Thursday, March 23rd, 2023 13:29:37


Updated: April 17, 2010 11:09 am

When we can raise your voice for 2,000 Muslims killed in Gujarat, we must cry from the rooftops for 2.4 million Hindus killed in 1971 or the 2,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits forced out of their homes in Kashmir. Why do we not? asks Vivek Gumaste.

Public memory is short and fleeting. Events register momentarily like a blip on a radar and are then consigned to some dark corner of our cerebral galaxy. The brain needs to be bombarded with repetitive stimuli or jolted by a single moral turpitude of seismic proportions to evoke a strong and sustained response. In the absence of such reinforcement, a thought fades away from ones mind and that is the unfortunate tragedy of the Bangladesh genocide.

            To ascertain the etiology of this amnesia or selective attention deficit we need to delve deeper into the details of this gory chapter of South Asia. In a massive military operation, code named Operation Searchlight aimed at crushing Bengali aspirations of autonomy, the Pakistan army in March of 1971 unleashed a deadly reign of terror that killed about 3 million Bangladeshis and forced another 10 million to seek refuge across the border in India.

            Estimates of the actual numbers vary from a ridiculous low 26,000 put out by the Pakistan government (Hamood-ur-Rahman Commission) to a high of 3 million circulating in the international media. In a preface to this massacre, Yahya Khan, the military dictator of Pakistan at that time is supposed to have remarked: “Kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands.” (Pierre, Stephen and Robert Payne (1973), Massacre, New York: Macmillan, p 50). The official position from Bangladesh concurs with the figure of 3 million.

            R J Rummel in his book, Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 (ch.8) concludes: “Consolidating both ranges, I give a final estimate of Pakistan’s democide to be 3,00,000 to 30,00,000, or a prudent 15,00,000.” Even this figure of 1.5 million places this massacre high up in the list of notable world genocides. While the number killed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (in excess of 2 million) may top the Bangladesh genocide, it was carried out over a period of 4 years in comparison to the nine-month deadly rampage of the Pakistan army: a chilling testimony to the awesome brutality of this massacre.

            Who bore the brunt of this genocide? Was it the Bengali Muslims? Were the Bengali Hindus selectively targeted? Or did both communities suffer equally? It is important to know the actual distribution of the casualties for therein may lie the clue to the big unanswered question: Why were the guilty not brought to book?

            The killings were not random acts of response to a mass uprising but a meticulously crafted strategy of selective victimisation as Rummel indicates in his book: “In East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) [General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan and his top generals] also planned to murder its Bengali intellectual, cultural, and political elite. They also planned to indiscriminately murder hundreds of thousands of its Hindus and drive the rest into India. And they planned to destroy its economic base to insure that it would be subordinate to West Pakistan for at least a generation to come. This despicable and cutthroat plan was outright genocide.”

            A report in the Sunday Times, London (June 13, 1971) corroborates the existence of such a diabolical blueprint: “The government’s policy for East Bengal was spelled out to me in the Eastern Command headquarters at Dacca. It has three elements: 1. The Bengalis have proved themselves unreliable and must be ruled by West Pakistanis; 2. The Bengalis will have to be re-educated along proper Islamic lines. The—Islamisation of the masses—this is the official jargon—is intended to eliminate secessionist tendencies and provide a strong religious bond with West Pakistan; 3. When the Hindus have been eliminated by death and fight, their property will be used as a golden carrot to win over the under privileged Muslim middle-class. This will provide the base for erecting administrative and political structures in the future.”

            In a report submitted to US Senate Judiciary Committee (November 1, 1971) Senator Edward Kennedy further confirms this persecution of Hindus: “Field reports to the US government, countless eye-witness journalistic accounts, reports of international agencies such as World Bank and additional information available to the subcommittee document the reign of terror which grips East Bengal (East Pakistan). Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and in some places, painted with yellow patches marked ‘H’. All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad.

