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Monday, February 8, 2016

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why are some Bangladeshis anti-Indian?

Nationalism and anti-Indianism often go hand in hand.Photo: AFP

Even if one likes the Indian cricket team, he or she would be afraid to express that aloud in the presence of a room full of Bangladeshis because there will be several for whom it would be too much to take. However admiring individual Indians like Vidya Balan or A.R. Rahman is okay. But collectively anything Indian is bad in the opinion of a considerable section of Bangladeshis. My recollections are drawn from the days long before the Tipaimuk controversy. How can we account for the widespread anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh?

Are neighbouring countries always suspicious of one another? As one wise man said: a solid fence is a precondition for friendly neighbours.

As a student in Canada long ago I noticed that Canadians were not very fond of their neighbour to the south. Some fellow students complained of their airwaves being dominated by the US media while others made fun of US ignorance of Canada. As I went to study in an American university later I was appalled to find out how little they knew about their northern neighbour. But never did I meet a Canadian who said that she or he is anti-American.

In Mexico, there is a saying: "God is so far and America so near." This is understandable because Mexico lost a good portion of her territory (California, Texas and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, etc) to its powerful neighbour.

Several years ago, while on a visit to New Zealand I had a friendly conversation with a gentleman serving juicy veal steak at a party at Massey University, Palmerston North. We discussed the quality of New Zealand veal and lamb and gradually moved to cricket. At some point, I dropped the question, if there is a cricket match between New Zealand and Australia which team would he support. His response was that it was a political question. He avoided an answer.

Once at the famed teachers' lounge of Dhaka University, I found only one colleague who like me was offended by the fact that everyone we knew supported the Pakistani cricket team. It took me quite some time to understand that supporting the Pakistan team is not the same as supporting the state of Pakistan.

Professor Amartya Sen admitted in one of his essays that he is a big fan of the Pakistani team and that does not make him anti-Indian. Professor Sen gave the example of his admiration of the Pakistan cricket team by way of criticising right-wing Hindu nationalists in India who often question the loyalty of the Indian Muslims for their alleged support for the Pakistani cricket team.

While in Singapore I noticed that many Singaporeans would go to Johor Bahru, across the border into Malaysia for seafood dinner, which was considerably cheaper with Ringgit values hovering at half of the Singapore dollar. The pragmatic Singaporean while filling their stomachs with delicacies would also fill their automobiles with cheaper gasoline in Malaysia.

At some point, however, the Singapore government imposed a new law to discourage this practice by making sure that the departing cars' gas tanks are at least half-filled. And yes, randomly, cars were checked at the border and violators were fined. Singapore and Malaysia had their share of disputed issues ranging from water sharing to a Malaysian railway station in Singapore to the ownership of some islands.

The leaders sat across the tables and talked it over in a bid to resolve these issues. Malaysia and Singapore even went to international arbitration over the claim of a disputed island but never did such frictions impact the cordiality of the citizens of these two countries.

Never had I met a Singaporean who called himself anti-Malaysian. I had Malaysian Chinese friends and students who having finished their studies in Singapore returned to Malaysia while others chose to stay on and took up Singapore's residency while keeping their Malaysian citizenship.

Social scientists from these two neighboring countries as well as from other Asean countries meet routinely in conferences and seminars. Sporting events and educational exchanges are common yet there is a sense that more can be done. Disagreements between governments do not translate into disagreements between people. It is the people to people relationship, the public diplomacy par excellence, that provide the basis for building sustainable good-neighbourly relationships.

Neighbouring countries are likely to have contentious issues but they need to be resolved not through megaphone diplomacy but by engaging in reasoned dialogue through quiet diplomacy. Anti-Indianism which has become the "first principle" -- almost a default position -- for many in Bangladesh stands in the way of trust-building between the two neighbours.

It is this sentiment that is both nurtured and exploited by self-seeking, opportunistic politicians to score points. Politics of hegemony, trade-imbalance, and other outstanding border issues play an important role in the prevailing skepticism about India in Bangladesh.

However, for many, anti-Indianness emanates from an attitude of bigotry, which is impervious to reason. Once I pressed a senior Bangladeshi professional in UAE to give me a reason for India's alleged role against the interests of Bangladesh (again before Tipaimukh), in a low voice he confided: "You can't trust the Hindus." The gentleman's honest answer was very revealing.

Habibul Haque Khondker is a professor at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi.

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This is very embarrassing. But it is better to deal with this nonsense than moving on with a fake smile.

