Delhi appeared almost unrecognisable during the days of the odd-even rule, when evenings appeared livable, devoid of traffic snarls and as if, in the midst of a holiday season or a citywide gener…
Delhi appeared almost unrecognisable during the days of the odd-even rule, when evenings appeared livable, devoid of traffic snarls and as if, in the midst of a holiday season or a citywide gener…
Delhi appeared almost unrecognisable during the days of the odd-even rule, when evenings appeared livable, devoid of traffic snarls and as if, in the midst of a holiday season or a citywide general strike. Delhi is the world’s second largest densely populated city after Tokyo. The populations of some of the European towns do not even add up to a couple of lakhs, though Delhi boasts more than 2.5 crore residents. No wonder, the first fortnight of the New Year transformed Delhi into a dream city.
I often cover my routine evening drives through Delhi in an hour-and-half, though now I did it in barely 20 minutes, which is why I find the odd-even scheme almost magical. This was tried and tested in Beijing a few years ago with overwhelming success, and appeared to work in Delhi on Day 1, though, to start with, so many of us remained sceptical. I remember crossing path with a journalist friend at the state-run Doordarshan Kendra, who informed me that he’d taken the metro to reach office, a first in years. It is good to see that a constructive move has been made to make Delhi pollution free and most Delhiites endorse the plan.
Global studies earlier showed Beijing and now Delhi as the world’s most polluted city. It’s high time that city government draws up a sustained and viable campaign to clean up the mess, for which, several foolproof measures can be initiated. For starters, it should ban old diesel cars, as these are among the biggest sources of pollution. Cigarettes are no longer the prime cause of lung cancer; carcinogens concentrated in the atmosphere are far more lethal. I don’t remember a day when I walked Delhi’s forever busy streets breathing freely, or without coughing. A large number of citizens have taken to wearing masks sold at neighbourhood chemists, even as the city stays shrouded by permanently looming smog. Haunted by the poisonous air, we no longer get to enjoy the city’s fabulous winter.
Let there be longer queues at the metro. Let there be more public buses. Let the upper class and upper middle class keep aside their vanity and take to public transport. Let separate cycle tracks run parallel to the main carriageways and the citizens pedal to office. Delhi’s face will change for the better.
Citizens across Europe are looked up to for cycling to work. Berlin’s streets have been redesigned with cycling tracks that are not encroached upon by rush hour cars. Even ministers in Stockholm ride to work. Public representatives have the moral conviction to lead by way of example. Delhi needs to catch up with the world’s foremost modern civilisations. And the government’s top echelons must set the example to make this happen, instead of spending billions to treat bronchial ailments, as catastrophic death stares citizens in their faces.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who masterminded the move, set a precedent, driving on alternate cars to work, as his own car sported an odd number; the tourism minister bicycled to office. Kejriwal was strict about not extending privileges based on citizens’ social standing, considering that Delhi is home to thousands of VIPs. I too chose to stay indoors every alternate day of the odd-even fortnight, as my car sports an even number plate. Though I have a security detail to escort me all over the city, I never felt it necessary to drag my VIP mooring by driving out on days when my car was meant to idle. I live in this city under a constant threat from fundamentalists without whom I would love to bicycle around the city’s lovely roads every day, irrespective of whether the odd-even rule was in force or not.
Yet, Delhi being Delhi, I was overwhelmed to note the scale of corruption in Delhi to help citizens bend the rules, despite the Herculean effort to clean up the city. In this country, the corrupt always have the last word. Fuel stations were busy selling illegal CNG stickers for cars that don’t run on natural gas. And desperate citizens, who don’t think twice about burning up lakhs on the latest fuel guzzlers, got busy buying those stickers. I also noticed certain citizens driving around with the wrong number plate, despite the concession made only to self-driving women, CNG cars and for medical emergency. Who knows if these citizens were content at breaking the rule by paying a hefty Rs 2,000 fine? It’s sad that such scoundrels don’t understand how big the problem of pollution is.
It’s also unfortunate that well-known global brands selling diesel cars have been nagging about the Supreme Court-imposed ban on sale of higher capacity diesel vehicles in the national capital, when everybody knows that such cars are a menace. It’s time that the carmakers adopt social and ecological consciousness instead of racing to capture market and chase profit.
