It has been more than 70 years but the mutual hatred and discord between Muslims and Hindus of India have not lessened. Majority of Hindus say that if India had to be divided according to religion, then it should have been done properly – India should have been for Hindus and Pakistan for Muslims. But it didn’t happen that way. And so today, we have more and more people in India afraid of the growing Muslim population, led by the belief that one day, they are going to become a minority in their own country.
But living next to a religious Pakistan, India has held its head high these past seven decades. And even though the Partition did happen on the basis of religion, the educated, civilised people of India did not allow their country to become an insular religious nation like Pakistan; instead, they chose to be a secular state.
I call India a great nation because its Constitution and laws guarantee equal rights to all irrespective of religion, creed, caste or gender. Today, if only to resist Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, India starts behaving like any other religious country, then it will not be able to claim any difference from the undemocratic Islamic countries of the Middle East. What reason will then exist to be proud of India?
Bangladeshi Hindus better off than me
When the mullahs of Bangladesh had issued a fatwa against me for criticising Islam, when they had put a price on my head, Hindus of Bangladesh were in a far safer position than me. Hindus who left the country in anxiety went to Europe or the United States, not India. It has been easier for Bangladeshi Hindus to get political asylum in the West as it was a well-known fact that they were persecuted in their own country for being Hindus. Only those who could not travel to the West came to India. I left Europe to come back to India out of love.
I did not move to India from Bangladesh. I moved to India from Sweden. I thought for me India was a better country to live in. I still think. Many Hindus who live in Europe do not think like me. A country should belong to them who love the country.
— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) December 13, 2019
Hindus of Bangladesh who had left for safer shores can choose to go back any time they wish to, and meet their relatives and friends, to even stay back. I still can’t do that; it’s been 25 years but no government in Bangladesh has allowed me to return home. Governments change; what doesn’t change is their oppression of me. Whoever criticises Islam, even if Muslim, can be killed as per the tenets of the faith.
Hindus in Bangladesh don’t face a situation as dire as I do. My chances of returning to Bangladesh have been taken away from me. If a miracle happens and I get permission to return, I will be killed right away; there is no doubt about that. I am a permanent target of Muslim fanatics, which isn’t the case for all Hindus there. True, poor Hindus are attacked, some groups vandalise temples just in time for Durga puja and general election, some vulnerable Hindus are occasionally threatened to scare them into leaving so that Muslims can take over their properties.
If you are a liberal, you are a target
Just like writer Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das were targeted by Islamic terrorists for critiquing Islam, so were blogger Wasiqur Rahman Babu and publisher Faisal Arefin Dipon killed. More than Hindus, it’s the free-thinking liberals and outspoken atheists who are at greater risk in Bangladesh – those who dream of separating religion from the state, society and education, and building a civilised and secular social order.
I wonder whether India will remain a refuge for people like me who have fled religious persecution.
India, remain secular
I wish for India to remain the secular nation that it has always been, a country offering asylum to persecuted people, a place that everyone can be proud of. Jews from the Middle East, Zoroastrians from Persia, Bahais from Iran, Buddhists from Tibet, many have had to seek refuge and India has given them shelter. That is how India became a great nation, a nation where numerous faiths, cultures, languages coexist. It would be unlike India to transform into a narrow-minded, fundamentalist nation like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan or Afghanistan.
I cannot tell how many Muslim immigrants are illegally staying in India. I also don’t know for sure where they will go if they are hunted down and thrown out. Many poor Muslims who have come to India from Bangladesh, who have lived and worked here for years, bought land, built houses, made families – they will have to leave everything behind just because they are Muslims. Many had been forced to leave their country as poor people looking to turn their fortunes around. People have always moved from one place to another in search of a better life. Just like Indians move to rich Asian countries, or the affluent Middle East, or Europe or North America. They live there permanently. In Europe and North America, many people who have moved from across the world, including from India, and overstayed as illegal immigrants, have been given citizenship on humanitarian grounds.
For poor, it’s all about food, shelter
Poor Muslims of Bangladesh don’t see a Hindu-majority country when they leave for India; they only see a country where they will be assured of food, shelter, education and health. When Hindus of India move out, they don’t decide it based on whether that country belongs to Muslims or Christians. Language, religion, nationalism, nothing matters when it comes to financial stability. Muslims move to nations where Hindus, Christians or Buddhists are in a majority, just like Hindus do.
No matter how proud people are of their religion, it pales in front of freedom and economic constancy. I have seen some of the most fundamentalist Muslims, who would abuse America all the time but would leap in delight at the chance of going there. Where does religious pride go? Why does it become irrelevant when it comes to the certainty of the facilities, advantages, and security provided by a developed country where a different religious group forms the majority?
I truly believe that more than trying to establish who a citizen is and who is not, it is far more important to ask if everyone has food and shelter, if everyone has access to education and healthcare, whether men and women have equal rights, whether unemployment and racism have been eradicated.
Panic has set in everywhere. But India is not deporting its huge Muslim population anywhere. It is only about illegal immigrants. Many liberal countries also are very strict about economic migrants. Those who have lived in India for ages must be allowed to continue to do so – simply because of something called humanity. Perhaps, it will be better to keep a close watch on ensuring that new people don’t settle illegally anymore. But for those who have, they shouldn’t be singled out and forced into a life of uncertainty.
Who am I to comment on a government’s decision? No one. But I worry about India because I love India.
The author is a writer and commentator. Views are personal.