            An article in Time magazine dated August 2, 1971 titled Pakistan: The Ravaging of Golden Bengal (external link) categorically concluded: “The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred.”

            All this evidence clearly indicates that the Hindu community of Bangladesh was the specially culled out by the Pakistan army for this inhuman treatment. Coming to specifics, let us see whether we can ascertain with a fair degree of accuracy, the ball park figures for the Hindus killed or driven from their homes.

           All Jungle, No Mahal

This essay is a non-artisan attempt to present a critique of the ruling power-elite of West Bengal. It delves into the underlying causes of the emaciated state of Bengal. Furthermore, the piece forebodes a ‘change’ in the offing.

If one goes around the streets of Kolkata these days, he is bound to see a change amidst the infrastructural bouillabaisse that one is so accustomed with. A glance toward the main road (still recuperating from the inherent damage that it suffered when first constructed) shall bring into view the preened new buses, quite contrasting in style and make-up compared to the ramshackle old ones.

            These are the products of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). They have been unleashed in the City of Palaces quite recently.

            In fact, some of them are fully air-conditioned, a matter of immense delight for the Kolkata-ites; since time immemorial they are undergoing a life of penance and austerity. In that life of theirs, it was routine to save electricity and supply it to richer but ‘wanting’ provinces while they themselves burnt candles and carried lanterns.

            Hence, to expect air-conditioning while commuting is to go to the extreme levels of hedonism.

            It would be better to shake the memories. The Calcutta Metro Rail (underground railway), at the time of commencement, had air-conditioning. With time, the “Calcuttans” have become ‘conditioned’ to accept the non-existent.

            If anybody thought the ‘bad days’ are over for Kolkata in particular and Bengal (the term West Bengal has become cliché, let’s use Bengal) in general, there is a catch. The prices of the tickets of these AC JNNURM buses are on the higher side. And very few Kolkata-ites have struggled to improve on their pay-package, exceptions notwithstanding.

            The result? The beggarly haggard would slaver when he has the sight of the ‘running limousine’ but ‘financially coerced’ to jump onto the decrepit chassis.

            Since 1977, Bengal has maintained the status quo: in terms of lack of industrialisation, dilapidation of the education system and enrichment of the cadre-strength of the ruling party.

            Bengal has shown utter disregard to improve the wherewithal of agriculture, power and infrastructure. And consequently stagnation of jobs has been the order of the day.

            But surely, Bengal has mustered a few things, which is worthy to be emulated for any power-elite. It has shown the world how to ‘rule’ in the guise of ‘people’s friend’, without disclosing the stratagems (at least the ruling elite thought so!).

            The process of manipulation was

simple and not ahistorical. It did not demand any hyperingenuity. Still, it had to be implemented.

            Therefore, one has to prostrate in front of those “geniuses” of Bengal who really brought the plan to fruition.

            The theorisation of controlling the state machinery under the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is extant. Who can forget Lenin’s thesis: “Party as vanguard of the Revolution”. The stalwart had faced contestations on this contentious issue from none other than his German compatriot Rosa Luxembourg. It is quite possible if Lenin had not expired so early, he might have reconciled with Rosa’s ideas later on. He was pragmatic enough. In fact, just after the Bolshevik Revolution, he adapted the bourgeoisie New Economic Policy, in order to stabilise Soviet Union.

            But the communists of Bengal, primarily those who joined the party after the revolution in 1977, neither belonged to the same league as of the members of the then Bolshevik Party, nor had to go through an exertion to purify themselves. They kept on and still keep on proclaiming about the legendary Mao Zedong’s “Long March”. But they are nothing but windbags and their version of the ‘march’ is to proceed toward the Maidan in Central Kolkata and jam the roads and bring the whole city to a standstill.

            And that has what has been in Bengal and Kolkata for the last three decades.

            The citizens’ minds have been so amputated that even a single “Nandan” has been interpreted to be an amphitheatre and a single football stadium accommodating hordes has been projected as the ‘Garden of Eden’.

