THE REPRESSION AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE IN BANGLADESH
0 comments | by Dr M. Abdul Mu’min Chowdhury
Introduction: Shock Doctrine at Work?
Bangladesh has not only been very active within the United Nations human rights agencies and forums, it has also served as a member of its Human Rights Commission (1983-2000) and Human Rights Council (2006-2008). In 1998 it was the Vice Chair of the Bureau of Human Rights Commission.
As a state Bangladesh has never been shy in professing its commitment to uphold the principles of good governance, democracy, and rule of law and the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom of its citizen. By 2006 it became a State Party to more than 18 major international human rights instruments and was in the process of undertaking constitutional procedures to adhere to the remaining human rights instruments. Moreover, it categorically promised that in framing its national policies and strategies, it would uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as those of the international and regional human rights instruments to which it is a party. [http://www.un.org/ga/60/elect/hrc/bangladesh.pdf] Looking at its performance records thereafter, especially those under its present government, what we find?
Submissions to the current (1913-14) UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh show three substantive agreements among various national and international human rights organisations. First, under the present government, the country has to contend with an ever worsening human rights situation. Secondly, the principal abuser is the government itself. Thirdly, the overwhelming majority of the victims are the government’s political opponents.
Yet, like hardened offenders the current government of Bangladesh in its report to UN Human Rights Council and to the international community has suppressed the truth. [http://www.humanrights.asia/news/alrcnews/ALRC-STM-002 -2013] Of late there is a new addition to this: the efforts to throttle human rights organisations. Needless to say, all these are taking place in flagrant violation of the country’s treaty obligations. [http://treaties.un.org/Page/Treaties.aspx?id=4&subid= A &lang=en] The question is, why such a turn for the worse?
‘Large scale repression and human rights abuse crops up with great predictability whenever a local despot or a foreign occupier lacks the consent needed to rule’, noted Naomi Klein in her ground-breaking work, The Shock Doctrine, [2007: 125-27] We Bangladeshis are experiencing this bitter truth and a bit more of it, for we are up against the original inventors of the shock doctrine. What follows is an attempt at substantiating not only this bitter truth but also its qualifier: a bit more.
For this, instead of reciting various reports, reviews, and representations of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and other national and international human rights organisations, I shall first give an overview of the human rights situation with which my fellow Bangladeshis have to contend with. To this end, I shall focus mainly on the major spasmodic episodes and point to their political properties and ploys.
I have chosen this approach not because I am in disagreement with human rights defenders’ approach and/or dismissive of their endeavours’ worth. I value their work, recognise the difficulties under which they have to work, and appreciate why they have to, per force, maintain a strictly neutralist posture and frame their work as legalistic struggles for rule of law, transparency and good governance. However, they as well as anyone who has anything to do with human rights abuse know systematic human rights abuse are not simple delinquency or aberrant behaviour beyond politics; they are mostly, if not wholly, tools of political coercion. As an academic I feel I can supplement the works of my countries’ human rights defenders, including Adilur Rahman, the imprisoned director of Odhikar, by bringing to light this aspect of our government’s systematic human rights abuse.
I have never met Adil. But the little that I have come to know about him has made me convinced that he will be most appreciative of this small contribution of mine and I dedicate this piece to him as a mark of my deep appreciation of his courage and dedication at an oppressive time in the life of our nation.
The Major Episodes
The Peelkhana Mutiny and Massacre: Remember the mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles, the premier paramilitary force of the country, that took place at its Peelkhana headquarter in Dhaka within a few weeks of the start of our present Prime Minister’s stewardship in 2009? It was not an anti-government outburst; the target was the Bangladesh Army officers who commanded it.
Bangladesh Rifles was meant to serve as the country’s first line of defence against external aggression and check cross border smuggling. In the light of its dual functions Bangladesh Rifles has always been led by combatant army officers. Although the mutineers’ dozen or so other stated grievances and demands have nothing to do with their officers, nor within their power to grant, strangely their permanent removal from Bangladesh Rifles was the mutineers key demand and it was they who were made the target. And that too, of an exceptional beastliness involving rape of their wife and daughter and sacrilege to their dead body uncharacteristic of any other mutiny by a military or paramilitary force. It cost Bangladesh Army more serving officers (57) in a single day, than that of the entire nine months of 1971 war (55), and that too, including deaths in the likes of road accident.
Remarkably, the news of the mutiny was first given from Delhi, not Dhaka where it was taking place. Within days, Delhi also let it be known that on that day contingents of its army were kept ready in nearby Assam and Tripura for instant flying to Dhaka. This disclosure was made by the current Indian President, then his country’s cabinet minister. According to him Indian Army contingents were kept on high alert in case Bangladesh Army officers rise against the government in protest. Besides, there are other credible information and evidence that the mutiny was choreographed by the Indian foreign intelligence agency, RAW and the actual killing was carried out by its agents, possibly together with hired killers from Russia. The plan was hatched with the full agreement of our Prime Minister ahead of the election that brought her to power. Indeed, in its execution she herself, her son, a cousin, a nephew, and a number of her ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, and party members were involved. So were Bangladesh Army’s the then Chief, Gen. Moyeen U. Ahmed, who had a decisive role in putting her to power, and at least three serving army colonels from within the Bangladesh Rifles. More revealingly, a former Mujib Bahini trainee and defunct Rakkhi Bahini officer who was redeployed in Bangladesh Army, was promoted to Brigadier’s rank a few days earlier and kept ready to take the charge of the ill-fated paramilitary force ahead of the mutiny. Immediately after the mutiny he was sent to Delhi to thank his counterpart of the Indian Border Security Force for keeping Bangladesh border safe! Unsurprisingly, under him Bangladesh Rifles got transformed into the Border Guard Bangladesh. As we shall see, as the repression and its blowback increased, this new force is increasingly being used as an internal security arm of the government.
The Prime Minister and her accomplices not only betrayed the country, they also sacrificed their lowly abettors. Although at first the mutineers were helped to escape after nightfall by turning off electricity supply of Peelkhana and its surround- ing areas and doling out civilian clothes and money, within weeks they were rounded up from their hiding places. Over 50 of them have died in custody, so the government says, of heart failure. When placed alongside a comparable Bangladeshi cohort, the inadequacy of the official explanation becomes obvious. Besides, many more have also been handed down death sentence and literally hundreds long prison terms. Once these convicts are hanged, few Bangladesh Rifles accomplices will be left to incriminate the wire-pullers.
