Dear Bengalis, Is This the Bengal We Always Wanted?

On Tuesday evening, BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata ended in a scuffle between his supporters and students holding placards which said: “Amit Shah Go Back.”

Soon after, stones were pelted, bikes were burnt and the gates of Vidyasagar College were set on fire. Amidst the chaos, the statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar installed inside the campus was vandalised.

Vidyasagar was a prominent academic educator, a reformer, a philanthropist and one the greatest Bengalis of all time. He strongly opposed child marriage and encouraged widow remarriage. In 1856, he was at the forefront of those campaigning for the then British Indian parliament to pass the Widow Remarriage Act.

He upheld the ethos of nationalism and Hinduism in its true sense. Ironically, those who claim to be nationalists have, allegedly, demolished his statue.

While he campaigned against child marriage during his time, one BJP MLA in Madhya Pradesh promises to legalise it if voted to power.

The Vidyasagar College is affiliated to Calcutta University, which is one of the oldest universities of India and has received several accolades in academic excellence. The stature of such a prestigious educational institution now stands tarnished.

The hooliganism on the campus and the politicisation of the issue have belittled Vidyasagar.

However, this is not the first time that the saffron brigade has toppled a statue of a prominent political leader. Lenin’s statue in Tripura, Ambedkar’s statue in UP, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rabindranath Tagore’s statue in West Bengal, were all pulled down in the past few years. These demolitions show how the present dispensation is silently imposing its brand of neo-nationalism.

How long will this fascist government, under the guise of democracy, rule us? We all need to ask this question.

The statue of the person who formulated the Bengali alphabet lies in shambles because of petty political propaganda and people are being forced to stay silent until pushed to complete obedience.

This is not the same Bengal which I explored holding my mother’s hand as a kid.

I wake up every day to read depressing headlines like: “A murder of democracy, BJP slams Mamata Banerjee” and Facebook posts saying “A black day for Bengal.” Is this the Bengal we always wanted? Is this the Bengal they wanted when they stood on the streets to shout ‘Azaadi‘?

Dear fellow Bangalis, an attempt to incite the latent hatred within Bengal is not a good idea in my opinion, especially when the state has been the stage of bloodshed in the past.

For me, Bengal cannot be ruled by one dominant religion. It never was, and never will be. In such an environment, chants of “Jai Shri Ram” scare me. The clamouring for a unified religious voice which, in reality, places one religion over others, is haunting. I am terrorised by this neo-fascist administration and I’m sure you are too.

As a Bengali, the blind patriotism we grew up in, is not blind after all. After carrying the trauma of Partition, today, Bengal stands together again with its linguistic, political and cultural differences.

I am glad that the BJP finally chose a worthy adversary in Bengal, and his name is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

Souptik Datta is a student, a photojournalist, and a storyteller, who believes in bringing truth to people through new media, often in long form. He is interested in issues related to human rights, politics and the environment. When not working or studying, he likes solo-traveling.

Featured image credit: PTI