Language is the most important and principal method of communication between humans and only language sets us apart from other animals. Yes, animals do communicate by making noises, by the sign language or by body language. But we, the Homo sapiens, had taken the method of communication to a higher level by inventing language comprising letters, words, punctuation etc in structured forms to convey our feelings by oral and written methods.
Thus, language confers us our mode of expression, our identity, our existential experience. We inherit it from our mothers, almost through umbilical cord – like blood, like nutrition. We develop our tongue like our mothers’ and that is why it is called the mother tongue and the language is called the mother language.
So, when language is challenged, the very identity is challenged. That is what happened immediately after the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The Two Nation Theory (TNT) propounded by Allama Iqbal in 1930 and supported by Mohammad Ali Jinnah to fork out a separate Muslim State called Pakistan in India was the beginning of Political Islam in India. The low-level sectarianism that had existed in India for centuries had been uplifted to communalism and patriotism by the support of the opportunistic Muslim and Hindu politicians.
The Indian subcontinent had been divided into India and Muslim Pakistan in August 1947. The province of East Pakistan comprising 55% of the whole country’s population was totally Bengali speaking, whereas West Pakistan having 45% population had Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi as well as Urdu speaking people; with Urdu spoken by about 7% population.
The fault line between the two provinces appeared in less than a year after partition when Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared in a speech on 21st March 1948 at the Race Course in Dhaka that Urdu would be the only national language of this nation. It was an injustice of monumental scale. It was an attempt to rob the mother language of 55% of the people and impose Urdu in the name of Islam.
The students from university level downwards felt betrayed and humiliated. Only a few months ago they spearheaded the creation of the Muslim State on the assumption that two provinces would be self-governing with their own culture, own language. Even Sheikh Mujibur Rahman went to Guwahati, Assam in 1946 with more than 500 students from Calcutta to campaign in the plebiscite in Assam for Pakistan. Now they were at the brink of losing their language, their identity!
The students’ movement started to grow; low level local protests merged into sub-district and district levels. From 1948 to 1952 students’ grievances and anger were palpable and at the boiling point. They felt that they had been made to jump, at the urging of the politicians, religious leaders and above all their parents, from frying pan to fire!
The students took a decision to observe the Language Movement Day on 21 February, 1952 throughout the whole province and Dhaka University students took the lead. The government declared Section 144 of the Penal Code in Dhaka and banned all assemblies of more than five people. But schools, colleges and universities were left open and so assemblies of five or more people were inevitable. The government of Pakistan wanted to teach a brutal lesson to the arrogant and disobedient students and thereby to the people of the province!
The students started gathering at the Dhaka University Arts Faculty campus in the morning of 21st February. They wanted to express their demand that Bengali should be one of the national languages of the country. Slowly and cautiously, they emerged through the main gate of the campus and turned left towards the Dhaka Medical College. They had no weapon of any sort and had only placards. Hardly the front the demonstration moved 100 meters or so, the waiting police at the edge of the campus opened fire on the students. Five students died almost instantly with blood spilling over the street and more than 17 students were seriously injured. In less than five years of creation of Pakistan, the students had to pay with their own blood for the sins of their forefathers (and their sins too) for opting for a Muslim State!
A day later the university students along with medical college students started building a monument in memory of their fallen students at the side of the road, which was only a stone’s throw away from the campus, and it was completed on 23rd Feb. The police came and with all their brutality desecrated the memory and demolished the monument. It was an insult to the memory of martyred students and an all-out onslaught on the people of East Pakistan. However, a few days later, on 26 February, 1952 the editor of local Bengali newspaper, Daily Azad, inaugurated a new monument within the compound of the Medical College and it had been named as the Shaheed Minar – the Martyrs’ Monument.
The government of Pakistan eventually accepted Bengali as one of the national languages of Pakistan, when the National Assembly adopted it on 7th May 1954. In Pakistan’s first Constitution in 1956, Bengali and Urdu were given the status of national languages under Article 214.
