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Why have Bangladesh's Charlie Hebdos gone unsung?

By Indulekha Aravind
May 14, 2015 11:14 IST
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A man holds a Bangladesh national flag as he chants a slogan before a mass funeral as the body of Rajib Haider, an architect and blogger who was a key figure in organising demonstrations, arrives at Shahbagh intersection in Dhaka in this photograph taken on February 16, 2013. Photograph: Andrew Biraj/Reuters

Three bloggers have been murdered in Bangladesh in the last three months, and yet, the international community does not seem to be sufficiently incensed, observes Indulekha Aravind

Last month, United States-based Bangladeshi blogger Jahed Ahmed wrote in Bangladesh’s The Daily Star: ‘Another blogger’ is the phrase most English news media worldwide used in their headlines of blogger Oyasiqur Rahman Babu's murder.” 

That headline was chillingly repeated on Tuesday as news reports started coming in that Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, a bank employee in Sylhet in Bangladesh, was killed on his way to work. Das used to write for Mukto Mana, a blog on ‘science, rationalism, humanism and freethinking’, whose founder Avijit Roy was hacked to death in February, the first of this year’s macabre toll of Bangladeshi bloggers.

Roy, who was based in the US, was murdered when he visited Dhaka. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, who was also with him, suffered head injuries and the loss of her thumb. Next on the hit-list was Washiqur Rahman, 27, again killed in broad daylight, on his way to work.

Joining them now is Das, killed by machete-wielding masked men, 500 metres away from his office in Sylhet city, according to Al Jazeera

Imran Sarker, head of the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh, told me last month that bloggers were increasingly coming under attack because they could not be influenced or controlled, unlike political parties and organisations.

“So they started killing them,” said Sarker, who has received multiple death threats himself. Sarker says Das was a co-activist and a protest meeting was being organised for Tuesday.

"Murdering someone over a disagreement… eliminating someone because he said something I don't approve of! This is not the Bangladesh we dreamed of,” Roy’s father, Ajoy Roy, a respected professor and former freedom fighter had told Jahed Ahmed when he called to express condolences.

The professor’s anguish is palpable. It seems unimaginable that young men and women should pay with their lives, just for expressing their views, on blogs. But that is exactly what is happening in Bangladesh: time after time after time, with cold determination.

And yet, the international community, by and large, does not seem to be sufficiently incensed. No solidarity marches in other capitals, or world leaders expressing sympathy for the victims. Not even that modern symbol of solidarity, the Twitter hashtag conveying righteous indignation and outrage.

Which is a bit ironical because these young men, too, were murdered for fighting to exercise that precious right, to the freedom of expression, just like the editors and reports of the French publication, Charlie Hebdo, who were gunned down.

Was their fight any less of a good fight because they were doing it as individuals though that, in fact, probably lays them open to greater risk, without the protection of any organisation or ideology?  

Or is it because Sylhet is not Paris?

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Indulekha Aravind
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