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Monday 6 July 2020

W(h)ither Bengal?

What happens when an extreme form of ‘intellectualism’ — sometimes real, but mostly self-perceived — afflicts a populace, especially when the roots of that ‘intellectualism’ lie in 18th-19th-century Western libertarian concepts (these, in turn, reinforced by a framework of supremacist Christianity, with strands of romanticised Orientalist Islam), with a 20th century grafting of Leninist Marxism? What happens when this bizarre soup is decanted through a climate of equally extreme political opportunism? You get a State dangerously on the brink of a theocracy. You get West Bengal under Mamata Banerjee. You get Malda, you get Dhulagarh, you get Tehatta. And that’s only the beginning. We will see many more in the 4 years still left of her sanguinary reign.

The ‘intellectualism’ aforementioned accounts for the silence of its practitioners, which has emboldened the criminality of the state administration and its brazenly criminal head. It is safe to say that this ‘intellectualism’ — and the resultant silence — is almost exclusively an attribute of the ostensibly Hindu element of the population, ostensibly (and now only nominally) a majority: neither the ostensible (and now only nominal) minority Muslim element, nor the minuscule Christian has the dialectical need for defending the ‘other’ (to use an inelegant though fashionable contemporary neologism). As monotheists united by the supremacist Abrahamic book, their common enemy is the sacrilegiously polytheistic Hindu. Their only permitted discourse is confined to the covers of that book: any extramural debate, or even thought (in Islam’s case) is heresy or apostasy, for which the punishments are transparently (if gruesomely) spelt out.

The 20th-21st century Bengali Hindu ‘intellectual’, in sharp contrast, draws his credentials from his supposed catholicity of vision: an evolutionary precipitate of natural Hindu syncretism and the Western libertarian Marxism referenced earlier. (Incidentally, I mention Bengali Hindu intellectual only because this article concerns Bengal: the premise is true for other geographical variants of the genus too). This predicates a conscious distancing of oneself from one’s given faith, an apologetic or even shamefaced acceptance of the fact, and a consequent, conscious indifference, nay blindness to the excesses — unbridled violence in the instant case — of the nominal minority against his own kind. His ‘intellectual’ upbringing – personally I prefer to call it downbringing — militates against the idea of any protest against the supposedly superior products of supremacist monotheism, however violent (and canonically too) these products. His ‘intellectual’ response to mass violence against the benighted Hindu, no matter that he is one himself, is silence and a Nelson’s eye.

Roy's BengalThere is, in this, a residue of carefully sown historical shame for his own origins. Carefully sown first by 18th-19th-century Christian missionaries, and later by the ‘reformers’ from within. The Christian missionaries were only doing their divinely ordained job; and where harvesting of souls was concerned, ends justified means. The ‘reformers’ however were a different breed, and none more so than Raja Ram Mohun Roy. If he had quietly allowed himself to be baptised and received into Christ there would probably have been an end of the matter: but his own intellectual equipment — formidable for his time, or indeed any time — saw in the tenets of Christianity a means for constructive reform in his own faith. To the extent that the glaring medievalisms were removed through his efforts — ‘sati’ (or ‘suttee’ for period flavour) and infant marriages in particular — he could not be faulted. But the same cannot be said of his attempts at an ecumenical union of Christianity and Hinduism, the forced monotheism, and indeed even the manifestly Christian-redolent liturgy of the Brahmo Samaj. This latter, at least in part, was responsible for the self-perceived shame of the common polytheistic Hindu, the historical residue mentioned earlier. [Parenthetically, this very residue spread in large swathes to the entire political and intellectual landscape of the so-called Freedom Movement, and on in inexorable metastasis to Nehruvian India, to the tissues of the country’s ancient histories, wiped out by the virulence of the Marxist historians — the new court chroniclers].

Not surprisingly, the Brahmo Samaj had its conflicts; and the ‘intellectualism’, and the consequent self-conferred exclusivity which one sees today, Anno Domini 2017, actually trace their origins to one such conflict which resulted in the ironically named Sadharan Brahmo Samaj — ironically because it was anything but ‘Sadharan’ in both scope and composition. If Ram Mohun Roy was the torchbearer of the Bengal Renaissance — the first spark of Bengal’s love affair with the West — the votaries of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj were its Praetorian Guard.

Bengal’s ‘intellectualism’ begins with them, with the Tagores in the lead, and carried faithfully down to the Rays in our own time; although to their credit it must be set down that violence was not their creed.

With that lineage looming over Bengal, and with Marx and Lenin adding their own pendant branches later, the poor, common, puerilely polytheistic, idolatrous Hindu has neither chance nor voice — indeed even the right to exist — while the nominal minority hordes, supremely supremacist under a compliant patron batter him, his home and hearth into oblivion. Like the Women of Canterbury in Eliot’s play, for them “there is no action, but to wait, and to witness”.

And to suffer.

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KVK Murthy
Retired banker with varied interests, mainly scholastic and bibliophilic; he lives in Bangalore

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