But what led to the bloodshed of students on the street of Dhaka could not be swept away any more. The constant denigration of Bengali culture and language by the Pakistani government, economic subjugation, employment disparity etc added fuel to the fire of language movement. On 26th March 1971, Pakistani military junta launched an unprovoked attack with full military force on civilians and the Dhaka university students and teachers to teach another lesson. The hitherto tenuous link of Muslim fraternity between the East and West had then broken down completely and after nine months of brutal war, Pakistan surrendered and Bangladesh achieved liberation on the 16th of December 1971.
Thus, Bangladesh became the first and only country in the world that fought for and gained freedom to preserve the mother language. In recognition of the unique sacrifice that the Bangladeshis made to establish Bengali as the national language, UNESCO had assigned 21st February as the International Mother Language Day. This day is celebrated throughout the whole world, wherever Bengalis are. The Bengali language is the 5th largest language in the world and is spoken by nearly 275 million people – Bangladesh (162 million), West Bengal (100 million) in India and the diaspora of Bengalis in the world (13 million). The top five languages are: 1. Mandarin Chinese (1051 million); 2. English (510 million); 3. Hindi (490 million); 4. Spanish (420 million) and 5. Bengali 275 million. Bengali is also one the culturally richest languages in the world, enriched by Rabindranath Tagore (Nobel Laureate in Literature in 1912), Nazrul Islam, DL Roy, Atul Prasad, Bankim Chandra and many more.
Religious scholars and even some philosophers lay claims that religion and morality are intricately intertwined; without morality religion would be baseless and without religion morality would be without foundation. The main purpose of religion is to impart moral values to mankind. When religion instils morality, humanity sees the true value of life, unbridled beauty of life and the majestic creation; without morality humans would lead a life in depravity.
All these high-sounding, mouthful preaching of the religious scholars may appear to have deep inner meaning; but one must appreciate that religion has no unique claim on morality. In fact, most of the religions embody in practice just the reverse – sectarian, antagonistic and insular codes for the followers of a particular religion. These basic traits of a religion are against the very grains of morality. To appreciate the inner discord between religion and morality, let us look at the meaning and essence of morality.
Morality fundamentally embodies the ‘corporate rule’ – the rule embracing cooperation among the people of the community, the society, the country and beyond. The corporate rule that brings benefits to all in a cooperative way – for all, not for just the few – is a moral imperative. In the terminology of the game theory, it can be stated that morality inherently offers more than zero sum. If an attribute brings benefit to some people at the cost of others, then that attribute may be called zero sum issue and that has no moral underpinning. For example, when government taxes the rich to help the poor, that may be considered a good political decision, but not a moral issue. On the other hand, if an attribute brings benefit to everybody, equally or proportionately, without harming any particular section, that can be viewed as a moral decision. For example, giving free education to all within a country or free medical care at the point of need may be considered moral undertaking. Morality brings benefit to everybody and hence it is viewed as offering more than zero sum.
Morality maybe considered to have seven basic strands and these are: Family, Group, Reciprocity, Heroism, Deference, Fairness and Property. Human beings being social animals tend to live together in the family and the inherent desire of fair, equitable and cooperative distribution of benefits drawn collectively among the small bubble of Family members constitutes the first strand of morality. The morality of the Group is an extension of that of Family issue. What can be shared and sacrificed within the wider circle of the group, beyond the family, is the Group morality. The morality of Reciprocity is that if one person helps another person at the time of need, it is a moral imperative on the recipient to reciprocate the initial help at the right occasion. It helps both the initial giver and the recipient when it is needed most. Heroism is that strand of morality when one carries out a task to help others even at the risk to himself. The morality of Heroism is not to earn the plaudit of heroism, but an impartial attempt to help others. An example of it can be given as, recently when a Chinese man fell into a river in Shanghai and was struggling to save his life, a British diplomat (aged well over 60) instinctively jumped into the river and pulled the man to the shore and saved his life. This is the morality of Heroism – without any expectation for any reward or plaudit – pure desire to help others in need. Deference implies submission or yielding to judgement of recognised superiors or higher officials and thereby maintain harmonious relationship in the society. This is an important part of morality by maintaining corporate culture. Fairness comes as an essential element of morality as without it the whole corporate rule would breakdown to chaos. What is right, what is true, what is wrong etc should be established with Fairness as part of morality. And finally, Property offers the morality of maintaining one’s right to own and maintain property and possession. As a proverb says, An Englishman’s home is his castle. It is morally right that he should be allowed to live in his own home in a safe and dignified way and that is part of morality.