All this when, a majority of Delhi’s residents actually found it wise to wholeheartedly stick with the odd-even plan making the experiment a grand success.
It’s been 44 years now that Bangladesh has become an independent nation, but it still feels like yesterday. Freedom from Pakistan was won after a long war of nine months and Bangladesh was born with the promise of being a peaceful, tolerant, democratic and secular nation. Though if you talk to Indians, most will say that the 1971 war was fought between India and Pakistan and Bangladesh’s guerrilla forces had no part in it. It was as a result of India’s victory that Bangladesh was born, they aver.
However, the fact is that independence was achieved by the sacrifices and bloodshed of Bangladeshi freedom-fighters. The second partition was the result of the uprising of Bengali muslims of East Pakistan against the constant attacks on them by non-Bengali muslims. The idea of all muslims living happily ever after in one country after separating from India, obviously wasn’t working out.
The nationalists who fought for Bangladesh envisioned a country that would differ from Pakistan in its goals and principles. A nation where everyone, irrespective of religious inclination, would coexist in mutual harmony. However, within a few years of independence, the country’s ugly side emerged. Though Bangladesh is not divided geographically, there is a major division on the basis of principles: at one end there are dogmatic religious fascists and on the other is the liberal secular minority. Religious extremists attack unarmed liberals with impunity, and rising frequency, while the judicial system remains in disarray. So, far from being different from Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh is actually no different from it.
The powers that be in Bangladesh have long fed the masses with catchy words like freedom, democracy and secularism, however, the country is not mature enough to understand and implement these ideals. The day Bangladesh comprehends the value of these words and start to practise them, that would be the day when the national flag fluttering over the memorial of the martyrs in Dhaka would derive its true honour.
I don’t celebrate the independence day of Bangladesh because I am hardly able to see any difference between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Freethinking is prohibited in both countries, so how does that make us free? I strongly feel that Bangladesh does not have the right to celebrate independence day till freethinkers stop getting killed and exiled ones are brought back home. The celebration on February 21 will, therefore, be nothing but a superficial pomp and show as long as Bangladesh does not fix its issues of injustice against the liberals.
I don’t have faith in religion, but in human beings. I place my faith in good work, constructive ideas, dedication, equality and freedom of speech. Do I not have the right to live in Bangladesh? It’s been 21 years now that I have been banished from my motherland. It wasn’t my choice; the government forced me out and the doors of return are closed till date. Why did I have to face this fate? Did I kill or loot anyone? I was a doctor and a writer. All I have done is to write for the people so that the light of knowledge could reach the common masses and they could live a better life.
In 21 years of exile, the definition of a country has changed for me. It’s not a territorial entity anymore, it’s all about people; who are liberal, love each other, believe in freedom of self expression and are not shackled by the inhibitions of religion and superstitions. That is where my motherland is, that is where I belong.
Politicians make the boundaries of the world. If non-political entities had the power, the world would have been a different place altogether. The map wouldn’t have been altered on grounds of partitioning in the name of religion and faith. The world is becoming smaller and people are learning foreign languages as well as adopting food habits, lifestyles and cultures of far away countries. Dividing people on the basis of language and socio-cultural structure does not make sense any more. It’s time that divisions made by politicians for their own benefit be removed. Let there no longer be barbed wires or walls segregating people.
Animalistic tendencies are inherent in humans; we try to rein them in to be social. If we could get rid of these instincts totally, the world would be one; without divisions, borders or countries. The geographical distance between America and Eurasia would always be present but the cultural distance has diminished. The economical gap between the rich and the poor too will get bridged in time. Even if there are socio-political differences, that is no justification to sow seeds of hatred, intolerance, religious dogma, superstition and terrorism. These horrible aspects shouldn’t be a part of the culture of any nation. This is the era of science and technology, let us utilise this for something constructive, and let’s unite with the purpose of being one country, one nation and one world.
In the war of 1971, muslims fought against muslims. It wasn’t a battle between two sects of muslims; sunni muslims took up weapons against another group of sunni muslims. This conflict was one of a kind. A group of bravehearts stood up against their own sect in order to save their mother tongue. This is a great instance of secularism. This is the kind of secular politics that I have tried to propagate through my writings. And this is what other freethinkers of Bangladesh have done as well, yet all those who believe in the idea of a secular country are being exiled, one after another.
