provides an ideological foundation for violence and future jihadists. It demands that Islam be understood as a complete code of life, and creates in the mind of a school-going child a sense of siege and embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.

On the previous page, the reader can view the government-approved curriculum. This is the basic road map for transmitting values and knowledge to the young. By an act of parliament passed in 1976, all government and private schools (except for O-level schools) are required to follow this curriculum. It was prepared by the curriculum wing of the federal ministry of education, government of Pakistan. It sounds like a blueprint for a religious fascist state.
Alongside are scanned pictures from an illustrated primer for the Urdu alphabet. The masthead states that it has been prepared by Iqra Publishers, Rawalpindi, along “Islamic lines.” Although not an officially approved textbook, it is being used currently by some regular schools, as well as madrassas associated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political party that had allied itself with General Musharraf. These picture scans have been taken from a child’s book, hence the scribbles.

The world of the Pakistani schoolchild remained largely unchanged, even after September 11, 2001, the event that led to Pakistan’s timely desertion of the Taliban and the slackening of the Kashmir jihad. Indeed, for all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation,” General Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned down version of the curriculum that existed under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto who had inherited it from General Zia-ul-Haq. Fearful of taking on the powerful religious forces, every incumbent government has refused to take a position on the curriculum and thus quietly allowed young minds to be moulded by fanatics. What may happen a generation later has always been a secondary issue for a government challenged on so many fronts.

The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s so-called “secular” public schools, colleges and universities had a profound effect upon young minds. Militant jihad became part of the culture on college and university campuses. Armed groups flourished, they invited students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, set up offices throughout the country, collected funds at Friday prayers and declared a war which knew no borders. Pre-9/11, my university was ablaze with posters inviting students to participate in the Kashmir jihad. Post-2001, this ceased to be done openly.

Still, the primary vehicle for Saudi-ising Pakistan’s education has been the madrassa. In earlier times, these had turned out the occasional Islamic scholar, using a curriculum that essentially dates back to the 11th century, with only minor subsequent revisions. But their principal function had been to produce imams and muezzins for mosques, and those who eked out an existence as ‘maulvi sahibs’ teaching children to read the Quran.

The Afghan jihad changed everything. During the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, madrassas provided the US-Saudi-Pakistani alliance the cannon fodder they needed to fight a holy war. The Americans and Saudis, helped by a more-than-willing General Zia, funded new madrassas across the length and breadth of Pakistan. A detailed picture of the current situation is not available. But according to the national education census, which the ministry of education released in 2006, Punjab has 5,459 madrassas followed by the NWFP with 2,843; Sindh has 1,935; the Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA), 1,193; Balochistan, 769; Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 586; the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), 135; and the Islamabad capital territory, 77. The ministry estimates that 1.5 million students are acquiring religious education in the 13,000 madrassas.

These figures appear to be way off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 madrassas. The number of students could be correspondingly larger. The free boarding and lodging plus provision of books to the students, is a key part of their appeal. Additionally, parents across the country desire that their children be “disciplined” and given a thorough Islamic education. The madrassas serve this purpose, too, exceedingly well.

Madrassas have deeply impacted the urban environment. Until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city different from the rest of Pakistan. Also, it had largely been the abode of Pakistan’s elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio-cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrassas illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students, sporting little prayer caps, dutifully chant the Quran all day. In the evenings they swarm the city, making women minus the hijab increasingly nervous.

Total segregation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists, the consequences of which have been catastrophic. For example, on April 9, 2006, 21 women and eight children were crushed to death and scores injured in a stampede inside a three-storey madrassa in Karachi, where a large number of women were attending a weekly congregation. Male rescuers, who arrived in ambulances, were prevented from moving the injured women to hospitals.

One cannot dismiss this incident as being just one of a kind. In fact, soon after the October 2005 earthquake, as I walked through the destroyed city of Balakot, a student of the Frontier Medical College described to me how he and his male colleagues were stopped by religious elders from digging out injured girl students from under the rubble of their school building. This action was similar to that of Saudi Arabia’s ubiquitous religious ‘mutaween’ (police) who, in March 2002, had stopped school girls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing their abayas – a long robe worn in Saudi Arabia. In a rare departure from the norm, Saudi newspapers had blamed and criticised the mutaween for letting 15 girls burn to death.