: DR

Border guards of Canada, USA, New Zea land, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore do not kill neighboring citizens to practices their gun points. Having disputes between neighbors are obvious. but under estimating and acting like godfather all the time undoubtedly has long time impact between citizens. India is ignoring bds basic expectations as a neighbor. Of there is a great influence of religion as this sub-continent was separated based on religious terms. But stil i agree on diplomatic solutions as citizen ha trance won't bring any close peace in this region!

: Ahmed


  • Friday, July 24, 2009 05:25 PM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    A good presentation but one sided. You seem to ignore a bit of history and contemporary indian attitude towards Bangladesh, as the scapegoat of all their failures in the law and order area. Can you recollect what canadian Trudeu said about the USA? Hindu Muslim feelings are on the wane but Indian attitude does not help the secular minds of Bangladeh.

  • Taslima
    Friday, July 24, 2009 05:38 PM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    So why are Indians so anti-Bangladesh? Why is the Indian media to hostile to everything Bangladesh? How come Indians speak in negative terms about Bangladesh? Why is India so hostile to Muslims? Why does India keep bailing Bangladesh? Why does India promote anti-Bangladesh propaganda worldwide?

  • AK Shamsuddin
    Friday, July 24, 2009 01:41 AM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    This is an appalling article written on unfounded premises and wrong perceptions with an intention to grossly undermine the sentiments of Bangladeshis. The timing of this piece has been chosen in order to coincide with the present situation, where majority of Bangladeshis are becoming critical of India about some unilateral actions against the country. The issues like: Farkka, Teesta, border fencing and regular killing of Bangladeshis by BSF, and finally the Tipaimukh are the major causes of this concern.

    Bangladeshi people are naturally concerned about their well being , therefore they want to see their interests in fact their livelihood is not threatened by any quarter from inside and outside. It is unfortunate that these concerns and resentments are interpreted as anti Indian by some . It is a recognized fact that the people of Bangladesh hold the most secular and tolerant outlook among its neighbors of the subcontinent. Minorities are well represented in walks of life including government jobs and in other institutions, which is not the case in India.(a recent report titled 'Reverse Racism' in Hindustan Times of India can be referred)

    It is natural to have differences and disputes among the neighbors, but they have their solutions too. And these have to be resolved through dialogue, mutual understanding, trust and reciprocity. All concerned should delve into it through positive approach not by spewing venom at each other by highlighting few negatives.

  • Dr. Abu Reza
    Friday, July 24, 2009 02:03 AM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    Prof. Khondker's information regarding geography and history of his own Bangladesh can be supplemented with the following facts: Bengal being the Gangetic deltaic plain was fertile and particularly suitable for agriculture. It needed lot of farmers. High caste hindus had mobilised the low caste in huge numbers for land cultivation. The farmers suffered social indignities and economic exploitation from time immemorial. To escape, people embraced Islam, en masse, which is why Bengal was a muslim majority province of Br.India, which enabled Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Haq (1942) and Shahid Shahwardy (1946) to become Chief Minister of Bengal. High caste hindus connived with the British to divide Bengal. British did not do justice to the muslims having had defeated Sirajudowla earlier. So the muslims of Bengal turned to Muslim League party and opted for Pakistan in search of justice. But they got 'truncated moth eaten' East Pakistan. When Pakistan betrayed, Bangabandhu asked for full autonomy -his six points- seeking justice for Bangladesh. A Pak military intervention led to freedom struggle, supported by India, and an Independent Bangladesh. Bangabandhu had to intervene for the withdrawal of Indian army which left emptying the equipment from the cantonments, on its way back. It had successfully dismembered Pakistan, training guns on the shoulder of our mukti bahini. All these years, India has erected barrages on almost all rivers flowing into Bangladesh, including the Ganges, and is now seeking to erect Tipaimukh Dam -both violating existing agreement and international laws. It has not cooperarted with Bangladesh in the demarcation of land or sea boundaries, and has warned international oil/gas companies against drilling activities in our own area of Bay of Bengal. Bangladeshis are subject to being shot at the borders every other day. To cap it all, the Indian High Commissioner (IHC), caught by TV live, claimed that every year 25,000 Bangladeshis do not return from India which our Foreign Ministry has disputed. Although caught in the TV, IHC, claimed to have been misinterpreted. Bangladeshis are not anti-Indian, per se, they seek justice, but are genuinely disappointed with India's unprincipled behaviour -throughout the history. Hope lies with the new generation of Indians unaffeted by 'hindutva'.

  • Friday, July 24, 2009 03:43 AM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    Why are you comparing Vidya Balan with A.R.Rahman or any other big names of India?

