Last Friday, on August 7, Niladri Chatterjee -- writer, blogger, secular activist -- was killed by unnamed assailants in his own home. The attack took place right after Jumma prayers at his residence in Goran, in Khilgaon, near Banasree. He was hacked to death, having been stabbed 14 times by machete-wielding pawns of justice.
The killers had come in, pretending to ask about the rent. His wife, Ashamoni, and her sister, were with him at the time, whom they held at gunpoint in the balcony, all the while hacking away at Niladri. “Allahu Akbar,” they screeched as Ashamoni screamed for help, but no one was there to save the day.
They left the scene, most mercifully having left Ashamoni and her sister still alive, wiping their bloody machetes on a ragged piece of cloth, and putting them back in their bags. At least, they recycle.
Their modus operandi left little to the imagination as to what their motive was.
Niladri Chatterjee was around 30 at the time of his death. He was a blogger for Mukto-Mona (founded by another murdered secularist, Avijit Roy; we all should know that by now), and Ishtishon, both platforms for rational dialogue, free-thinking, human rights, secularism, and religious tolerance. He wrote under the moniker Niloy Neel (one presumes, to prevent the fate that eventually befell him) and rented his flat in Goran under the name Niloy Chowdhury, claiming (or did his landlord presume?) to be a Muslim.
It is a sad day indeed when a country’s citizens have to suppress their true identities to save their own lives.
In an e-mail to the press, Ansar Al Ali, also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team, claimed responsibility for the killing. They claim to be a faction of al-Qaeda in the Indian sub-continent. It was an act of “vengeance for the honour of Allah,” they say. It seems that the ridiculousness of having to fight and protect the honour of an omnipotent God is lost on them. One would think that an all-powerful God could take care of Himself.
To backtrack slightly, Niladri -- Neel, Niloy, Mr Chowdhury -- was being followed by two men a few days before he was murdered. He had been coming back from a rally which had been organised to protest the murder of Ananta Bijoy Das. The men, suspicious in their body language, had climbed on to the same bus or “tempo” he was on, following him back to the alley which led on to his home.
Following this, fearing for his life, knowing of the murky waters he had been swimming in all his life, Niladri tried to file a General Diary, or GD, with the local police. The police officers, however, would not allow him to do so, unwilling to take the responsibility of having to protect the life of someone they are bound, by law and honour, to protect. Whoever files the GD would then be responsible, and if anything were to happen to him, the officer or constable in question would be held liable, and could potentially lose his or her posting. The only advice they gave him was this: Leave the country.
And that is how a denizen of our grand nation succumbed to the forces of religious violence, surrendering his life to the bullying of individuals.
The inspector general of police has since then gone on record to cite hurting someone’s religious sentiments as being a crime. “According to laws, if anyone hurts one’s feelings, he will be punished by law. None should cross the limit,” he added.
Pray tell, Mr Inspector General, what is this “limit” you speak of? Who is this universal authority who claims to set the limits on what we can say, and what we cannot? When do you, Mr Inspector General, decide that a line has been crossed, and how do you know that the line you draw is the same one everyone else draws, or even the law draws? Is there a word uttered without it hurting someone’s, anyone’s, feelings?
And, even if one were to somehow agree with the inspector general, that merely disagreeing with the common opinion was a crime, doesn’t that “criminal” still retain his rights, deserve protection as a citizen of this country, especially when rapists and murderers are seen every day, freed on bail?
But this has long ceased to become an issue of freedom of speech, something that Islam’s followers claim is protected by Islamic law, since the God, some assume, allows free will. This series of murders, with Niladri being the fourth this year alone, portrays how the national psyche as a whole needs vicissitudes of the most revolutionary of orders. This “don’t ruffle any feathers” attitude that the majority carries in its mind-set is as detrimental to the safety of our basic human rights as taping up our mouths with scotch tape and locking us in a room as we suffocate, breathing in the stench of oppression.
To top it off, in the last three murder cases, no progress has been made, no “justice” served, justice our police force is given the power to enforce, as is evident from the most rudimentary of delineations of their job descriptions. No progress has been made to squash Ansarullah Bangla Team out from the pockets of our country in which they hide, almost in plain sight, for they, there is no doubt, carry the same sentiments as most of our country-men and women. Only their willingness to put actions to their words may be different.
The amount of criminal negligence that the police have shown in the case of Niladri, and continue to show in the other unclosed cases, is an unacceptable facet of the layers of filth we as Bangladeshis have come to expect from our public servants. It seems that the best we can hope for, and the best we can do, is to kneel and give in, much like Neel did, to the sharpened blades of a group of thugs, whose idea of a perfect society is incompatible with the times, and steals from us the very notions of equality, liberty, and mutual respect.
Niladri Chatterjee -- husband, citizen, human -- is just another crossed out number on a list that is slowly gaining reputation as a list of the unavenged dead. And it is only a matter of time before the list expands to include all of us, if not, at least, by crossing us out, but by shoving us under the rock of religious extremism.