Those who will not reason are bigots, those who cannot are fools and those who dare not are slaves. 

~Lord Byron 

Recent political developments in India have opened up a Pandora’s box, to say the least. These developments are overtly targeting the country’s largest minority, Muslims. With an increase in hate crimes particularly against Muslims in recent years, there is fear that India, long known as the world’s largest democracy, has become dangerously intolerant under the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP). 

For the Awami League government in Bangladesh, which shares a border with India on three sides, India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) were regarded as “internal matters”, or so it was declared to the people of Bangladesh. However, this nonchalant stance has become a denial too immense to continue for the Awami League. 

In October of 2019,  the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned from India after having signed seven bilateral treaties with her counterpart, Narendra Modi, an act which proved to the vast majority of disappointed and infuriated  Bangladeshis that they cannot expect their leadership to look out for the interests of their country. Each and every treaty was seen as benefiting Bangladesh’s larger neighbor against its own interests and well being. Commenting on Facebook regarding this issue even resulted in the murder of engineering student Abrar Fahad by the Chattra League, the student wing of Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League. If there was ever any doubt that Bangladesh had lost its sovereignty due to the pro-Indian priorities of its ruling party, these treaties sealed the conviction in the minds of Bangladeshis that sovereignty and independence are merely words in their constitution. 

At a time when anti-India sentiments are profound amongst Bangladeshis, India assured Bangladesh that the NRC and CAA will not affect it. However, there are genuine concerns and apprehensions in Bangladesh that the NRC and CAA might unleash an exodus of Bengali-speaking people from Assam and Muslims attempting to escape persecution in India. After having taken in nearly one million Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar, Bangladesh cannot take in any more. An influx of people from India would be just the tip of the iceberg. 

Many analysts feel, rightfully so, that the denial of Indian citizenship to tens of thousands of Muslims from Assam and most certainly elsewhere in India will trigger strong reactions from Islamist parties in Bangladesh, which would present serious challenges to the secular Awami League. Although Sheikh Hasina has a proven track record of complete intolerance to any form of dissent, freedom of speech and expression, an uprising of Islamist parties would most certainly cause friction in the Awami League’s relationship with the Hindu right wing BJP, a predicament that the Bangladeshi PM always tries at all costs to avoid. 

The BJP in India has utilized the predictable strategy of claiming that Hindus in Bangladesh are persecuted and tortured, resulting in a mass anti-Bangladesh smear campaign on social media, a tit for tat strategy which has rubbed Bangladesh the wrong way. It sees these accusations as baseless and unwarranted and although the Awami League attempts at all costs to bend over backwards to cater to India’s desires, these recent exchanges and concerns based on the CAA and NRC are ones that even the leadership in Bangladesh cannot digest. India’s attempts to equate Bangladesh to fundamentally theocratic Muslim nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan is something that is unacceptable to Bangladeshis, where religious and racial harmony have always been a priority, unlike in many of its neighboring countries. 

This is not to say that there has never been any religious persecution in Bangladesh. However, whenever isolated incidents have occurred, the secular government has taken action promptly. 

The Bangladesh government has declared that it will allow people to enter from India only if it can be proven that they are citizens of Bangladesh. 

This is a nebulous condition which most people realize is futile. Many of the Muslim immigrants in India who are being told they do not qualify for citizenship (whereas Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains do) probably do not have any documents to present to prove citizenship in either country. Therefore, on what basis does Bangladesh expect India to present proof of their Bangladeshi nationality apart from religion? This is a clear manifestation of xenophobia that under any other government in Bangladesh would perhaps not be entertained in the least, for the country cannot be used as a dumping ground for bigoted, abominable regimes such as those in Myanmar and India. 

It is a veritable pity that India’s spirit of being known as “the world’s largest democracy” has been infected by the Modi regime, giving rise to the fundamental question: what is the future of Muslims in India? Furthermore, how will the xenophobic, ant-Islamic reign of terror in India affect Bangladesh? 

The answers to these questions and more have yet to unfold. However, to paraphrase the quote by Lord Byron, those who dare not stand up against bigotry succumb to slavery. The freedom fighters of the Bangladesh Liberation War most certainly did not fight to defend a future slavery. Or did they?

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