Priyanka Mukherjee
Of Practiced Amnesia and Kaalchaar
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of


Wait a second. You philistines, are you pointing your fingers at our blessed lot? I mean how could you? We did dress up in our crisply pressed khaddar kurtas and visit Bangla Academy yesterday evening. And had it been a Sunday, we would have organized a picnic too. But then these bloody corporates, these imbecilic crony capitalists, what would they know about kaalchaar? Had to slog on the Bhasha Dibosh too.  

Well, you can’t deny that almost each one of us tweeted those two oft quoted lines by Abdul Gaffar Choudhury despite all the hurry burry. Such potent words! Aamar bhai’r rokte rangano 21-e February / Aami ki bhulite pari?

Now, that we can’t recall the rest of the poem is fine, I say. Don’t nitpick just for the heck of it. You won’t get it. The essence is encapsulated in these two lines and whether we remember the rest or not is immaterial. I tell you, when it comes to sahityo, none can beat us! We have our way with words. We can weave them together to create a concoction, as potent as pot from Khalasitola. All in a jiffy. Kobita runs through our arteries. Each one of us is a poet or that’s how we see it at least and we’ve never bothered about your opinion.

Hello! Excuse me! We do know the basic premise of Bhasha Dibosh. But then amnesia has always come handy. We have often chosen to swim in the pool of oblivion because the pelagic depth of remembrance scares us. Now what if we get drowned? We would rather cling to our safety boat of the Liberal identity that comforts us with the illusion of security and respectability. Yes. Even if it is at the cost of obliterating the names of some of our heroes from the pages of history, we don’t care.

All the more so, if acknowledging someone’s contributions stands the risk of jeopardizing our much cherished image of being tolerant, secular intellectuals. Venerable figures such as Dhirendranath Datta might be our casualty, but we can’t help it.

Shri Datta hailed from the Comilla district of erstwhile East Pakistan and was the first to advocate that Bangla must be made a national language of the country given the vast majority of Bangla speakers in East Pakistan. On 25th February, 1948, Dhirendranath was the first to propose an amendment to include Bangla as a language for debate in the Pakistan National Assembly, the reason being that 55% of the East Pakistanis were Bengalis. The Parliament rejected his proposal, but it was this idea, germinated by the Datta that would be later nurtured by Bongobondhu Seikh Mujibur Rehman leading on to the birth of Bangladesh.

But while Rehman has been identified as the father of Bangladesh, Dhirendranath’s contribution has been deliberately forgotten. Shri Datta, a Hindu who championed the cause of Bangla in East Pakistan was hounded by the army of the Islamic Republic. In 1971, Dhirendranath, then 87, was arrested by the Pakistani Army since he was guilty of being a Hindu. He and his son, Dilip Datta were most brutally murdered and their remains went missing. No one was ever prosecuted for this heinous crime.

Even after the formation of free Bangladesh, no initiative was ever taken to preserve his memories. Instead his home and homestead were confiscated under the Enemy Property Act. History was distorted and his undeniable contribution towards the formation of the country was erased. He was instead identified as an enemy figure solely because of being a Hindu. Dhirendranath’s granddaughter, Ms. Aroma Datta tried probing into the history of injustice meted out towards the Hindus in Bangladesh. In 2000, she published a book titled An Enquiry into the Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act. Ms. Datta could sense the threats of her imminent arrest and had to bring a court injunction on 24th December, 2002 to prevent that.

While Dhirendranath’s role in the birth of Bangladesh isn’t acknowledged by that country, we, the Bengalis of India – the patronizing neighbours, have also chosen to keep our eyes shut as any show of resentment would violate the ‘secular ethos’ and endanger our Liberal facade. You see, it’s not that we aren’t aware, but then why bother when a complacent silence serves our purpose better?