All of these strands, singly or collectively, offer the spirit and essence of morality. Morality is not only ethically justifiable but also beneficial from evolutionary point of view. Individual genes may exhibit selfish behaviour, but when it comes to the welfare of the whole survival machine (the whole body), morality encompassing corporate rule plays a dominant role. A moral society encourages a code of conduct where all the people may live comfortably, equitably and in dignified ways.
Now the big question is what role does religion play in maintaining morality or corporate rule? To answer this question, one has to trace back what role religion plays traditionally. The basic premise is that a religion inherently wants to establish its superiority and supremacy over other religions – as religions are competing against one another. This very basic competitive strand goes against the grain of morality of corporate rule. One religion does not accept or tolerate another religion’s theological stand and that is evident by their mutual antagonism and centuries of fighting. So, there cannot be a universal morality applicable to the whole society comprising various religions. The morality of cooperation, reciprocity, fairness, property etc may be applicable to people within a particular religion, but they may not be extended to people of other religions.
So, in a theocratic state having people of many religious affiliations cannot get morally justifiable rule. Morality becomes subservient to theocracy or may even be abandoned in favour of theocratic dogma, as in many Islamic states and even in India at the moment. The claims by the religious scholars and leaders that religion is the custodian of morality and without religion morality would disappear are absurdly ludicrous and without any basis. Religion is detrimental to morality, as religion is sectarian whereas morality requires corporate rule. Therefore, one can say religion is amoral, not immoral.
Almost all philosophers, psychologists, evolutionary biologists, writers, thinkers, scientists and so forth have expressed views that morality is not a good bedfellow to religion, in fact just the opposite. Their dislike to associate religion with morality had been expressed in many different ways and one particular area where their abhorrence was expressed firmly against religions when assessed against the perceived punishment and reward as depicted in religious books.
The British philosopher and polymath, Bertrand Russell, Nobel Laureate in literature in 1950, expressed his revulsion against religion when he said, “Religion is based mainly upon fear, fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand.”
Albert Einstein, Nobel Laureate in Physics in 1921, said, “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.
Christopher Hitchens, a British intellectual, said, “Human decency is not derived from religion; it precedes it.”
Thus, religion and morality do not go hand in hand in the modern society. The Secularism within the Constitution may provide the rightful place for morality overriding communalism and sectarianism of various religions.
The ubiquity of the word “secularism” (it is mentioned in more than 75 of the world’s Constitutions as an ideal the State promotes, or an organising principle that it affirms), and the passionate discussions it generates throughout the world, sometimes distracts us from the fact that its origins are relatively recent.
It was only after the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries; after the bloody inter-denominational conflicts in Europe, or the clashes between ecclesiastical and temporal authorities, which eventually led to the sovereignty of the State (occurring between the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and the Congress of Vienna in 1815); after Jefferson’s famous “wall of separation between Church and State”, and Voltaire’s “privatisation of religion” found a welcoming environment in the American and French revolutions in the late 18th century, did the idea of secularism become well entrenched in European literary and political consciousness. The English writer George Holyoake was the first to use it in a systematic manner only in 1851. It was during the French Third Republic (1870-1940) that it was declared to be the “defining ideology of the State”.
Not only is it a relatively new concept, it was also delimited by geography. It was essentially a European phenomenon, both in terms of the intellectual tradition that generated it, and the military conflicts that necessitated it. Hence for the rest of the world, which did not share that reality, it was a foreign concept where its relevance was dimly understood, its meaning fuzzy, its embrace clumsy.
It may be argued that the idea of “democracy” is similarly alien. But democracy was easier to explain, it animated the anti-colonial struggles, and it was reflected in some concrete practices and institutions that were identifiable and populist. Secularism was not. But, more importantly, while democracy did not challenge deeply held commitments and values, secularism problematised the core of their belief systems, and sometimes even their identity. It should be pointed out, as Karen Armstrong has done, that the notion of “religion” understood in the West, is subtly but substantially different from what the Arabic word “deen” or the South Asian word “dharma” connotes.