I don’t refer to Bangladesh as a country anymore. For me, a country is a sense of shelter, an envelope of protection. A piece of land where people don’t feel protected, where writers and intellectuals don’t have the liberty of self-expression is anything but a country. It is easy to be an independent national in the logbook of the world; but being a country isn’t easy. It requires a sense of responsibility. Just like having the appearance of a human being is inherent, but being human is not.
Intolerance is discrimination and lack of faith between people of different gender roles, political parties, social status, religions and so on. A debate has stirred up recently around growing intolerance in India. Intolerance does not necessarily refer to the act of harming someone physically. The mob, which killed an innocent person on suspicion that he was consuming beef, was not only intolerant, but also heinous and barbaric.
Writers and artists have been returning their awards to the government and government-aided institutions to protest growing intolerance in this country. This is their form of self-expression. Some people have questioned this act, asking where were these intellectuals when Rushdie’s book was banned and he was barred from participating in the Kolkata and Jaipur litfests? Why did they not return their awards when Taslima was attacked in Hyderabad or forced to leave India? Do these intellectuals only stand up against hindu extremists? But even if they do, what’s wrong with that? I am against any kind of religious terrorism and intolerance, therefore, if someone prefers to speak out against the barbarism of a particular religion, that’s more than welcome to me. Intellectuals in islamic countries protest against islamic extremism, they don’t speak about the hindus or christians. Every country has minority sympathisers. However, not all minorities are equally helpless. It is solely dependent on their social stratification. Pakistan’s hindu and christian minorities don’t enjoy the same social status as India’s muslims and christians, nor do they enjoy similar freedom. The extent and nature of intolerance of minorities in these two countries are also vastly different. Add to that the number of orthodox preachers among India’s minority religions who are ruining their own communities more than the intolerant among the majority hindus.
Having said that, intolerance has reached a new low in India. Aamir Khan’s concern about his wife thinking of leaving this country has made him the talk of an entire nation. The Shiv Sena has even announced cash reward of Rs 1 lakh for whoever is able to slap Aamir. That reminds me of the imam of Kolkata’s Tipu Sultan mosque who, way back in 1994, announced a Rs 50,000 reward for whoever was able to smear my face with dirt. However, I still don’t place hindu and muslim extremists in the same quadrant. The RSS or the Shiv Sena’s ranting are no match for the mass massacre of innoncents across the globe by the likes ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Laskar-e-Taiba and Al Qaida, though someone did mention that the hindus have still not killed thousands in the name of religion because they have not found the scope to do so; had they got similar opportunity, they too would have been equal threat to civil society.
Intolerant people exist everywhere, be it Europe, America, Africa or Asia. Instead of calling an entire nation intolerant, it is wiser to point out the intolerant bunch in every nation. The constitution of India does not provide for intolerance, neither has the prime minister clapped for the extremist acts of hindu fanatics. Hence, calling the country intolerant makes no sense. Certain citizens have suggested that our prime minister must take note of the Dadri incident and make an attempt to ensure justice to those denied protection. It is not only that the muslims have been singled out in the current hate wave across India. Hindu fanatics have assassinated noted rationalists such as Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. Intolerance has been evident at all times and under the governance of every ruling dispensation, so, why the buzz now?
Hindu extremists live in fear that the muslims would destroy their religion and culture, which will eventually become extinct. Therefore, they are following the same path of the muslim terrorists; killing those who do not subscribe to their religious beliefs. Can religion be preserved this way? Hundreds of powerful religions have become history today, as with the Greeks and the Romans. They don’t exist anymore. Similarly, religions like hinduism, buddhism, judaism, christianity and islam would become extinct some day. Humanity would replace these with new religions that are more tolerant, or people would become more rational and logical.
The only confession that has arisen out of the ongoing debate on intolerance is that a former home minister has accepted that banning Rushdie’s book, back in the 1980s, wasn’t an appropriate decision. Religious intolerance is not only limited to the religious extremists, even the politicians are highly influenced by the same. While West Bengal’s Left Front government originally banned my book, the Trinamool government too recently banned the inauguration of my yet another book at Kolkata Book Fair and a television series based on my script was not allowed to be telecast. I did question the former chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and the present chief minister Mamata Banerjee if they would accept their mistake, just as P Chidambaram of the Congress party has done regarding Rushdie. However, the politicians from Bengal are firm on their stand. This is all about vote bank politics. Nobody wants to take a stand against the sentiments of a fair section of the voters because of election arithmetic.
