Healing the Wounds of War between Bangladesh and Pakistan

Waiting for Peace?: Rickshaw Traffic in Dhaka. Photograph by Saleem H. Ali
Waiting for Peace?: Rickshaw Traffic in Dhaka. Photograph by Saleem H. Ali

The flight from Karachi to Dhaka spans the heartland of South Asia and gives travelers an appreciation for the complexity of Partition. So many linguistic and ethnic divides had to be traversed to formulate national identities for countries that now exist in the area. Nearly a fourth of the world’s population resides here. Identities in any geographic context are inherently synthetic and evolving, and the region that most acutely depicts such dynamism on the subcontinent is Bengal.

This is the land where the mightiest rivers of the subcontinent, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, converge to form the world’s largest delta. The fertile planes of the delta lured scores of peasants to the region over the centuries, now making it the most densely populated place on earth. In the medieval period, there were moments of Bengali imperialism, with dynasties such as the Pala and Sena gaining ascendance, but these were were largely non-expansionist in cadence. The Bengalis contributed their talents to whoever ruled them, whether Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim, with great generosity of spirit. While tenaciously guarding their language, Bengalis were, to their great credit, willing to embrace other communities and “outsiders”.

It was in Bengal that the British first established their foothold through the East India Company which later became what has been termed “the world’s first corporate raider.” Yet the resistance to British rule in its various forms also had its epicentre in Bengal. The Muslim League, which now prides itself as the vanguard of Punjabi politics in Pakistan, was also founded in Dhaka in 1906. At the same time avowedly anti-religion Marxists also find a home in Western Bengal. Such is the diversity of Bengali society. This land has also —> Read More