Since 2013, more than 20 people – including secular writers, bloggers, professors, members of religious minorities and foreigners – have been killed in targeted attacks in Bangladesh. Why are secular individuals being targeted in Bangladesh? Who is killing them?
Jihadists have been silencing or threatening voices of sanity because democracy and pluralism are anathema to them. All they want is to establish a theocracy. They want to create Darul Islam, the land of Islam in Bangladesh. They want no law but Sharia, no women’s rights, and no freedom of speech. They want group loyalty perforce, which has no space for freedom of thought. There are 148 jihadi training camps in Bangladesh. Jihadists are helped by Jamat-e-Islami, 132 Islamic terrorist organizations including Ansarullah Bangla team and 231 fundamentalist institutions including ‘Islami bank’. In the last 40 years, almost 40 thousand crores takas have been used for the military training of Jihadists in Bangladesh. It is only 20% of total profits that was earned from the Islamic fundamentalists’ economy. It is well established that the Islami bank has been financing terrorism.
Six years ago when Bangladesh restored secularism in its constitution, it seemed it was on a progressive path. What happened in the last few years that there is such violent reaction against secularism? Has the trial and conviction of 1971 Jamat-e-Islami war criminals in Bangladesh triggered this violence?
If that were so, Islamists would have attacked the judges or people in positions of power. But Islamists have been killing atheist bloggers, critics of Islam, intellectuals, and progressive Muslims. Islamists can kill anyone they want with impunity, and it becomes possible because the country has been Islamized for the last few decades because the government is not only a mute spectator but also directly encouraging the Islamists by criticizing bloggers for hurting the sentiments of people. This is bizarre, unthinkable in a society governed by rule of law. It seems that Bangladesh is hurtling back to the medieval age.
What is the extent of religious extremism in Bangladesh? Can ISIS find support there? How is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina fighting religious fundamentalist forces?
All of the terrorists and fundamentalists of the country support ISIS. Many received training from ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Sheikh Hasina denies this because of political compulsions. The denial is facile and nothing short of political skullduggery. The killings of atheists and bloggers punch holes in her claims. Islamists once attacked her with grenades. However, out of political compulsions she prefers to forget about it under imposed amnesia. Instead of proclaiming she is actually a secular person, she says she is a deeply religious person. There is a competition among political leaders as to who is more religious. Politicians use religion to get votes from the ignorant masses. Sheikh Hasina created the Ulema League in her party, the Awami League. The Ulema League is the organization of Islamic fundamentalists. Members of this organization are not different from the Jamat-e-Islami goons. They support the killing of freethinkers and atheist bloggers in the country.
India is stigmatized by 1984 anti-Sikh violence, 1990 ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, 2002 Gujarat riots. According to Indian government’s own admission, communal intolerance and violence has gone up in the last couple of years in India too. Three rationalists were killed last year and two Muslim boys lynched to death. How is India’s majoritarian violence against minorities different from Bangladesh?
Islamic fundamentalists have systematically targeted Minorities in Bangladesh. Hindus are harassed, tortured, and even killed only because they are Hindus. Hindu girls are getting raped, and Hindu-hating Muslims forcibly takes lands owned by Hindus. Hindus are frequently told to leave the country. In 1947, Hindu population in Bangladesh was 31%. Now it is around 8%.
I do not think Muslims in India are oppressed the way Hindus are oppressed in Bangladesh. Hindu extremists hate Indian Muslims but the Indian Constitution is secular which guarantees equality before law and the equal protection of law to all irrespective of religion, caste, sex, place of birth etc., and the laws are applied uniformly, which protect Muslims. Muslims in India are given lots of facilities and opportunities to get education and jobs for being Muslims. The population of Hindus is currently less in Bangladesh because of the exodus that started since the partition of India. Hindus do not fight back in Bangladesh, but in India Muslims often fight back against their oppression. It can happen only if you have equality.
In India, all politicians appease Muslims. In Bangladesh there is no such thing as minority appeasement policy. Hindus are leaving Bangladesh for other countries to save their lives. Muslims in India do not need to leave their country.
Pakistan is fighting Islamists too. How is Bangladesh’s situation any different from Pakistan’s?