Intolerance and superstitions walk hand in hand with human consciousness and education. This is how India survives. And this is how the world too survives. Politicians and religious warmongers only look after their own benefits, while pushing the country into the valley of darkness. Only a handful of educated liberals can dare to change the society. It has always been like that.
Human beings are intolerant by nature. Love and hate occupy very strong positions in human psychology. A debate is always welcome, be it in favour of intolerance or against it. A debate makes you think. However, that debate must never give rise to violence. The instinct of violence is deep rooted in our nature. If we succeed in overcoming our thirst for blood, humanity will shine forever.
The health minister of Saudi Arabia Khalid Al-Falih has purportedly said that deaths due to the deadly stampede at Mina have happened because of ‘Allah’s will’. Such events cannot be avoided, he has opined. Al-Falih blames the Hajj pilgrims for the deaths. Apparently, the victims have paid the price for failing to follow instructions.
Information about the real incident, however, is quite shocking. The stampede, which resulted in loss of numerous lives, occurred because two roads, used by lakhs of pilgrims, were closed so that a Saudi prince’s route to the palace could be made more comfortable. If the roads weren’t closed, this incident would not have occurred. Many have suggested that the stampede was triggered when two large groups of pilgrims intersected from different directions onto the same street.
Some have even gone on record by saying that the main reason behind this tragic incident was the King, his high ranking officials and Gulf Cooperation Council members welcoming certain distinguished personalities, which necessitated the blocking of the two roads in question that usually lead the pilgrims to an area where they symbolically stone the devil. Confusion and commotion resulted from the closure of the roads, which, in turn, resulted in the devastating stampede. Such news reports lead me to believe that the Hajj pilgrims lost their lives because of the whims and fancies of the Saudi royal family, their lackadaisical attitude towards Hajj and their indifference to the lives of ordinary pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia earns $8.5 billion every year from Hajj alone. However, they seem least bothered about the safety and security of the pilgrims who are reduced to being mere customers of the religion that the Saudis have turned into a business. Their oil business, on the other hand, is a bigger money-spinner and that explains why the safety and security of oil customers is top priority for the Saudis.
That brings me to my countryman and Facebook friend Mohan Kumar Mandal. He was recently arrested because the Bangladesh government did not like the comments he posted on the social networking website. After Saudi Arabia closed the roads that killed thousands of muslims, even non-muslims like Mandal were shocked into expressing their anguish against the horrific mass slaughter. It is well known that symbolic stoning of the devil is done to vanquish evil. This can be done in any country and should not require anybody to travel to Saudi Arabia, which is thousands of miles away. This is what Mohan Kumar reasoned. But his comments apparently hurt the religious sentiment of somebody from Awami League. Religious sentiment has become a dangerous tool in the hands of certain people. Good people are not being allowed to express their views, let alone live.
Unfortunately, even governments appear to be joining the ranks of those who are a bad influence on the society, as with the Saudi royals. The entire world has been criticising Saudi Arabia for the Hajj deaths, but not Bangladesh. The dead bodies of hundreds of pilgrims were picked by bulldozers and dumped in a garbage heap. Such images rattle everybody. Can a civilised country show such utter disregard to the departed?
Saudi Arabia is not a civilised country. Neither is Bangladesh, or else, why would it not criticise Saudi Arabia? If muslims were killed by jews in Gaza and their dead bodies dumped by bulldozers, such an act would have evoked the strongest of reactions in Bangladesh. But when ISIS, Boko Haram and their likes slaughter muslims, muslims do not feel any pain. Saudi Arabia’s mismanagement of the Hajj lead to the deaths of countless muslims. But those muslims haven’t even raised a murmur of protest.
The stampede killed 1,300 pilgrims and many in Bangladesh protest in anger and protest. Why then did the Bangladeshi government choose to punish Mohan Kumar Mandal alone? Was he punished because he is hindu? Was he punished because a crime against a hindu does not strike a chord with muslims? Soon, Saudi Arabia is going to head the UN human rights panel. How is it possible for a country where women, non-muslims, homosexuals and transsexuals have no human rights to head the UN human rights panel?
