Politics of Conspiracy of Silence and Noise
Let me give a concrete example of what I call as “the politics of conspiracy of silence and noise” subtly working among the educated, sophisticated, and cultural bhadraloks of Bengal. The term “bhadralok” is generally used to the educated, middle-class Hindus, who are at the helms of social, political, cultural and economic affairs and activities of the state. The term itself is exclusionary, and is never extended to the millions of Muslims and Adivasis of Bengal. Despite their numerical density, they are usually treated as “other”, and are for ages kept to the periphery of what is typically known as “Bengali” culture, politics, or ways of life. Have you seen Chatterjees, Banerjees, Bandopadhyayas, Chakraborties, Chattopadhyayas, Gangulies to be employed as manual labourers, if not in fields, at least in municipal projects, or in the daily sweeping and cleaning of the city’s drains and streets? Have you seen them to be aimlessly languishing at municipal or panchayat offices for correction of name, or availing a job card or a caste certificate? Bhadraloks of Bengal, known also as babus of Bengal, with some exceptions, are habitually communal, insular and parochial.
19th Century Bengal Renaissance
They are proud of 19th century Bengal Renaissance. But the light of Bengal Renaissance which has produced many so-called Bengali world-class intellectuals beginning with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) has not penetrated into the dark sides of Bengal. Its activities were limited to a few Kolkata kendrik traditionally Hindu babus, and its sole aim was Hindu revivalism. And most of the buddhijibis or the Renaissance Men of Bengal were Hindu revivalists (https://countercurrents.org/2022/03/hindu- revivalists-of-bengal/).
Unish shotoker renesha bole je kothati procholito aache se kothati bivromattok. Eder karo abedon-e nimnborner occhut hindu somajer proti chilo na, eder abedon kolkatar baire bangladesher somogro onchole prosarito chilo na, ebong musolman somaj eder chintay sompuronovabe onuposthit chilo. (What was known and thought as 19th century Bengali Renaissance was indeed a confusion. Bengali Renaissance intellectuals were Kolkata centric. Their ideas could not spread beyond Kolkata. And the lowly Hindus were hardly influenced by them. And the Bengali Muslim society was completely absent in their thoughts. [Mukul, M. R. Akhtar. Kolkata Kendrik Budhijibi. Dhaka: Ananya, 2014. p. 15.] )
Inheritance and legacy, be it inclusive or exclusive, be it generative or destructive, is our inerasable asset, to be conserved with care, and when the need arises, must be used to claim or defend one’s “authentic” identity. And in India authenticity of the self is deeply coloured by the religious affiliation and allegiance to religious myths and memories. Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy( 1861 – 1944) an eminent Indian chemist, educationist, historian, industrialist and philanthropist, and who is regarded as the father of chemical science in India once rued that his life-long scientific teaching had failed to produce any brilliant scientific mind, which would be freed from inane superstitions and irrational thoughts.
Now I come to my topic. Some of the breaking headlines of June 12 because of the Prophet row run as “Blasphemy row: Islamist mob vandalise railway station, pelt stones at local train in Nadia district in West Bengal” (opindia.com), “Bengal Protests: Mob Damages Train in Nadia, 100 Arrested Across State” (the Wire), “Trains vandalised, shops looted in Bengal during protests over Prophet remarks” (India Today), and so on and forth. And June 18 headlines run as Govt offers measures for Agniveers as protesters torch trains, vandalise stations” (India Today), “Agnipath Protestors Burn Trains In Bihar, Pelt Stones On BJP MLA As Agitation Spreads Across India” (Outlook), “Burning Trains, Kids Crying in Stuck School Bus: 10 Scary Pics of Rampage in Name of ‘Agnipath’ Protests” (News 18), etc. Both the days witness hate and violence, and in rage, range and intensity violence of ‘Agnipath’ protests are much was more virulent than that of the Bethudahari pelting. Even a child will agree with me.
Now look at the reflection and ramification of both the violent events among my Hindu colleagues and friends. Colleagues of my college, situated 23 kilometers away from Bethuadahari where a train was allegedly pelted, not vandalized or burnt, were quite apprehensive about the security and safety issues of West Bengal. They suddenly felt sick of Mullahas and “katuas” (circumsised). Muslims of West Bengal in general are derogatorily represented in literature, art, culture, cinema, serial, media, etc. Bhadraloks’s usual and relentless harping on Bengali Muslims’ negative stereotypes such as, “barbaric”, “illiterate”, “temple destroyers”, “beef-eaters”, “Bangladeshi”, “women abductors”, “unhygienic”, “polluted” “polygamists”, “crude”, “gaiya “(rustic), “child-producing machine” and so and forth adds further vituperation and vulgarisation to their already ghettoised and intolerably wretched identity.
In the wake of Bethuadahari and Ranaghat incidents, I claim, it is Hindu bhadraloks,the service holders class, who suddenly and swiftly discard their “masked self” of gentility and civility. They unfurl the foliages of their “dark, authentic self”, primarily based on religious allegiance. Known faces of Muslims quickly turn into unknown territories to my Hindu friends and families. Years of cohabitation, years of shared sorrows and happiness, years of mutual honour and respect, years of reciprocal relation, years of mutual love and understanding, years of mutual struggles and tribulations, years of (forced) common ways between the two communities—fall apart. WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook become barraged with provocative, vulgar, and hate posts. Many of them are my friends and followers too.
Duality of Bengali Bhadraloks
While burning of 12 trains by ‘Agnipath’ protesters across seven states cannot make a ripple in Bengali babu’s office air, pelting at Bethua or Ranaghat of Nadia district has the potential to make a tsunami. Why? This single incident exposes the duality of a typical Bengali Hindu bhadralok. On the surface he believes in composite culture, in Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhaism. His drawing room walls are decorated not with the picture of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (1901-1953) or his followers, but with Tagore and Gandhi. Hindu bhadraloks are not apparently anti- Muslim. But they have time and again proved that they are basically “Hindu”. And they (irrespective of party colour, caste, class) never want the empowerment of Muslims of Bengal. Yes, they will write countless columns, articles, books on the problems of Muslim community. I will request them to stop abusing and writing about “them”. Your writings and opinions simply create an edifice for “their” permanent ghetto.
Bethua pelting is condemnable, and your noise against it is appreciated; but your conspiracy of silence at ‘Agnipath’ burning is unpardonable.