Characteristically, our Prime Minister has circumvented the popular demand for a public inquiry by appointing, one after another, three internal inquires, including one by the Bangladesh Army Court of Inquiry. The later, conceded to defuse army officers seething anger, is reportedly incriminatory and has remained unwrapped. Another, by the Criminal Investigation Division of the Police headed by an officer recalled from pre-retirement leave. He was the parliamentary candidate of the ruling party a few months earlier, but was debarred by the then Election Commission on the technical ground of his being still a government servant. After a number of promised completion dates, his has conveniently been forgotten. However, his service was further used for framing war crime charges against the government’s Islamic opponents. The executive summary of the only report that has been released is the earliest of the three serially instituted inquiries, by an interdepartmental committee of serving government officers headed by a retired secretary of the government. Unsurprisingly, its report is more of a habitual bureaucratic cover-up than an expose of the whole truth. [An Old Brigadier General, The Peelkhana Mutiny and Massacre, 2010 http://deshcalling.blogspot.co.uk/2010/ peelkhana-mutiny-and-massacre.html]
This however has not stop India’s Border Security Force from publicly celebrating the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny anniversary with a well-advertised night long drink and dance party last year. From their vantage point such a celebration was over-due. The Bangladesh Army officers who openly questioned the Prime Minister’s decision not to allow the military from quelling the mutiny have been dismissed and those 70 odd officers who openly applauded their brother protesters have also quietly been first dispersed from Dhaka and then retired. It is the first, but not the last pruning of Bangladesh Army of the make-belief fundamentalists, that is practising Muslims and/or Bangladesh nationalists, a promise our Prime Minister’s son had obliquely made in print from his US home immediately before the election. [C. Ciovacco and S. Wazed, Stemming the Rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh, 19 Nov. 2008 http://hir.harvard.edu/article-authors/sajeeb-wazed] Besides, the Border Guard Bangladesh has become a reincarnation of the dreaded Rakkhi Bahini, which was created in 1972 at the behest of India as a counter to both the Bangladesh Army and the anti-Indian dissidents. Responsible for the extra-judicial murder of about 30 thousand dissidents, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatiyo_Rakkhi _Bahini] the Rakkhi Bahini was disbanded in the wake of the Army-People Uprising of 1975 that sought to end our new nation-state’s subservience to Delhi. From the last May’s murderous suppression of the Hefazat-e-Islam protesters onward, Border Guard Bangladesh has been serving as a component of the Combined Security Forces, alongside the Police and the Rapid Action Battalion, as the iron-hand of the government repression. Judging by what a parliamentarian of the ruling party has disclosed about their operation against Hefazat-e-Islam protesters, the tripartite combination is a device to keep each force obsequious to government order during large scale operations against dissenters. [http://www.amadershomy2.com/content/ 2013/05/29/middle037.htm]
The Unmaking of Post-1975 Constitutional Changes: While its opponents were downcast after their rigged electoral decimation and dumfounded by the Peelkhana Massacre, the government acted with a vengeance, not seen in the Prime Minister’s previous term in office during 1996-2001.
She got the post-1975 amendments to the 1972 constitution declared unconstitutional by an obliging Chief Justice and effectively reedited it to suit both her and Delhi’s needs and revived the International War Crimes Act, 1973 ignoring Bangladesh’s subsequent commitments and obligations in this regard. She also got the system of caretaker government, which was introduced in 1996 at her and her ally of the time and current bugbear Jamat-i-Islami’s insistence, declared illegal. However, the detail verdict that the same Chief Justice wrote from his retirement contained a directive that the system of caretaker government be discarded after two more elections. Conveniently, our Prime Minster ignored this directive and has her prerogative to remain in power until defeated in election written into the Constitution through the 15th amendment. In addition to deleting almost all the earlier amendments to the 1972 Constitution, two new Articles have been added to further ring-fence it. Of these, Article 7 not only makes any actual or intended extra-constitutional move to change it, even an `intended attempt’ to `subvert confidence, belief or reliance on the citizen to this Constitution or any of its Articles’ an act of sedition to be punished with death. Moreover, Article 7B has removed the provision allowing referenda concerning changes to the Constitution and curbed the power of the Parliament to amend it.
It is worth reminding ourselves that the 1972 constitution was drafted and kept ready by Delhi before Bangladesh had its independence, as its public circulation in less than three weeks of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman’s return to the new born state had shown. [Itefaq, 30-01-1972] It was designed, as noted by one of our reputed political scientists and a close friend of a number of topmost advisors and cabinet colleagues of our Prime Minister’s father, to shape Bangladesh polity in the mould of Indian polity. [R. Jahan, Bangladesh Politics, Dhaka  1987: 69, 97] It looks like this time our present Prime Minister is determined, and in a hurry too, to complete this task.
The ploys behind the war crimes trial and the hasty discarding of the caretaker system have not gone remiss with the main opposition party. It is as much sanguine to return to power as the ruling party is determined to hang on to it. For both loss of power entails loss of spoils and perks. But for the present government it also involves risking set back in their assigned political goal of shaping Bangladesh polity in the mould of the Indian polity. The government’s sanguinity to decapitate its former ally Jamat-i-Islami’s entire leadership and force its main opponent to cancel its present alliance with Jamat-i-Islam is not unconnected with either the internal or the external imperatives.
Besides, to insure herself against, in case push turns to shoving by the country’s other stake holders, our Prime Minister has made herself indispensable to India by already conceding 30 odd treaties and agreements, few of which has been placed before her own rubber stamp parliament, not to speak of the citizenry! Patently, democracy and constitutionalism are mere devices to be used only when suited.
The `Attempted Coup’ that Never Was:
While our Prime Minister was getting ready to launch the war crime trial, RAW undertook a false flag operation to create a pretext for further pruning of the anti-Indian nationalists as well as intimidating the rest of the Bangladesh Army. For the first time in its history, Bangladesh Army held a press conference in its GHQ to announce that it has aborted an attempted coup by some of its elements. A few weeks beforehand Dhaka’s drawing rooms were abuzz with the rumour that the Army’s intelligence outfit, the DGFI has taken some mid-ranking officers into custody. Then rumour spread that one of the arrested major has escaped. Soon a web-site appeared, apparently on behalf of the planners of the coup, appealing to the Army leaders to come forward and take-up the leadership of the impending coup that they have been planning! A few days after the press conference, the builder of the BGB, now a Lt General and the Chief of General Staff of the Army told a Dhaka seminar in so many words that henceforth no Muslim other than the Indiaphiles like him would be welcome in the Army.
Much quicker than the previous episode, almost within a month RAW made it known through two of its well-known Bangladeshi journalist friends that for seven months its agents have been at work to flush out anti-Indian elements from among the Bangladesh Army officers. [S. Samad, Bangladesh : Coup bid against Sheikh Hasina foiled http://bangladeshwatchdog.blogspot.com; S.U. Choudhury What is wrong with government in Bangladesh, Weekly Blitz 12 February 2012] It later became known that Maj. Zia, a bearded practising Muslim and a recipient of sword of honour was indeed kidnapped from Savar coach station in Greater Dhaka. Apparently, a few days later his captors left him with scope for escaping, which he did. In between his kidnapping and escape, the web-site referred to above was set-up in Australia, with the pretension as if it was from the likes of him. Patently, unbeknown to him at the time, Maj. Zia was used as a decoy. Although few stepped into the trap, the ploy succeeded in scaring many into taking early retirement and making the rest hamstrung. Up to now, as far as I know, the unfortunate Zia is in hiding in fear of RAW’s bullet.