Will nobody protest against this travesty? Those of us who protest are punished. As long as we keep our mouths shut, things would be fine. The moment we open our mouths, all hell breaks loose. Even when Saudi Arabia commits a crime, we cannot blame the country or its government. We can’t say that the country has violated human rights even when there is strong evidence of that. When China violates human rights, processions are taken out on the streets. But since Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad, even the most heinous crimes by the present custodian of the faith in that country are overlooked by other nations. Even when 1,300 innocent pilgrims lose their lives because of the reckless attitude of a few Saudis, we are supposed to keep mum and believe that those lives were taken because Allah willed so, and those who died could not have found a holier place to depart.
Saudi Arabia will never be ashamed of its transgressions. This is because their rulers are a shameless bunch. I humbly pray that Saudi Arabia should not be allowed to head the UN human rights panel. When a nation does not care about human rights, what is the point in giving it a leadership role. Saudi Arabia will destroy whatever semblance there is left of human rights in this world.
An intriguing news item was published in the Arab world a few days ago — a sex shop is coming up in Saudi Arabia’s holiest city, Mecca. Not just any sex shop but a halal sex shop. I have no clue whatsoever about terms and conditions upon which a sex shop is deemed halal or haraam. I also want to know, whether in this sex shop, a woman would be able to shop alone for her personal needs. In a country where women don’t have minimum personal liberty, and have no other identity beyond being sex slaves to men, there cannot be any doubt that the sex shop being opened there will be exclusively for the sexual pleasure of men.
Men from Saudi Arabia spend a lot of their ample wealth on sex. They go to various countries on sex tours to enjoy the company of expensive call-girls, and they roam around freely in the sex shops of foreign countries. From now on, however, they will no longer have to undertake the trouble of a foreign tour for sex-shopping, at least. For, EL Asira, the Sharia-compliant sex brand originating in Amsterdam and backed by Germany’s Beate Uhse, will soon branch out to the holy city.
Till now, the sex shops of Europe and America have not yet arrived in the progressive countries of Asia, but they have managed to reach Saudi Arabia, the most conservative and orthodox society in the world, where women are perceived only as moving genitalia.
The Saudi king, Abdullah, had 30 wives. Out of those, one was Alanoud al Fayez, who had been divorced by the king in 1985. But her four daughters are prisoners in the Saudi royal palace. Jawaher, Maha, Sahar and Hala are incarcerated in every sense of the word. They are not free to set foot outside the palace walls. They are hardly provided food twice a day, and their half-brothers beat them mercilessly. Some of the sisters are nearabouts or over forty years of age but have not been allowed to marry.
Alanoud, who is in self-imposed exile in London for the past few years, has broken her silence and spoken about the abuses inflicted on her daughters to the international media. To no avail, of course. If the most powerful nation on the planet, the United States, bows its head and pays obeisance to the mighty House of Saud, who else dare protest?
Barack Obama paid a high profile visit to Saudi Arabia a few months ago, accompanied by his wife. One does not recall any request from him to alleviate the situation of the sisters trapped in the royal palace, or even the general condition of women in the country.
This is the thing with Saudi Arabia. It’s kind of like a bratty child — whatever strikes its fancy, it shall go ahead and do. Saudi women cannot step out in the open without being covered from head to foot. They have no right to free speech. They can’t talk to strangers of the opposite sex because it’s considered haraam. They can’t take a car ride with someone without the fear of execution. They are punished cruelly if they happen to be victims of rape or torture.
The primitive laws of a seventh century society still prevail over a 21st century Saudi Arabia. Freedom of speech is unheard of. Writer-activist Raif Badawi, creator of the website, Free Saudi Liberals, is still being lashed liberally every other week for daring to have freethinking aspirations. Saudi Arabia doesn’t give two hoots about tenets of modernisation and civilisation. It is making first world nations dance to its tunes on the one hand, and exporting islamic terrorism to other muslim states, on the other. This state, without a shred of ethics and character, is going unpunished since there are no countries that can be brave enough to face the ire of a wealthy, oil-rich nation.
