Serendipity : Harmony in Diversity ; Bangladesh a magnet for multi faith

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 Imran A. Chowdhury


During a windy  rain soaked dampened  – very quintessential British summer day, I Was completely engrossed in researching to prepare an infographics on the Bangladeshi diaspora in the United Kingdom. Scrutinising through hundred of pages in the internet, books, magazines and hand written notes. To come up with an informative presentation of a few slides to give a snapshot of the unknown yet salient facts and figures about the community living in the UK. Suddenly stumbled upon some staggering facts on the census data.

Religious denomination figures were depicting numbers of Bengalis (Bangladeshis) belonging to different faiths and religions. What I found was, there are 672 people who are followers of the Sikh religion and also 234 people from the Jewish faith amongst Hindus, Christians, Buddhists. These are kosher data as the source of the data is none other the Office of the National Statics of Great Britain; one of the highly acclaimed government agencies in the UK.

Having looked at these staggering figures made me dig deep into the pandoras box to auger the gist out of this multi faith and interfaith cohabitation of the people of Bangladesh for centuries after centuries.

It always made me wonder since I was 13 years old whenever I used to go by rickshaw from Peelkhana to Dhaka Medical college via the TSC roundabout. Why on earth there is this Gurdwara inside the campus of Dhaka University? Now, after all these years it makes a bit of sense. There is ample tangible evidence that, there were Sikh religion followers amongst us all. No wonder the Bengal Army in 1857 was squashed by the Punjab Army of the East India Company during the Sepoy Mutiny and that was the last nail in the coffin Bengalis soldering by announcing Bengalis are not a martial race. Is that when the Sikhism slowly and gradually slipped into our midst ? –  Only the historians know better.

Bengal during the time of the Roman Empire was one the biggest exporters of Cotton cloth to the palaces of Rome and was reading a few years ago that, In 24 AD there was massive brawl and debate that took place in the Roman senate ; reason being ; The senators were relentlessly arguing as to why so much gold bars are send to a place called Gangaridai ( old name of Bengal ). The speaker of the house then, explained the house that, if you Gentlemen stop wearing those white cotton Tunica then we dont have to part with these gold. It was the time of Emperor Augustus; the surrogate father of Infamous Roman emperor Nero; who was playing his fiddle when Rome was burning. But the question remains to be answered how did the Cotton of Bengal end up in Rome? Thats despite the point today! During 8th-9th century an exodus of Baghdadi jewish population of present day Iraq ended up on the shores of Bengal. Mainly in Dhaka, Murshidabad & Panam (Sonargoan).  Old records suggest that, those Jewish merchant gave the weaving recipe to the weavers of Bengal to spin the cotton in their thumb to make the finest yarn to weave the softest cloth in the world and those Jewish merchants named the fabric according to the name of their home city Mosul – Mosul to Moslin. Those jewish merchants made the moslin famous all over the wold, Even the Empress of France ( Napoleon Bonaparte’s Wife)Joséphine was one of the famous admirers of Moslin as late as 18th century Europe when industrial revolution inundated the markets of the world with machine made fabrics.

Finding these data today, have made me think again about the essence of Bengali heritage; history and legacy once again. Which amply reiterates the fact that, Bengal was always a magnet for diversified influx of  people from all over the world. Bengal is perhaps one of the finest places where there had never been any sectarian trouble nor any feud or riots. This was the true ethnically diversified delta in the world where Portuguese roman catholics, Armenian christians, Dutch christians, French made their home from time to time. Some were welcomed and some plundered Bengal. Yet the Bengali indigenous population; being the member from the 3rd largest ethnic group in the world after Hans and Arabs always let them gel into the society and exchange cultures, cuisine, trade and artisan acumen.

These migrations have immensely enriched our culture, language, cuisine and lifestyle. These essences of diversity were the bedrock of our innate nationhood. The multi cultural Bengal was an epitome of wealthy territory since the time of Alexander the Great and beyond. What a rich legacy to carry forward!

However, it is important to address here that, there is a rise of ultra jingoistic groups who are trying to dilute the diversity and alienate those intricate age old historical sublimity. The county needs to be vigilant against the Neo antagonists who are  trying to muscle in to take over as the standard bearers of our age old egalitarian society to oppress and suppress the weaker echelon of the society who is literally dwelling in the underbelly of our society.  

This attribute of Bangladeshi fraternity living in harmony well over a thousand years speak volume about the tenacity, impetus and resolve of our ancestors and it is an onus upon us the upheld that legacy.

Nevertheless, no matter how bizarre it was to stumble upon those data but it sure was an excellent serendipity.

[ Writer is the Founder & CEO of a Think-Tank & An NGO- Centre for Policy, promotion & prevention  in the UK]

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