Contort for Bangladesh

In today’s Guardian Madeleine Bunting puts forward Bengali culture, and in particular the existence of the early Nineteenth Century Bengali Gazi scroll – which intersperses images of Hindus making religious offerings with those of Muslims making similar offerings as proof that different religious traditions are more than able to live in peaceful existence.

This tantalising glimpse of exchange and commonality across faiths explodes the 21st-century idea of fixed religious identities always coming into conflict with each other throughout history.

I happen to agree that different religious groups needn’t neccessarily end up at each other’s throats, but couldn’t Bunting come up with a better example of inter-communal harmony than that enjoyed in pre-21st Century Bangladeshi?

Later in the same article she is forced to admit the following:

The 20th century saw Bengal partitioned along lines of faith, a common culture and language proving unable to hold the country together; a fifth of the population fled from one side to the other of the new international boundary between India and East Pakistan, accompanied by horrific violence. But neither was a shared faith a sufficient basis for a nation, and Bangladesh fought Pakistan for its independence in 1971.

To recap: the historical Indian province of Bengal was divided in 1947 (after much Muslim prompting) into Muslim and Hindu parts, the former joining up with what is present day Pakistan to form a single state. Then in 1971 the army supported by religious and political militias massacred intellectuals, Hindus and hundreds of thousands of various other enemies of the state, not to mention making ten million people refugees (most of them Hindus).

That seems like a fair amount of religious conflict to me, and surely trumps the existence of a multidenominational scroll and some Bangladeshi folk songs sung by both Hindus and Muslims.

Truly it is a trial for a humble secularist to divine meaning from the sayings of the Mah-ddy.