War Crime Trial: The episode of war crime trial hardly needs retelling. It is a measure of our Prime Minister and her legal and judicial cohort’s glaring disdain for, not commitment to, justice. They deliberately hoodwinked our ill-informed people by calling their trial court International Crime Tribunal. Of all the people of Bangladesh our Prime Minister knows well that her government is patently in breach of, among others, the Rome Treaty of 1998. For, her 1996-2001 government was among the original 120 signatories of that treaty which set up the real International Criminal Court to bring to justice soldiers and political leaders charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and/or genocide.
Not that she and her cohort’s guilt of perverting justice is confined to their role in setting up the so-called International Crime Tribunal. Those who know about the Skype Scandal involving its Chief Judge that The Economist reported, his resignation and subsequent elevation to the Supreme Court or have read the Dhaka based British journalist David Bergman’s daily notes on the manner of the Tribunal’s proceedings [http://bangladeshwarcrimes.blogspot.com] cannot but be aghast. Indeed, Bergman’s -- whose Britain’s channel 4 TV documentary on war crime by the pro-Pakistan Bangladeshi Islamic elements in 1971 had helped turn world opinion in favour of a proper trial of the alleged perpetrators -- metamorphosis into a critic of the International Crime Tribunal’s trial judges’ procedural misdemeanour is in itself an eloquent testimony of our government’s abominate infamy in the name of abused humanity. If anything, it is they who have a case to answer before the International Criminal Court for their crime against humanity and it must not be allowed to go unanswered.
The next episode I am going to narrate is no less maleficent and dare-devil in this regard.
A Contrived `Uprising’: The International Crime Tribunal was given power to pass death sentence in contravention of the country’s obligation under the Rome Treaty of 1998. As soon as its judges passed life sentence against Abdul Kader Mullah, a band of youthful protesters proclaiming themselves secular liberal custodians of the so-called spirit of Bangladesh liberation, a code word for Indiaphilia, gathered at the cross-point of Shahbagh near Dhaka University, a convenient source of supply of young partisan goons, and begun demanding mandatory death sentence for all war criminals irrespective of the degree of their crime and banning of all Islamic political parties. Discreetly protected by the state’s security outfits and provided with food hand-outs and sleeping facility at the nearby PG Hospital by the ruling party, it soon turned into a huge evening time jamboree of the posh amidst the glaring lights of world’s TV cameras. A mesmerised world media oblivious of either the plot or the representational weight of the crowd even in terms of Dhaka’s, not to speak of the country’s population size, started calling it the Shahbagh Uprising, as if it is a genuine mass protest against the government.
Soon the grandees of the ruling party and its allies started appearing at it to affirm their backing and went to the extent of lauding the so-called Shahbagh Uprising’s spokesperson Dr Imran Sarkar as the ‘Bangobandhu of the Future’ as if the 33-year old trainee pathologist is a ‘reincarnation’ of our Prime Minister’s much mythologized late father Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman. While she proceeded to hallow the protesters’ both demands into law, India’s Foreign Policy Adviser Sivsankar Menon issued a public statement disclosing India’s backing for Shahbagh protestors’. [http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Protesters-at-Shahbagh-in-Bangladesh-backed-by-india/articleshow/18695680.cms] This unholy alliance which even denied citizens right to espouse and approve any amendment to the Constitution, have not shied away from passing Shahbagh protesters as the epitome of the `will of the people’ and making use of this as a judicial doctrine for sending their opponents to the gallows. [T.M. Cudman, Bangladesh justice: damned if you do, damned if you don’t http://www.voicefor justice.org/Bangladesh%20justice. htm]
Buoyant and seeking to highlight their ardent Indiaphilia and secularist commitment some of the frontline protestors went to tar Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) with profanities in their web-sites and face-books. To the uninformed onlookers, the spectacle at Shahbagh’s cross-point can easily pass as a mark of total enfeeblement of the Muslim nation of Bangladesh and its definite transformation into an atheistic secular wannabe.
That it is not, and that our Prime Minister and her mentors and minders in Delhi’s Lodhi Road and South Block are keen to make it so, can be gleamed from the next episode.
Swatting of Hefazat-e-Islam: When the staged theatrics of the feigned patriots and lover of justice turned into a frontal attack on the very core of our Islamic faith, Hefazat-e-Islam, a non-political association of teachers and students of Qoumi Madrassas or community funded Islamic colleges, publicly condemned the Shahbagh organisers and called upon the government to restore the constitutional sanctity of the nation’s Islamic faith, which it has removed as part of its reinvigorated Indiaphilia, and punish the blasphemers among the Shahbagh organisers with death sentence. When the Prime Minister’s artful political acrobatics, including a patently dishonest claim that she and her government are working towards replicating the Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) Charter of Medina did not mollify the Hefazat-e-Islam leadership and ordinary Muslims in their hundreds of thousands rallied behind their call with a spontaneity unseen in living memory, the so-called Shahbagh Uprising petered out compelling its organisers to pack up for the time being.
After huge rallies at every district headquarters, Hefazat-e-Islam declared a programme, with due notification to the police, for its supporters to march towards Dhaka and set-up vigil at its six entry points on May 5, 2013. A pre-selected number of them joined the capital’s protesters at its Matijheel’s Shapla Chattor in the afternoon for a protest rally to be addressed by the organisation’s 93-year old head, Shah Muhammad Shafi. On their way to the meeting, police stopped Shafi and his aides and told them that the government intelligence has unearthed a plot to assassinate the venerable old man. They whisked him away and turned his bewildered aides back to the old Dhaka’s Madrassa where they were lodging since the day before and kept them incommunicado. After a long wait, protesters from the city left Shapla Chattor and those from outside decided to spend the night there. Early in the evening the ruling party’s general secretary and a powerful cabinet minister issued an ultimatum saying unless the protesters leave Shapla Chattor immediately stern action would be taken to remove them. Later that evening there were a few sporadic clashes between the ruling party’s goons and remnants of protesters in the nearby Baitul Mukkaram area. The government lost no time in blaming protesters for rampant vandalism involving torching shops and parked vehicles and burning copies of the Qur’an in Baitul Mukkaram Mosque during these encounters. However, photographic evidence showed that it was the ruling party’s goons who did all these rascality. Later that night, the electric supply of Motijheel and its surrounding areas were switched off and the Combined Security Forces consisting of the Police, the Rapid Action Battalion, and the Border Guard Bangladesh literally attacked the unarmed resting protesters with their guns ablaze.