            Nobody has bothered that there is not a single urban conurbation in Bengal which can be compared to even the collapsing Kolkata. Nobody has exhibited grievance against the

daily bouts of power-cuts. Nobody uttered a single word against the blatant nepotism in the recruitment process of the judiciary, education et al. And nobody recriminated when the muscular communists of Bengal termed Netaji as the ‘quisling’. Just nobody.

            Nirad Chowdhury had lamented in his “Autobiography of the Unknown Indian” when the trams of Calcutta were burnt during the freedom movement. This perception of his may be construed as blasphemous but ‘burning trams and buses’, breaking anything constructive and useful has become a culture in the last three burdensome decades for Bengal.

            The countryside was deliberately kept ‘countryside’, distanced from the only city and towns were nobbled from growing into cities. The ‘outsider’ was asked to believe in the mysticism of the ‘fertile soil’ while the economist and the agronomist were befooled alike.

            This mammoth task was achieved by inculcating the spirit of the 1977 revolution in the minds of the citizenry, stoking the so-called ‘cultural revolution’ along the lines of Mao Zedong and building a potent group of ‘cadres’ whose sole aim was to sustain the party structure and nothing else. The cadres and their families got the share of the pie while ‘others’ were simply alienated and forced to lead a life of penury.

            A systematic build-up on these lines makes even Lenin salute the Bengal Communists and their cohorts.

            Perhaps, some ‘light’ peeps in through the dark clouds. Like the JNNURM AC buses, like the burgeoning engineering colleges, like a few IT firms, like some ‘Pizza Huts’; items the communists have been forced to co-opt under the market forces. Well, after all Soviet Union collapsed and China survived by implementing ‘State controlled Capitalism’ and at the end of the day, our Bengal communists have been only blind followers of either China or USSR since the days of the Communist International.

            However, the ‘light’ is not the modicum of capitalist items imported to the ‘land of the red’. Rather, the ‘light’ is the change in mindset of the masses, of the proletariat, of the ‘subalterns’; whom the communists vowed to protect, nurture and uplift to the utopia of communism: where ‘from each according to his faculty, and to each according to his need’.

            The communists doctored the ‘needs’ of these ‘subalterns’, infiltrated in their domestic domains and stymied ‘their growth’.

            Time seems to be up. The power-elite of Bengal is feeling the palpable ‘heat’ of ‘change’. The ‘change’ is not merely at the top. It shall not be just a ‘defeat’ at the assembly polls. It shall not be just the ‘juggernaut’ of the opposition party. Rather, it is the ‘change’ of ‘attitude’ of the ‘subalterns’.

            Whether it is the Maoist-dominated Jangalmahal area or the Sundarbans or Darjeeling or the townships or Kolkata itself, the ‘change’ is visible. The ‘subalterns’, after decades of repression and arm-twisting which choked their vocal-chords, are gradually breaking the ‘communist’, rather the ‘Stalinist’ yoke.

            Today if there is a prolonged power-cut, the ‘subaltern’ has the temerity to come out of his ‘hut’ and block the road. Today, he generates the steam to defy the diktat of a party-goon. And today he can march with impudence toward the Writer’s Building housing the babudom and their patriarchs.

            A ‘subaltern’ in Bengal has invigorated himself.

            This ‘change’ might be very well and quite naturally be cashed on in by the opposition in the coming assembly elections. In fact, the coalition did a similar thing in the concluded Lok Sabha polls. But the bells of warning need to be appreciated by the opposition too. A mileage in the elections may turn out to be an elegy in the long run if they too falter in the ‘path to deliverance’.

            It has been all jungle-raaj here in Bengal for the last three decades. Mahals have been brought to dust, slowly but surely. The City of Palaces, through a quirk of fate has been reduced to an ‘urban disaster’. This has not been a ‘joyous’ phenomenon for Bengal’s masses.

            The state has acted as a Goliath. Today, the Davids of Bengal are unidirectional in their approach and unequivocal in their assertion.