The Saudi-isation of a once-vibrant Pakistani culture continues at a relentless pace. The drive to segregate is now also being found among educated women. Vigorous proselytisers carrying this message, such as Mrs Farhat Hashmi, have been catapulted to the heights of fame and fortune. Their success is evident. Two decades back, the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was an unknown word in Urdu. Today, some shops across the country specialise in abayas. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, the female student is seeking the anonymity of the burqa. And in some parts of the country she seems to outnumber her sisters who still “dare” to show their faces.

I have observed the veil profoundly affect habits and attitudes. Many of my veiled female students have largely become silent note-takers, are increasingly timid and seem less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions. They lack the confidence of a young university student.

While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the distance. The socially conservative are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonised by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus, the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine – the list runs on. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims, and if presented with incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression.

The immediate future does not appear hopeful: increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control of the minds of worshippers. In the tribal areas, a string of new Islamist leaders have suddenly emerged: Baitullah Mehsud, Maulana Fazlullah and Mangal Bagh. Poverty, deprivation, lack of justice and extreme differences of wealth provide the perfect environment for these demagogues to recruit people to their cause. Their gruesome acts of terror are still being perceived by large numbers of Pakistanis merely as a war against imperialist America. This could not be further from the truth.

In the long term, we will have to see how the larger political battle works out between those Pakistanis who want an Islamic theocratic state and those who want a modern Islamic republic. It may yet be possible to roll back those Islamist laws and institutions that have corroded Pakistani society for over 30 years and to defeat its hate-driven holy warriors. There is no chance of instant success; perhaps things may have to get worse before they get better. But, in the long term, I am convinced that the forces of irrationality will cancel themselves out because they act at random whereas reason pulls only in one direction. History leads us to believe that reason will triumph over unreason, and the evolution of the humans into a higher and better species will continue. Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate, they will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religiosity and nationalism. But, for now, this must be just a matter of faith.

The author teaches physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

DhirendraNath Datta: The Father of the Idea of Bangladesh

Children of Comilla Ramakrisha Orphanage Playing in front of Rebuilt Desecrated and Destroyed Memorial of the Father of the Idea of Bangladesh DhirendraNath Datta. Other Rebuilt Memorials are of Hindus and Buddhists going back to Centuries. The adjacent Cremation Ground was aslo Destroyed during Anti-Hindu Pogrom.
DhirendraNath Datta: The Father of the Idea of Bangladesh

Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar

While visiting his memorial at the smasan (cremation ground) in Thakurpara of Comilla City, behind the Ramakrishna Ashram Orphanage that our Probini Foundation of New York supports (,) it reminded me again of amnesia that we Bengalis suffer from.[1] Sri DhirendraNath Datta, a Hindu, was the first to propose in Pakistan Parliament in 1948 for Bengali to be made a national language, and that love of language eventually created Bangladesh. With that speech unknowingly DattaBabu became the Father of the Idea of the Bengali nation that the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made that dream a reality. Datta and his son were dragged by the Army of Islamic Republic from their Comilla home. Their remains were never found. Yet his home and homestead were confiscated, without compensation and notice, through Enemy Property Act in free Bangladesh, comparable to declaring George Washington’s homestead as ‘enemy property’ in the newly independent United States. Let us see what he spoke at Pakistan Parliament.

Speech by Mr. DhirendraNath Datta, Member of Pakistan National Assembly,
Held at Karachi, Sind Province of West Pakistan, On February 25, 1948
Seeking Bengali to be a National Language of Pakistan[2]
(This is contained in Pakistan Gazetteer, February 25, 1948)

Note: At the time of birth of Pakistan in 1947 her territory included East Bengal, then called East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and four West Pakistan provinces: Baluchistan, Northwest Frontier Province, Punjab and Sind. East Bengal then contained 55% of Pakistani population.

Mr. Datta, a Hindu of Comilla, introduced an amendment to a discussion to include Bengali as a language for debate in the National Assembly. Discussion followed that motion.