Two TV channels, Diganta Television and Islamic TV, covering the protest live, were shut-down by the government just before the onslaught and up to now have been kept shut. Denying any bloodletting that night, our Prime Minister even claimed that Hefazat-e-Islam had people dabbed with blood-red colour pretending to be dead, but as soon as they saw the approaching Combined Security Forces all got up and fled. Characteristically, she made this claim after the pictorial proofs of her and her government’s gigantic crime have been produced by the Asian Human Rights Commission together with a call for an International investigation! The fatality figure of over 200 that the Hefazat-e-Islam has reportedly established out numbers those documented so far by different human rights organizations, including Odhikar. [weeklyholiday.net/HomePage/UserHome.Aspx?ID=3&date=0#Tid=5118] Given the repressive environment we are in, it is most unlikely that a reliable fatality figure can be obtained so long the present government remains in power. However, the staggering amount of live ammunitions used, as disclosed by the police officer who directed the operation, [http://www.dmp.gov.bd/application/index/pressdetails/ press20] or the description of how the actual operation was carried out given to the Odhikar investigators by the officer leading the Rapid Action Battalion-1 [Fact-finding_Hefazat-Islam_English-odhikar.doc] are glaring proof of the government’s utter heavy-handedness and an indication of the extent to which our Prime Minister is willing to go and Delhi is prepared to back her up.
The Why Question
The question is what is the political purpose of all these repression and abuse? Is it simply to keep the government in power and firm-up Delhi’s domination over Bangladesh and enhance India’s geo-political clout? The short answer is all these and a bit more. If I elaborate the end bit readers will, I hope, have a rounded answer. And for this I shall ask them to join me in an excursion to our sociological history.
Those unfamiliar with South Asia’s sociological history may wonder how a nation which is known to have fought for its independence in 1971 can now find itself at such a risk in 2013 and that too, at the connivance of the very political party that led them to independence. The short answer is Pakistan’s foreign tormentor in 1971 and our tormentor in 2013 is one and the same and, on the other hand, Sheikh Mujib’s and his daughter’s agenda are not same. I am quite conscious that many readers are likely to find this short answer as well as my contention that we are faced with the legatee of the inventors of the original shock doctrine perplexing, the promised excursion to our sociological history will help answer these questions fully.
An Excursion into Our Sociological History
The Pre-Muslim Foundation: If one follows the receding western frontier of the non-Brahmanic Prachyas (Easterners) of the Late Vedic Sanskrit texts to what the post-Late Vedic Puranic texts have referred to as the Purbadesh (lit. Easternland, meaning the areas which later became known as Bengal and Assam) one has a bird’s-eye view of the eastward progress of the overlapping processes of Brahmanisation [N.R. Roy, Bangalir Itihas: Adiparbha, 1993] and Sanskritisation. [M.N. Srinivas, Sanskritisation and Other Essays, 1989]
Before the Common Era Bengal was a fortress of Buddhism, the historical embodiment of the Easterners resistance to hegemonic Brahmanism. By the 4th century CE a resurgent Brahmanism in the form of what is now retrospectively called Neo-Hinduism or Puranic Hinduism had turned the table on its arch enemy. To achieve this, the Brahmanic ‘boa’ of the British historian Percival Spear’s description [India, Pakistan, and the West, 1967], shed its old skin in order to seduce diverse ruling elements and local groups beyond Madhyadesh, the heartland of the Late Vedic Brahmanism, in its snake-noose (nagpash). Besides, to subvert the enemy from within, the syncretistic Mahayan Buddhism was set-up and kept reproducing its evermore syncretistic prototypes through Brahman converts. [M.A.M. Chowdhury, The Rise and Fall of Buddhism in South Asia, 2008: 146-74] The actual political turnaround was however achieved by having the backing of several North and South Indian ruling dynasties, a ploy which can be traced back to the famous `Ten Kings War’ of the Rig-Ved [7.18]. In the wake of this resurgent Brahmanism, the Imperial Guptas (r.320-550), possibly of Jat ethnicity, securely implanted Brahmanism on the ground throughout North India. [S. Chattopadhyay, Prachin Bharater Itihas, 2 vols., 1992i:375; 1992ii:9] Although equally keen to advance the cause of Brahmanism and having the same Brahmanic context sensitivity, unlike the Maurya state that Kautilya had set-up more than six centuries earlier, the Guptas relied more on soft social engineering than on fearsome coercion.
The new Gupta strategy had four principal strands. First, establishment of Sanskrit, ‘a codebook for a Brahman secret tongue, a user’s guide for Brahman cultural software’ [D. Ludden, India and South Asia: A Short History, 2002] as the official language and Smriti texts as the official law books. [S.N. Sen, Ancient Indian History and Civilisation, 1988:191] Secondly, temple building and settlement of Brahmans, both priests and officialdoms, among non-Brahmanic population with perpetual land grants conferring the assignee the inalienable rights of administering punishment and extracting taxes independent of the state. [S. Chattopadhyay 1992i:402; N.R. Roy 1993:181-83] Thirdly, move the society away from the monetized and commercialized economy to subsistence economy and village isolationism in order to undermine the Buddhist commercial classes, the most munificent backers of Buddhism [S. Chattapadhyay 1992i:403; 1992ii:119]. Last but not the least, state patronage of Brahmanic intellectuals for making Brahmanism more attractive. [N.R. Roy 1993:206-07] and creating a hedonistic nagaraka culture to countermand Buddhist piety [D.D. Kosambi, The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline, 1991:191] In short, the overall aim was to create both effective and durable parallel societal processes for stifling Buddhism and advancing Brahmanism.
In Bengal the state implanted Brahman controlled upa-nibhesh (lit. mini encampment) were set-up in the northwest (up to 6th century) and west Bengal (in 6th century). Being outside the Gupta administration, south and east Bengal escaped it lightly. [P. Niyogi, Brahmanic Settlements in Different Subdivisions of Ancient Bengal, 1967: 53ff] Unsurprisingly, in this early stage of Brahmanisation even in northwest and west Bengal, not to speak of the rest, `asur type’, that is non Sanskritic language remained prevalent. [N.R. Roy 1993:44-45]
In the mid-eighth century, after a hundred-years intense Brahmanic-Buddhist conflict throughout northwest and west Bengal, the native Pal dynasty (mid-8th – 11th century), came to power. They professed attachment to Buddhism; yet instead of helping stop Buddhism’s slide to Brahmanism [R.C. Mitra, The Decline of Buddhism In India, 1954:57-75] they helped bring Buddhism nearer to Brahmanism. [P. Niyogi, Buddhism in Ancient Bengal, 1980:20] The dynasty was brought to power by the Brahmanic landed barons (samantas) and under their hereditary Brahman Prime Ministers the dynasts served as Brahman front-man. [J.D.M. Derrett, Hindu Empires in Recueils de la societe Jean Bodin, vol.31, 1973] Unsurprisingly, they pursued the Gupta stratagem in full. While Brahmanisation and Sanskritisation made further inroad, the difference in Brahmanism’s west-east territorial sway remained unchanged. This was mainly because most of the time east Bengal stayed out of their realm. [M.A.M. Chowdhury, The Pals and Their Role in the Sanskritisation of Bengal, http//www.bricklanecircle.org/uploads/Dr_Mumin_ Chowdhu...]
