Have you read the comments on actor Chanchal Chowdury's Mother's Day photo posted on Facebook?
If not, let me tell you, it was a gracious photo of Chanchal and his mother smiling – a beautiful mother-son moment. What do we expect after posting a picture like this? It is a tribute to our mothers on a special day. So, we hope our friends and followers would wish us well.
But skim through Chanchal's comment thread, and you will find a Hindu-Muslim identity war brewing there.
Looking at her mother on vermillion, some were 'astonished' that their favourite actor was Hindu, some asked him to convert to Islam, while others did not hesitate to call him names.
If you are surprised to see such communal hatred among a quarter of our people, these scathing attacks are not the first of their kind. Thanks to social media, the ugly side of our society is now often exposed here and there.
Besides frequent vandalism of Hindu properties and temples, we often see on social media how people of other faiths, including Hindus, Ahmadiyya Muslims, non-believers etc. are targeted and dehumanised by a group of fanatics.
You are a celebrity, Shakib Al Hasan, for example, and your wife doesn't cover her head; these fanatics will prey on you. Remember what happened when Shakib joined the inauguration program of Kali Puja in Kolkata? Based on rumours that he inaugurated the Kali Puja, Shakib faced a death threat in Bangladesh.
Have you seen cricketer Mustafizur Rahman's recent photo with his wife and Shakib that he posted while returning from the IPL?
Visit Mustafizur's comment box, you will see people taking Shakib to task for not making his wife cover her head like Mustafizur's wife covered. This crowd pokes their eager noses almost anywhere and everywhere, as they please.
Or do you remember, long back, how they attacked Liton Das for posting Puja greetings on Facebook? These people telling him that Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country and uploading Puja photos is an offence, should remind you of Amartya Sen's Identity and Violence book's "solitarist" approach theory, which sees human beings as members of exactly one group.
Carefully read how these hateful comments are written; you will see that many of these people cannot actually articulate their thoughts properly. Some of this communal hatred and intolerance is clearly driven by a lack of understanding. So it is clear we as a society are not doing enough to spread tolerance and awareness among all sections of our people.
The lack or absence of efforts to create awareness, tolerance, and a sense of respect for individual choices among these people is seriously alarming.
Politicians and the religious leaders in the country could take initiatives to educate people and followers of their respective faiths and ideologies on the values of tolerance. But we have so far hardly seen them come out in creating awareness and tolerance. Even though, sadly, instances are abundant of these leaders sometimes playing a role in inciting the mob.
However, despite the gloom and despair, I find a piece of Bangladesh inside the comment box of Chanchal Chowdhury that gives rise to hope.
So far, around ten thousand people have commented on the photo. And most of the commentators are not hatemongers. The majority of them actually bashed the hatemongers, protesting with the strongest of words.
Chanchal Chowdhury himself did not get cornered in despair. He came out bold, advised them not to worry about his religion, and become a human instead.
This standing up for the right cause is a strength of this society that has played its role in protecting Bangladesh from any serious communal conflict in modern times – unlike our neighbouring countries.
But at a complicated geopolitical juncture in the history of this region – when neighbouring countries like Myanmar is on the verge of civil war, and identity politics is ravaging India on the question of citizenship – it is in our national interest that the government do everything to silence any agency that creates communal feud in Bangladesh.
As a secular country and an inclusive society, Bangladesh cannot tolerate what Amartya Sen described as "civilisational or religious partitioning of the world population" that yields "a 'solitarist' approach to human identity." This approach paves the way for misunderstanding nearly everyone in the world (Identity & Violence).
"The increasing tendency towards seeing people in terms of one dominant 'identity' ('this is your duty as an American', 'you must commit these acts as a Muslim', or 'as a Chinese you should give priority to this national engagement') is not only an imposition of an external and arbitrary priority, but also the denial of an important liberty of a person who can decide on their respective loyalties to different groups (to all of which he or she belongs)," writes Amartya Sen in the The Idea of Justice.