Everyday stories of intolerance

When we talk about violence on campus or youth violence, we mostly talk about the violent political clashes between right wing student parties. When you talk about violence an ethnic or religious minority student face, we mostly talk about the arson in their village, we never talk about everyday form violence and discrimination minority students endure in Bangladesh. Ayan Soofi writes about these everyday stories of intolerance…

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How would you feel if your existence was reason enough for the person next to you to hate you so much that he could kill you or make your life a living hell?

As absurd and pathetic as the question sounds, it is in fact the reality of the world that we live in. Remnants of our prejudices drive us to these extremes where we give the hyenas a run for their money.

Intolerance in general has been the biggest cause of concern in Bangladesh lately. Though it’s a global phenomenon, there is a general consensus among the people of Bangladesh that the situation in Bangladesh is much better than it is Europe and North America where refugees and asylum seekers are being target of hate crimes of all sorts.

Religious and ethnic minorities face some of the harshest and intolerant environment in our country. This couldn’t be far from the truth. This conventional wisdom is as true as the statement that Earth is flat.

Dinalo Chakama, an ethnic minority in this city of million lights, faces some of the most unique reactions which we (majority) would never face. What makes this more tragic is, Dinalo’s family have been part of the vocal pro-Bangladesh faction in the hills and Dhaka did it’s best to humiliate their ambassador.

‘When I was kicked in the belly by my flat mates for eating pork curry my mother sent for me, well, I was never me anymore from that point onwards,’ told Dinalo with no expression at all. In fact, it is really tough to spot any emotion when he talks nowadays.

‘In our society, my family and I are considered to be traitors because we stood alongside Bangladeshi establishment. My father always taught us that it was just and logical to co-operate with the state to establish peace and bring prosperity.’

‘But now I don’t know who I am. I always feel the need to avoid making acquaintances. I just want to be a ghost in this city where no one knows of my existence so that I can slither away anywhere.’ sighed Dinalo.

It is surprising to witness the amount of pain one can inflict on someone else without nearly any ‘logical reason’.

The question arises, if these incidents are as common place as I am suggesting then it should have been under the lime light since long, cases would have been filed and newspaper reports would have been published.

Well the answer is that just as we prefer to be delusional about the horrific number of rape that is taking place in our magnificent country; we are also delusional about these everyday forms of intolerant acts. These violence may not have the same impact as we have seen in Nasirnagar or Langadu, but there is a slow, cumulative impact. In this case that has debilitated Dinalo from making friends.

These crimes are not well documented because of the lack of trust on the law enforcing agencies. If we could document most of these hate motivated attack the number would undoubtedly shock us.

Plight of religious minority have been much better documented. Still the frequency of these violent attacks is disturbing to say the least.  Lately some attempts have been made to classify these religious identity motivated attacks into financially motivated attacks.

These attempts deliberately try to shift the attention from our incapability as a society to cohesively live and operate as one single unit; rather these attempts try to pass the blame onwards to an economic model.

One such story is of Narayan’s, a student of a public university in the capital. Having been settled in Dhaka in shared apartment has faced blatant attacks which are nothing short of terrorising.

‘The amount of time I have washed the words, ‘India ferot ja!’ makes me wonder what am I even doing here. For the first few times, I had the belief and strength that I could bring a change in their mentality with a civic discussion but not anymore.’

‘My mother passed away when I was quite young. I remember my mother always pray to the effigy of Lakshmi, when I decided to come to Dhaka for higher studies I brought it with me.’

‘On a day of December last year, when I entered my room, the whole room was vandalised and I found that effigy turned into sands of limestone.’

‘That was the final push to darkness that I couldn’t combat with the positivity, I inherited from my mother. How could I? They had chopped off the last thread between hope and despair for me,’ sighed Narayan.

It’s imperative to attack with a physical weapon to cause severe pain. Sometimes all one needs is vile hatred and a tongue. The cumulative accumulation of those words bring about such a profound change in one’s being that it becomes nearly impossible to let go even when things come back to relative normalcy.

Nearly every one of ethnic and religious minorities has been subject to slurs. Though it might seem to be of light importance, the effect those slurs have on the delicate kids and teenagers are beyond comprehension.

Being bullied for one’s identity during childhood has grave repercussions. As in the case of Narayan, his trust in positivity was taunted, he grew socially withdrawn. These everyday forms of violence could permanently damage one’s world view and lead to medical conditions.

Our ever increasing individualistic tendencies are not helping also. The more we try to focus on only ourselves and nothing else, the more we become aloof to injustice that is taking place in our vicinity.

We as a society can change a lot of if we have the collective and political will.  Education and not ‘Education’ can surely help a lot. But most importantly there is one mode of communication which is rather underutilised by us and that is Art.

Art in its various forms can be powerful tools to change human perception. That photo of Aylan Kurdi lying in the beaches of Greece was powerful enough to change the fate of hundreds and thousands of refugees. Self-criticism might be hard to sustain for a young and relatively unstable country like Bangladesh. Yet, somewhere down the line we ought to respond to the crime’s that we are collectively responsible for. The way we respond to these calls of justice will decide the fate of Bangladesh.

We will have to react a lot quicker to such unjust actions. The world of today demands that the truth be spoken loudly and immediately otherwise it will breed conspiracy theories. When these reports will become conspiracy theories, everything will be turned in a joke.

It would not be acceptable to turn these wounded victims into clowns of conspiracy theories. Gradual progression towards the closure of unanswered question can make a lot of difference but whatever we do in our attempt to create an aura of harmony in our society, it will have to be planned with a long term vision.

These attempted changes will affect our society long after their implementation. It may take a decade or two but we shall never lose hope. As long as, we believe we can bring about social change that will bring people closer, we shall succeed in our quest for social harmony.

We just need to Dhikr these lines —

‘I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.’
“Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

 

Imagine all the people

Living for today

Aha-ahh

 

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

 

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace

Yoohoo-ooh

 

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be the one

 

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

 

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world

Yoohoo-ooh

 

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one ”

 

  • John Lenon

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