It was expected that the road to secularism would be rocky in South Asia, perhaps more so in Bangladesh. There were pre-existing tensions between Hindus and Muslims (mitigated to some extent by Sufi teachings, some syncretistic cultural practices, and the moral economy of the peasantry) which were aggravated by the Permanent Settlement Act of 1793 that conflated class and religion and sharpened earlier divisions. There were the machinations, and sometimes the confusions, of the British. There was the emergence of a middle class in both communities (a little later, and weaker, for the Muslims) which led to a competition for political power and economic favour from the British, and provoked the self-conscious exploitation of religion, the creation of the dreadful “other”, and the divergence of the faith communities. And finally, there was the Partition of India in 1947 which appeared to confirm the primacy of faith as the very basis of personal and national identity.
Nonetheless, its journey in independent Bangladesh began in some optimism and apparent clarity. The constitution of 1972 unambiguously accepted secularism as one of the four foundational pillars of the State. This was entirely expected. This followed the logic of linguistic/cultural nationalism that had challenged the earlier Pakistani formulation, as well as the defeat of the Pakistani military which had pursued an overtly religious agenda. They lost. While the other pillars, such as democracy and socialism, were going to entail further negotiations and struggles, this issue, it was felt, had been settled. That confidence was seemingly misplaced.
Secularism was not killed with Bangabandhu’s brutal assassination in 1975, but it was dealt a crippling blow. The subsequent leadership did not pursue this ideal with the courage, commitment or the charismatic authority that he had represented. Religious groups and leaders, who had remained defensive and tentative initially, were allowed and, at times invited, into the political arena, gradually began to assert their presence, eventually emerged as critical players in bargaining-based and alliance- oriented “democratic” arrangements, and steadily pushed back against earlier secular guarantees. Even its location in the constitution became far less settled than had been originally assumed.
In fact, the 5th amendment (1979) removed secularism from the constitution, and the Divine invocation (Bismillah-Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim) was inserted at the beginning. By the 8th amendment (1988), Islam was declared the “State religion”. In 2005, the Supreme Court invalidated the 5th amendment (not on the religious question per se, but on the unconstitutionality of the Martial Law that had been promulgated and hence all laws, acts and amendments passed at the time were deemed to have been automatically nullified). In 2011, Part II, Article 8 of the 15th amendment restored secularism as a fundamental principle of State policy, and Article 12, Part II specifically indicated the elimination of communalism, the non-privileging of any religion, or any discrimination based on faith. However, in Article 2A, Part I, Islam was retained as the State religion, and the invocation remained unchanged. Thus, the constitutional position of secularism became a bit murky.
The increasing influence of the religionists was reflected in other areas as well. First, in education, Prof Abul Barkat reported that between 1970 and 2008, the number of alia madrasas increased from 2,721 to 14,152, and the number of qawmi madrasas went up correspondingly. By 2015, the government indicated the existence of 13,902 qawmi madrasas (though, largely because of definitional imprecisions, some estimates could be several times higher).
Moreover, in 2017, the qawmi madrasas, which had always resisted any government interference in terms of academic substance, quality or control, was able to get its Dawrah degree recognised as equivalent to an official MA degree.
These forces, spearheaded by Hefazat-i-Islam, were also able to influence the curricula of the official education system. In 2017, as many as nine chapters were quietly deleted from school textbooks (which included contributions from Lalon, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sarat Chandra, Satyen Sen, Humayun Azad and Rabindranath Tagore) and substituted them with more religious-minded pieces (from Shah Ahmad Sagir, Alaol, Golam Mostafa, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Habibullah Bahar). Similar other texts were added. Further changes were demanded and remain under consideration.
Second, such groups, and others emboldened by them, carried out various acts of repression and violence against religious minorities. Odhikar (a Human Rights based organisation), reported that between 2007 and 2019, 12 people belonging to minority faith communities were killed, 1,536 injured, seven abducted and 19 raped, while 62 pieces of land and 40 houses were grabbed, 1,013 properties and 390 temples were attacked, and 889 idols damaged or destroyed. It should be pointed out that the victims were mostly Hindus, but also included Christians, Buddhists, and Shia and Ahmadiyya adherents. Minority organisations report numbers that are understandably higher.
