The hacking to death of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das at Sylhet in Bangladesh on Wednesday brought back into focus the threat faced by rational thinkers in that country.
Das blogged at Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), a website once moderated by Avijit Roy, a writer who was himself hacked to death in February. The 43-year-old Roy, an engineer-turned-writer, wrote to promote secularism and to challenge religious fundamentalism.
What made matters worse was that weeks after Roy’s murder, 27-year-old blogger Washiqur Rahman, who wrote satirical pieces on Islam, was hacked to death in Dhaka in March.
The string of attacks on freethinkers, experts say, reflects the growth of extremism that the Bangladesh government cannot afford to neglect any longer.
“While it is an attack on free expression it reveals the inner turmoil in Bangladesh - between those fighting for rational thought and free thinking and those who oppose challenges to religious orthodoxy,” writer and journalist Salil Tripathi told Hindustan Times.
“The government simply cannot wash its hands off. It must protect those who wish to express themselves freely,” said Tripathi, the author of “The Colonel Who Would Not Repent” based on Bangladesh’s creation in 1971.
At this juncture, after the murder of three bloggers, it is worthwhile to analyse their writings to understand why they were so hated by fundamentalists.
The writings of the three that are available on the internet show that they were strong critics of religious fundamentalism and tried to enthuse a spirit of scientific and rational enquiry in their readers.
Ananta Bijoy Das
For example, this Facebook post by Das on the Nepal earthquake of last month captures the anti-fundamentalism spirit of these bloggers.
An authentic literal translation (by award-winning translator and writer Arunava Sinha) of this post reads:
“We must not expect much of religious fanatics. Whether these fanatics are Pakistani, American Christians, or Indian Hindus. At the end of the day they belong to the same cattle pen.”
Another short satirical post by Das was:
In this post, dated March 26, he wished Bangladeshis a Happy Independence Day, but says the greeting is not for “religious and cultural minorities”.
A scroll through the posts on Das’s Facebook page reveals how strong a voice he was in condemning parochialism, fundamentalism, patriarchy and sexual offences, and of course, the killing of Avijit Roy and apprehensions about justice for him. His posts show he was a follower of the principle of Charles Darwin and supported the dead cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
In one post on the mass sacrifice of thousands of animals in Nepal, Das wrote:
(The writer tweets at @saha_abhi1990 )