Bangladesh was born as a secular country; its constitution was secular. Pakistan is an Islamic republic. But Bangladesh, once a secular state, is now degenerating into a country of Islamists. Because of the Islamization of Bangladesh for 40 long years, its political system is now totally Islamic. You will not find many Muslim countries with political systems as Islamized as is the case in Bangladesh. Islamic fanatics have killed so many secular writers and bloggers and freethinkers in recent years. Not a single killer has been punished. But the Islamic fanatic who killed secular and progressive Salman Taseer in Pakistan was hanged. You can get at least some justice in Pakistan, but not in Bangladesh, which has become a safe haven for Islamists. Even Syria and Iraq are not as accommodating of Islamic fanatics as Bangladesh. No air raid or drone attacks disturb Bangladeshi jihadists. The government of Bangladesh is providing them with protection and has warned atheists and free thinker bloggers to quit writing about atheism and secularism and stop hurting religious feelings. Atheists are getting arrested under 57 ICT acts, a new law which was created to fight free thought.
All three states that emerged from the partition of Indian subcontinent seem to be challenged by the same communal conflicts that our freedom fighters were fighting through the 1940s. Was Partition a good idea to begin with? How has creation of Bangladesh helped?
Partition was a mistake. Now India has two neighbours dominated by Islamic fundamentalists. The 1971 Bangladesh-Pakistan war proved that Muslim unity was a myth and the two-nation theory was a blunder. Bangladesh could not remain as a secular state due to the Islamic policies that were introduced by corrupt political regimes. Bangladesh is becoming the worst Islamic country in the world. Having a neighbour like Bangladesh is not good for India. You never know when the ISIS and al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations will come to India and begin killing innocent people. Bangladesh is totally a failed state. The so-called democratic government is a theocratic government in reality. The creation of Bangladesh as a secular state has failed miserably. Bangladesh has become a breeding ground for terrorists.
You have been very critical of Indian liberals and the Left. Why?
I have always been critical of far right politics. I am also critical of Indian liberals and leftists. I noticed liberals and leftists are generally very critical of Hindu fanaticism but not of Islamic fanaticism. Islamic fanatics are against human rights, women’s rights, free speech and democracy. The truth is those Islamic fanatics are against everything Indian liberals stand for. But liberals strangely sympathize with them. This is how they have distorted the concept of secularism.
You have been opposed to all religions? Don’t you think criticism of religion is unnecessarily provoking even moderate religionists to take hardliner positions?
I do not think so. Freethinkers, rationalists, atheists, humanists are a minority in most societies. Moderate religionists do not need criticism of religion to become hardliners. They have political reasons to become hardliners. Criticism of religion should hopefully provoke people to think rationally and give up irrational blind faith. We must not forget that without criticism of religion no society has evolved and no state becomes secular. Critical scrutiny of religion is necessary for a healthy society. No religion should be protected from critical scrutiny, from questioning unethical aspects of its doctrines. Criticism encourages people to become secular humanists.
Hardliners have been killing atheists and rationalists in Bangladesh. They became hardliners because they were indoctrinated with Islam from a very early age, and they sorely need to be exposed to a rational and tolerant worldview.
Rezaul Karim Siddiguee was hacked to death by Islamists yesterday in Bangladesh. He was not an atheist blogger. He was a professor of English at Rajshahi University. He was involved in cultural activities. He played sitar and puboished literary magazines. He was of course a progressive man.
It is not easy to find atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. Because atheists left the country out of fear. Some are hiding. Stop writing. So, islamists killed a progressive student in Dhaka a few days ago, now they killed a progressive teacher in Rajshahi.
Muhammad killed poets. Asma Bint Marwan was killed for criticizing Muhammad in her poetry in 624. Rezaul Karim Siddiquee was killed by followers of Muhammad for writing poems or publishing literary magaizines, or playing sitar or for being a freethinker in 2016.
I am not surprised. Killers are Muslims. They have the right to practice Islam or follow the orders or advices of Allah and Muhammad in a country where state religion is Islam and where almost everybody believes that Islam means peace and nobody has the right to do any unislamic things. Rezaul Karim opened a music school in his village, that was a non Islamic act. Writing poetry,playing sitar are also non Islamic.
Islamists killed some other progressive professors of Rajshahi University. Islamists will continue killing all the secular progressive people in Bangladesh. Government will say nothing against the killers. No action will be taken against them. Bangladesh is Becoming a killing field.
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.