Mr. DhirendraNath Datta (East Bengal: General)
Mr. President, Sir, I move: “That in sub-rule 29, after the word ‘English’ in line 2, the words ‘or Bengalee’ be inserted.”
May I move the other notion as that can be considered together because that relates to the same rule?
Mr. President: I think you take them separately and not together. You may take item No.2 on the agenda — your first amendment.
Mr. DhirendraNath Datta: May I speak, Sir?
Mr. President: Yes, speak.
Sir, in moving this — the notion that stands in my name — I can assure the House that I do so not in a spirit of narrow Provincialism, but, Sir, in the spirit that this motion receives the fullest consideration at the hands of the members. I know, Sir, that Bengalee is a provincial language, but, so far our state is concerned, it is the language of the majority of the people of the state. So although it is a provincial language, but as it is a language of the majority of the people of the state and it stands on a different footing therefore. Out of six crores and ninety lakhs of people (69,000,000) inhabiting this State, 4 crore and 40 lakhs of people (44,000,000) speak the Bengalee language. So, Sir, what should be the State language of the state? The State language of the state should be the language which is used by the majority of the people of the State, and for that, Sir, I consider that Bengalee language is a lingua franca of our State. It may be contended with a certain amount of force that even in our sister dominion the provincial language has not got the status of a lingua franca because in her sister dominion of India the proceedings of the constituent Assembly is conducted in Hindustani, Hindi or Urdu or English. It is not conducted in the Bengalee language but so far as the Bengalee is concerned out of 30 crores of people (300,000,000) inhabiting that sister dominion two and half crores (25,000,000) speak Bengalee language. Hindustani, Hindi or Urdu has been given an honoured place in the sister dominion because the majority of the people of the Indian Dominion speak that language. So we are to consider that in our state it is found that the majority of the people of the state do speak the Bengalee language then Bengalee should have an honoured place even in the Central Government.

I know, Sir, I voice the sentiments of the vast millions of our State. In the meantime I want to let the House know the feelings of the vastest millions of our State. Even, Sir, in the Eastern Pakistan where the people numbering four crores and forty lakhs speak the Bengalee language the common man even if he goes to a Post Office and wants to have a money order form finds that the money order is printed in Urdu language and is not printed in Bengalee language or it is printed in English. A poor cultivator, who has got his son, Sir, as a student in Dhaka University and who wants to send money to him, goes to a village Post Office and he asks for a money order, finds that money order form printed in Urdu language. He can not send the money order but shall have to rush to a distant town and have the money order form translated for him and then the money order, Sir, that is necessary for that boy can be sent. The poor cultivator, Sir, sells a certain plot of land or a poor cultivator purchases a plot of land and goes to the Stamp vendor and pays him money but cannot say whether he has received the value of the money in Stamps. The value of the Stamp, Sir, is written not in Bengalee but is written in Urdu and English. But he cannot say, Sir, whether he has got the real value of the Stamp. These are the difficulties experienced by the Common man of our State. The language of the State should be such which can be understood by the common man of the State. The common man of the State numbering four crores and forty millions find that the proceedings of this Assembly which is their mother of parliaments in being conducted in a language, Sir, which is unknown to them. Then, Sir, English has got an honoured place, Sir, in Rule 29. I know, Sir, English has got an honoured place because of the International Character.

But, Sir, if English can have an honoured place in Rule 29 that the proceedings of the Assembly should be conducted in Urdu or English why Bengalee, which is spoken by four crores forty lakhs of people should not have an honoured place, Sir, in Rule 29 of the procedure Rules. So, Sir, I know I am voicing the sentiments of the vast millions of our State and therefore Bengalee should not be treated as a Provincial Language. It should be treated as the language of the State. And therefore, Sir, I suggest that after the word ‘English,’ the word ‘Bengalee’ be inserted in Rule 29. I do not want to detain the House but I wish that the Members present here should give a consideration to the sentiments of the vast millions of over State, Sir, and should accept the amendment that has been moved by me.

Mr. President: I may read out the amendment again as some Members might not have it.
Amendment moved: “that in sub-rule (1) of Rule 29, after the word ‘English’ in line 2, the words ‘or Bengalee’ be inserted.”

