A few days ago, a shocking incident happened in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. A Hindu woman wearing a Bindi on her forehead was questioned by a policeman insinuating her for wearing it during the Ramzan. Not only did he question her on her choice of wearing a Bindi the communal-minded cop also tried to run over the woman teacher under his motorbike. Kudos to the courageous woman who not only counter questioned him she also filed an FIR against the policeman. She also went to the media to highlight the policeman’s behaviour. The incident led to protests and firming of public opinion against the dormant radical elements in the forces.
The policeman’s conduct is most condemnable as it shows a good section of law enforcing agencies is not only bent upon imposing moral policing as part of their agenda but are also fiercely radicalized to exhibit a shameful intolerance towards a minority faith. This incident has evoked wide criticism in Bangladesh and as a mark of solidarity and resolve, several women started wearing a bindi. The cop must have never realized that it would boomerang and the entire print and electronic media would rally behind the Hindu teacher.
Going by this horrendous act, it’s time to test the credibility of secularism in Bangladesh and examine if religious fundamentalism is under check? Notwithstanding the tireless efforts by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in containing communalism and fanaticism, there are undesirable forces with the medieval mindset that want to derail secularism. They are getting strengthened albeit at a slow pace. Outfits like Hefazat e Islam or Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and their highly indoctrinated affiliates are time and again trying to raise their ugly heads to hit out at the forward-thinking elements. And let there be no mistake, they are ideologically and otherwise linked to the terror groups in Pakistan which are strongly suspected to enjoy mentoring, training, and material support from the deep state.
Going by the above, it’s incumbent upon the Bangladesh government and the security agencies in particular, to tighten their leash on the erring policeman and take immediate corrective measures to stop the recurrence of such incidents. A serving policeman in the system with such religiously inclined thoughts should not be allowed to continue. In the same vein, a fresh in-house exercise must be undertaken to weed out the fanatics from this humongous force, often castigated by the west for human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. The current police chief Benazir Ahmed is thought to be an erudite, pro-India officer. He claims to be apolitical and secular. It’s time for him to prove his bonafide.
Women in Bangladesh have an excellent track record of succeeding rather phenomenally in all areas of life. Be it teaching, multiple professions, performing arts, etc.They carry a unique blend of modernism and stellar emancipation. That’s the silver lining and strength of Bangladesh. The intelligentsia is superbly progressive. They must come out on the streets sporting bright red bindi in support of the woman teacher. The students are a spirited lot in Bangladesh as they draw their inspiration from the freedom struggle where Hindus and Muslims sacrificed their lives together for the liberation of Bangladesh. Society relies and leans on them more than they rely on the police. Today there was an outburst on a bindi, tomorrow it may be on sarees mistakenly perceived to be a Hindu outfit. Such misgivings must be dispelled.
I have seen Hindu and Muslim women participating in the Poila Baisakh celebrations, singing Rabindranath and Nazrul songs in harmony. Bangladesh mourns the loss of footballer Chuni Goswami or actors like Soumitra, Suchitra Sen, Satyajit Ray, and Sandhya Mukherji. It’s the Bangla or Bangali culture that binds people on both sides of the border; it’s not about religion.
Bangla new year is the next upcoming event on April 14 where cutting across religious lines countless men and women will congregate in Dhaka. They would create an ambiance of unity and extraordinary patriotic and cultural fervour. Let Bindis reign the foreheads of all women in Bangladesh and even beyond. That’s the most effective slap on the faces of communal and parochial intolerants!
(Writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst, and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. He has also served as a diplomat in Bangladesh. Views are personal)