            Can Bengal again have a set of palaces? Will the jungle-raaj evaporate? Or is this a quixotic desire?

 By Uddipan Mukherjee from Kolkata

In the senate judiciary committee report, Kennedy indicates that 80 percent of the refugees were Hindu, that is 8 of the 10 million; a figure in line with the Time magazine report that suggests that three-fourths of the refugees were Hindu.

            The percentage figures follow the same pattern when we look at the people killed. Shrinandan Vyas in an article in The Hindu titled “Hindu Genocide in East Pakistan” uses population statistics from the Bangladesh ministry of planning, bureau of statistics to extrapolate the number of Hindus killed by the Pakistan army: a mind-numbing figure of 2.4 million equivalent to 80 per cent of the overall total of 3 million emerges.

            While this is not an attempt to underplay or trivialise the sacrifices of Bangladeshis as a whole (Muslim intellectuals were also killed in large numbers), it cannot be denied that the Hindu community of Bangladesh accounted for an astronomically disproportionate share of the dead and paid a price that was more than its due.

            A crime like genocide usually involves established institutions like governments or nations. For the criminals to be brought to book one needs a dedicated champion like the legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal or a driven community who share a commonality with the victims and will not let the perpetrators to rest. The Hindu community has neither.

           TREES FIRST

Communities throughout Orissa have been regenerating and protecting their forests since the beginning of the 20th century. Today, around 17,000 village forest protection committees in roughly 19,000 villages protect 2 million hectares of forests. That means that over a third of Orissa’s total forest area is now under community control even though ‘legally’ it is state property

Sixty-five-year-old Joginath Sahu, or ‘Shramik Jogi’ (labourer-saint) as he is fondly called in Kesarpur, in Orissa’s Nayagarh district, attributes the village’s success in community forest management to its ‘green philosophy’. You ask what it is and he says simply: “Tree first; that’s it! Gachcha, gachcha, gachcha… baki sabu katha pachcha!” Loosely translated: “Tree, tree, and tree… then comes the rest, if any!”

            Shramik Jogi recollects how, before Independence, the village was surrounded by thick, beautiful green trees that harboured a variety of wildlife species. However, between 1950 and 1970—when the government leased out vast stretches of forest land throughout the state to contractors for commercial exploitation—the forests were completely destroyed. “Even the roots were not spared,” he says. “A sort of demonic darkness descended on the people here. Due to soil erosion, fertile lands were filled up and ruined; we even feared that the village would be buried in soil one day. There was an acute shortage of fuelwood; cattle did not find land to graze; perennial streams and village wells dried up; the rains were irregular; the rich wildlife disappeared.”

            “It was the wisdom of villagers like Udaynath Khatei (a farmer) and Narayan Hazari (a professor at Utkal University in Bhubaneswar) that saved the village to an extent.”

            Shramik Jogi had just joined, in 1966, as headmaster of the local Middle English School. He and Udaynath Khatei took it upon themselves to “bring the dead earth back to life” along with his students and fellow villagers. They set up a village forest protection committee (FPC) and started with Malati hill, which had not a single tree left on it.

“Our first job was, of course, to plant trees. We would sit on the roadside and touch the feet of every passerby, urging them to plant a tree each. And they happily planted as many saplings as there were family members, one for each member. Within four years, all 13 villages in and around the erstwhile forest joined in the campaign. Like bees collect nectar from each flower they come in contact with, we took advice and wisdom from each and all. It was such a collective effort, and it still is.”

            By 1970, there was a standing forest albeit one that was still in its infancy. It needed protection against ‘predators’. The villages started practising thengapali. Two villagers would find a bamboo stick each morning on their doorstep; this meant it was their turn to guard the forest that day. Today, all three hills—Malati, Binjhagiri and Maru—are covered in a dense green canopy. Streams flow round the year and the watertable has risen.

