Between 2013 and 2016, numerous secular writers, religious minorities, and activists in Bangladesh were hacked to death by radical Islamists. This was a deliberate and coordinated onslaught on freethinking and free speech in Bangladesh. That particularly gruesome violent stage seems to have quietened, but the chilling effects persist through censorship and fear and an oppressive regime.
Ananta Bijoy was among those killed by religious extremists who brutally killed him in front of his home in Sylhet on 12 May 2015. A banker by profession, Ananta wrote about science, edited a science magazine named ‘Jukti’, and was an organiser of the local Ganajagaran Mancha.
After a long delay, the verdict has finally been delivered in Ananta Bijoy’s murder case. Four of the five charged have been found guilty and face the death penalty. But three of the four convicted are still absconding. Capital punishment remains a barbaric custom that modern societies should have abandoned long ago, and Shuddhashar is vehemently opposed to this practice. Nonetheless, the victim’s family will hopefully find some solace now that justice, albeit flawed, has been delivered.
However, the verdict does little to change the status quo. The culture of impunity, which facilitated the gruesome attacks on Ananta Bijoy and other secular writers, publishers, and activists, keeps festering. The secular cultural space of Bangladesh is falling to pieces. The exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed right of free-speech lands people behind bars, in torture dungeons. Had he been alive today, Ananta would have found it difficult to breathe in such a repressive atmosphere; the progressive society he dreamt of – that many of us long for – has failed to materialise.
In Bangladesh, freedom of thought is under attack from all directions. If anyone dares to challenge any age-old superstition and its purveyors, they will find themselves targeted by both religious extremists and law enforcement agencies. Support the status quo or you risk drawing the ire of the establishment. Ananta’s books, which challenged pseudo-sciences and superstitions, promoted scientific theories that the educational ministry considered too controversial for school textbooks. As a result, Ananta’s books have disappeared from the bookshelves and online bookstores. They have been replaced by books penned by authors with dubious credentials that peddle pseudo-sciences and are suffused with religious undertones and doublethink. There is a systematic attempt to ensure that no Bangladeshi youth will be inspired by Ananta, read his books, or think and dream like him.
Still, Ananta has inspired so many souls over his brief life that it is impossible to extinguish the light of free thought he kindled in his peers. A prolific writer, Ananta demonstrated his intellectual insight in his writings on various subjects ranging from religion to the theory of evolution, from poetry to the politicisation of science education. Ananta will serve as an intellectual lodestar to a new generation of Bangladeshis through his writings.
We at Shuddhashar pledge to keep him alive through our work. We vouch to introduce his thoughts and dreams to the new generation so that they could carry on with his unfinished mission of establishing a secular, democratic, and pluralistic Bangladesh. Ananta is in us! We are Ananta!