Such are the circumstances under which Saudi Arabia has opened its gates to a sex shop. What can this novelty do for Saudi men? Well, they can now be provided with leather belts, shackles, masks and an assortment of other weapons which they would now be able to use liberally to further treat women as sex slaves. To force them into dominant-submissive sexual role play. To bring into actual force the brutal primitivism of their patriarchal attitude against women by inflicting a new kind of sexual torture on them. And as usual, this too, shall remain unpunished.
If there is indeed any pleasure to be gained out of those shops, they would be exclusively for the men. The women are not to partake in any such thing. Those who do not have basic human rights must never aspire to sexual rights either. And those that do not have sexual freedom or rights, have no sexual pleasure. Sex slaves take no pleasure in sex — they need to be freed of their slavery first.
The world stands wondering when, if at all, the new generation of politically and socially aware Saudi youth shall spell the death knell of this dystopic dynastic rule. Time waits for them.
There isn’t much difference between what’s been happening recently in India and Bangladesh, with rationalists and freethinkers being butchered by fundamentalist elements. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi were mercilessly killed because they advocated freethinking and rationalism. It’s noteworthy that, of late, a certain section of the hindu community in India is turning intolerant to progress. The only thing that probably differentiates them from their muslim counterparts across the border, is that they are clad in saffron and sport sandalwood tilak on their foreheads. So, when you look at it carefully, a fanatic’s faith in a particular religion or sect doesn’t really matter. That person is a threat to human society as long as he is against democracy and free speech.
We can carry on speculating who really killed Kalburgi and we would not be wrong in our assumption. Earlier, religious fanatics threatened him with imminent death if he did not mend his ways. He apparently provoked them by once famously insisting that idol worship was a lost cause and “if one wants to, one can even urinate on idols”. Staunch hindus didn’t take those words kindly. An Akademi award winner and an academic, Kalburgi had served as the vice-chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi. He was always vocal about blind faith and caste-based discrimination. It is not surprising that his views did not go down well with people blinded by their religious ideologies.
Narendra Dabholkar, a resident of Pune, met a similar fate in 2013, when he was out for his morning walk, as did another non-believer Govind Pansare who was killed in Kohlapur earlier this year. The chief minister of Karnataka has issued an unconvincing statement that his government would try its best to bring to justice Kalburgi’s yet unidentified murderers.
That citizens across the Indian subcontinent can no longer voice their beliefs is shocking. And we are not talking about muslim zealots alone. Intolerance towards free speech and reasoning has been taking a regular toll across Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. What makes it worse is the extermination of freethinkers and progressive citizens in the democratic republic of India.
A nation cannot progress if it kills citizens who educate the masses about breaking free from mental barriers and outdated convictions. Such societies are condemned to live in the dark ages.
Bangladesh has already lost young and free-spirited citizens like Abhijeet and Ananta to islamic fanatics, who like Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi, in India, can only be blamed for standing up to religious intolerance and bigotry. People who place their faith in wrong beliefs and religious boundaries are afraid of those who speak the truth and show them the folly of their ways. Having lost to reason, these fanatics can only resort to violence to make a point. Societies that accept terror as a means to silence thinking do not understand the value of free speech. Which is why their religious advocates insist that free speech should not hurt the religious sentiments of anyone or any sect, without even understanding that that is exactly what free speech is all about; it comes without any guideline or restraint.
Change agents, who set out to transform societies have always faced resistance and persecution from those who hold on to their old ways. Most are either put behind the bars or mercilessly killed. Yet, they seldom manage to restrain dreamers from altering the flow of civilisation. We might have started to consider ourselves to be progressive because we have made scientific advances and raised out standard of living, yet the truth remains that there are still certain hidden corners of our society where the glow of knowledge and truth cannot penetrate.
India is unlike Pakistan or Bangladesh. Its democratic upbringing is not a hoax or a stunt; it is more religiously tolerant than its neighbours. But then, it has not managed to stop the killings of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi; neither has it brought its killers to justice. This is a matter of shame for India. Despite being a far stronger nation than Pakistan and Bangladesh with a superior intelligence set up, its government has failed to book the perpetrators of the 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blasts, or those responsible for the bombing of the Samjhauta Express that ran between Pakistan and India or those responsible for bombing its numerous mosques.
