Bangladeshi and Bangalee Jatiota Reexamined
Syed Manzur Ali
A nationality is a group of people who has identity of culture and customs, identity of language, identity of religion or a common political aspiration. Nationality is a feeling of identity, a sense of unity among the people who constitute it. A nationality is a group of people who feel themselves apart, separate and distinct from other people.
From “nationality”, we come to “nation”. A nationality plus its own government or rather a state is a nation. Bryce says, “A nation is a nationality which has organised itself into a political body, either independent or desiring to be independent”. Even a nationality, which has not yet won a state of its own but is striving to get one may be said to constitute a nation. The Jewish people, even before getting the state in Palestine formed a nation; so is the case of the people of Bangladesh who in March 1971 formed a nation, though by then they did not get a state of their own.
This is related to the modern concept of the 'right to self-determination', which appeared in the twentieth century, and which says that every nationality has the right to be ruled by itself -- it should have a state of their own; it should not be ruled by an alien people.
Till now we have taken two steps. Firstly, we have defined what is a nationality. Secondly, we have said that according to the modern concept of political science a nationality plus a state is a nation. Then we came to the issue of Bangladeshi and Bangalee Jatiota or nationality. But before that we should critically examine the meaning of the Bangla word “Jati”. The Bangla word “Jati” means four things in four different contexts.
The English word “race” means the Bangla word “Jati” -- that is from an anthropological point of view, again the English word “nation” is translated into the Bangla word “Jati” -- that is from the view point of political science. Again the English word community is also translated into Bangla as “Jati” that is from a sociological point of view. Further the English word species is translated into Bangalee as “Jati” as Species of Man means Mankind or the Bangalee word “Manob-Jati”. All this causes confusion as well as controversy.
Sometimes we refer to the Bangla, “Bangalee Jati” as a group of people -- speaking Bangla and having Bangla culture and customs, and even a common tradition. This is the Bangalee community, speaking from sociological point of view. This is fine. A community need not have a state. But if by “Bangalee Jati” we mean Bangalee nation, this is a misnomer. “Bangalee Jati” should have or rather must have a distinct a state or homeland of its own.
“Bangalee Jati”, if it is intended to mean Bangalee nation, must assume a prior existence of a “Bangalee Rastro” or a Bangalee State, as is evident from the discussion above. All nations are state-based. The term Bangalee nation has a clear and unmistakable political connotation. It means it has a state or homeland. As we have said a nationality plus its own state is a nation.
The pertinent question is, should we call ourselves Bangladeshi or should we call ourselves Bangalees? Should our nationality or jatiota be Bangladeshi or “Bangalee”? We have to discuss the same matter in different contexts over and over again, and that is so even at the cost of repetition.
We can't call ourselves “Bangalee Jati” politically, because there is no “Bangalee Rastro” or Bangalee state. We can call ourselves “Bangalee Jati” only loosely and that at best sociologically.
In fact there is no Bangalee nation anywhere in the world at the moment; for where is the corresponding Bangalee state where the whole community of Bangalees live?
On the other hand, we have got a state, which is called Bangladesh. It is natural and in the fitness of things that we should be called Bangladeshis.
The matter may be looked at from another point of view. If we call ourselves Bangalees, what about the people of West Bengal? They also call themselves Bangalees. Certainly they have the right to do so, sociologically. They are calling themselves Bangalees and we too are calling ourselves Bangalees. Why should there be this embarrassing situation? We should better call ourselves Bangladeshis (politically speaking).
In our original constitution (promulgated on 16th December, 1972) in Part I, Section-I, the name of this country or state has been mentioned “People's Republic of Bangladesh”. On the other hand, in Part-I, Section-6, it is said the citizens of this state should be “Bangalees”. This is self-contradictory; this is a misnomer. It is logical and stands to reason that during the regime of President Ziaur Rahman, in 1978 the word “Bangalees” in the constitution in Section 6, was changed into 'Bangladeshis' and hence all citizens are called Bangladeshis.
President Ziaur Rahman wanted that Bangladesh should rather come out of “the sphere of influence” of India. The rulers in 1972 stressed the identity of the people of this country with the people of West Bengal or India and as such they chose to call the people of this state “Bangalees”. President Ziaur Rahman thought otherwise.
The case of the people of West Bengal and the citizens of Bangladesh may be further examined. The whole matter suggests reflection. The people of the United Kingdom and the people of United States have the same language, same religion and almost same culture and customs.
But do the people of the United States and the people of the United Kingdom not constitute two district and separate nations and nationalities? What about the people of Austria and Germany? The languages of Austria and Germany are German. But for this reason, do the people of Austria constitute German nationality? The Austrians are a totally different nation even though their language is German.
Similar is the case of the people of West Bengal and the citizens of Bangladesh. Our language is the same, our customs, cultures and manners are identical, possibly our ethnic origin is also one; despite that we are two distinct, different and separate nations as other countries, mentioned above.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, the province of Bengal was partitioned. The Bangalee people of both parts, especially the western part (Kolkata-based), broke out in a movement against it. Ultimately the partition of Bengal was annulled in 1911. At that time, people belonging to Hindu faith in the of western part of Bengal were not afraid of the Muslim majority in this province; because this province remained in the broader framework of the Indian state.
The partition of the Indian subcontinent took place in 1947. The people of the Western part of Bengal behaved differently from the way in which they behaved in 1905. It is said, at that time that Sarat Bose and Suhrawardy conceived of a separate state of Bengal. But that did not receive wide support from the people of the western part of Bengal; because this time they were afraid of the Muslim majority in that conceived state of Bengal.
We must admit that people of West Bengal and for that matter, the people of India had unstinted sympathy and support for the people for this part of this country during the liberation freedom war; but yet they behaved somehow differently in 1947. At that time the establishment of a Bangalee state and the growth of the Bengali nation in the fullest sense of the term was lost. There is not much use in shouting “Bangalee Jati” “Bangalee Jati” at the moment.
Before we conclude, we may very well summarise and discuss the question of Bangladeshi or “Bangalee Jatiota”.
Firstly, how can there be Bangalee Jati, when there is no Bangalee Rastro (Bangalee word) or Bangalee state? In terms of political science, for every nation there should be a state.
Secondly, even when our constitution was first promulgated in 1972, it sought to call the citizens of this country “Bangalees” but called the state itself Bangladesh. Why should there be such anomaly? We should better call ourselves Bangladeshi.
Thirdly, the people of West Bengal call themselves Bangalees. If we call ourselves Bangalees there is an embarrassing situation. We should better call our citizens Bangladeshi also in order to avoid this anomaly or embarrassing situation.
The Bangla terms, “Bangalees”, “Bangalee Jati” are unfortunately equivocal and ambiguous. We should better guard against them and use them cautiously.
The writer is a former teacher of Political Science in Notre Dame College, Dhaka
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