Abu Ishaque’s Surya-Dighal Bari: Religious Hegemony in the Context of the Famine of 1943 in Colonized Bengal

Abstract

Surya-Dighal Bari (The Ill-Omened House), published in 1955, translated into English by Bangla Academy awardee Abdus Selim, is Abu Ishaque’s first and classic novel. Ishaque is considered one the pioneers of modern Bangladeshi novelists. The background or plot of the novel is twofold. First, the time period, this is known as the famine of ‘50. In Bangla year 1350 (1943 AD), a devastating famine stroke this land just four years before the Partition of Bengal and almost five million people died of starvation. This famine was caused by some controversial policies and indifference of the British government. A heartbreaking scenario of this famine reported in “Bengal Provincial Hindu Mahasabha Relief Committee Report of Relief Works” says, ‘The streets of the “Second City of the British Empire” thronged with living skeletons, the emaciated deadbodies frequently found on the pavements of the metropolis, men and dogs fighting for a share of the garbage collected in the dustbins of Calcutta, unattended babies in the villages being dragged away by the jackals are the sights that are never to be forgotten’ (6).  Secondly, the pre and post-Partition Bengal and its impact on ordinary people. The Partition was done on the basis of Hindu-Muslim religious riot the devastating impact of which is still perforating Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. After the partition, people became more dominated by religious fundamentalism. So called Imams and other leaders started to take the opportunity of the ignorance of ordinary people to dominate them. Even in the novel, it is depicted how the ill-omened house is haunted by djinns. And to be safe from them, people have to take Tabij (amulets) or other superstitious precautions. Politicians, who used religious sentiment as their political weapon, are not the characters of this novel, yet they dominate the plot. Readers can smell gunpowder though they don’t see a single gun. The famine emerged during World War II, the country became independent in the name of religion, and politicians were benefitted in various ways. This paper tends to show how insignificant this independence is for the ordinary people. Just within five or six years of independence, Ishaque realized that nothing positive was going to happen in independent Pakistan, a religion-based state. Independence in the name of religion is of no use to the ordinary people; rather, religion becomes another weapon of domination for the ‘independent religious-political leaders’. Politicians didn’t create war for economic- social- psychological freedom of these marginalized people. They wanted to fix up their own geographical border where they would practice power freely. National and international politicians created war and took their own shares. But the inextricable strike of the rodent paw of war descends on those who don’t know the who- what- why- how of the war. They don’t even know who are fighting against whom. The people dying of starvation are innocent and their only fund is some simple- impeccable dreams. One of these dreams is to have enough food for survival. This simple dream becomes an unreality when riot begins, war haunts and famine strikes. This paper also tries to show the true condition of a newly independent East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), where the infamous famine of 1943 has already stricken. It also tries to depict the condition of so called low life marginalized people. Has the controversial Partition of Bengal really benefited either Hindus or Muslims? Has it really freed people of religious, political or economic subservience? These questions are still valid because the devastating War of Liberation of 1971 again left an almost-permanent scar in the soul of Bangladesh. The necessity of the Liberation War proves that a partition on the basis of religion can never bring good luck to a country.

Keywords: Colonialism, Famine, Hegemony, Partition, Religion.


Article Review Status: Published

Pages: 31-39 (Download PDF)

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