How not to love thy minority in Pashchimbanga | TwoCircles.net Pashchimbanga is the name by which West Bengal will be officially known , as the provincial assembly has resolved. It is a name that has been commonly used by the people of the province for long â€“ West Bengal being the English translation of the same name. February is the month of Ekushe - in both Bengals, East and West. Ekushe refers to the momentous events of 21st February, 1952 when the East Pakistani regime gunned down several protestors in Dhaka,, who were protesting the imposition of Urdu as the national language of Pakistan. At that point, not more then 5% of the population of then-Pakistan spoke Urdu as their mother tongue, while the majority of the population in Pakistan spoke Bangla. This event has an immense amount of cultural and emotive significance in both Bengals. A curious declaration may make it seem that the government in the West has lost sight of the political currents that led to that watershed moment of 1952. The Pashchimbanga governmenet has declared that the cabinet had decided that Urdu will now be treated as a second-language in those parts of Pashchimbanga where the number of Urdu speakers exceeded 10 percent of the population in the 2001 census. Readers might be astonished and may ask where in the state does the population or Urdu speakers exceed 10%. In fact, it does, in Kolkata itself and certain areas of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly industrial belt where there are large colonies of recent and not-so-recent immigrants from the upper Gangetic areas. On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with this declaration. After all, preservation and the means to use oneâ€™s mother tongue in all walks of life is an inalienable right of every human being. Of all people, Bengalees should be most sympathetic to this, given their long record of agitation and martyrdom to preserve their language based rights. This is something they tend to forget when they undermine the same rights to ethnic communities like Chakmas and Riyangs among others in the areas Parbotto Chattagram (Bangladesh) and Tripura (India). Urdu, like any other language, is most dear to its native speakers. However, the matter is not so simple. This becomes clear when one closely looks at page 42 of the English version â€˜Vision documentâ€™ of the ruling party of Pashchimbanga, the Trinamul Congress (http://aitmc.org/vision_document_english_2011.pdf) that was published in 2011, prior to the state assembly elections that brought it to power. It outlines its Action Agenda that it promises to implement within the first 200 days of coming to power. Most interesting is the sub-heading â€œCreation of new universities, colleges and schools to meet peopleâ€™s aspirations.â€ Among the 10 points under that particular topic, 6 are as follows - â€˜Muslim Universities & Collegesâ€™, â€˜More Madrasas, and Urdu Schoolsâ€™, â€˜Implement the recommendations of the Sacchar Committee and the Ranganathan Commission, where 10% Urdu speaking Muslims are thereâ€™, â€˜Set aside a portion of the Stateâ€™s Budget for plans intended for the educational and economic uplift of Muslimsâ€™, â€˜Give, without any hindrance, official recognition to Urdu educational Institutions, thereby facilitating them with all the constitutional benefits, which they lacked of hithertoâ€™ and finally â€˜Special Budgetary provision should be made for imparting technical education in Madrasas.â€™ That 6 out of 10 action items on the important front of creation of new educational institutions for the masses have kept the largest religious minority of Pashchimbanga in mind is certainly commendable. These points are revealing in so far as they give us a picture of how the party think-thank views the aspirations of the Muslims of Pashchimbanga and more importantly, their conception of Muslim polity in the state. The picture that emerges is extremely problematic, to say the least. First of all, what is apparent that the government conflates Muslims and Urdu. Urdu is simply a language of communication like any other, not a â€˜Muslim languageâ€™ ( whatever that strange entity might be). However the government thinks that by favouring Urdu, it is somehow helping Muslims. Note how Madrasas and Urdu schools come to be mentioned together. No one has claimed that Quranâ€™s revelation was in Urdu, so its relevance vis-a-vis Madrasas only show a shoddy attempt at clubbing together what the government conceives as â€˜all things Muslimâ€™ and making a curious goodie bag out of it. At this point, it is important to remember that most Muslims of Pashchimbanga have no real connection to Urdu whatsoever. To create this association willy-nilly is a high-stakes game for this game has a flip-side. The people of the majority faith are also being fed this rubbish that implies some intrinsic connection between Muslims in Pashchimbanga and Urdu. In the majority community of Pashchimbanga, this only helps consolidate their long-standing charge of Muslims of Bengal being less Bengalee than