When ‘othering’ leads to discrimination and death

When ‘othering’ leads to discrimination and death
Law enforcement at a puja mandap in Cumilla after incidents of violence took place.
19/10/2021, by , in Home Page Articles

This story first appeared in Prothomalo

When our leaders, whether in the government or the opposition, try to reassure members of the Hindu community, saying “you are one of us,” this is a blatant example of ‘othering’. They have drawn the ‘self/other’ divide. This in itself is a demeaning form of discrimination. No laws, no police action, no amount of compensation can remove this ‘otherness’ deep-rooted in the social-psyche. It calls for a cleansing of the mindset, a re-evaluation of values, it calls for sensitisation, for education in the true sense of the word, it calls for a human to be human.

‘Othering’ is a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are labelled as being ‘different’ , not fitting in with the norms of the majority. Othering can be based on age, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, skin colour, political affiliation, culture, etc.
Will we ever know who stirred this hornet’s nest of hatred? Maybe, maybe not. Like many other incidents that take place, this too may be swept under the rug, with the next sensational news grabbing the headlines – another Porimoni or any other fiasco to feed our fickle minds

The despicable incidents that have taken place over the last week or so in Bangladesh during Durga Puja and beyond, are damnable consequences of this alienation. Yes, the arson, destruction and consequent deaths may have been the result of certain twisted machinations, may have been pre-planned ploys aimed at disrupting the country’s overall peace and stability. Yes, it could have been instigated with the elections ahead or may have nothing to do with the elections at all. Conspiracy theories abound – who hasn’t been dragged into the picture by the layman’s conjectures – India, China, Pakistan, Awami League, BNP, Jamaat, America… the usual “suspects”. Laymen aside, players or the political blame game are having a heyday.

The authorities have not unearthed the culprits behind the dastardly deeds. Will we ever know who stirred this hornet’s nest of hatred? Maybe, maybe not. Like many other incidents that take place, this too may be swept under the rug, with the next sensational news grabbing the headlines – another Porimoni or any other fiasco to feed our fickle minds. If an honest investigation is carried out, the truth behind the incidents will emerge, no doubt. But then there is that crucial ‘if’.
We are supposed to be civilised, we claim that our civilisation was flourishing while the people in Europe still lived in caves. What has made us regress to the medieval era of burning witches at the stake?

The bottom line, however, is that such attacks would never have happened, such a twist of incidents could never have been manipulated, if embers of communal bias and bigotry were not already simmering in the mind. Unless the propensity to ‘other’ persons of faith different from the majority was entrenched intentionally or unintentionally in the psyche, this could never have happened. Would I set fire to my brother’s house even if I was paid to do so? Would I attack my sister if someone told me she had been back biting about me? I may confront her, I may argue, I may get to the bottom of the misunderstanding, but certainly not lash out so violently in malice. We are supposed to be civilised, we claim that our civilisation was flourishing while the people in Europe still lived in caves. What has made us regress to the medieval era of burning witches at the stake?

There has been an assiduous indoctrination of the ‘us-them’ perception. A recent columnist in Prothom Alo reminded us of an astute observation by the eminent academic and activist Professor Anisuzzaman. Anisuzzaman had said that during the Pakistan rule, the state had been communal, but the society non- communal. In Bangladesh, he said, both the society and the state had become communal.
We are all people, human beings, men, women, Bengalis, Chakma, Muslims, Hindus, Christian, Buddhist, children, adults, black, white, tall, short, rich, poor … a virtual melting pot of differences. Or more like a pizza – all together on the same crust, but with the beauty of our individualities intact

Think of the Nazis. Hitler believed in the supremacy of the Aryan race. Think of the black George Floyd who was killed by the brutality of white policeman in Minneapolis, USA. Think of the Rohingyas being beaten, raped and killed in their own land, their homes be razed to the ground in attacks and arson. There are innumerable other such examples around the world. The common factor is that these victims have all been the “others”, the “minority”.

There have recently been demands for a ministry of minority affairs to look after the interests of the minority communities in the country. That makes sense, and yet it is sad. Why should there be a “majority” and a “minority”? We are all people, human beings, men, women, Bengalis, Chakma, Muslims, Hindus, Christian, Buddhist, children, adults, black, white, tall, short, rich, poor … a virtual melting pot of differences. Or more like a pizza – all together on the same crust, but with the beauty of our individualities intact. At the end of the day, we are all humans.

So let’s say ‘NO’ to othering. Whether it is based on religion, gender, economic status, intellect, ethnicity or whatever, let our differences be complementary, not conflicting. When rain falls from above, it cools the bodies of the Hindu and the Muslim alike. When the fields yield crops in abundance, it feeds men and women alike. The rivers flow for all, the waves of the sea lap against the shores of our land, just as they hit the beaches at Brighton or Bermuda. The air we breathe is free for all. We fight in the name of our Creator, yet our Creator knows no discrimination. Nature’s bounty knows no bounds. Let us break away from the shackles of narrow indoctrination. Let us no longer be puppets in the hands of forces who will use us and discard us like soiled rags. Let us live and let live.

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About Ayesha Kabir