Another secular activist, progressive thinker and writer, Shahjahan Bacchu was shot dead in Bangladesh. He was a poet, a creative publisher and an outspoken atheist activist. He was a left politician and an open activist against religious fundamentalism for many years. Since 2015, he was receiving death threat for being an atheist and for his outspoken activism against religious fundamentalism on blogs and social media. Yesterday, on June 11th, he was shot dead by 4 unknown persons, close to his home in Munshiganj a nearby district of the capital city of Bangladesh. This is probably the 40th killing of progressive activist in last couple of years. This list is getting longer, it is including free-thinkers, writers, poets, university teacher, singer, activists for LGBT rights and so on. Bacchu is another latest name in that list.
Bangladesh is now a horrifying killing machine. Anyone who has a different opinion than the preferred grand-narrative of the ruling party are under the guillotine, sponsored by the ruling party and the state. Anyone having different opinion about the dominant religion Islam, is under threat and attack. Nowadays, this is the usual life of Bangladeshi people, living with death threat almost every day, either from different government agencies or from the Islamist organizations. A horrifying insecurity is making ordinary people’s life terrified in every social space. There is no space of having different opinion, there is no space of having any critical views on religion or about state policies and politics of the ruling party. Free thinkers are under threat and often silenced by Islamic fanatics and their allies. As of now almost 40 free thinkers, secular activist, university teachers, cultural activist, LGBT rights activists have been killed and as a regular phenomenon, most of the killers are outside of the bar. State and the responsible authorities are not showing any sign to investigate these brutal murders. There are no believable initiatives from government side to investigate these cases and arrest the accused killers.
Bangladesh fought against Pakistani regime in 1971 to create a secular and humane society, it’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression for all of its citizen. However, right after the independence, the country started to shift its position from a secular political ambition to a more fundamentalists culture, heavily influenced by Sunni Islam. The founding leader of the country Sheikh Mujibur Rahman laid the first stone of the Islamic fundamentalism by joining the OIC in 1974 and after that decision, the country never looked back to its original aspiration of the liberation war in 1971. Under the military regime of General Ziaur Rahman and General Ershad, the country was moved towards an Islamic direction and political Islam extended its shadow in ordinary people’s life. Military regime declared Islam as the state religion and secularism was removed from the primary constitution of 1972. However, after the military regime, none of the democratically elected government tried to restore the secular dream of Bangladesh to its constitution.
After the fall of military dictator General Ershad in 1990, the two-leading party Bangldesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Awami League contested to grab the support of the militant Islamist groups in Bangladesh just to capture the state power. Instead of fighting for a democratic, liberal society, both the parties spent their all efforts to gain the trust of ordinary people by showing themselves as a true Islam supporter. Awami league who led the liberation war in 1971 turned out to be the biggest traitor against the political promise of a secular society in the constitution of liberation war. Islamic fundamentalists are fully revived in last two decades where they enjoyed almost unconditional support from the two-ruling party BNP and Awami League. In the current political environment, Islamist fundamentalist groups are the nearest allies of the ruling party Awami League.
BNP the right-wing nationalist party had always their political ties with the Islamist fundamentalist group Jamate-e-Islami Bangladesh. On the other hand, the self-claimed secular party Awami League also did not keep any distance from this violent Islamist groups. Over a decade ago, on 23rd December, 2006, just to win the then forthcoming general election, the self-claimed ‘secular’ party Awami League signed a monstrous ‘memorandum of understanding (MOU)’ with the most fanatic Islamic group in Bangladesh, named ‘Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish’ (BKM). The top leaders of this group were involved with the Islamic militant group called JMB that was famously known for their country wide terrorist activities and killing ordinary citizens who were considered as ‘enemy of Islam’. With this known terrorist Islamic fundamentalist group, Awami league signed a five-point unconditional agreement and promised them that if their ‘Grand alliance’ win the election, they will implement the five points. The main points in that agreement was as following:
- The government would allow the certified ‘Ulema’ (Islamic Clerics) the right to issue fatwas
- The government impose a bar on enacting any law that went against quranic values
- The government will initiate the proper implementation of the initiative for state recognition of the degrees awarded by ‘Qawmi Madrassahs’
- The government will ban any criticisms of prophet Muhammad and Islam, e.g. introducing a blasphemy law and
As a part of the agreement, Awami League promised to give six national assembly nominations to this Islamist group. This list included Mufti Shahidul Islam and Habibur Rahman, very well known for their participation in Afgan war as foreign mujahidin. This agreement did not get time for implementation due to the subsequent capture of the state power by a military backed government. The expected election was postponed and finally after two years, Awmai League was chosen to form the government by the military backed government. Though, the five-point agreement was no longer valid during Awami Leagu’s new government, however, Awami League implemented all the four points above in last 10 years, almost unconditionally. They literally introduced a blasphemy law to prevent any criticism against religion or Islam, this law is known as ‘article 57’ or ‘Satanno dhara’. Despite having the poorly designed and lagging behind standard of ‘Qawmi Madrassah’ education, Awami League, made state to recognize the ‘Qawmi Madrassah’ degree by giving equivalent status to the main stream university highest degree, as per their promise to the Islamist fundamentalist groups, a decade ago.
Free speech and freedom of expression was always challenged by the religious fanatics and now they are ferociously powerful with the full support of the current government. The ruling party, Awami League is in all out form to keep the power by suppressing all forms of opinion that are not aligned with their political ambitions. In the country, during last two decades, an acute Islamization happened in every part of the society and this was actively sponsored by the current ruling party Bangladesh Awami League and the opposition coalition BNP and Jamat e Islami. Nowadays, the ruling party Awami League is desperate to consolidate their power by any means and therefore they have developed a dangerous coalition with religious fanatics. This is the party who had the history of having political coalition with Afghanistan returned mujahidin, back in 2006 and now they are the closest ally of the largest Islamist fundamentalist group called ‘Hefajat-e-Islam’. This ‘Hefajat-e-Islam’ created a country wide violent campaign to resist the implementation of the ‘National women policy’ based on UN women charter CEDAW. The chief of Hefajat-e-islami openly declared that it is time to kill ‘atheists and non-believers’ and he explained why women should be banned from working outside, specifically in the textile sector where almost 6 million Bangladeshi women are working. Hefajoat-e-Islami is against of all traditional Bengali cultural festivals, Bengali rituals, arts and culture. They are labelling traditional Bengali culture as ‘Non-Islamic’ and therefore claiming these should be banned in Bangladesh. Eventually, Hefajat-e-Islami and other Islamists fundamentalist organizations declared that the country is only for believer people, therefore all non-believer, skeptic and atheists should be hanged or killed.
Then who are the killers or these progressive activists, atheists and non-believers? Who are the killers of Shahjahan Bacchu? Like in most incidences, no one was identified or arrested in this case. However, from previous several experiences, from the open public statements of different islamist groups, having a closer look on their social media activities, it is not so difficult to correlate that who are the killers. Like several previous instances, it is probably a joint venture of state sponsored agencies and the Islamic fundamentalist groups who were continuously threatening Bacchu since last 3 – 4 years. Together with the home grown militant Islamic fundamentalists, fingers are also indicated towards several state agencies in Bangladesh for master minding all these brutal killing including the murder of Bacchu.
This is really a critical time to raise our voice against this combined terrorism by Islamist groups and the state sponsored killing agencies. International opinion should be generated against these killings. International community should raise their voice in the western political arena about the freedom of speech situation in Bangladesh.
This is a grave condition for free speech and human rights in Bangladesh, we must act and protest, right now.