            In an inspiring three-hour conversation, the retired headmaster described an incident in 1978 that he would never forget. “We had just planted 5,000 saplings on Malati hill. A businessman who ran a stone crusher there got his men to uproot and destroy all the saplings one night. The next day we were heartbroken. We all cried. I lost my senses. That evening, I got hold of a kitchen knife and was about to set out to kill the businessman. Then I caught sight of myself in the mirror and the knife dropped from my hand. I saw a demon in the mirror. The entire night, my wife and I cried non-stop, sitting side by side.”

            “We tried to forget the incident and continued our work. Three years later, the businessman came to us with his men and asked for forgiveness. We hugged them and they all joined us in rejuvenating and protecting the forests.”

A mass movement

The story of Kesarpur and the thousands of hectares of forests in the region are a reflection of the enormous effort communities throughout the state have put into regenerating and protecting their forests since the beginning of the 20th century. Today there are about 17,000 village FPCs covering roughly 19,000 villages, protecting around 20 lakh hectare of forests in Orissa. That means, over one-third of the state’s total forest area is now under community control and care even though ‘legally’ it is state property.

            Neera Singh, former director of Vasundhara, a Bhubaneswar-based NGO working with forest issues in a number of districts, who now teaches at the University of Toronto, Canada, wrote in Forests, Trees and People (Newsletter No 46; 2002): “Forest protection by villagers started as an informal phenomenon, with forest degradation and scarcity of forest produce being the driving force for local action.” A study in 1998 by Vasundhara shows that as much as 50 per cent of rural income in some districts of Orissa was from minor forest produce. Singh adds: “During my long association with community forestry practitioners in Orissa, I was struck by the spontaneity of this phenomenon. From the villagers’ perspective, it was natural for them to come forth and protect their threatened resource rather than stand as mute spectators. The fact that the forests did not belong to them was not a primary concern.”

            Protection of forests by communities spread to newer areas in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, it took the form of a mass movement in Orissa.

            In many villages I travelled to, people told me they had been looking after the forests for 100 years or more. Voluntary forest protection by communities in Lapanga, in Sambalpur district, is the oldest ‘recorded’ instance.

            According to records, villagers in Lapanga began the movement as early as 1936. Following massive commercial exploitation of the forests there, the distance between the village and the forests increased and essential forest produce became scarce. The villagers appealed to the then British administration in 1936, and a semi-judicial body involving villagers, called Gauntia Panch, was set up. Land tax for those who contributed to and protected the forests was exempted. Ujagar Pradhan, 75, who is a member of the Lapanga Prajarakshit Jungle (Lapanga’s people-protected forest) Committee, says: “That year (1936), many landholders of the village donated parts of their land—around 50 hectares in total—to regenerate the village forest. A village FPC was

also formed. Villagers guarded the forests by observing thengapali, which we still do. Also, each family used to contribute some amount of foodgrain every month to meet the expenses of the protection work.”

            Hiradhar Sahu, an independent activist who works among tribals in Debgarh district, says: “Urban people need to understand that there are also large numbers of human beings on this planet who cannot live without forests, just as they cannot live without urban facilities. In Debgarh district today, we have nearly 700 FPCs in about 1,000 villages, and many FPCs are run by women alone.” Pradeep Mishra of Vasundhara, who is looking after the community forestry programme, explains: “Even though there have been communities protecting village forests for a long while, the turning point in Debgarh district was the historic people’s rally in the early-1990s that sought to higlight issues of resettlement and deforestation in the wake of the Rengali dam. This event helped spread the CFM movement far and wide.”

Women lead the way

The idea of women taking up cudgels to protect the forests, as mentioned by Hiradhar Sahu, is not restricted to Debgarh district. It has spread throughout the state. In Lunisahi, in Nayagarh district, women had an interesting story to tell. The village of about 90 families has been guarding the forest since 1970; the FPC was largely managed by men. Then, about three years ago, the men became embroiled in petty politics and started fighting amongst themselves. “Well, the forest had to bear the brunt of their madness,” says Shakuntala Sahu, president of the present village FPC. Sanjubala Pradhan, an anganwadi worker, elaborates: “Men’s political aspirations killed the impeccable sense of belonging that we had for decades. They not only stopped guarding the forest, they started cutting trees rampantly; timber traders from outside also joined them. There was utter chaos in the village. After witnessing this for months, the women got together and deliberated over the situation. We formed an FPC with only women as members. We issued the men a notice, giving them 10 days after which entry to the forest would be banned for everyone without prior permission of the FPC. That worked wonders! Now, we guard the forests.”