I have had many conversations with DattaBabu’s granddaughter Srimati Aroma Datta in Bangladesh and in New York about her struggle to save the memory of her grandfather and her uncle. It may not be out of place to mention how the person who can be considered as the Father of the Idea of Bangladesh was treated by his nation. Mr. DhirendraNath Datta, a Hindu, was a Member of Parliament in the first Pakistan Assembly after Pakistan was created in 1947, as mentioned in previous paragraph. Mr. Datta chose to live in his Muslim-majority homeland after partition instead of migrating to Hindu-majority partitioned India. Most of the atheist and secularist Bengali Hindus of Congress Party and Communist Party chose to migrate to India abandoning their Muslim-majority homeland of their ancestors. Actually Datta returned back to his Comilla homeland from western Bengal that became part of India. On February 25, 1948 he was the first to propose in Pakistan Parliament then held in Karachi in southern Pakistan, that Bengali be given the status of national language of Pakistan as majority of Pakistanis spoke that language as mentioned earlier. Although the idea was rejected by the Parliament, attempts to establish Bengali as the official language would lead to eventual independence of the Bengalis. In 1971, an elderly Datta at age 87 was arrested by the Pakistan Army for being Hindu and accused him of supporting Bangladesh’s independence. Datta was dragged along with his teenage son Dilip from their home in Comilla in front of his daughter-in-law Pratiti Debi and grandkids Aroma and Rahul. Datta and his son Dilip were both murdered by the Army of Islamic Republic after gruesome torture. Their body bodies were never found, and no one was prosecuted for that cold-blooded murder, and for the targeted attack on rest of the family.[3] Yet, in the newly liberated secular Bangladesh, his homestead and rest of the property were confiscated through Enemy Property Act, a law that allows confiscation of (only indigenous) Hindu property by declaring Hindus as ‘enemies of state.’ A man who produced the idea of Bangladesh and gave his life for independence of the nation was made ‘enemy of the state’ for being Hindu! In American context it will be comparable to declaring George Washington homestead as ‘enemy property.’ One of his young granddaughters, Aroma, seeing this injustice promised herself to fight the unjust law. In 2000 a publication house she is associated with, PRIP, published a historic book: An Inquiry into Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act. Bangladesh Government had earlier changed the name from ‘Enemy’ to ‘Vested’ keeping rest of the law as before. The book was edited by Professor Abul Barkat, a Muslim of Dhaka University Economics Department, at considerable personal risk, while co-edited by Shafique uz Zaman, Azizur Rahman, Avijit Poddar and Subhas SenGupta. Zaman and Rahman are Muslim, while Poddar and SenGupta are Hindu. Sensing her imminent arrest for publishing the book, Ms. Aroma Datta had to bring a court injunction on December 24, 2002 preventing her arrest. Her research found that in the 1990s through this Act “2 million acres of land, property and other resources (tens of thousands of homes, shops, businesses, ponds, and the likes — author) were confiscated.….. The total loss of assets by Hindus ….would be Taka 1,505,204 million which equals to 88 percent of current GDP of Bangladesh” the book highlights.

Mr. Dhiren Dutta holds a special place in the hearts of pro-tolerant Bangladeshis. One of many tributes paid to that missing man was S. M. Ali, a Muslim, the founder-editor of The Daily Star, a Dhaka daily on May 21, 1993 and again on November 2, 2003.[4]

Sadly during the 1992 anti-Hindu pogrom in Bangladesh his memorial was vandalized and desecrated along with scores of other Hindu memorials – some dating back centuries – for no reason other than being indigenous Hindu of the land.
Let us hope as the nation prepares for the trial of war criminals that no stone remain unturned to catch the criminals who murdered DattaBabu, The Father of the Nation Mujibur Rahman, and 3 million brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, neighbors and friends of our towns and villages. In his memory let us hope that we can build an institute devoted to preserve the indigenous cultures, an academic institution and/or a human rights center.

