The killing of secular writer-publisher Shahjahan Bachchu in Munshiganj district of Bangladesh on June 11 has revived bitter memories of the barbaric murders of secular bloggers and writers as well as members of minority communities in Bangladesh. Bachchu was known for his forthright views on religion and other issues. His killing has broken the lull that persisted for some time, specially after the gruesome killings of 20 people on July 1, 2016 at the Holey Artisan Restaurant in Dhaka’s elite Gulshan area at the hands of homegrown Islamic terrorists of the Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) under the macabre influence of Islamic State. Of those killed, 17 were foreigners, including Japanese, Italians and one Indian. They targeted non-Muslims and identified them by asking them to read the verses of the Quran. It is shocking that while the UN high commissioner for human rights has demanded the “establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive, independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir”, it is silent on the barbaric and cold-blooded murders of freethinkers, bloggers and writers and members of minorities elsewhere. The silence of the international community in this regard is appalling too.
In 2012, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina published The Unfinished Memoir, the autobiography of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. In it, Mujib has recounted an incident of 1946 when Calcutta was engulfed in communal conflagrations and Hindus and Muslims were killing each other. Mujib, then 26, and his photographer friend Yakub met Mahatma Gandhi and collected some pictures. He writes: “Among the photographs we had collected were some of Muslim women whose breasts had been cut off, little babies who had been beheaded, burning mosques, corpses lying in the streets and many such gruesome scenes from the riots. We wanted the Mahatma to see how his people had been guilty of such crimes, and how they had killed innocents... There can be little doubt that the photographs we presented to the Mahatma left a deep impression on his mind.”
Mujib’s philosophy was firmly rooted in secularism as he had witnessed the bloody communal riots and seen how his co-religionists from West Pakistan tortured and killed Bengali Muslims in what was then East Pakistan. Nearly five lakh people were massacred between 1952 and 1971 in East Pakistan; according to the Awami League, this figure is 30 lakhs. Bangladesh came into existence in 1971 in the name of Bengali nationalism. Its citizens had not accepted the Islamic nationalism which had led to the creation of Pakistan. So there was a bloody protest when Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared Urdu as the national language of Pakistan, though only seven per cent of the population knew that language. East Pakistan rejected this, and demanded parity for Bengali. Students of Dhaka University led a massive protest. On February 21, 1952, many of them were killed when the police opened fire on them.
When Bangladesh framed its Constitution in 1972, it embraced the basic tenets of democracy, socialism, secularism and Bengali nationalism. Later, the junta government, led by Gen. Zia-ur Rahman, usurped power by having Sheikh Mujib and several members of his family brutally murdered in 1975. In 1977, the country introduced sweeping constitutional changes through the Fifth Amendment, virtually destroying the soul of the Constitution. It substituted “Bengali nationalism” with “Bangladeshi nationalism”, striking at the very raison d’être of the new nation erected on the plinth of the Bengali language and culture. The phrase “Bangladeshi nationalism” has the overt hint of Islamic nationalism, and this became evident as secularism was replaced with “absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah”. In 1988, Islam was declared the state religion.
However, in 2010, the Bangladesh Supreme Court ordered the restoration of secularism as a basic tenet of the Constitution. The Sheikh Hasina government brought in the 15th Amendment in 2011 for this, but she did not change Islam as the state religion. In fact, the amendment reinforced it by inserting a new sentence above the preamble: “Param karunamoy name shuru korilam” (In the name of the all compassionate, we begin). It is atravesty that Sheikh Hasina, Mujib’s daughter, is not following in the footsteps of her father as firmly as she is expected to.
The world community is maintaining an eerie silence. Global human rights bodies have spoken up, but only in the context of Rohingya Muslims, pressuring Bangladesh to permit their entry. In 1990s, a sizeable number of Rohingyas, facing persecution in Myanmar, crossed over to Bangladesh and settled in Chittagong district and the Cox’s Bazar region. The irony is that many Islamist militants are from those Rohingyas who fled to escape persecution. They were indoctrinated by the Jamat-e-Islami and it is this class of terrorists which is totally opposed to liberal values and politics. It’s not that Sheikh Hasina has not done anything, but it is far from being adequate. She got Canadian-born mastermind Tamim Chaudhary and six of his trusted lieutenants eliminated. He was sent to Bangladesh by the islamic State with the aim of killing non-believers, as he himself articulated in a rare interview, “It is not the methodology of the Khilafat soldiers to send mere threats to enemies of Allah. Rather, we let our actions do the talking. Our soldiers are sharpening their knives to slaughter the atheists and apostates of the region.”
For these obscurantists, anyone not believing in Allah is a heretic. Thus they target not only Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, etc, but also Muslims who are atheists. The government sulks after each incident and invariably blames the victim for hurting the religious sentiments of the people. It is not at all serious about protecting Hindus. Irrepressible blogger Arif Jebtik, who faces death threats for his fearless writings, had explained the Hasina government’s stand on Hindus to an Indian newspaper thus: “Thaakley vote paabo, gele jomi paabo.”(If Hindus stay, we shall get their votes, and if they leave, we shall get their land.)
When will the world community wake up? Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.” The Universal Declaration had to be adopted as the United Nations Charter has utterly failed to protect human rights.