Being Hindu in Bangladesh: The Untold Story by Deep Halder and Avishek Biswas

In ‘Being Hindu in Bangladesh: The Untold Story’, authors Deep Halder and Avishek Biswas set off on a touching exploration of the lives, struggles, and voices of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh. Going beyond the stark statistics, the authors delve into the lived experiences of those who chose to stay in the land that was once East Bengal, exploring the complex crossway of religion, politics, and identity.

The book opens with a reflection on the enduring scars of partition, more than seven decades after arbitrary lines divided the subcontinent. After the 1971 genocide and liberation, Bangladesh initially embraced a secular constitution. Over time, however, there was a shift towards Islamization, leading to the formal adoption of an Islamic constitution in 1988. Despite secularism being a foundational principle in theory, Islam has become more influential in the country’s domestic politics since then.

The authors set the stage by acknowledging the longing of those who still consider home to be on the other side of the Padma River, emphasizing the mass migration that shaped the region’s demographics. The question lingers: Where are the Hindus who remained in East Bengal, witnessing the transformation into East Pakistan in 1947 and later into Bangladesh in 1971?

The authors also carefully draw attention to the dwindling Hindu population in Bangladesh, quoting estimates from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics that reported 17 million Hindus in 2015. This statistic, however, conceals the underlying narrative of threats, attacks, and a pervasive sense of doom that haunts the Hindu community. Halder, drawing on his 20 years of journalistic experience, articulates the prevailing fear in Dhaka that there may not be any Hindus left in Bangladesh within the next three decades.

The book offers a nuanced exploration of the role played by Hindus in Bangladeshi politics, culture, and society. It unveils the geographical concentration of Hindus in specific regions, portraying them as a significant electoral force. However, this very concentration becomes a double-edged sword, as the authors reveal allegations of voter intimidation and exclusion during elections. The authors argue that the Hindu minority’s electoral influence makes them a deciding factor in parliamentary elections, where victory margins can be razor thin.

Halder and Biswas together give the readers extensive research in Bangladesh, archival material, and firsthand accounts to expose the ground realities behind the statistics. Their aim is not only to bring out the persecution faced by Hindus but also to explore the profound questions about identity and the elusive concept of ‘home.’ The narrative expands beyond borders, reaching into small villages of West Bengal, where the authors engage with administrative officials, locals, and witnesses of historical atrocities.

The authors humanize the stories by sharing their own familial connections to the region, acknowledging their shared “refugee blood”. The strength of ‘Being Hindu in Bangladesh’ lies in its emphasis on personal stories, giving a voice to the victims, their families, and eyewitnesses of events spanning 1946, 1971, and 2021. Biswas, an assistant professor of English literature, brings an academic perspective, focusing on archiving oral narratives of Partition history.

The consequences of partition have cost numerous lives, both directly and indirectly. The ongoing tension between Hindus and Muslims traces back to this historical trauma. The book contextualizes the East-West partition, highlighting the prolonged nature of the challenges faced by Hindus in the East. And underlines the continuous occurrence of religious and communal violence, drawing parallels between historical events and the contemporary landscape. The book throws light on the cyclical nature of violence and persecution faced by the Hindu minority in Bangladesh.

The authors tell us how, throughout human history, religion has been exploited to further political objectives, often at the expense of the vulnerable, minorities, women, elderly people and children. By looking at interreligious dynamics from a historical perspective, we can understand it as a result of political and power struggles, rather than simplifying it solely as a religious issue. It serves as a powerful commentary on the historical manipulation of religion as a political weapon.

The book ‘Being Hindu in Bangladesh’ is a gripping exploration of identity, persecution, and the relentless struggle for survival. It not only exposes the harsh realities faced by the Hindu minority but also emphasizes the broader historical patterns of using religion for political gain. The authors, through meticulous research and empathetic storytelling, deliver a narrative that demands attention and reflection in the broader discourse on religious and minority rights.

Book: Being Hindu in Bangladesh: The Untold Story by Deep Halder and Avishek Biswas
Published by: HarperCollins
Price: Rs 399

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About Ashutosh Kumar Thakur


Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bengaluru-based management professional, curator, and literary critic. He can be reached at [email protected]