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January 25, 2004

East Pakistan

Over at Muslim Under Progress there has been a series of posts by a "traditionalist" (my words) Pakistani visiting the mother country. His post on East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) is interesting. More below....

Observations, and family hearsay....

1) the old people (my grandparents' generation) mourned the passing of Pakistan. They remembered when Hindu bhadroloks ("gentlemen") dominated Bengal. As Haroon (the poster linked to) notes, the Muslim League started in Bengal, and that was where its strength lay. The 1870 census which showed that Muslims were the majority in Bengal shocked many people. The Bengali elite was Hindu. The Muslim elite in Bengal were Urdu speakers, or if they were of Bengali origin assimilated to that culture. The 19th century saw the rise of a Bengali & Muslim middle and upper-middle-class.

2) my parents, like many Bangladeshis, don't seem to have much animosity toward Pakistanis for the "genocide" of 1971. That topic never came up during all the social events that my family attended where Pakistanis were a significant presence, though they would object whenever someone asserted that Urdu should be the lingua franca of Muslims. My mother herself was shot by mistake during the war, but I've never heard her say many negative things about Pakistanis-aside from their practice of over-creaming their tea, which she finds disgusting. I know many Bangladeshi's born & raised in the US are marrying Pakistanis born & raised in the US.

3) my parents admitted that the "Biharis," Urdu speakers from India, behaved as if they were the ruling caste in East Pakistan. My mother told an acquaintance once how Biharis would always insist on sitting at the front of buses, and start shouting at people in Urdu whenever they were irritated. Pakistan refuses to admit many of these people, and the Bengali populace has negative feelings toward them, at least according to what I've read (think of them as the Sudetanland Germans). But within my own family this does not seem to be prominent. My own paternal grandfather came from an Urdu-speaking family (though he was Bengali identified by his death, and his children picked up Urdu from school, not home). Several of my relatives have married Biharis, though they speak perfect Bengali, and mention of this only comes up obliquely and without any negative connotation[1].

4) I can believe that West Pakistanis were racist, because many Pakistanis seem to express racism today. It is subtle and not explicit, but I remember hearing several times of the "vigor of the northern races" at parties, about how 1 Pakistani equals 10 Indians. Of course, Bangladeshis are to the east and south of Pakistan, so the implication is clear. There is also a perception that Bengalis are "less Muslim" than Pakistanis (I think somewhat rightly), and sometimes people would joke about Bengali jadhu ("magic").

Postcript: OK, I have to add that I find the contention that the genocide targeted Hindus plausible. The reason my family evinces little resentment of the 1971 killings is likely because they felt little direct repercussions. My mother does recall that Hindu servants were specifically sought out-and one of my mother's nanny's (she was pretty muched retired by this time) was shot in the head because she was excessively disputatious when Pakistani soldiers tried to figure out who the Hindus were in my grandfather's employ (this is what I have heard).

fn1. My family's mixed origins might explain of their lack of hostility toward various ethnic groups that dominated Muslim Bengalis. My father is by ancestry half Bengali Brahmin (his mother's father converted to Islam) and half non-Bengali Muslim. But, he is probably a far more vocal Bengali Muslim nationalist than my mother....

Posted by razib at 03:46 PM