Here are the names of some of the lives snuffed out:
♦ Ahmed Rajib Haider (Thaba Baba )
♦ Avijit Roy
♦ Ananta Bijoy Das
♦ Washiqur Rahman
♦ Jagatjyoti Talukdar
♦ Ashraful Alam
♦ Riad Morshed Babu
♦ Aarif Rehan Deep
♦ Niladri Chattopadhyay (Niloy Neel)
Who next? We do not know. Many other bloggers have fled the country. Those who remain are awaiting the guillotine. Once the executioners are done, Bangladesh will be freed of the menace of secularism.
Bangladesh refuses to give succour to any atheist. Hasina is visibly shaken at the prospect of being branded an atheist herself if she betrays any trace of solidarity for the same. Even so, is she not an atheist? Almost everyone bears the cross of being an atheist. If you do not believe in Hinduism, you are a nonbeliever. If you have no faith in Christianity, you are a nonbeliever. If you do not repose your faith in Judaism, the Mormon faith, Jehovah’s Witness or paganism, you are an atheist.
The world has seen myriad religions. To each faith you do not follow, you are an infidel. You only choose one religion and reject thousands. More than being a believer, you choose to be a nonbeliever, an atheist over a theist. And yet, the malignant forces of blind faith do not believe in the human rights of the nonbelievers. What’s more, neither does the Bangladesh government.
The country has been riddled with holes by several inept governments at several points in its history. It is time that their Frankenstein gets back at them. And yet, as they sit in their fortified palaces, these Frankensteins run amok at the cost of innocent citizens’ lives.
The last blogger who faced a brutal end in Bangladesh used the pseudonym Niloy Neel. His real name was Niladri Chattopadhyay. The 27-year-old earned his Master’s in philosophy from Dhaka University. He was a bright and meritorious student, having passed with a first class. He wrote well, was educated and aware. Before the end came, Neel reported a threat to his life. He had written about being followed.
About two months back, Neel had written about a visit to the police to lodge a complaint about the people who were allegedly trailing him, posing a threat to his security. The police had recommended he leave the country but Neel did not have an exit plan. He was trying to find a way to stay alive in his own country. The government of Bangladesh, despite the situation, did nothing to ensure his safety. It stayed mum, hands in pockets, instead of protecting a gifted, liberal mind.
In the meanwhile, a Muslim militant troop — Ansarullah Bangla — has boastfully owned up to the killing of Niloy Neel. Earlier, it had brazenly owned up to the murders of other bloggers as well. Yet, the police claimed that there is no trace of the killers. It appears as if the police are waiting for the culprits to come forward and confess, “We had committed the murders, arrest us”.
Even that may not suffice to culminate in arrests. The ‘investigation’ will go on, as it has year after year, never to end. I shudder to think about the day when they might swoop down on our saviour goddess Hasina herself. Anybody who is attacked, bleeds the same way Neel did. Perhaps, we have been inured to the sight of blood, so it will not shock us.
All that is left in Niloy Neel’s room are his books and blood. If you are one of those perspicacious well-read types, who believes in freedom of thought, point fingers at religious biases and superstitions, questions them, then your blood will be shed similarly. Therefore, to survive in Bangladesh, you must be foolish. Too much intelligence will not do. You better stay believers but by no means nonbelievers. Being humane is not an option.
Neel had been once part of the outfit ‘Taslima Supporters Group,’ a human rights platform put together by some youths. I had read several of his posts on Facebook. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam — he had trained a critical eye on all faiths. The Hindus did not assault him; no Buddhist, Christian or Jew attacked him; only the followers of Islam butchered him.
Those who hold forth that all religions are equal that there is no essential difference between faiths or its orthodox practitioners, must be wrong. Bangladesh’s Inspector General of Police and Minister of Home Affairs have issued diktats that bloggers should not violate the religious sentiments of the masses through their writings, or else they will face a rigorous 14 years in jail. The Ulema groups in the coalition government are demanding that the bloggers be hanged, their blogs closed or all of them be evicted from the country. The government has also made no bones about legal action if anything is written against religion.
I am quite curious to know which religion should be written against to attract the state’s ire? Will criticising Hindu tenets warrant arrest? Or perhaps condemning Buddhist principles? Bashing Christianity? Even though the state evades the topic, by now we all know that taking up any other religion would not matter, but even a word against Islam would bring the police to your doorstep.
The state is not short on guts. It might as well make it official that it is only Islam whose criticism will bring harassment, arrests, imprisonment and death penalty to its perpetrators. It is getting harder to differentiate between the Islamic militants and the Bangladesh government these days. From what I see, it is apparent that the religious fanatics are calling the shots and the government has been reduced to their stooges.
There is a definite method by which rationalist freethinkers are being butchered in Bangladesh. Post the murders, the assailants are disclosing their identities and the groups they belong to. I am not certain but perhaps they have also made public their addresses and phone numbers. Even then the police are reluctant to touch them with a bargepole.
Earlier, the murders happened on the streets, under the veil of the night, but now they have graduated to broad daylight, where the murderers break into the victims’ houses. The assailants are still in the habit of fleeing the scene of crime. The day is not far when there will be no need to. Shorn of the need for any kind of cover, they will triumphantly march into the homes of bloggers with machetes or daggers drawn, stab them at will and go out defiantly. They will have cups of tea at roadside stalls while none dare touch a hair on their heads.
Such terrifying times lie ahead of us. Then not only bloggers, any girl not covered in a burqa, a man and a woman sitting in a park holding hands, will be hacked to pieces on the streets. Anyone who will not abide by such religious governance will be executed in public. Such is the catastrophe the country is moving towards. And it will be known in history as the Age of Darkness or the Age of Islamic Sharia.
For each blogger who gets threat calls, a dozen others stop blogging. For each blogger stabbed, a hundred others shut their blogs down. This is the present state of affairs. This is how Bangladesh’s short-lived rationalist movement or the Age of Reason is going to meet its demise. None of the nation’s artists, litterateurs, scientists or rationalists are coming forward in support of these atheist bloggers.
This makes me recall that 22 years ago not many were on my side. It was almost one woman versus the entire state, including the incompetent government. Millions of fanatics were in a frenzied uproar across the city, baying for my blood. Instead of putting their weight behind me, the state authorities filed a case. At that time, there was no IT Act; Section 295 of the Penal Code was enough to ring the death knell of any intrepid writer.
Only a handful of the liberal intellectuals secretly pledged their allegiance to me, but such covert oaths are of no use. If there could have been demonstrations across the nation against Islamic fundamentalists had even 500 people stood up to defend my freedom of expression, no one could have dared to exile me or throw me out of my country.
There is an apparent déjà vu at the unfolding of similar events two decades later. Even now there are no signs of nationwide protests against the killings of progressive bloggers. Like rats in their burrows, everyone hides. Even the ones we could count upon as enlightened, educated individuals have gone incognito. It is no wonder then that the stupid government has left no stone unturned to lull the people into deeper stupidity.
Democracy has fled Bangladesh, what is left is idiocracy.
Translated from Bangla by Usri Basistha and Indrani Mukherjee