  • Imon M
    Friday, July 24, 2009 04:24 AM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    The author naively ignores that there are real (i.e. non-emotional) reasons for anti-Indianism. In fact, anti-Bangladeshism in India's central administrative bodies is largely responsible for anti-Indianism in Bangladesh. The comments by Indian High Comm is just a small sample of the kind of image Bangladesh really holds in Indian administrative circles. Can someone really blame our dislike for our neighbours when they have engaged in water wars for 4 decades now?

  • Enigmatic
    Friday, July 24, 2009 07:58 AM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    Your last paragraph of this piece pretty much answers your main question about the anti-Indian sentiment. Now, someone would ask, why do we (Bangladesh) have less trust on Hindu people? There are many reasons for such attitude. But most compelling reason could be found in our recent history. If we track down the historical trajectory of Hindu-Muslim relationship, since or even before the separation of 1947 and consequent liberation war of 1971, there have been Right (e.g. BNP or 4 party alliances, JP) or extreme Right (Muslim league) political leaders who ruled Bangladesh and then East-Pakistan (AL was in power for less than 10 years since 1971). These Right/extreme-Right winger politicians have used anti-Indian sentiment to get more mileage in their political journey which has influenced the mostly uneducated and rural poor people to show their anti-Indian sentiment. USA and other Western Capitalists countries of the West also helped these political leaders, (especially during the Cold War) in formulating anti-Indian public policies (so that these policies also go against Soviet blocs thus helps the Capitalists blocs). There is no doubt that, there have been some critical disputes between India and Bangladesh (e.g. cross border terrorism, water sharing etc.) and there have been some sort of Patron-Client relationship (India being the core and Bangladesh being the periphery e.g. in regards of huge trade deficit, cultural hegemony and like) to warrant Bangladeshi citizens to have some grudge against India. However, local and global politics have been playing the major role in accelerating this kind India-Bangladesh antagonism thus in making Bangladeshi citizens to be anti-Indian.

  • Shawkat ali
    Friday, July 24, 2009 08:14 AM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    Mr. Khondakar perhaps is myopic so he does not see what India did with us in respect of enclaves like Berubari, Dahagram, Angorpota etc. He also fails to see what she did and is doing with us on Farakka barrage. Even before, what she did with Kashmir, Hyderabad, Junagar etc. India beyond doubt is a big brother in the sub-continent and she must not be expected to abandon the idea of making herself a regional super-power. But no, anti-Indian is a very harsher word Mr. Khondakar. We have a great deal of reservations about trusting India for what she has hitherto done to us. Don't you remember Bangladeshis are being shot to death by the BSF even as BDR and BSF are sitting about the conference table to build trust(?) between the two sides? Make no mistake. We should never allow our own identity and interest traded with the infatuation for India, if at all independence is important for us.

  • A concerned citizen
    Friday, July 24, 2009 08:23 AM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    It is no secret that many Bangladeshis hate India for no other reason than it is a secular state with Hindu majority. The Indian state has been moving forward with leaps and bounds and its citizens may have already gotten immune to our hatred whether it is for right or wrong reasons.

    The blind hatred has backfired on Pakistan and it will do exactly the same to Bangladesh if we are to follow BNP/Jamat policies.

    I am glad that you quote that Bangladeshi professional regarding his sentiment against Hindus. But the same person would not hesitate to proclaim that Islam stands for peace and it does not tolerate bigotry. But, that would be a totally contradictory statement from that gentleman!

  • SNH
    Friday, July 24, 2009 12:10 PM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    I was studying an article, 'South Asia's Coming Water Wars' which portrays a lot of strategic issues relating to our water sharing agendas. 2 words stuck in my mind: 'overruling cleavage.'

    Yes, overruling cleavage!

  • SNH
    Friday, July 24, 2009 12:13 PM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    The interesting part is that we hate India because it moved to an anti-Muslim axises.

    However, we don't bother asking those anti-Muslim axises that what business do they have with India? Harming us? Want our destruction, unstable Southeast Asia through India's proxy? Divide and rule doctrine? Fueling both sides?

  • SNH
    Friday, July 24, 2009 11:14 AM GMT+06:00 (341 weeks ago)

    One significant difference among us (India, Bangladesh and Pakistan):

    1. Bangladesh is a linguistic entity

    2. Both India (Hindusthan) and Pakistan (they should call it Muslimisthan) are religion based entity.

    We were supposed to be a religion based entity as well.

    We didn't fit in imperialist's geopolitical game plan; therefore, we ended up as a LINGUISTIC ENTITY!

    rest are ethnic...Nepal, Bhutan...whatsoever.





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