A large number of minorities have felt compelled to leave the country. According to the official census reports published by the government, in the 1951 census (i.e., after the early exodus forced by the Partition), Hindus were 22 percent of the population of East Pakistan. By 1961 it had come down to 18.5 percent, by 1971 to 13.5 percent, by 1991 to 10.5 percent and by 2011 to 8.5 percent. Some of this may be partly explained by economic and family factors, but it would be quite implausible to deny that the atmosphere of threat and vulnerability they faced did not contribute to this migration.
Third, these groups have also been successful in creating an intimidating environment that has caused a “chilling effect” on free speech. They have assassinated secular and atheist writers and bloggers, attacked teachers and editors, and threatened artists and performers on the pretext that their religious sentiments and sensibilities had been hurt or offended. Even the suspicion or accusation that someone had done so may lead a Hindu principal of a school to be forced to do sit-ups in front of an entire assembly of students and citizens, or a person being burned to death.
The Digital Security Act vastly expanded the arsenal of weapons available to the politically or religiously hyper-sensitive. With its sweeping generalities and lack of clarity about the meaning of “religious sentiments” or what constitutes being “hurt” or “offended”, legal harassment was added to public humiliation and physical attacks as a relatively safe and seductive tool in the service of intellectual and religious intolerance.
It must be pointed out that the most serious and worrisome challenges to our democracy do not come from wild-eyed, bomb-throwing fanatics who can attack a cultural programme celebrating the Bengali New Year’s Day and kill 10 people (April 14, 2001), cause more than 400 simultaneous explosions in 63 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh (August 17, 2005), or slaughter 28 people, including 17 foreigners in an upscale Dhaka restaurant (July 1, 2016). These are dramatic and dangerous manifestations of Jihadi militancy. But, they can be, and have been, largely contained. The much greater threat, more insidious and more far-reaching in its consequences, is the creeping advance of religionists in the country through a process that has been deliberate, organised and strategic.
It must be emphasised that there is a distinction between the concepts of being “religious” and becoming a “religionist”. The first refers to a commitment to personal piety, rigorous practice and spiritual salvation, the second indicates an interest in attaining political power, dictating government policy and dominating the public discourse. The first is perfectly compatible with secularism, can embrace modernity and scientific progress, and peacefully co-exist with other faiths and persuasions. The second is skeptical of science, judgmental about other faiths, and ready to retaliate against any questions about their own. Secularism is integral to, and a precondition for, democracy, while religionist absolutism is a threat.
This does not mean that secularism automatically ensures democracy. History is replete with examples of very secular authorities being cruelly illiberal and authoritarian. This only refers to the fact that unless there is tolerance for other ideas, respect for other faiths, acceptance of questions and criticisms, openness to science and evidence-based enquiry, trust of the will of the people (and not merely the assertions of dogmatic clerics) to make right decisions and judgments, and a strict separation between the private sphere of individual faith and the public space for civic engagement—unless these “secular” values and practices are upheld, democracy cannot be sustained.
The secularist argument, hence democracy itself, has been under considerable stress. The anxieties and uncertainties created by technology and global dislocations, the increasing inequalities everywhere, world-wide conflict particularly the instabilities in the Middle East (and the feeling that Islam is under siege), and the corruptions and inefficiencies in so many countries, have all contributed to a widespread skepticism about the West, a hostility to its traditions and examples, and a turning inward among Muslims.
Reinforcing this anti-secular backlash here has been India’s unfair and selfish pursuit of its interest (in relation to Bangladesh), and the increasing bigotry and viciousness it has displayed against Muslims. Moreover, financial patronage and Salafi indoctrination flowing in from Arab countries provided support and direction to the religionists. Finally, the stereotypical dismissal of religious people as backward, misogynist, violent, one-dimensional and unpatriotic has been arrogant, counter-productive and polarising. Instead of helping the cause of secularism and democracy, it has only strengthened its enemies.
But, more importantly, the leaders of supposedly secular parties in Bangladesh have probably been complicit in creating this Frankenstein. It is not a question of apportioning blame, as the parties are now childishly doing. Almost all parties had probably tended to this poisonous plant (perhaps some more readily than others), and helped it to flourish through compromise and accommodation.
