Cover Photo: The Rally by Bengal's intelligentsia near Jorasanko Thakurbari on Thursday 15th April 2021 Bengali New Year's Day. Photo credit: Gautam Bose
THE TELEGRAPH CALCUTTA
16 April 2021
One of the slogans being often repeated by the BJP in its 8-phase election campaign in Bengal is its high-decibel promise to restore Sonar Bangla (Bengal of Gold or Bengal of the Goldren Era). It is as if a Sovereign Guarantee being given by the Government of India. Even the Union Home Minister Mr Amit Shah repeatedly harped on this during his two-part interview with Mr Aveek Sarkar of Anandabazar Digital on 12th and 13th April 2021 (published in Church Citizens' Voice).
The report below in today's Telegraph Calcutta gives the response by a section of Bengal's intelligentia to this claim of the Home Minister and his team. They said: "By Ram we mean Ram Mohan. Our Iswar is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Some people are saying that they would create a Sonar Bangla, as if there is nothing in Bengal and they will do everything for us. They sound they are going to be the protectors of Bengali Culture."
Bengal has always welcomed foreign cultures and traditions and even assimilated them in Bengali traditions. But the people of Bengal have also always resisted anything imposed on them by force, or any domination from outside. Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
Raja Ram Mohan (Roy)
Calcutta: In Bengal, the word Ram first brings to one's mind Ram Mohan (Roy) and not Lord Ram. The “Ishwar” people of Bengal are familiar with is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The Sonar Bangla that people in Bengal dream of is the Sonar Bangla that Rabindranath Tagore wrote about in the song that is now the national anthem of Bangladesh. On the first day of Bengali New Year, scores of Calcuttans assembled outside Jorasanko Thakurbari, the birth place of Rabindranath Tagore, to walk in a rally till College Street, known for its culture of debate, dissent and learning.
The choice of the start and the end points was intentional, said organisers. It was meant to harp on what is at the core of Bengal's society – a tradition of liberalism, acceptance of diversity and standing against hatred.
Students, eleders, working professionals, activists, academics and people from various other fields joined the rally.
Paushali Chakraborty who finished her biotechnology from Jadavpur University this year, was among the participants. "I thought it was more important to join this rally than spend a holiday at home because the basic values of Bengal are under threat," she said.
Paushali was very angry at the attempt to give the impression by a set of people that they were going to rescue Bengal.
"Some people are saying that they would create a Sonar Bangla, as if there is nothing in Bengal and they will do everything for us. They sound they are going to be the protectors of Bengali Culture," she said.
"One of the leaders said they would form anti-Romeo squads to protect women. This statement itself is an insult to women's struggle for years, an insult to all women who fought hard and earned their own rights. Who are they to protect the women of Bengal?"
Anshumita Sengupta,an HR Professional, had come from Nagerbazar in Dum Dum. "The day I heard about this rally, I decided to attend it. We the people of this state, have to preserve our traditions and culture", she said.
Images of the icons of Bengal – Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Rabindranath Tagore, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, Kadambini Ganguly, Pritilala Waddedar, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sukumar Ray, Sisir Bhaduri, Satyajit Ray, Satyen Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray and Uday Shankar, among others – were carried by the participants.
The British tried to cage Bengalis into a mould of clerks, but they failed. Just see the icons whose images we are carrying today. It is not possible to have everyone's picture. But among the few we are carrying are scientists, writers, thinkers, feminists, social reformers, entrepreneurs and so many", said an organiser.
"The invaders are thinking that they will be able to build the narrative of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan in Bengal. But Bengal is diverse. It has never accepted any domination. It will not accept this time too."
The rally went past a few places that have become iconic because of their association with people who represent the true spirit of Bengal. It crossed Swami Vivekanda's birthplace, and Vidyasagar College, which was founded by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
The participants were mostly in traditional Bengali attire. Organisers said Bengal's culture did not mean Bengali culture. Bengal has always welcomed foreign cultures and traditions and even imbibed them in Bengali traditions.
But the same people have always resisted anything imposed on them by force, or any domination from outside, they said.
"Look at our food, the most popular dresses. So many of these are taken from other cultures but have become a part of Bengal's culture. Bengal as a place has always accepted people speaking various languages, belonging to different religions. That is Bengal and now there is an attempt to tamper with that tradition", said Amlan Hazra, one of the organisers. "By Ram we mean Ram Mohan. Our Iswar is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar."
Participants sang Ore Halla Rajar Sena (Oh the army of Halla Raja), Banglar Mati Banglar Jol (The soil and water of Bengal) and Amar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomay Bhalobashi (My Bengal of Gold, I love you) – Tagore's song that is now the national anthem of Bangladesh.
"Who knows if the BJP is elected to power, they will say that singing Amar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomay Bhalobashi is anti-national because it the national anthem of a country that has a majority muslim population. They will ban any performance of the song. This is a real threat. To stop that from happening we have to be united," said a participant.