Pal successors, the rabidly pro-Brahmanic Sen Dynasty (r.1125-1204] carried out the same Gupta and Pal stratagem throughout Bengal with virulence, which compelled many Buddhists to flee. Thanks to these refugees, the evidence of our native language and literature of the time survived in Nepal. Repression aside, the cumulative impact of the anti-Buddhist policies of the Pal and Sen Dynasties left the Buddhist masses utterly pauperized. [S. Chattopadhyay 1992ii:320] But like a boa waiting for its quarry, a state sitting tight on mass misery cannot avoid being poorly and vulnerable; it is this which undid the Sen and before them the Pal and the Gupta Dynasties.
But from the standpoint of Brahmanic strategic long-view, aptly expressed in their myth of the half-bodied Rahu’s inability to stomach the moon, it is a pitfall from which, so far as its protagonists are concerned, Brahmanism can always recover itself since the non-Brahmanic peoples do not have the capability to digest Brahmanism. [A.L. Dallapiccola, Hindu Myths, 2003:24] What happened next seems to justify their conviction.
During Muslim Rule: During the last quarter of the 12th century pushed out of South Bihar and incapable of stopping internal secessions the Sen state ran out of steam and was tottering. When at the behest, and with the help, of the oppressed Buddhists the Muslim army of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji appeared at their door step, the Sen King and his courtiers could not master even a token resistance. [M.A.M. Chowdhury in S.M. Hasan (ed), Nazimuddin Ahmed Commemorative Volume, 2011:217-50] Disclosing their unmet aspiration, the modern Brahmanic historians maintain with nostalgia, that it was the Sen Kings who helped orthodox Hindu faith to attain supremacy in Bengal and had the dynasty a long reign they could have created a unified nation capable of repulsing the Muslim invaders. [R.C. Majumdar, The History, Vol.1: Hindu Period,  2006: 228-29] This retrospective regret reveals a contemporary felt need for a quicker hegemony over the non-Brahmanic elements.
Unlike Pal and Sen Dynasties, thanks to their Sultanic political culture there were volatility in the Muslim court and shorter reign. Yet, because of the rulers Islamic governing outlooks and practices Muslim rule was immensely beneficial to all the subjects, Muslim or non-Muslim. Even a century after its advent, grateful Buddhists were heralding them as heavenly saviours. Indeed, to paraphrase a modern high caste historian, the changeover did not pain anyone except the `neo-Brahmans and their cronies’ and under the new rulers ‘the flowering of Bengal’s civilisation’ increased ‘hundred folds’. [D.C. Sen, Brihat Bango, 1935:530-31,674-75]
It is the effects of this pain of `neo-Brahmans and their cronies’, not the material outcome of the remarkable prosperity of Muslim Bengal that all kinds of foreign visitors had seen with wonder and admiration, which determined the next course of our history. It is this subjective history, or `history as experienced’ to use Fernand Braudel’s [On History, 1980:205] catch-phrase, that underlies all manner of contest and conflict among civilizations and nations, is vital for an appreciation of Bangladesh’s current plight.
At the advent of Muslim rule when Brahmanic forces were in the pit so to say, they did neither give-up, nor become over agitated. Hoping that the ruler of Orissa (now Odhisa) would drive the Muslims out, most landed barons stayed away from the new suzerains in line with their Brahmanic stratagem of vetasi-vritti (manner of the cane). [J.N. Sarkar, History of Bengal, volume 2: Muslim Period, 1200-1757,  2006:29] After two such abortive attempts by the Oriya Kings and a long waiting, [G. Roerick, Biography of Dharmasvamin (Chag lo-tsa-ba Chos-rje-dpal) a Tibetan Monk Pilgrim, 1959:64-65] they gingerly accepted Muslim vassalage. But other than paying tributes they remained aloof.
On their part Brahman leaders forbade their laity not to go even to the rescue of a Buddhist trapped in house-fire or look at a Buddhist monk. [R.C. Mitra, 1954:79,137] Yet, in relation to the Muslims they adopted kamat vrata or kurma-vritti (manner of the tortoise), the most abject isolationism [K.P. Bandopadhyay, Madhyayouga Bangla (Bengal in the Middle Age) 2002:135, 252; Pachkari Bandapadhyay, Rachanabali (Writings) 1963i: 70-73] and, like a starving boa surviving by consuming its own liver, they patiently waited at `a great cost to their society.’
From that pit, or what modern Brahmanic historians call the Dark Age, [Roy 1986:345] little over half a millennium later it was their landed barons, rising in accordance with their forebears’ vetasi-vritti, succeeded in putting an end to Bengal’s Muslim suzerainty. In between their refusal to give up and the undoing of Muslim rule, Brahmanism through its west Bengal centric Gaudia-Vaisnavbad had made four important advances.
Firstly, it completed Brahmanism’s two millenniums’ struggle to root-out its Late Vedic adversary, the Buddhism from its land of birth. Successive Mahayanist innovations, including the breaks with its original Pali texts, had left Buddhism beyond restitution and many Buddhists found Islam an attractive choice. Others, engrossed in their ‘Saiva idolatry, Sakti worship and demonology’ [L.A. Waddel, Buddhism and Lamaism of Tibet, 1985:14] found equally erotic Vaisnavism, with its promise of an egalitarian brotherhood outside the Brahmanic caste society, agreeable. However, in less than a century Vaisnavism ditched its anti-caste egalitarian postures [T.C. Das-Gupta, Aspects of Bengali Society from Old Bengali Literature, 1935:215] and left these erstwhile Buddhists stranded at the bottom of the Brahmanic caste pyramid. That they were subjected to trickery was gleefully recorded in a post-Chaitanya interpolation to the Bhagavat Puran. [V. Narayanan, Understanding Hinduism, 2004:20] Inaccessible to them, few of the victims knew about their tricksters’ incriminatory smugness.
Secondly, in effacing Buddhism from the land of its birth Brahmanism hugely boosted its own numerical strength. The enormity of the gain is borne out by the fact that 80 per cent of the lower order of the present-day Bengal’s Hindu society are of Vaisnav antecedence. [P.J. Marshall, Bengal: The British Bridgehead: East India Company 1740-1828, 1987:28]
Thirdly, while still producing their religious texts in Sanskrit, the Vaisnav leaders made Deshi-Bhasa as their medium of propaganda disregarding the old taboo. This they did principally to spread the theme of oppressive javan (foreigners) or mlechchha (impure untouchables).
Fourthly, besides communalising its literature, they also communalised the Deshi-Bhasa’s alphabets. Before the Muslim conquest, Sanskrit held sway as the language of administrative and intellectual communication. The Buddhist literati wrote either in Buddhist Sanskrit or in Deshi-Bhasa. Under Muslim suzerainty Persian was the court language. However, report of Ma Huan, a member of one of the early 15th century’s Chinese diplomatic missions to Bengal’s court, shows that the Deshi-Bhasa was universally used in all unofficial communications. [P.C. Bagchi, Political Relations between Bengal and China in the Pathan Period in Visva-Bharati Annals, 1, 1945: 117, 124] Indeed, the language of common speech and popular literatures found entry in the royal court and gentlemen’s home and became enriched by Arabic and Persian and the Buddhists stopped using Sanskrit. [D.C. Sen 1935:676, 978, 1000] Yet there is no evidence of Muslim literary activity in Bengali up until late sixteenth century. [S.A. Bhuiya, Bangla Sahityer Itikatha (History of Bengali Literature), 1972: 14-29, 59-62] It is likely that Muslim writers preferred Persian and Arabic because they had wider readership beyond Bengal and better suitability for refined literary expression compared to the newly resuscitated Deshi-Bhasa.