“Each of the 90 families is engaged in the effort,” says Shakuntala. “Sundays and Wednesdays are open for villagers to collect essential forest produce. It’s more than 1,000 hectares of forest, guarded by women alone. We even fight with the timber mafia that occasionally manages to sneak in, and drive them away.”

            In Rangamatia village, Debgarh district, another village FPC run by women had to put up a check-gate to stop intruders. “The problem is that the timber mafia is hand-in-glove with the forest officials,” says Sukadei, a member of the Rangamatia FPC. “We often get into terrible fights with the intruders; we even have police cases pending against us. Once we stopped a group of intruders and the conflict escalated to the point at which the divisional forest officer (DFO) had to be called in. But instead of helping us he shouted at us: ‘Who asked you to protect the forest?’”

            She quickly adds: “Who are they to tell us about forest protection? They are the plunderers. Look at the present DFO who got suspended yesterday.” Hiradhar Sahu takes out a copy of the day’s newspaper and shows me the front page news item about the suspension of the DFO for his alleged involvement in smuggling and selling forest produce worth millions of rupees. Sandalwood worth Rs 2 lakh was discovered at his residence!

Lone crusader

No sooner had we stopped our motorcycle by the densely forested hillock that the villagers call Kumudi Dongar, some 2 km from Aenlajor village in Kalahandi district, when we heard a shout from the wilderness. The voice kept coming closer, accompanied by the beating of a baton. In a few minutes, an old man with a stick appeared, walking fast, almost running towards us. Prabhakar Bhainsal (24), who had joined me in Aenlajor as my guide, said: “That’s my grandfather. For years now he has been guarding this forest all by himself.”

            On learning that I had come there to talk to him about how the village forest was being protected, Trinath Bhainsal (75) heaved a sigh of relief and said: “Son, this dongar (hillock) has provided so much to the

village. But it is in the greedy eyes of the timber smugglers. So I have to ensure the safety of my ‘Neeli Kumuden’ (Kumudi Dongar). This is my goddess and my life.”

            Prabhakar explained that after the villagers got entangled in politics and other mundane things, they stopped caring about the forest, leaving it to self-destruct. Since his grandfather took up the task of protecting it, however, the forests have been getting denser.

            Trinath adds: “It’s been 20 years since I started guarding the forest. It’s a vast stretch of about 250 hectares. In 1997, under the watershed programme, they planted some cashew plants. But they all died. Then the forest department came up with a social forestry programme in 2000, which also did not work. During that time, I was promised Rs 1,000 per month for three years to guard the forest. I got the money for 12 months and then they stopped my salary. I remember, the officers and some villagers had a big feast with the money they siphoned off! But, despite the lack of support, I have never stopped taking care of my Neeli Kumuden. The villagers say: ‘You spend the whole day in the forest, aren’t you scared of the spirits?’ I say: ‘If the spirits eat me up, I would be immensely grateful. That is better than being consumed by the greed of human beings!’

            “An ex-MLA once promised me Rs 1,500 per month. I told him that I could not consume that much; give me only Rs 1,000. But that also never came.

            “There are such big pythons in the forest, they can gobble you up in a second. There are hyenas, monitor lizards, porcupines, salkatis (land crocodiles), snakes of all kinds. I have to brave them all every day. People call me insane. I say, it is only the insanity of this old man that has kept the forest alive for you!”

            After a while he took our leave and disappeared into the forest again.

