Being Hindu in Bangladesh, and Jogen Mandal’s inglorious legacy | View


Pakistan’s first law and labour minister, Jogendra Nath Mandal, saw the carnage Hindus in Bangladesh are seeing today. He escaped to India. Bangladesh’s Hindus have nowhere to go.

71 years ago, a distinguished gentleman was so broken by what Hindus in Bangladesh are witnessing today that he escaped and took refuge in India. It was a different time. There was no Citizenship Amendment Act in India. Neither was the country he escaped from called Bangladesh. It was East Pakistan, an overseas province of Pakistan from 1947 till 1971, when it became a country independent from Pakistan and named itself Bangladesh. The gentleman in question was Jogendra Nath Mandal, Pakistan’s first law and labour minister, and also second minister of Commonwealth and Kashmir affairs.

You may not have heard of Mandal. He got relegated to the footnotes of history. But when you look back, it is remarkable to know that Pakistan’s first law and labour minister was a Bengali Hindu. A Bengali Dalit Hindu, to be precise. Mandal was the undisputed leader of scheduled caste Hindus in that part of the world. He believed, foolishly so in hindsight, that Muslims and Dalit Hindus are natural allies as they are both oppressed by caste Hindus (a precursor to AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s Jai Bheem-Jai MIM slogans). Mandal ditched Gandhi-Nehru’s Congress for Jinnah’s Muslim League and rose up the party ranks as he had the support of a large number of scheduled caste Bengali Hindus.

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Mandal was one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, as he supported the Muslim League. He was elected temporary chairman at the inaugural session, days before the partition of India. He then became Pakistan's first Minister for Law and Labour. Mandal’s dreams of Dalit-Muslim brotherhood were soon dashed. He saw that in the newly formed Pakistan, it did not matter if you were a Dalit Hindu or a caste Hindu. The fact that you were a Hindu was enough to get you maimed, raped or killed. Or forcibly converted. As the situation deteriorated and his pleas for the protection of his people fell on deaf ears, Mandal resigned and took refuge in India.

In his resignation letter to then Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, Mandal wrote: “Those Hindus who will continue to stay I am afraid, by gradual stages and in a planned manner be either converted to Islam or completely exterminated. It is really amazing that a man of your education, culture and experience should be an exponent of a doctrine fraught with so great a danger to humanity and subversive of all principles of equality and good sense. I may tell you and your fellow workers that Hindus will allow themselves, whatever the threat or temptation, to be treated as Zimmies in the land of their birth. Today they may, as indeed many of them have already done, abandon their hearths and homes in sorrow but in panic. When I am convinced that my continuance in office in the Pakistan Central Government is not of any help to Hindus I should not with a clear conscience, create the false impression in the minds of the Hindus of Pakistan and peoples abroad that Hindus can live there with honour and with a sense of security in respect of their life, property and religion. This is about Hindus."

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As I remember Mandal and his inglorious legacy, Hindus in Bangladesh are under threat again. This is nothing new. Since Mandal’s exit from East Pakistan, right through the formation of Bangladesh to present times, being Hindu in Bangladesh has been fraught with danger. But this festive season has been hell for those who believe in many gods in Bangladesh. After an alleged incident of blasphemy at a Durga Puja pavilion in Cumilla, anti-Hindu violence broke out across Bangladesh. Durga puja pandals were vandalised, temples attacked, people killed and grievously injured as the world watched in horror.

Last week, the Ministry of External Affairs said it was in contact with the Bangladesh government and the latter promptly reacted to ensure that the situation was under control. It isn’t.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also given a stern warning to those trying to disturb communal harmony in the country, promising action will be taken against the perpetrators of the communal violence. The violence is still on.

71 long years have passed since Jogen Mandal left his people behind and escaped to India.

Where will Hindus in Bangladesh go?



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