The first known Muslim poet to compose in Deshi-Bhasa is Shah Muhammad Saghir of the late sixteenth century. He wrote his Yusuf Jolekha risking sin explicitly to protect the Muslim monolinguals who were increasingly subjected to the harmful influence of neo-Brahmanic works. The same uneasiness continued to be expressed by many later writers up until the late nineteenth century. The reason for Saghir’s fear of sinning was not the language itself but its Brahmi alphabet with their symbolic representation of Brahmanic deities which the Vaisnav writers gave currency. That sin of using pagan symbols was a real concern. To avoid it, many Muslim writers and copyists of others works preferred to write Bengali works in Arabic-Persian script. Despite neglect and ravages of time many such manuscripts have survived (about 50 in Abdul Karim Sahitya Visarad Collection alone). [S.S. Husain, A Descriptive Catalogue of Bengali Manuscripts in the Dacca University Library, 1960]. Even those who wrote in Brahmi script, endeavoured to make a distinction by having the pagination from right to left, as in Arabic and Persian and almost all their titles were in Arabic or Persian words. In the north-eastern border district of Sylhet Muslims introduced a form of parallel script known as Sylheti Nagri. [S.M.G. Quadir, Sylhetee Nagri Lipi, Bhasa O Sahitya (Sylheti Nagri Script, Language, and Literature, 1999) Because of the enormous influence of Persian and Arabic language and literature, including a purely humanitarian literature unknown before, by the time of the British take-over Deshi-Bhasa was commonly known as Farsi Bangla indicating a deeper level of acculturation. [N.R. Roy 1993:532]
Last but not the least, for the first time in the history of the subcontinent Brahman leaders of Vaisnavism took lead in giving currency to the words Hindu and Hindu Dharma for denoting all non-Muslims and their amorphous but shared religious outlook with the Muslim javansand mlechchhas as their antagonist ‘other’. [J.T. O’Connell, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 93:3, 1973, and in M. Israel and N.K. Wagel, Islamic Society and Culture: Essays in Honour of Professor Aziz Ahmad, 1983] It was, in other words, the inauguration of Hindu nationalism.
Those accustomed to hearing about nationalism as an out and out West European phenomenon which non-European peoples have emulated under the spell of Western education and modernity thinking `we can be like them’ [A. Barnett, in Marxism Today, August, 1979] might find this a bit surprising. However, if sovereign aspiration in the name of an imagined community of people belonging to a land is the defining feature of nationalism, then Gaudia-Vishnavbad’s anti-Muslim rule campaign on behalf of their imagined community of Hindu-Dharmis’ befits the tag of nationalism. Indeed, ‘Those who think that nationalism in India is a phenomenon of recent growth are mistaken; if they also think that it is wholly an importation from the West, as I often find that they do, they are rather more in error ...’ [N.C. Chaudhuri 1951:400]
Significantly, this Hindu nationalism was launched at a time when the Pathan and the Mughal Muslims were engaged in a prolonged contest for the mastery of Bengal. The political instability coupled with the Pathan rebels need to befriend the Brahmanic potentates rekindled this redemptive hope. To maximize Brahmanic unity, Pandits drew the new doctrine of smarta-panchapasana recognising equal validity of devotion to Vishnu, Siv, Sakti, Ganesh, and Surya. But in fidelity to the quintessential Brahmanic method of ‘include but hierarchies’ they also spelled out the differing rights, claims, and power of different caste groups (jatis) and sects (sampradays) under a rehashed doctrine of adhikar-bhed. [S. Sarkar in D. Ludden, Contesting the Nation, Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India, 1996:277-78] More revealingly, Siv temples displaying the sign of Kalki (Vishnu’s 10th and last avatar to come for re-establishing Brahmanic political hegemony in the last eon or kali yug) came to be built in ‘every’ Brahmanic village. [D.C. Sen 1935:666] Besides, the Mahishasur (Buffalo Demon meaning non-Brahmanic native) killer warrior goddess Durga, a dressed-up version of Saiva goddess Kali, who was popularized during the aftermath of the Buddhist cleansing in North India during the seventh and the eight centuries and introduced to Bengal during the 12th century with eight more hands as a mark of her added potency, was established as the `national deity’. Holding her annual puja in every high caste homestead became the norm. [V. Das, Sri Sri Chaityana Bhagavat, 1358BS:37]
However, the Mughal victory over their Pathan adversaries dashed that redemptive hope. `Fallen into Mughal hand, all have to eat from one plate’ became the awe and anguish ridden general feeling. Even then, amidst fear of chastisement and in keeping with the stratagem of vetasi-vritti, Brahmanic forces continued spreading their redemptive aspiration avoiding outright sedition. This ‘silent war’ away from the Mughal earshot was pervasive and significant. [A. Poddhar, Unish Shataker Pathik (Pathfinders of the Nineteenth Century), 1955:62]
As we shall see when they became the king-makers in the court of Murshidabad and predator entrepreneurs of the East India Company were available to mount an armed challenge to the sitting Muslim ruler, the Brahmanic zamindars and courtiers orchestrated the drive to supplant the Muslim rule with British help.
Since Vaisnavism was largely confined to West Bengal, these Vaisnav achievements reinforced the west-east division with which the processes of Brahmanisation and Sanskritisation of Bengal had begun. Moreover, despite ending Buddhist challenge, Brahmanism’s all-important quest for unchallenged sway over the `world’ of South Asia, remained unfulfilled. For this to be realised, like the Buddhist ‘other’, the Muslim `other’ must also be seen off. What follows underscore its saliency.
Under the British Raj: Both the British [H.H. Dodwell, The Cambridge History of India, vol. 5, 1929: 148; Imperial Gazetteer of India: Bengal, 1881ii:424] and the Bengali historians [R.L. Mukherjee, Krishnachandra-Charit, 1804; K.C. Rai, Krishnachadra-Raier-Charitra-Vivaran, 1834 and Khitish-Vangshabali-Charit, 1874] credit Bengal’s high Hindu landed grandees led by Maharaja Krishnachandra of Nadia for orchestrating the dethronement of the Nawab.
To the high Hindus it was a welcome change. To celebrate its first anniversary they elevated their national deity Durga’s annual puja from a family event to a public celebration. [C. Deb in S. Chaudhuri, Calcutta – The Living City, 1995i:59-60] Their joviality of the time went on to resonate in various music of the time. `All four corners went abuzz with British praise’. [D.C. Sen 1935:863]
On the other hand, Muslims, whether in their village hut [M. Bhattacharya, Nirakkar Kabi O Graimmya Kabita (Illiterate Poet and Rural Poetry) in Sahitya Parishad Patrika 12: 41-42] or town dwelling, [R.K. Ray in P.C. Marshall, The Oxford History of the British Empire, volume 2: The Eighteenth Century, 1998: 523] went lamenting.
