South Asia is not a safe space for diversity or independent thought, anymore. A region that showed the world how non-violent struggle can challenge colonialism now has a high incidence of settling political and ideological differences through egregious violence. Christians and Shias are subject to brutal terrorist violence periodically in Pakistan, while India has seen a rise in everyday coercion of liberals who do not adhere to Right-wing agendas.
Bangladesh is also seeing the kind of extremism and savagery that makes the world shudder. Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death along with his friend, Tonoy Mehbub, a USAID worker, by five or six men in Dhaka on April 25. Last weekend saw the murder of English professor Rezaul Karim Siddique at Rajshahi. These are among several attacks on secular, atheist independent thinkers and bloggers that have happened over the last year. In most cases, the victims have been attacked with machetes and left dying to evoke public horror and provoke fear among the intelligentsia. The reasons why the killings are not stopping are all too familiar.
The Sheikh Hasina government, known to be more tolerant than the Opposition Bangladesh National Party of Khaleda Zia has pursued the trials against those who had participated in the atrocities during the country’s liberation in 1971. But Hasina is however wary of offending religious conservatives and her government has not tracked down and prosecuted the criminals who have committed these acts. Instead, her government has on occasion arrested bloggers for allegedly offending religious sentiments or corrupting readers. Extremism in Bangladesh has been a global security concern for a while now and the State has likely acquired some capacity to be able to deal with high-profile crimes. Not acting in this regard is a political choice that the Hasina government has made, to its country’s detriment.
Those in India must not presume that Bangladesh’s reality is worlds away. We see hate speech deployed on Twitter against liberals daily and have seen the killings of activists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and scholar MM Kalburgi, without anyone prosecuted yet. Protecting liberty and establishing the rule of law are in the final analysis national security issues.