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Taking Stock
Post-Bangladesh scenario
By Rizwan Ullah

The emergence of Bangladesh was another watershed for Indian Muslims since independence. Its impact upon them was more psychological than physical and it was more severe in eastern states, especially in West Bengal for obvious reasons: West Bengal was in close proximity with the dying East Pakistan or the emerging Bangladesh, it was the hub of activities that culminated in the emergence of Bangladesh, West Bengal was most affected by the refugee influx and above all Calcutta was the centre of the most vocal media. The cumulative effect was badly reflecting upon Muslims.

Today it may be difficult to realize the psychological predicament of Muslims but it must be narrated for it had a long-term effect. It may be remembered that over ninety thousand Pakistani troops had surrendered before the Indian Army without any resistance. Obviously, it was a politically manipulated event. It had nothing to do with the gallantry or the fighting capability of any force. Anyway, it was a matter of shame for a fighting forces anywhere. But the media hype gave the impression that it was the defeat of a big Muslim army and as such the Indian Muslims must bear their share of the shame. It was completely overlooked that the actual struggle was between the two wings of Pakistan both belonging to the same faith and India had to intervene due to various other considerations. The fact remains that the Muslims in West Bengal were made to feel ashamed over the blunders persistently committed by Pakistani administrators. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that months before the final assault I had written a series of three articles in Calcutta Urdu daily Azad Hind under the title ‘If Pakistan splits!’ I had concluded that the split of Pakistan would not be in the long-term interest of India. Today we see that Bangladesh dares to bare its fangs.

The Urdu press in Calcutta was in most unenviable position. It had little to say except displaying the reports as received from agencies. The Urdu press in Dhaka had been completely wiped out. So a substantial number of Urdu readers in that area had no source for quenching their thirst for news. Much later when the dust had subsided we came to know that Calcutta Urdu papers, mainly Azad Hind, were smuggled into what had emerged as Bangladesh. But despite all limitations and distractions the Urdu press did help its readers to keep cool in the face of all provocations and helped them regain their psychological equilibrium and stability which had been badly shaken. In the final analysis the emergence of Bangladesh proved to be a boon to the Muslims.

It is a fact of human history that man has been migrating from place to place since the days he stood up on his two legs. Today the migration to distant countries and continents continues in search of jobs, better amenities of life, even to seek refuge from persecutions at home. It is a global phenomenon. Unfortunately this natural flow of human kind was misconstrued in the case of Indian Muslims who were migrating to East or West Pakistan in the wake of the termoils after independence. It was seen as an inclination of Muslims in general towards Pakistan and hence an un-Indian, if not an anti-Indian act. No doubt many Muslims thought that they had better opportunities in Pakistan but many times more Muslims thought otherwise and preferred to stay in India where they were living. But on every occasion they were made to feel as if they were Pakistani renegade. The Bangladesh development was one such event.

However, during the same period of time several other developments were taking place. Leftist parties had a taste of governance in West Bengal. They were not so unkind to Muslims perhaps due to the fact that they were preoccupied on two other fronts; one against the Congress Party and the other against the newly emerging Naxalites. Bloody clashes and shooting spree were daily occurrences in Calcutta as well as in other urban and rural areas. The Left parties administration must be credited for appointing Muslim officers on highly responsible positions in those days. It was an opportunity for them to prove that they were as honest in their job performance and as faithful to the country as anyone could be. It was such an act of confidence building that Muslims in West Bengal were not exceptionally inconvenienced more than others during Emergency.

On the international plane, oil-producing Arab countries had demonstrated to the world what the oil wealth could do. They were tempting the job seekers from all sides. Capable Indian Muslims along with others were looking forward to getting better job opportunities. Fresh air began to blow in from this newly opened window. It was good diversion anyway.

The overall impact of these internal and external developments stabilized the mind of the Indian Muslims and they concentrated on laying sound foundations for future development. The most prominent sign in West Bengal was the emergence of a more confident Urdu press. Urdu papers bade goodbye to the Stone Age. Brought in offset printing machines to be followed by computer composing replacing the traditional calligraphy. These and other related measures helped them improve their appearance and push their circulation. Most importantly, the Urdu press started weaving multifarious patterns on political fabrics.

Akhbar-e-Mashriq, brought out by Mr Wasimul Haq in 1980, was leading this resurgence. Wasim Sahab was involved in journalism since his college days in 1950s, running after the Film Weekly and struggling with an English periodical, The Struggle, and finally hatching out Akhbar-e-Mashriq. In the matter of policy he deviated from the stereotype. It was followed by daily Iqra, an innovate paper no doubt but proved to be short lived. Azad Hind and Aabshar also joined the race for a better show. Government agencies helped them through establishing an Urdu wire service and assistance in acquiring Urdu teleprinters.

But the whole story does not end on a happy note: The editors and owners of the Urdu press are generally the same so the benefits accruing from the business of Urdu journalism are mainly going to them and the plight of other journalists who have suffered all along has not improved. It is a tragedy. It must be realized that the prosperity of the individual however big does not amount to the prosperity of the people.

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