It may be argued that compromise is part of the democratic process, and hence should be supported. But compromising what, and with whom, is relevant. This was the fatal fallacy of the (in)famous policies of “appeasement” pursued by the Allied powers in dealing with Hitler. Throughout the 1930s he consistently violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles—building his armed forces, remilitarising the Rhineland, stopping reparation payments, reuniting with Austria through the Anschluss, and finally claiming the Sudetanland (at that time a province of Czechoslovakia). The Allied Powers, desperate to “secure peace for our time” once again, gave in. Hitler not only occupied the province, but the entire country. And then he demanded Poland, and invaded it in 1939. World War II, preventable earlier, became inevitable.
“Appeasement” was destined to fail. To a bully, a compromise is a capitulation. It does not make the problem disappear, it only encourages the next demand. The religionists kept on steadily advancing their agenda (affecting the constitution, education, public policy, free speech, etc). The parties in power did not confront them. In this sense, our “Sudetanland moment” was perhaps the removal of the Lady Justice statue from the High Court premises. That crucial “victory” may have paved the way for the unimaginable and unforgiveable audacity of the religionists in defacing Bangabandhu’s sculpture in Kushtia, and demanding that none others be built.
If we care for Bangabandhu, the spirit of our Liberation War, our obligation to our own constitutional principles, and our commitment to democracy, we must be bold, decisive and resolute to protect secularism in order to consolidate democracy. A Faustian bargain with the religionists may provide political gains that are illusory and temporary, but moral losses that are substantive and permanent. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, those who forsake their constitution for the sake of power, deserve neither.
Dr. Ahrar Ahmad is Professor Emeritus at Black Hills State University, USA.
When Adit made the first telephone call to Sudha, he was bit nervous – what would happen if she became interrogative and rude to him. As it turned out, his nervousness was unfounded, she was polite and receptive. In fact, it came out that she was anticipating a call from Adit. Sudha read Adit’s articles which Selina forwarded to her and were very much impressed. She was, in fact, looking forward to meeting personally this writer by the name Adit.
Adit and Sudha narrated their background stories in great details on the telephone. Sudha told Adit her story – her sweet memory of living at the centre of cultural activities back home, her acquaintance with all the great and the good in arts and literature. Such conversations went on for days and days, hours at a time.
Sudha was gradually getting involved emotionally. She never received such attention, love and affection from anybody until then. Everybody used her generosity, her good nature, her willingness to help others, but never received any empathy, any love from anybody in return. Now she thought she got a right man with the right attitude.
But love, as usual, never flows smoothly. Whereas Sudha was madly in love and wanted even to marry Adit, Adit was not mentally prepared to get into the bondage of marriage. That made Sudha extremely upset, she pleaded on the phone, in her numerous text messages to Adit to take her into his life. Sudha even said with some sadness that all her life men came begging to her to marry, now she was begging to Adit to marry, what a change of fate! Love now made Sudha desperate. Adit asked for patience as lockdown would not allow them to get to each other. Now that the lockdown was over about three weeks ago, Sudha got impatient, almost despondent. The last text she sent to Adit about two weeks ago was the link to the Tagore song “Ami swopayne royechhe bhor” (I am drowned in my dream) and then she stopped communicating with him altogether.
Adit expressed all of these inner feelings in great details to the Police Officer. The Police Officer listened patiently and attentively to Adit’s disclosure. Occasionally the Police Officer interjected to keep the conversation going.
The flight was nearing to its destination. The overhead speaker announced that within the next few minutes the plane would start descending.
The Police Officer said, “When we land at the airport, we will go together through the immigration and customs check. After collecting our luggage as we go out of the exit, I will hand you over to the NJ Police Officer – presumably a female officer. She will take care of you after that and I will disappear.”
Adit realised that he was not free to do what he might like to do. He had inadvertently fallen into the fold of this case. The Police Officer realised Adit’s feelings.
He said, “It is for Sudha’s sake and for your convenience that the NJ State Police has taken over the case. There is no criminality involved in it.”