[1] Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar “bangalir amnesia – smritilop byadhir protikar darker” (Bengali amnesia - need a medicine for the memory-loss disease) in Ai Bangla Oi Bangla, Tulat Publishers, Calcutta, 1991; 86-91
[2] Sachi G. Dastidar, “Appendix F” in Empire’s Last Casualty: Indian Subcontinent’s Vanishing Hindu and Other Minorities, Frima KLM, Kolkata, 2008; 296-298; quoted from Pakistan Parliament Gazetteer.
[3] Pratiti Debi, ‘Jaydikey takai shey deekei beebhishikar chinho’ (Wherever we look we find signs of horror), Prachi, Puja journal of Bangladesh Hindu Mandir, New York, October 2003; 35-37. Her article mentions attack on Hindus and pro-independence Muslim leaders on the first days of Hindu and secularist Awami League Party members’ extermination campaign by Pakistan Army
[4] Op cit, Empires Last… 169-171
See Stuti 2009: New York Puja Udjapan Parishad, New York, USA
I very much like the article on “Dhirendra Natha Datta: The Father of Begali Nationhood and Bangladesh." I was in tears. I am very grateful to you for establishing the original history, but the history has been diverted towards a wrong direction, and intentionally has been distorted, which pains me very much. The entire Nation should remain grateful to “Shaheed (Martyr) Dhirendra Nath Datta,” but hardly they remember him, neither recognize his contribution, instead systematically erasing his contribution from history. Anyhow, Sachi Da, I am very grateful to you for acknowledging Dhirendra Nath Datta’s contribution in creating Bangladesh. My pronam and love to you and Boudi. I will be looking forward to hear from you at your convenience. With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,
Aroma Dutta
October 11, 2009
Sent: Saturday, October 24, 2009 7:37 PM

Very belated Bijoya greetings - pronam neben!
But, it was heartening to learn about Probini's effort to restore Mr. Dutta's memorial.regards,

Sent: Sunday, October 25, 2009 5:37 AM

Thank you sir. This is nice and I have a collection of copy of his whole speech.

Sent: Sunday, October 25, 2009 1:12 PM

Thanks, it was enlightening to read.
Sent: Monday, October 26, 2009 3:22 AM

Thank you very much for sending the great D. Dutta's speech in the parliament. I will send it to all my friends.

Sent: Monday, October 26, 2009 10:57 AM
FW: DhirendraNath Datta


Thank you for writing such an historic article honoring our Dadu and his eventual casualty.

Best wishes,
Mrinal C
October 27, 2009

Dear Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar:

Please allow me to extend my hearty thanks and gratitude for your Article in memory of the most respected late Dhirendra Nath Datta. It is a great opportunity for me to pay my respect and honor to this great undisputed leader of the then Pakistan (East Pakistan) now Bangladesh. Through you, I send my respect and heartfelt prayers to the family members of Late Dhirendra Nath Datta especially his grandson and granddaughter, Aroma. I feel for them this social injustice and non-recognition, and inhuman land grabbing of his homestead and hold property.

Undoubtedly, Dhirendra Nath Datta is the “Adi-Pita / Father” like the ancient Biblical Father “Abraham” of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. Mr. Datta was only the member of the Parliament who raised the voice, argued, and proposed for amendment as Bangla one of the state language of Pakistan.
He was sharp, devoted and keen parliamentarian, and he even caught the playing type recorder which was by passing, and he requested to play the type recorder. He is the symbolic secular leader for the then Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Due to him, the Minorities of Bangladesh have raised their head as their symbolic leader, and the minority leader of Bangladesh are not basically nimok haram, alBadar, Munafek or Be-iman. He is proud of us and our new generation has to respect him.

It is my personal view that we have a great responsibility to put him in the right place of our history. Since after Partition of India, and subsequently, Bangladesh, the minority communities of Bangladesh have been segregated and treated as the second or the third class citizens. It seems to me that a little change of mind is being signaled into the minds in place of Arabic way of approach. As a humanitarian worker you are doing your best which is a great effort for humanity.
Thank you for your valuable efforts and works.

Michael B. Malo


Mr Dastidar: I am 100 percent with you. Dhirendra Nath Datta is the father of the idea of independent Bangladesh which was implemented by Smt. Indira Gandhi.

Mohammad N. Islam
February 20, 2017