Not just in Bengal, without such willing Brahmanic backing elsewhere the British could have neither conquer, nor rule South Asia with so few -- less than a quarter of a percent of the population [B.S. Cohn, The Social Anthropology of a Civilization, 2000:7-8] -- soldiers and administrators of their own. Alluding to this historical truth later Gandhi wrote: ‘The English have not taken India; we have given it to them.’[M.K. Gandhi, The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, 1969x: 22-23] Among many others, Rammohan Roy [R.M. Roy, The Correspondence of Raja Rammohan Roy, 1809-1831, 1992i:3,224-25] and Bankimchandra Chatterjee [O. Paz, In light of India, 1997:54] also publicly credited their Hindu nation for it. Yet, even in the light of their own evaluation on any objective criterion, [S. Aurobinda, The Spirit and Forms of Indian Polity 1947:86; D.D. Kosambi, 1979:389; R.M. Roy 1992i:364] the Mughal Empire and its legatee states should have been highly regarded and preferred.
What made them to supplant such beneficent rulers by the British shakers of the proverbial Pagoda Tree? Their own reasons were essentially two. First, lacking a military force of their own they needed a surrogate force to end the adharmic non-Brahmanic rule that had started with the Nandas of Magadh in the 4th century BCE and continued through that of the Mughal. [R.M. Roy 1992i:224-25; M. Sarmanah (aka Vidyalankar), Rajabali, 1908:12-13, 294-95] Secondly, in using the British tweezers to pluck out the Muslim thorn they need not to worry much. After all the rootless, floating British cannot, even if they try, overstay, for they can hardy survive a ‘chill’. This interim British rule was necessary, because they themselves also needed preparatory time to climb the summit of power. [M. Edwards, The Shahibs and the Lotus, 1988:5]
In view of this strategic need, the high Hindus egged on the British as their providential deliverer from the Muslim tyranny. [S. Sarkar in S. Chaudhuri 1995i:97] On their part the British made these strategic ploys credible by attributing their advent to divinely impelled forces of historical destiny [East India Military Calendar 1823:44] making them their Aryan cousins and past preceptors, and projecting themselves as a transient power [H. Morris, The Life of Charles Grant, 1904:258] desirous of helping their agnates recover their greatness, and eventually freedom from the Britain. [T.B. Macaulay in A.B. Keith, Speeches and Documents on Indian Policy 1750-1921, 1922i:265]
True to their irrepressible spirit the Muslims and the Mulbasis, on the other hand pursued active resistance and rebellion up to the best part of the 19th century. As the British suzerainty expanded from its Bengal bridgehead, so did Bengal’s Muslims’ joint efforts with Muslims as well as freedom loving non-Muslims elsewhere in the subcontinent, the most potent and widespread being the Tarika-e-Muhammadia or the so-called Wahabi sedition. But on the whole these did not dent the British; if anything, made them to value Brahmanic support more.
Brahmanic aid and abetment to the British resulted in some major gains for Brahmanism. First, it brought them a `de-facto Hindu Raj’ throughout the countryside of Bengal [Abul Mansur Ahmed, Amar Dekha Rajnitir Panchas Bachhar (Fifty years of politics that I have seen), 1999: 125; N.C. Chaudhuri, In Thy Hand, Great Anarck!, India 1921-52, 1987] and Madras presidencies through the zamindari system. [R.E. Frykenberg in G.D. Sontheimer and H. Kulke, Hinduism Reconsidered, 1991] Secondly, legitimisation and enhancement of Brahman control over the masses through the Company’s official act of offering puja at Kolkata’s Kali temple, participation in the management of temples and other religious institutions, and, more importantly, by the codification of Hindu law. [K. Dutta in S. Chaudhuri 1995:25] Thirdly, a huge swelling of Hindu numbers through the inclusion of the ethnic or faith communities, who were opposed to Brahmanic Varnasram Dharma and whom ordinary Hindus did not consider as Hindus, in the census as Hindus. The enormity of this British action could be seen from the fact that the majority of Bengal’s Hindus consist of such ‘Census Hindus’. [P. Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Post-Colonial Histories, 1993:98] Fourthly, Sanskritisation and removal of Muslim influences from the print language. [A. Ghosh, Power in Print: Popular Publishing and the Politics of Language and Culture in a Colonial Society, c.1778-1905, 2006]
The implication of the latter needs appreciating. At the advent of Muslim rule, the Bangla that existed even before Buddha’s time (sixth century B.C.) had been reduced to a colloquial, barely surviving in rural huts. [D.C. Sen in Humayun Azad, Bangla Bhasha: Bangla Bhashabishayak Prabandhasankalan (The Bengali Language: A Collection of Linguistic Essays on the Bengali Language), 2001ii: 597-98] However, during Muslim rule it took shape as a language again under the influence of the Persian language and literature. [P.K. Bondopadhay, Rammohan O Tatkaleen Samaj O Sahitya, 1987; Aniruddha Roy in Shamsul Hossain, Abdul Karim Commemorative Volume, 2008:142) With a touch of derision it came retrospectively to be called Musalmani Bangla, Dubhasi Bangla, and Farsi Bangla etc. This natural language which had grown spontaneously was ousted from the print language and literature by the newly forged and tellingly named Suddha Bangla (Purified Bengali) with about 90 per cent new and difficult to pronounce Sanskrit words, and thus making it ‘divorced from the comprehension of every native to whom it has not been specially taught.’ [G.A. Grierson, Indian Empire, 1915: 251] The ability to speak and write it became the new hall mark of education and urbanity, thanks to the absolute dominance of the Kolkata centric high Hindu bhadralok literati.
Lastly, there came a new pride in, and sense of privileged entitlement from, India’s Aryan-Vedic past from the British recognition of caste Hindus as their Aryan cousins and acknowledgement of them as their past preceptors. [A.T. Embree, Charles Grant and British Rule In India, 1962:142]
From the 1830s the old British projection of themselves as a transient power looked like becoming true when they started preparing to grant home-rule to their colonies under the Empire-wide Retrenchment Policy. Reflecting this, in 1840s India’s Governor General Ellenborough publicly hinted that the British policy was to restore Hindu India. [J.W. Kaye, The Life and Correspondence of Charles, Lord Metcalfe, 1854ii: 646-47] and mooted the idea of an imperial federation for the subcontinent under the British crown. [BM, Add. MSS 40475, Ellenborough to Hardinge, 15 April 1845] Granting of similar ‘Responsible government’ already to Canada [J.L. Finlay and D.N. Sprague, The Structure of Canadian History, 1979:130-34] made this move all the more convincing.
