THE THOUSAND YEARS' WAR ON MY HOMELAND, FIELDS OF FLAMES, AND A PEOPLE UPROOTED

By : Prakhya Malyala

5 min read



I have developed a theme of intertwining Indigenous struggles with how they relate to the story of Boston. In my last two pieces, I talked about Amazighs and Kurds. This time, I want to explore how Boston inspired me to understand my own people and homeland. I moved to Massachusetts at 15; my family let me choose what school I attended to make up for the fact that I had to endure such a drastic life change as a teen. I quickly chose a school that had the most desis — a term for people “of the land,” what we use to refer to people from the Indian subcontinent. One of the first best friends I made at my new school was a Bangladeshi Hindu girl whose family came to Massachusetts holding onto the pain of the continued dispossession faced by our people back home.

Since the birth of the nation, Hindus were killed indiscriminately to make a “pure, clean nation.” An alarming figure that is being widely circulated in conversation about the crisis of Bangladeshi Hindus is that in two decades there will be no Hindus left in Bangladesh, despite them being the land’s original inhabitants. The 1971 genocide in Bangladesh primarily targeted Hindus and was one of the largest genocides in human history (the largest ever in South Asia), massacring every 1 in 5 Hindus of the state. This is the genocide that gave birth to the state of Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, Hindu neighborhoods are routinely set on fire by political leaders, Hindus have been brutally murdered by civilians and people in power, women are victims of sexual violence and forced conversion, and many Hindu businesses, temples, and spaces have been desecrated or completely destroyed. Gang-raping women and children is a regular feature of such attacks. Hindus in Bangladesh can legally have ancestral land taken from them via something historically called the “Enemy Property Act.” “Through a combination of mass exodus and genocide in the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities by the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War, this represents a loss of around 20 million Bangladeshi Hindus and their direct heirs, and reflects one of the largest displacements of population based on ethnic or religious identity in recent history.” [Lintner, Bertil (1 April 2015), Great Game East: India, China, and the Struggle for Asia's Most Volatile Frontier, Yale University Press, pp. 152–154, ISBN 978-0-300-21332-4].

Hinduism in Bengal represents a rich history of folkloric mysticisms and love and care for the land of Bengal. Hinduism transgresses boundaries between gender and body, with many deities taking both feminine and masculine energies. There is no tree, mountain, stream, flower that is not tucked into the crevices of Bengali Hindu poetry and song. Bangladeshi Hindus have their own unique dialects and accents, family stories, weaving patterns, local Goddesses, and heirloom saris. Their only option in the face of right-wing majoritarianism, fascism, and supremacy is to leave a country not made for them. The irony runs deep as Bangladeshi Hindus practice Indigenous land-based traditions and rituals that are taken from the earliest peoples of the land.

Over the years, I began working with Bangladeshi Hindu refugees. I heard harrowing stories of a woman retelling how her cousin was hacked to death in his bed next to his lover, with their child in the room. Utilizing demographic tools, Professor Sachi Dastidar of the State University of New York calculates that over a 55-year period from 1947 to 2001, over 49 million Hindus are missing today from Bangladesh. No right of return currently exists for Bangladeshi Hindus, despite their being the largest displaced population in recent human history. Their land and sacred sites have never been rebuilt.

Learning about the plight of Bangladeshi Hindus is deeply connected to my upbringing and what I would learn for years to come as I became close friends with Shi’as, Ahmadis, Sindhis, Baluchis, Afghans, Sikhs, and Hindus oppressed by the Pakistani settler colonial entity. I also learned about caste oppression in India. Through this, I could see patterns of policing, ghettoization, surveillance, stolen land and infringement of land-based practices, discriminatory employment and housing policies, incarceration, etc. I continued to broaden my understanding of issues in the Indian subcontinent, which made me want to form more connections to similar issues around the world, energized by my love of preserving Indigenous cultures and folkways.

— Prakhya Malyala