Niloy Neel’s murder in Dhaka, the fourth in a row of intrepid bloggers, is yet another taint on Bangladesh’s dying conscience. Any secular pretensions that the Awami League government might have had can be buried with Neel’s brutal death at the hands of the fundamentalists, whose whereabouts are not unknown to the Dhaka’s state and police.
No critic of fanatic Islam is safe in Bangladesh. It’s not a question only having secular beliefs. If you are privately secular but do not question what hardline Islamist groups, particularly the rabid Ansarullah Bangla Team you will perhaps be okay. But the moment you start voicing your opinion and in case they are critical of Islam, your life is in danger.
Both Hindus and Muslims are being targeted for speaking out but it seems Hindus are more in danger. Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das and now Niloy Neel — four men have been hacked to death for criticising Islam. Also, many of the bloggers are not only secular, some also happen to be atheists.
It began with me, my writing, which questioned Islam at a fundamental level. 21 years ago, they issued a fatwa, tried their best to assassinate me. But I was lucky to escape their persecution. International organisations campaigned to safeguard my life. Nevertheless, I have paid a huge price. For two decades, I have not been able to go back.
Sheikh Hasina’s government is morally culpable. I am squarely blaming the state for these massacres in installment. Its indifference and so-called inability to rein in the murderous Ansarullah brigade is solely predicated on the fear of being labelled atheists. Awami League’s secularism is only on papers. It’s a sham, because it has done nothing to save these important and urgent voices of reason. It’s pandering to the lowest of low among Islamist extremists, not arresting machete-wielding killers who roam around in broad daylight threatening anyone who contradicts their obscene, barbaric faith. Tell me, who has been charged with these serial murders yet? I heard two were arrested, but no charges have been pressed. This, when the Ansarullah has openly flaunted the murders on social media.
I, too, have been threatened by the bloodthirsty Ansarullah gang. Most bloggers, whoever can afford it, are fleeing Bangladesh en masse. Those who are left behind, like Niloy, are being assassinated. I have heard that Niloy tried to lodge an FIR against Ansarullah, but the cops advised him to leave the country itself if he cherished his life. I don’t know if Niloy would have eventually left or not, but he did not live to make that heartbreaking decision.
- As told to Angshukanta Chakraborty