Expecting home-rule soon, by the end of 1840s Bengal’s high Hindus started passing on the Suddha Bangla as their matribhasa (mother-language) and jatiya bhasha (national language) in order to underline its status as a natural language as well as its speakers’ nationhood. [B. Ghosh, Samayik Patre Banglar Samajchitra, 1962i:297-99] The Hindoo Patriot, the name given to the mouthpiece of the caste Hindu campaigning body which petitioned the British parliament in 1852 for the immediate home-rule, was revealing of the self-identity of this Bengali nation. The seriousness of the British preparatory drive to give home-rule [S. Gopal, British Policy in India, 1858-1905, and 1965:176] even made the editor of The Hindoo Patriot, to call for Bengal’s early home-rule in recognition of its elite’s greater imbibition of European values and ideals. [T. Roy in P.J.O Taylor, A Companion to Indian Mutiny of 1857, 1996:65]
Ironically that call appeared in print on the same day the news of the Uprising of 1857 reached Kolkata. In a show of abiding fidelity to the British, Bengal’s Brahmanic worthies not only denounced the rebels in one voice, they even held Vedic yajana to consecrate the British flag and rejoiced at the impending doom of the detested Muslims and the lowly Marathas. Ironically the high Hindu grandees printed leaflets urging their co-religionists to keep watch on the conspirators and help the government with intelligence was in so-called dialects rather than in the so-called mother-language!
The Uprising in North India and the Punjab was essentially what William Carey has called a ‘Mahomedan Rebellion’. Those high Hindus who joined the Uprising there, had mainly done so at the urging of the Muslims. [W.H. Carey, The Mahomedan Rebellion, 1857] Yet, as Alexander Duff has noted, this Muslim revolt was ‘mainly of a political but very subordinately of a religious character.’ [A. Duff, Indian Rebellion, 1858:133]
This is not surprising. Muslim movements such as those of Haji Sari’atullah, Sayyid Nisar Ali and Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi had certainly endeavoured at the reformation of the Muslim society by purging beliefs and practices alien to Islam. But they were also concerned about the oppression of local zamindars and moneylenders as well as the foreign subjugation. None of the movements were anti-Hindu or even anti-Brahmanical per se. In their political struggle they sought, and to a certain extent succeeded in obtaining, the support of the oppressed section of the Hindu society. [A.C. Roy, Bharater Itihas (History of India) 1993ii: 254-59] It is revealing in this respect that in letters, written in his own hand to the rulers of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner and others, Bahadur Shah offered to hand over power to `any confederacy of native princes, who are chosen to exercise it.’ [Cited in G.P. Pradhan, India’s Freedom Struggle: An Epic of Sacrifice and Suffering, 1990: 4]
What is more telling is the fact that in 1858 when suppression of the Uprising was yet to be completed and Calcutta University was about to be opened, Bharatvarser Itihas of Tarinicharan Chattopadhyay, the second history text-book ever written in Bengali and that too after a gap of half a century, appeared in print. Reflecting the Bengali high Hindu expectation that their solid pro-British loyalty would bring home-rule on a pan-Indian scale without further delay with themselves in pole position, the book asserted that Bharatvarsa had always been a desh (country) where the Arya-Hindu jati with their distinctive race and religion had their rajatta (rule). The Hindu self-rule, and with it the glories of ancient Hindus, was undone by the Muslims, whose rule was in turn replaced by the Christian rule. Although Bharatvarsa was presented in the image of the European model of a nation state and its history was narrated in the style of the European historiography, unlike the European nation of liberal imagination his nation was one of ‘blood and soil’ of the classical Brahmanical xenology in contradistinction to the English and French concept of nation. It foreshadowed early European racist political theorists from whom the latter-day Hindu fascist like M.S. Golwalker had borrowed their ‘true’ Western conception of nationhood. [C. Jeffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, 1925 to the 1990s, 1996:52-55] More remarkably, its author’s ambition for his freshly imagined nation went beyond regaining its rule or restoring its past glories. Not only Muslims were considered alien, he wanted to see his Aryan-Hindu Jati in its conquering stride regarding and treating other nations in and around South Asia with contempt. The fact that the book had 18 reprints in 20-years showed its ready resonance with Bengal’s high caste readership. [P. Chatterjee, 1993:94] In it, one could hear the echo of the goosestep of Nehruvian dream of turning India into ‘the Pivot and fulcrum of Asia’ [J.L. Nehru, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 1978xv:123] and the Brahmanic supremacist Hindutav of the present day Bharatiya Janata Party.
While the learned Bengalis were giving thoughts on regaining power and what to do with it, a confident British Indian Association, which had maintained a paid agency in London before the Uprising for pressing the demand for home-rule, went to petition British parliament in 1859 reiterating its standing demand together with a new one: the whole of British India be placed under zamindars like them. [C.H. Philips et al, Evolution of India and Pakistan 1858-1947, 1962:101-02]
As it turned out, the Uprising made repairing and rebuilding British hold, rather than shedding the administrative burden, the urgent British priority. Although strong indications were given that there would be no change in the basic British aim, including restoration of the `Aryan cousins to power and glory’ [S. Laing, Lecture on the Indo-European Language and Races, 1862], the inevitable delay as well as the manner in which the task of consolidation of British hold was carried out, especially the restoration of the North Indian Muslim landed potentates signalling an eagerness to win back Muslim loyalty and the appearance of a number of landed potentates in the central and provincial councils, caused suspicion about the British commitment. Yet, the realisation that without the British favour the attainment of Brahmanic state power would be difficult, made the expression of their inner suspicious problematic. [H.M. Das-Gupta, Studies in Western Influence on Nineteenth Century Bengali Poetry 1857-47, 1935: 45, 50] Consequently, their redemptive hope and unexpressed anxieties found expression in their literati’s renewed preoccupation with the pain and pride of Bharat under the oppressive Muslims. [A.C. Roy, Bharatvarser Itihas, 1993ii:302]
1870s became a watershed for a number of reasons. Of them one was the appearance of a section of the emerging Western educated scions of the Brahmanic elite families under the banner of the Indian Association (est.1970). They paraded their modernist commitment by insisting that they had their inspiration from European political ideals, especially the struggling nationalists such as the Italian patriot and champion of liberalism, Giuseppe Mazzini’s bid to create a free and united Italy. [A.C. Roy 1993ii: 338-39] However, while maintaining that the India they were aspiring was but a nation in making, [S.N. Banerjea, A Nation in Making, 1925] they made entry into the ICS easier for their own kind their organisation’s primary preoccupation and propaganda and gentlemanly public agitation the means for achieving the goal. These were in effect a tribute and a threat, all at once, in the service of getting a hand on the lever of power ahead of others. This becomes abundantly clear when one considers the fact that it was a time of acute job crisis for the sons of their bhadralok class as a whole. [B.B. Misra, The Unification and Division of India, 1990:190] Instead of pressing for their job opportunities, Indian Association went to demand easier entry into the ICS which would have benefitted at best 12 persons a year. One does not require the benefit of hindsight to see their nationalism’s Janus-face. The diverse manifestations of