Accordingly, after landing at the airport, they went together to the immigration counter with the Police Officer in front of Adit. Everything went very smoothly and then they went to the luggage belt and amazingly their luggage was placed in a trolley waiting to be collected whereas no other passenger’s luggage even arrived at the terminal. They got their luggage and went out through the ‘Nothing to declare’ gate. A female Police Officer wearing NJ State Police cap was waiting outside and as soon as she saw them, she came over, had a little chat with the British Police Officer in a whisper, shook hands and then the British Officer went off.
The NJ Police Officer came over to Adit, shook her hands with him and said, “Good afternoon, sir. The Police car is waiting for you”.
Adit was somewhat surprised and scared. He asked whether she was taking him under arrest.
The Police Officer said, “Of course, not. We are only taking you to Sudha’s place quickly. Please get into the car and I will tell you the whole story as we drive to her place. It is someway off from here.”
Adit got into the police car, for the first time in his life, and, as directed, sat next to the NJ State Police Officer. She put the police siren on and started to whiz off.
“Don’t get alarmed. It is only to let us go quicker. There is some element of urgency though. Let me give you the background story on this side, as far as I know.
About 10 days ago, Sudha had a large overdose of sleeping pill, presumably to commit suicide. Luckily, the lady from the next apartment came to say hello to her, as Sudha moved in there only a few days ago. After repeated knocks the door was not opened, although the neighbour knew she was in the apartment. The neighbour then alerted the building manager, who came over and opened the door with the master key. Sudha was found unconscious but gurgling, with mouth full of saliva and food particles. Immediately she was transferred to the emergency ward in the local hospital. They worked very hard for three days to bring her consciousness and back to life. For the next four days, it was a touch and go. Now she is much better, but not yet out of the woods.
In the meantime, Police Department started to investigate the case. It could well have been a murder case or a suicide case. We got Sudha’s cell phone and recovered the whole set of conversations between Sudha and you over the last eight months in Messenger and WhatsApp services. From the texts and emails we have managed to piece together the background story. But we need your part of the story and that is why we sent you the ticket. As far as I can say, there is no untoward event or criminality we can detect; just pure unfortunate sequence of events.”
“Now, she is very weak and traumatised. You need to help us – reassure her, even if they are not true, that the love she anticipated from you, the future she dreamt with you would all be fulfilled. Oh, another thing, tomorrow morning, I will come to collect you to go to the Police Station so that you can make a full statement on the case. It is only for our own records.”
The car came to Sudha’s house. The Police Officer led Adit to an apartment and he saw a nurse wearing a white apron standing by the door. The Police Officer indicated her to take Adit inside.
It was a very nerve wreaking moment for Adit. He never saw Sudha before and after the suicide attempt, she would be very fragile physically, in a tormented mental state. She might be angry or she might be happy seeing him, he simply did not know. He went quietly in the room with the nurse. A harmonium was on the other side of the bed. A frail lady was lying o n the bed with her face turned towards the window. As he went nearer the bed, she gradually turned her head towards him. He sat on a stool beside her. Her face was full of wrinkles, the shadow of pain was still all over her face. Adit held her hand; a faint glimmer of smile came over her face.
Adit said quietly, “Sudha, how are you now? Soon you will be stronger again, then we will go back to our country together. You will have literary life again; we will have musical soirees. You will sing and we will all listen.” Her face glowed a bit, a tear of joy trickled down her cheek and she twitched her hand a bit inside Adit’s hand. Then she said very very slowly, almost in an inaudible whisper, “Please, don’t leave me, p . l . e . a . s . e.”
“But for somebody whose fate was unmistakably written in tragedy, how could one expect normal joyful life? Her husband back to his country found a niche in the writers’ corner and gradually started to prosper. That made Sudha happy endlessly and she even started sending money to him so that he could devote his whole time uninterrupted in writing. Sudha’s dream of a cultural hub, a centre of attraction of poets and writers in her house is gradually coming into reality. But, as it is said, “Man proposes, God disposes”, life started to get sour for Sudha again”, said Adit.
“What happened then?”, asked the Police Officer.
“For the first few years, things were going more or less as planned – Sudha was rearing her children in Princeton and her husband was pursuing his career back home without contributing anything to the family finance in New Jersey. Then news started percolating to Sudha that her husband was seen many times in the company of a young female news reporter. Initially Sudha refused to believe that, but the news became more and more persistent and even Sudha’s mother told her on the phone that it was not a rumour anymore and they were living together. Sudha was devastated by this betrayal of her husband. She stopped sending him money. That prompted her husband to take a retaliatory step and a few months later they got married.”