their Hindu counterparts. Among the gadinashin pirzadas of Pashchimbanga who may at times suffer from Urdu-envy and consequently view Bangla as â€˜less Islamicâ€™ might do well to meditate about the long tradition of Bangla-speaking pir-aulia-ghaus-qutubs. Urdu belongs to a poor Bengalee Muslim in Murshidabad no more than the treasury of Murshid Quli Khan belonged to a landless Muslim farm-hand from Murshidabad. A false connection to past grandeur of a section of royals and gentry who happened to be Musalmans, played up by vested interests in the community, only serve to misle people away from the realities of life as it exists. Bangla has no less class or gravitas in expressing matters of faith. By separating Urdu issues and Muslim issues, Ms.Bandhopadhyayâ€™s governnment shall do well not to fan the â€˜Muslim-nessâ€™ of Urdu. She must censure S. Nurul Haq, her minority affairs secretary and ask him to clarify what he means, when he says â€œThere are many borderline areas in the 2001 Census. In those places, the Urdu-speaking population must have exceeded 10 per cent in the past decade. Such areas will be gradually included.â€ Why would Urdu-speakers proportionally increase more than others? Does he not consolidate the existing prejudice regarding the greater population growth rate of Muslims? Irrespective whether that is factually correct or not, this public statement yet again considers Muslims and Urdu-speakers as one and the same, and even more ignorantly, the Muslim community as a monolith about which it can make random predictions about future population growth rates. During British colonial times, Muslims interests in Bengal had been represented by a handful of non-Bengalee so-called sharifzada families stationed in Kolkata and Dhaka. Being largely alienated from their surrounding milieu, these intermediaries found solace and consonance in Urdu and things Islamicate in the North-Indian sense. Rafiuddin Ahmed, in his seminal work â€˜The Bengali Muslims 1871-1906â€™, has clearly shown the pernicious role played by these self-styled intermediaries of Bengalâ€™s Muslims to the British Raj, by recommending the compulsory study of Urdu, Arabic and Persian for Bengalee Muslims boys, but no Bangla. Times have changed, not as much as they should have. Ms.Mamata Bandopadhyayâ€™s government may be earnest about the uplift of the lot of Muslims of Pashchimbanga. But it cannot do so by policies which separate Muslims from the mainstream. This is especially dangerous for one can never guess at what point some reactionary political current in the majority community may take an explicitly communal overtone. This has not happened, but this is certainly not impossible, and is to be avoided at all costs. Creating a separate employment exchange for religious minorities as she announced is certainly not a step towards social cohesion. Faith is important to any community. However, making the historic Aliah Madrasa into a university ( and ridiculously naming it Aliah Madrasa University) or building a new Hajj House for Umrah pilgrims are not the utmost priority for the Muslims of the province. While such pronouncements and activities are instantly newsworthy and sources of cheap political capital, it is also myopic. It may curry short-term favour with certain self-serving Muslim leaders, but in the long term, does nothing to address the issues that face most Muslims of Pashchimbanga, that is, food insecurity, lack of adequate and accessible health facilities, job opportunities and education that is relevant in contemporary society and economy. Unsurprisingly, these issues are the same when it comes to people of Pashchimbanga in general, irrespective of creed. One person many Bengalees irrespective of creed admire and hold dear is our poet Nazrul Islam. Nazrul Islam wrote poems and songs about Karbala, odes to Allah as well as some of the finest devotional songs written in Bangla about Goddess Kali /Mother Shyama. Ms.Mamata Bandopadhyay wants to set up a brand new Nazrul research centre. That is all very good. But when she goes on and on about it, especially when in a predominantly Muslim gathering, like the recent one organized in the Netaji Indoor stadium by the West Bengal Minorities Development Corporation, she is playing a dangerous game, and not a very subtle one at that. While it may be sincere, to softly underline the Muslim identity of Nazrul Islam plays to the age-old and flawed conceptions of what Muslims of Bengal want to hear. Unfortunately, there is no dearth of leaders from the Muslim community around Ms Bandopadhyay who would want her to continue making these flawed tokenisms. Certain kinds of pronouncements of separateness and exclusivity, declared or foisted upon, however much in the garb of uplift of a community, in time do become Frankenstein monsters. Our subcontinent knows that only too well. Politics of real empowerment is long and arduous, can also be unpopular to start with, may face opposition from entrenched gadinashins and other powers. But then again, who said it would be easy.