A democratic process

In each of the 30-odd villages in the eight districts that I travelled, what I found amazing was the functioning of the FPCs whose rules are simple, yet binding. Apart from a ban on the entry of outsiders, the rights given to local users are strictly need-based, egalitarian, and religiously practised. While villagers are allowed to collect minor forest produce according to certain guidelines laid down by the village committee, they must seek permission from the committee if they want to fell a tree. The need could arise if a house is being built, a wedding planned, or if wood was required for the funeral pyre. The FPC assesses the request and considers giving its sanction. At times, the village may see the need to harvest part of the village forest to earn income that will either go towards the village development fund or be distributed equally among the villagers. Outsiders caught by the villagers attempting to collect logs or other forest resources are made to pay a fine. Many villages also adhere to the concept of chuli chanda (contribution by the kitchen), in which each family unit contributes either cash or foodgrain towards the FPC fund. In some villages, schools have been constructed using income from the forests; the high school in Kandhakel village, Balangir district, is one such example.

            So, what started as a spontaneous reaction by villagers to the large-scale destruction of their forests now has the broader agenda of development. In Ranpur area of Nayagarh district, for example, over 100 FPCs have come together to form a federation called Maa Maninaga Jungle Suraksha Parishad that has been instrumental in streamlining the collection and marketing of forest produce and the construction of water-harvesting structures. The benefits of these go to the people who depend on the forests.

            The essence of this initiative by 19,000 villages that together protect 2 million hectares of forests in Orissa is summed up in the words of Achyut Rana of Bhogalpur village, Mayurbhanj district: “The forest also has a life; if you ill-treat it, it will not let you live in peace. You have to take care of it like a child!”

            Standing next to Rana as he handed me a pot of handia (liquor made from rice mixed with herbs), Kapura Murmu, a young Santhal woman from the nearby Salbanee village, said: “We have one committee combining seven villages that protects the forest. The forest is both our goddess and provider. If we don’t take care of it, who else will?”

            I asked the obvious question: “What about the forest department?”

They looked at each other and smiled… Infochange

By Subrat Kumar Sahu from Nayagarh

Logically it would fall upon the Bangladesh government to relentlessly pursue the executors of this horrific massacre. After some half-hearted attempts in the immediate post-1971 period, the Bangladesh government has relegated this issue to a back burner. Why they have done so is intriguing? Does it have to do something with Islamic brotherhood and the fact that the victims happened to be predominantly Hindu?

            What about the Hindus themselves? The Hindus, wherever they maybe, are afflicted with a strange psychic malady that inhibits them from standing up for their rights or highlighting atrocities committed against them. Moreover those Hindus who do so are shouted down by their own brethren .However, in defence of Bangladeshi Hindus, I must say that the continued oppressive religious environment in that country makes any such protest impossible, especially with their limited numbers.

            The only other lobby with a special interest in this matter was predominantly Hindu India. I have always felt that India owes a moral responsibility to the Hindus left behind in Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1947. While the Muslim minority of India became a part of a secular republic with equal rights, the Hindu minority of Pakistan (and later Bangladesh) were relegated to second class status through no fault of theirs.

            Could India with its famed free and secular media have played a key role? Yes it certainly could have. And should have. But did not.

            To side with Hindus even if they are right is akin to blasphemy in the vaunted circles of the free Indian media. How else can you explain the relentless crusade against the Gujarat riots that persists even to this day in comparison with the near total silence on the monumental genocide that obliterated 2.4 million Hindus from the face of the earth or the shoddy treatment meted out to the continued ethnic cleansing of a quarter million Hindus from Kashmir?

            All atrocities regardless of the colour, caste, creed or religion of the victims must be condemned fair and square and the perpetrators relentlessly pursued till eternity if need be and brought to book. When we can raise your voice for 2,000 Muslims (the official figures are much less) killed in Gujarat and we should, we must cry from the roof tops for 2.4 million Hindus killed in 1971 or the 2,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits forced out of their homes in Kashmir.

Why do we not?



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