“The plot is thickening. Now the divorce would follow”, commented the Police Officer.
“Precisely. Following a flurry of letters between Sudha and her husband, it was agreed that a divorce proceeding would be initiated by Sudha and her husband would not contest, as he was the guilty party, who married someone while being married to someone else.”
“Even then it took a couple of years to settle the dispute of custody of children and financial matters, however little asset they had. By late 1980s the divorce was finally granted”, said Adit.
“So, Sudha was then free to get married.”, said the Police Officer.
“Yep, in theory. But she neither liked to get married nor did she get someone she fancied. Her husband’s utter betrayal made a huge big dent and a deep scar in her heart from which she did not recover for quite a while,” said Adit.
“So, where do you come in?” asked the Police Officer.
“I will be in the scene soon. But we will have to skip through a long period of 30 years of her life”, said Adit.
“Wasn’t she looking for a man she liked all those years?”, asked the Police Officer facetiously.
“Not really. Sudha had numerous approaches from her colleagues and even from her bosses. Incidentally, she changed her nursery job to a newspaper editorial job. The money was good and that gave her some financial stability. But she resisted approaches from males, primarily because she could not trust male folk after the betrayal of her ex-husband for whom she sacrificed so much. How could one leave his own children and his wife and go after another woman, particularly when his wife was not only looking after his children but also supporting him to fulfil his ambition?” Adit said in exasperation.
“You seem to be very much in sympathy with Sudha. But where do you exactly fit in?”, asked the Police Officer.
By that time dinner trolley came close to their seats. They unfolded their tables and got ready for the dinner. Dinner was served. The flight was nearly half way through when they finished dinner.
After the dinner, Adit continued, “My married life also came to a sudden halt. After more than 40 years of married life, my wife suddenly decided to leave me and the matrimonial home. I did not know where she went. As far as I could say, there was no third party involved. I only saw her few times at the Magistrate’s Court on divorce hearings. I had no intention of getting involved in any romantic affair whatsoever after my divorce. But I must admit that living alone in a house without any companion was not very pleasant. Apart from tackling day-to-day matters, loneliness could occasionally be over-powering. So, when Selina joined up two sides across the Atlantic together, there were no impediments for a morally acceptable friendship between me and Sudha.”
“As I said I am an investigative officer, I looked into your affairs on a request from New Jersey State Police to see if you had any role in Sudha’s present predicament”, replied the Police Officer.
“What do you mean by Sudha present predicament? Is she not alright? Are you suspecting me of some wrong doing? Is that why you are sitting next to me?” a flurry of questions blurted out of Adit.
“No, you are not a suspect nor of any wrong doing. However, you got the ticket from the NJ Police Department, who is investigating Sudha’s situation. That’s why you got the MoD allocated seat in the plane. I don’t know Sudha’s present condition, but they wanted you to be in their office to clear up few things. I will transfer you to NJ State Police official when the flight reaches JFK airport.”
“Am I under arrest?” asked Adit.
“Of course, not. It is not a criminal investigation. We are just trying to find out if there is any foul play by anybody. As far as I can see, you are on the right, so far. By the way, coming back to the question of third-party involvement in your matrimonial affair, I have to tell you that your wife left you to live with another man, who was married and his wife was away to live with her grown-up children. When his wife and their children came to know about this affair, they descended on the house immediately and he had no option but to evict your ex from the house. She then rented a house, in fact, a single bed apartment. She had to file a divorce case quickly to settle financial matters with you before the scandal broke out. She kept her address hidden from you under the pretext that you may harm her”, said the Police Officer.
Adit was totally stunned and shaken. How could that woman whom he trusted so long become so dishonest and vulgar? He even agreed to give more than the share of asset the Court wanted him to give. He wanted to let her lead a life as comfortable as it could be. Now the scandal was coming out behind her abrupt departure. Adit was shaking his head in agony.
“It seems that it was a good thing that your ex kept her address hidden from you for her safety. Otherwise, things could possibly turn nasty”, said the Police Officer.