Future scenario for the Indian subcontinent – 2 : Bangladesh and transformation of Islam

Posted on October 22, 2008. Filed under: Army, Bangladesh, Hindu, India, Islam, Islamic propaganda, Muslims, Pakistan, Politics, religion, terrorism |

In my previous post I have written about the current political situation in Bangladesh, where I have expressed my serious concerns about the role of the army in consolidation of the Saudi theologian led radicalization of Bangladeshi Islam, and Islam’s agenda for the subcontinent as a whole. But in the introduction I have also promised visions of revolutionary and positive changes for the “immensely significant periphery”.  In this post we will look at the potential for “positive changes” for Bangladesh.

Historically, Bengal (the undivided province) was one of the richest areas of the subcontinent, with a thriving agrarian and “industrial” economy – with records and evidence for a flourishing trade link with Egypt, South East Asia, as well as the Roman empire, in commodities like sugarcane molasses, cotton and fine cotton textiles. The province was sufficiently rich to support independent Sultanates against the nominal control of the Delhi Sultanate, and whenever the central-Northern Indian empires weakened, this tendency of the region to secede politically revived. The same pattern emerged when the Mughal empire weakened, with the Subahdars, and the Nawabs emerging as semi-independent rulers of the region (the highly emotional claim in Bengali literature of the “last independent” Nawab is fallacious – technically and formally, the Nawabs were “vassals” of the Mughal emperors, and Siraj was not the last Nawab either, as he was “legally” followed by Mir-Jafar and Mir Qasim who were “formally” endorsed by the Mughal emperor). The revenue and the products of the province supported and provided a substantial portion of the income of Aurangzeb, towards the beleaguered dusk of his reign.

Bengal was also the first rich Indian plum in the East India Company’s pocket, whose looting of the province and its economy is far better recorded (and less suppressed than the records of destruction and denudation under Islamic rulers). The cumulative effect of Islamic looting for 600 years and British looting for 200 years  could be seen in the Bengal famine of 1943 – as official records indicate that by this period, this once rich, net exporter province had become a net importer of its staple food -rice, and any obstruction in the flow of such imports could land up Bengal in severe famine. The previous notorious large scale famine of 1769 can be tied up very well with extreme taxation at the hands of tax-farmers employed by the Company, but once the tax regime normalized the province regained its vitality to a certain extent, although it never regained its pre-Mughal or pre-Islamic prosperity.  The extent of Mughal and Sultanate period extraction and impoverishment of Bengal is well attested to by foreign travellers, [see my series on How Islam came to India…economic decline], but systematic British exploitation brought Bengal to its knees.

After Partition from India, Bangladesh was virtually treated as a semi-colony by west Pakistan, and the issue was partly a motivator for the independence movement. Even after independence and a tremendous growth in its productive capacity, population pressure has ensured that Bangladesh is still crucially dependent on imports of essential commodities from its neighbours, and mainly from it’s supposed nemesis-India. The main export earnings of Bangladesh comes from its historical main commodity of export – cotton textiles. Since the ethnic and cultural (in spite of religious divides) composition of Bangladesh is essentially similar to that of  neighbouring Indian province of West Bengal, we should expect cultural biases in favour of intellectual and technological achievement. Thus with proper modern and widely accessible scientific and technological education, Bangladesh can achieve the potential it originally enjoyed before the advent of Islam or the British.

While most of Indian populations have had greater success with modern education and technological elevation, the main obstruction in the progress of Bangladesh has been the grip of Islam over its society. On the one hand Islam prevented the majority of Bangladeshi populations from joining the secular and modernizing trends within British India, and led directly to their subservience to Pakistani exploitation without any benefits of modernization. On the other hand Islam of the Arabic version had never had it easy with the ingrained traditions, beliefs and culture of the Bangladeshis – and nowhere in the subcontinent are syncretic tendencies between Islam and Hinduism so vividly apparent as in Bangladesh. This second largest community of Islam remained quite consciously distant from the Wahabi versions of Islam and the Islamic theologians are forced to tolerate the indignities of hearing the appearance and peaceful coexistence of Hindu Krishna or Radha together with calls towards the God of Islam in the ever-popular songs of Hason Raja (descendant of converted Hindu elite).

