This is a piece written by Farid Ahmed, a friend of murdered secular blogger Ananta Bijoy Das. Ahmed is the current moderator of Avijit Roy’s Mukto-Mona website. The following is a harrowing account of how dangerous it is to simply write about secular issues in Bangladesh. More people need to learn what life can be like for these brave writers. We need to put pressure on the Bangladeshi government to protect all of their people and end these horrific events. So please consider sharing Ahmed’s article here and especially sharing the petition below to protect Bangladeshi bloggers. This article was translated from Bangla to English by Riasat Ahsan.
Just as nearly everyone on this part of the world is preparing for bed after dinner, on the other side of the globe, as if a gazelle sprinting from a predator for self-preservation across the serene savannas, an injured young man is desperately running for his life. He is being perused by four assassins, dressed in clothes as dark as death; it is not just their clothes, but also their faces beneath black cloaks and their eyes, which emanate an ugly thirst for violence. Machetes coated in blood glint in their hands; the same blood which streams from the body of the fleeing man. The reapers have already delivered several ruthless blows during their first encounter. The injured man barely makes it past fifty yards before stopping dead in his tracks. A lake. He cannot swim. He has had a phobia of water his entire life. This fear is even greater than that incited by the killers in hot pursuit. He decides that he would rather be slain than jump in and drown. At a loss for any other choice, he surrenders. The attackers take turns, mercilessly hacking away at the tender flesh of his dying body. As the man drops to his knees and begins to fall, perhaps he is reminded of his dear mentor, who also took his last breath after being wounded by machetes. The tragedy of his mentor’s final moments in life were now being mirrored in his.
These terrors, anxieties and nightmares that used to keep him up through the long hours of the night have all become a reality on this fateful day. In a state of delirium and helplessness, he surrendered to his cruel and inevitable fate. Being born at the wrong time amidst the wrong people wasn’t just a mistake, but it seems to have been an unforgivable sin as well. It is reparation for that great sin that he is bidding an unceremonious farewell to this beautiful world, his cherished motherland, and the favorite citrus scented neighborhood where he was born. This farewell is not just one of profound sorrow and unexpressed grief like all final goodbyes, but also one of eternal regret and infinite questions.
Just a month and a half ago, when the founder of the Mukto-Mona blog, popular science author, and rationalist Avijit Roy was savagely hacked to death with machetes on his way back from a book fair, Ananta Bijoy Das felt grief accompanied by a chill of fear running down his spine. It wasn’t just him; all the Bangladeshi rationalist writers felt uneasiness. Then, just one month later when Washiqur Rahman Babu was also attacked in the middle of the day, in front of scores of people and murdered in the same brutal manner, the fear turned into intense panic. The panic caused many to stop writing or hide behind pseudonyms, and some to lose enthusiasm and only make irregular appearances in the world of writing.
Ananta was no exception. He was also gripped by panic following the murders of Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman. He knew that he was unsafe during this turbulent time of hostilities. He maintained a low profile and covered his tracks as best as he could and started living a kind of “life on the run.” Such a life, however, is not for a normal human being. One cannot remain healthy with the constant anxiety and fear of malicious attacks and an untimely death. Therefore, like many others, Ananta was attempting to go abroad as soon as possible. Doing so would mean leaving behind his beloved country, his dearest parents, and his brothers and sisters. Even so, at least he would be able to heave a sigh of relief, and live his life in freedom. This was the motivation behind his resolve to leave the country. He wrote to many places and asked several people to write recommendation letters for him to aid his departure. I was one of them.
As the moderator of the Mukto-Mona blog, I wrote a recommendation letter for Ananta to the director of communications of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Bob Churchill. In this letter I explained that Ananta was feeling extremely unsafe under the current circumstances in Bangladesh, and that he was being forced to live in secret locations in order to stay alive. I urged the IHEU to do something about the situation and help enable Ananta to flee to the safety of a Western country. They assured me that they would do everything within their means to help. Ananta was delighted to learn about my recommendation letter. He wrote me a personal letter saying “I cannot find the words to express my gratitude to you for sending a letter to Bob Churchill. I do not know if the IHEU will even accept my request, since they receive thousands of such requests from all over the world. Still, I will keep trying. We will see what happens.”
It pains me to think about how Ananta started out with such enormous potential. He has been a writer for Mukto-Mona since the very beginning. Back then he was barely an adult, 19 to 20 years of age. Despite this, his writings showed no signs of immaturity whatsoever. The articles he wrote were sophisticated, addressed serious issues and were packed with information. There is no doubt that they required a great deal of intelligence, and a lot of research. The fact he managed to accumulate so much knowledge at such a young age continues to be a source of wonderment for us.
Besides writing, Ananta was also working on the ground to spread rational thinking. He got involved in many activities; one of his most notable accomplishments was being the founding editor of an outstanding progressive magazine called Jukti. Those of you who have read Jukti know that it had a phenomenal standard. It waged a war against all manner of fanaticism and superstitions. In 2005, Mukto-Mona awarded Ananta the “rationalist” award in recognition of his endeavours to spread rationalism and freethinking in the society.
It is profoundly regrettable that such a talented young man, with so much left to offer to the nation, had his life truncated by machete-wielding murderers. Ananta is of course, not the only one, and one by one, some of the country’s most talented people have had to bid their premature farewells through brutal murders at the hands of fanatical Muslims. Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman Babu, Ananta Dijoy Das, and most recently Niloy Chatterjee, the procession of death marches on with relentless tenacity.
The culture of lack of accountability and turning a blind eye to those who incite hatred in the name of Islam that has arisen in Bangladesh, and the government’s tendency to not give these murders the attention they deserve will undoubtedly cripple our nation one day. We need to understand that these countless religious fanatics will not contribute at all to the betterment of the country. However, the people they have killed like animals were all important and have made countless contributions. These murders have not only taken from us these very special individuals, but they have set the course for a future devoid of a safe space for people to express their thoughts. Fear will drive away the last remaining flicker of free thought, plunging the country and its people into a world of darkness. Perhaps we will have to wait a few decades to escape from the darkness, perhaps centuries. This is exactly what the Islamists are trying to do within our society. They want to lead us away from progress; push us backwards to a modern dark age.
We need to utilize with the utmost dedication, the boundless possibilities that youths like Ananta bring to light. We should provide them with an environment where they will have the opportunity to flourish. Instead, if we provide the opportunity for them to be erased, regret is the only thing we will accomplish. With the string of murders this year, we have suffered from regret, been anguished with guilt and endured a grave heartache. Let us make a promise now, not to repeat the same mistakes ever again.