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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 31 New Delhi July 23, 2016

Death Be Not Proud

Tuesday 26 July 2016, by Kuldip Nayar

As the memory of the massacre at Dhaka recedes, examples of bravery are coming to the fore. One of them is that of Faraaz Hossain. He was on a vacation at Dhaka from his college in the US where he was pursuing higher studies. He spent less time at home but used the opportunity to meet his friends from foreign climes at Gulshan’s famous Spanish restaurant, the Holey Artisan Bakery.

When ISIS terrorists struck, Faraaz was having food with his friends at the restaurant. The ISIS killers were singling out and separating Bangladeshis from the others before using their weapons. They came to the table where Faraaz was sitting. Then they asked him whether he was a Bangladeshi and, when he said yes, they pushed him aside before asking others about their nationalities.

When all except Faraaz said that they were non-Bangladeshis, they opened fire from the only gun they had among them. Faraaz protested and told them that he was a part of his friends’ group and would not like to be treated separately. The terrorists then told him that he too would be killed if he did not want to stand aside. Faraaz preferred to stand with and by his foreign friends. And he knew that the price he would pay could be his possible death. The terrorists showed no mercy and killed all of them.

Today when the massacre at Dhaka is recalled, people talk about the courage of Faraaz. Probably, this is the only compensation for his parents and grandparents whom I know well. In fact, I have had dinner at their house at Dhaka. They lead a simple and austere life.

I met Faraaz at his grandparents’ house. I recall exchanging notes with him about America where I had gone to the North Western University to earn an MSC in journalism. He was raw in his attitude but steadfast in his views, even though he belonged to a very wealthy family. There were no airs about him. He was curious to know about India, which he said he would visit at leisure. He was impressed by our composite culture, something which he wanted Bangladesh to cherish because it too had a large number of Hindus, nearly 12 million, making Bangladesh the third largest Hindu state in the world after India and Nepal.

I have tried to pick up every detail about the killings. There is no doubt that Faraaz sacrificed his life for his foreign friends who were the real targets of the terrorists. This does not make amends for the brutal killing, but it does tell a saga of unbelievable bravery. True, he is mentioned with great respect in every Bangla-deshi home and cited as an example of courage, but distraught parents and grandparents can never be consoled. A promising child has been lost from their family.

Such examples of self-sacrifice are by no means unique in the East. They are typical of the value-systems in the East that do not weigh individuals on the scale of wealth as is the case in the West. Mahatma Gandhi is an example. He preferred to be called a naked faqir, as he was characterised by the West, rather than be known for either wealth or erudition even though he had access to both.

The West cannot understand or appreciate the non-violent movement of Gandhi. Hundreds of volunteers went to the sea at Dandi to break the law by making salt and they suffered police lathi charges but never hit back because of the ideals of their movement.

Faraaz may not have been a Gandhi follower but he did represent his spirit and discipline. In India, wherever Faraaz’s name has been mentioned, people bring in Gandhi’s name. Had Gandhi been living today, I have no doubt that he would have travelled to terror-stricken Dhaka, just as he went to Noakhali after the fierce riots between Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta. And he would have lauded a person like Faraaz who really upheld noble ideals, and represented the values of decency and self-sacrifice.

Just as statues of Bhagat Singh have been erected all over India, Faraaz‘s statues should come up everywhere and he should also be remembered in the entire subcontinent; and I am confident that people would name their sons after him, not only in Bangladesh but also in India and elsewhere in this region.

At least school textbooks should have a chapter on him, not for the purpose of accelerating the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity, but for making the youth feel proud about Faraaz. They should be able to tell the elders that a person like Faraaz has given an example of the true spirit of the youth, as well as a demonstration of the East’s culture and its value-system.

I wonder how his non-Bangladeshi friends are recalling his memory. They should propagate the example of Faraaz in their own countries so that people of different religions and races feel proud of how an ordinary young man stood by his companions when he could have easily escaped from death.

This has nothing to do with a particular religion to which you belong, but represents the core of every religion: faith in the people to rise above parochial considerations and think of humanity as a whole. Unfortunately India, instead of rising above petty parochial appeals and serving as an example to the world, has become a prey to the propaganda of the fanatic fringe.

Since the advent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime, the fringe party is trying to represent the whole. Taslima Nasrin, who was ousted from Bangladesh for having written the story of oppression of women, has asked the followers of Islam to introspect and find out how they have strayed from the real content of the religion. Faraaz would have approved such an approach.

Come to think of it, this is the only approach that is cogent, logical and human. The fanatic fringe among Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians should be made to realise that India is a tolerant country and those who are trying to disturb the equation among the communities are disfiguring India and all that it stands for.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com