We can only hope that such apathy towards human life in the name of upholding religious values does not continue forever in India and its government actively intervenes in identifying and punishing the terrorists. It is India’s heavenly and historic mandate to remain a safe haven for those who believe in free speech and progress. If India fails to do so, it would be far worse than its neighbours. And that makes it appropriate to quote the famous Indian radical Nabarun Bhattacharya: “This valley of death is not my country.”
It’s a matter of pride to be a freethinker, atheist and blogger in a civilised society; as such people are loved and respected by the masses. The renowned among them bask in adulation. However, in the dark corners around the world, where society is still in its primitive and brutal state, such intellectuals are shunned for being progressive and speaking their minds or writing what they wish to say. Such societies silence the voices of atheists who try to wake citizens to a new dawn.
I started my writing career 30 years ago, to make obscurantists understand their follies and how they were pushing our society into a deep abyss where the light of truth would never reach. After all these years, I have failed in my crusade, even as these bigots have become more strident. As the lone crusader, my voice could not be heard across the entire country. Bangladesh might have achieved its independence, but without many more voices joining the chorus, the cost of freedom has been high.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her son Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed, who acts as her information and communications technology (ICT) adviser as well as political campaigner, have announced that they will not stand with the atheists, at least openly. But the point is that the atheists are not aliens, they too are citizens of the country.
So, it is apparent that the government of the day is with the bigots.
I wonder when atheist became such a hated word that everybody chooses to maintain a safe distance from them. This, when the government is bound by its own policy to not differentiate between citizens on the basis of their religion, colour, gender or language. Sadly, the Awami League government has turned its back on those people who need its support the most, in order to safeguard its own interest.
Sheikh Hasina’s statements voicing concerns about the recent murder of bloggers opposed to radical islam are words of false hope aimed at attracting a certain vote bank. More enigmatic is her silence on those who can upset her applecart.
No wonder then, Bangladesh runs on doublespeak today — one that sympathises with victims of terrorism and the other that remains eloquently silent against fundamentalism. Sheikh Hasina doesn’t want her world to know whether she or her government has any connection either with the atheist or with the fundamentalist, so she chooses to weave tales to appease both the votebank at home and her liberal global constituency, on which she depends on aid.
Bangladesh has never been a true democracy, because a democracy does not have affinity to any particular religion, whereas Bangladesh has an official religion. Till the time this country gets rid of that state religion, till the time atheists become as accepted as bigots, Bangladesh cannot be called a democratic country. Here, the word atheist is almost a profanity. It’s very unfortunate when a country hates atheists because of being just that.
There has always been a marked conflict between religion and science and every time science emerges as the winner, as science doesn’t base itself on faith but on facts. It supports what is tested and is true and truth cannot be hidden by lies for a very long time. To abolish all kinds of hypocricy from the country, we need more atheists to speak the truth even at the cost of their lives. We need more Abhijits, Anantars, Rajibs and Washiqurs.
I came to learn that Muhammed Zafar Iqbal has said that the silence of the government on the death of the bloggers is a strong indication that this is going to be the new norm for the country. At times, I really feel that one shouldn’t expect anything worthwhile from Bangladesh. Its political parties will turn it into a fundamentalist islamic state. And the commoners will just sit and watch the unfolding horror. A rational mind might say this is strongly condemnable, but for the masses, it is not such an appalling place to be. They have been so blinded by religion that they wouldn’t mind being another clog in the giant wheel turning Bangladesh into “darul islam.”
Citizens who are resisting this anarchy with courage will be slowly and systematically eliminated by those who will never be punished, because they serve the vested interests of shrewd politicians.
Bangladesh was earlier known to the world because of the annual floods that devastated the population. From a country that suffered from natural calamities, it is now emerging as a nation that suffers from manmade catastrophes, remorselessly butchering atheists and bloggers. Unless politicians don’t stop the business of using religion for vote bank politics, several talented youngsters will bleed to death in the country.
Once Sheikh Mujibar Rahaman had moved the people to reject the Pakistani soldiers who massacared the Bangladeshi intelligentsia. Today, his own daughter is indulging criminals whose hands are red with the blood of bloggers. Sheikh Mujibar protested and acted on the crisis, Sheikh Hasina is but a mere shadow of that past.
I no longer feel ashamed to say I feel scared to think of myself as a Bangladeshi.