By Saifur Rahman Tapan
November 15, 2015
IN A manifestation of their increasing capacity to hit the target anywhere, machete-wielding youths, who are believed to belong to the Islamist organisation Ansarullah Bangla Team or its offshoots that earlier claimed killing five secularist bloggers, including Bangladesh-born-US science writer Avijit Roy, chopped two publishers of Avijit’s books and two others, in separate operations, at their respective workplaces in the capital on October 31, leaving one publisher dead and three others critically injured. Earlier, they killed blogger Niladri Chattopadhyay inside his rented flat at Goran of the city on August 7 this year. However, the rest of the blogger murders took place when the victims were either going to office or returning home. Ahmed Rajib Haider, a Shahbagh-based Ganajagaran Mancha activist, who was killed on February 15, 2013, came under attack near his house at Mirpur. Avijit, along with his wife, who was also grievously injured in the attack, was returning from the Ekushey Book Fair on February 26 this year. Both Ananta Bijoy Das and Oyasiqur Rahman, who were killed respectively on May 12 and March 30, were on their way to office.
The murderers chose night, perhaps for the darkness, as a safe time to commit the Rajib murder. Also, the Avijit murder took place in the evening, albeit at a place by a road which was still busy with home-bound visitors of the book fair popular for its close connection to the martyrs of the 1952 language movement. However, all the subsequent murders, including the latest one, took place in daylight. The Lalmatia attack took place about 2:30pm. Although Faisal Arefin Dipan’s body was found in a pool of blood by his father and some others in the evening, he is believed to have come under the attack about the time the Lalmatia attack took place. One needs to take note of the fact that the slain publisher Faisal Arefin was in his office on the second floor of the Aziz Super Market at Shahbagh while the other publisher’s office was on the third floor of a five-storey building at Lalmatia. Yet, the killers were safe both in accomplishing their killing missions and in fleeing the scene. Not only that, apparently to prove that they are hardly at any risk of being caught while perpetrating the heinous crime they even spent time on locking the offices from outside before leaving. The Islamist outfit conducted two attacks in a simultaneous manner, something never seen before.
One can argue that the real culprits behind the attacks, fatal and non-fatal, on bloggers and publishers, except the Rajib murder allegedly perpetrated by Ansarullah Bangla Team, are yet to be identified through credible and acceptable investigations. But it is true that in murders of all the five bloggers and publishers this year, Ansar Al Islam, believed to an Ansarullah Bangla Team offshoot, that claims to be the part of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, claimed responsibility for the crimes through social media postings. More importantly, before each of the killings, they warned the targets in a similar fashion of the consequences unless the latter stopped allegedly ‘anti-Islamic’ activities.
Anyway, the manner in which the government responded to the gruesome incidents is more alarming. In the first place, with the exception of the Rajib murder case, the trial of which is still advancing at a snail’s pace though, there is hardly any significant progress even in investigations of the blogger murder cases. Moreover, apparently following in the footsteps of key functionaries of the government, including even the prime minister, the police high-ups asked all concerned to put some leash on their what can be called campaign for secularism without uttering even a single similar word for those who continue to not only issue death threats to secular bloggers but also endanger the secular foundation of the state, on the one hand, and the syncretistic socio-cultural fabric of the land that has evolved over centuries, on the other. To add to woes, the home minister termed the latest attacks on the ‘free-thinkers’ mere ‘isolated incidents’. Speculations are there that the incumbents that usually claim to champion the spirit of the independence war that include secularism came up with all this as an appeasement policy towards Islamic religious bigots in particular. Ironically still, it occurs at a time when the government claims to have busted alleged militants’ dens with the haul of a huge cache of deadly firearms and explosives in different parts of the country, including even the capital, almost every week.
There is unfortunately no dearth of people even in the liberal-thinking camp either who, wrongly though, sought to blame more the victims than the bigots for the appalling situation. They are, perhaps, right when they argue that there are a section of bloggers who have a tendency to make derogatory remarks about different religions and religious icons provoking some retaliatory responses from their followers, particularly those who are blind. But they should know that there are laws, some of which are unreasonably harsh enough in terms of stipulating punishment in particular though, to deal with such issues. Any aggrieved person can easily seek redress by taking the legal recourse. But instead of taking the recourse, those allegedly hurt by secularists’ activities have taken law in their own hands, which is a serious culpable offence. More importantly, any person living in a civilised country can in no way physically assault, let alone kill, others. Hence, there is hardly any reason for one to sympathise with people engaged in a cowardice act of murdering bloggers and publishers who resort to nothing but pen or keyboard to express their secularist views and ideas.
Those who are in favour of, in one way or another, providing impunity for those responsible for the blogger killings should keep in mind that without any challenge against the prevalent thoughts, no matter what it is about, there can be no new ideas in society. The bloggers and publishers killed so far were acting in this direction, albeit in some cases in a flawed way. Causing, in any manner, such activities to stop may lead society to stagnancy. At the same time, as nature abhors vacuum, various obscurantist ideas will dominate society in such a situation. Apologists for the heinous crime need to realise that the latest victim of the crime was proponent of anything but atheism, as his family cleared. Nor was he ever even engaged in blogging. There are good reasons to fear that if allowed to prevail, religious bigots will only end up attempting at deadly attacks on all not ready to toe their line.
To understand the fallout of the apparent culture of impunity enjoyed by murderers of the bloggers and publishers, one should notice the orders sent in an e-mail allegedly on behalf of the Ansarullah Bangla Team on October 19 to different media outlets, print and electronic, where the authorities were asked to fire their women employees and refrain from publishing or airing any advertisements that show women or any photographs that include women not wearing a Burqa. Any failure to comply with the orders, as the e-mail threatened, would end up making one face the fate of the bloggers.
The apparent reluctance of the government concerned more about its dwindling popularity for various reasons at rendering its constitutional duty to protect the life and rights of the endangered bloggers and writers’ community may be induced by the fact that the latter constitute a small block of voters. But it should bear in mind that the community has a potential of influencing a large portion of liberal voters, who account for a formidable size of the electorate as a whole. In any case, democratically oriented people, in particular, need to rise up without any delay. It is all the more important because a social resistance against fanaticism, in general, and that related to religion, in particular, has become imperative. That apart, only such a situation can make the government to wake up to the problem.
Saifur Rahman Tapan is an assistant editor at New Age.