With the realignment of Bangladesh elite under pressure from the army to the Islamic axis, this struggle between syncretic Bengali Islam and the revivalist, orthodox, and extremely retrogressive Sunni Wahabi Jihadi Islam has been gaining virulence since the formation of Bangladesh. The Islamic Jihadi theologians are quite worried that left to its own wiles, Bangladeshi Islam will forget the Arabic Islam’s agenda of Jihadi expansion and total liquidation of all non-Muslim cultures. This is the reason there has been increasing flows of funds to strengthen the Islamic propagation networks of the madrassahs and maqtabs or “charitable institutions” – the net effect of all such efforts being visible in the increasing militancy of overground and underground Islamic organizations in Bangladesh. In spite of all propaganda as to the early “peaceful Sufi” converters of Hindu Bengalis, the general pattern on the subcontinent is also found with Sufi or other modes of conversion – that their “huge” success almost always coincides with the presence of Islamic military forces in close proximity – and just like other Sufis, the more famous Sufis of Bengal show fondness for direct military action to win converts or wives.

If the Bangladesh army’s command core, and the elite whose networks give support to this core, can be prevented in this agenda of Wahabi Islamization of Bangladesh, the natural tendencies of this emotional and spirited community will move against Islamic retrogression – the socio-cultural aspects of Arabic Jihadi Islam being completely alien to this more diverse, productive, and flexible Bengali culture. Bangladesh can realize its full intellectual, economic and technological potential only if it is no longer burdened with Islam – the creed that most violently suppresses all “quests”,  “quests” that are the key towards progress. Modernization and technological upgrading of the productive forces would also bring in a fundamental change in the historical dynamic that at least partly fuelled Islamic conversions – the hunger for land in a highly productive agrarian economy, that forced Hindu elite to convert to preserve land ownership in the face of Turko-Afghan or Mughal aggression, or tempted the landless to convert and use the Jihadi sanctions to grab land from non-Muslims. In the process of this  national redirection, such a liberation from the authoritarianism of retrogressive Islam, will also transform or redefine “Islam” as represented by the Bangladeshi Muslims, and could be a way forward or an example for other Islamic communities not under direct and total control of Wahabi Sunni Islamic theologians.

Part 1

Part 3

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2 Responses to “Future scenario for the Indian subcontinent – 2 : Bangladesh and transformation of Islam”

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Good site. Great articles. Your article has several errors in it an anomoly. You first say the Bengla was the richest part of the Subcontinent when he East India company arrived. This is an accurate statement.

But then your bias shows when you say that the effect of 600 years of Islamic looting led to the famine of 1943. Hmmm! You mean to say the British neglect of Bengal and the British looting led to the famine.

You had already established that Bengal was the richest part under Muslim rule.

Kindly correct this slight error in an otherwise well written article.

PS: We request a link to our site for a more robust and always civilized discussion. There are several dozen articles on Bengal on our site, many written by Bangaldeshi columnists.

http://rupeenews.com/2008/08/06/polashi-to-meerut-to-karachi-islamabad-dhaka/

We are in the process of consilidating them under a Bangladesh/Bengal page.

Right now you can find the artiles under world
http://rupeenews.com/so-asia/

Best Regards,

Editor Rupee News
http:/www.rupeenews.com

PS: I won’t respond to your Pakistan comment for now…but more later if we have a link

I had said, that Bengal represented the “richest area” under the Mughals towards the decline of the Mughal empire, in relative terms compared to the entire subcontinent. But it still does not mean that Bengal was otherwise having a huge surplus – as there are very specific eye-witness reports from foreign travellers about the ruthless extraction of surplus from the common Bengali peasant or producers.
Under Shah Jahan, peasants were forced to sell their women and children to meet their revenue requirements. The peasants were carried off to various markets and fairs “to be sold with their poor unhappy wives carrying their small children crying and lamenting”. According to Qaznivi, Shah Jahan had decreed they should be sold to Muslim lords. The Augustinian missionary Fray Sebastio Manrique, who was in Bengal in 1629–30 and again in 1640, remarked on the ability of the shiqdār—a Mughal officer responsible for executive matters in the pargana, to collect the revenue demand, by force if necessary, and even to enslave peasants should they default in their payments.
Further the general extreme extraction of surplus under Mughals have been extensively studied by even sympathetic historians like Irfan Habib and Tapan RoyChowdhury, and the same applies to Bengal still firmly under Mughal military and administrative control. We also have evidence that the Mughal extraction was a continuance of Sultanate policy of punitive taxation started under the Khaljis. If such heavy exploitation was being carried out for nearly 600 years (Sultanate+Mughal) then 200 further years of British exploitation would have been the proverbial “straw” that broke the camel’s back – so I find no fault in my reasoning. For my brief outlining of Islamic state policy and its effects on the subcontinent, see https://dikgaj.wordpress.com/2008/09/02/how-islam-came-to-india-and-why-now-it-needs-to-go-from-india-12-economic-decline-under-islam-fate-of-producers/


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