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Sunderbans: Hindu devotees worship Muslim goddess to protect them from Tigers

The terrain is hard to live on and the native people rely on Bon Bibi to help them through the hardships

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Goddess Bonbibi
Goddess Bonbibi in Sunderbans. Image source: beingkinetic.wordpress.com
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  • Bon Bibi is the “Lady of the Forest”
  • She protects travelers and workers in the jungle
  • Bon Bibi reminds the people not to take more than they need

Bon Bibi is the “Lady of the Forest.” She is the protector of those who venture into the nature setting. The story goes that she was brought to the Netidhopani forest, which is located in the western edge of Sundarbans jungles. History says, that she hails from Saudi Arabia and her father, who was a trader, left her in the forest. It was her step-mother who requested that the child be left in the forest, and her father followed orders.

Later on, she became the protector of all who enter the forest. It makes no difference if you are Muslim, Hindu, or Christian; all who enter the forest pay their respects to Bon Bibi. Bhabotaron Paik the forest guard says, “Each time we go to the jungles we make a promise to Ma Bon Bibi: that we will not take more than we require from the forest, or else we antagonise her”.

Bon Bini statue resting in a tree in the forest. Wikimedia Images.
Bon Bini statue resting in a tree in the forest. Wikimedia Images.

According to Firstpost.com, Bon Bibi’s temple is at the entrance of the forest preserve that Paik works at. Every day, as part of his routine, he first visits the temple and pays his respects. Nearby there is a small freshwater pond that the forest department constructed for wildlife. The Bengal tigers, frequent this area that is across from a heavily fenced in office area.

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A board near the water has postings that tell the usual hours that the tigers come to drink. The pug marks and cameras located at the watch towers can track their movements. Years ago, all of these efforts were futile when Debnath Mondal, a tiger rescuer, was attacked by a tiger near to Bon Bibi’s temple, said the Firstpost.com report.

At night it is pitch black. Theater performers reenact the story of Bon Bibi, and many gather near the shrines to watch the performances. To them, it is also a way to show their respect to Bon Bibi and show the solidarity among everyone. Many keep statues of the deity in their bags, or somewhere on their person. Nityanand Roy Karmakar, a forest ranger, says “The goddess enlightens people to go back as soon as their requirement is fulfilled, that is keeping the order of the jungles.”

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The terrain is hard to live on and the native people rely on Bon Bibi to help them through the hardships. Freshwater and saltwater are constantly mixing and dry areas get washed away by large waves. This makes it difficult to draw boundaries and put up fences to divide humans and nature; forcing them to coexist. The people in the area never hesitate to thank Bon Bibi for all she does.

-prepared by Abigail Andrea, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @abby_kono

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  • Aparna Gupta

    This is an example of religious harmony despite of increasing religious tensions in our country.

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Will prohibiting Burqa result in freedom from under house arrest or religious bias?

According to Islam, it is not necessary to cover the face.

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Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election. Wikimedia Commons
Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election. Wikimedia Commons

In recent years there have been several incidents involving the Burqa. In 2009, a state college in Karnataka told a student she was not allowed to attend classes wearing a Burqa. It was later reported that the young girl reached a “compromise arrangement” with the college but did not continue in the same college. Days later, violent protests sparked in Hyderabad after a college principal allegedly told students not to wear a Burqa.

But opposite episodes have also occurred. In July 2010, a teacher at Kolkata’s Aliah University, which has a focus on Islamic studies, was not allowed to teach without a Burqa. The report followed an official notice released in April 2010, in which the university dismissed suggestions it enforced a dress code, mentioning specifically the use of the Burqa within its campus.

There is steep rise in the cases related to crime against burqa clad women. Wikimedia Commons
There is a steep rise in the cases related to crime against Burqa-clad women. Wikimedia Commons

At some point imposing a ban on Burqa will be beneficial…
Point 1:
According to Islam, it is not necessary to cover the face. Hands and face can be uncovered. So banning won’t conflict freedom of practicing religion. And it will not be against any religion.
Point 2:
There are security issues. Imagine man/women under burqa leaves a bag in a public place which later blasts. Now, what do police have? CCTV cameras, forget face they cannot determine if is it male or female due to Burqa. It is the biggest security Loophole.
Point 3:
Many Muslim women do not have a bank account because they are not allowed to cover their face in bank premises. If you didn’t know then yes you cannot cover your face with bank premises and ATM.
Point 4:
It’s easy to have multiple voters ID. Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election.
Point 5:
Crimes under Burqa are on the rise. Murder, kidnapping, robbery are been carried out using Burqa. It’s the biggest advantage for criminals.

What Noorjehan Safia says…
Noorjehan Safia Niaz, a founding member of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, a movement which works to improve the status of Muslim women in India, said security concerns have not been a major issue when it comes to dressing. “Muslim women in India comply with all the laws. They are active participants when it comes to elections and has their photos on their passports. So identification and security have never been an issue as such,” she said.
Discrimination, however, has sometimes caused problems, said Ms. Niaz. “There are cases when women are not considered for a particular job because they wear a Burqa. In such cases, women have negotiated. They do not wear Burqa while at work but before and after it they put it on.” Overall, Ms. Niaz said that women themselves – not the law – should decide what to wear. “Let each woman decide what she wants to wear. Neither can you enforce a ban on Burqa nor can you force women to wear it.”