Bangladesh’s descent into Islamist madness – Taslima Nasrin

Sheikh Hasina with Hefazat-e-Islam chief Shah Ahmed Shafi

Taslima NasrinThe government of Bangladesh is ruling at present using the same theocratic ideals as that of Pakistan. This explains why secularism has been expunged from the constitution to be replaced by a state religion, why democracy has been reduced to mere lip-service, why family laws are not egalitarian but determined on religious lines like it used to be during the Pakistani regime. – Taslima Nasrin

It is common knowledge that Bangladesh won the 1971 Liberation War after defeating Pakistan. We also know how the defeated Pakistani forces were forced to leave in disgrace.

However, how many of the ideals Bangladesh had fought for remain just as relevant after half a century?

I am not sure who can answer this question and how, but I can definitely claim that very few of those ideals remain in practice. There are a thousand examples to corroborate this, one of which would be my own story. I subscribe to the ideals of the Liberation War a hundred per cent, I live my life based on them and they influence my writing too.

But, there is no place for me in that very same country, I have no right to live there. I was driven out in 1994 by Khaleda Zia and although I had ignored her successor Sheikh Hasina’s ire when I had gone back to visit my ailing mother, the latter had driven me out in much the same manner within three months in January 1999. For twenty-seven years I have been forced to live a life without any family, friends, loved ones, without even a home.

Was I related to any of the collaborators of the enemies of the Liberation War, like the members of Al-Badr, Al-Shams or the Razakar? No, I was a child then, a supporter of the Liberation War and many members of my family were brave muktijodhha, freedom fighters.

Did I grow up to become a murder, rapist, thief or robber? No, I was the child of a doctor of a secular, educated family who studied medicine and became a doctor herself. I spent years as a government-appointed doctor in village health centres providing healthcare to the needy, spent days and nights caring for the sick and ailing in the government hospitals of Dhaka as well.

Besides medicine, literature was one of my biggest passions. I have written poems since I was a teenager. And what have been the persistent themes of my short stories, novels and essays? Themes one could find in the Constitution of Bangladesh too, namely, secularism, democracy, socialism, Bengali nationalism; there was also equality of the sexes, human rights and humanity. And, my writings were also a protest against the forces of religious dogma, misogyny, terrorism and communalism.

Naturally the bigoted, evil, misogynous, pro-Pakistani, anti-Liberation, anti-democratic factions who were against the independence of Bangladesh were soon up in arms against me. It was not I as a person who was their target; I was merely a tool for them to use to increase their political relevance and clout. Both the governments of Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina had been aware of this ploy but neither chose to extend any support to me, instead choosing to side with the bigoted forces of evil.

My defeat had thus been a sort of victory for them, my exile had provided them the opportunity to politicise religious dogma. In fact, these forces of evil were even allowed into the parliament.

All the governments have bent the knee in such a manner before these anti-Liberation elements, have submitted to all their demands and reimagined themselves after them. All the things that groups like Jamaat-e-Islami, Hefazat-e-Islam and a hundred other Islamist groups would have done had they been in power, those very same things have continued to flourish under Ziaur Rehman in the eighties or under Sheikh Hasina today.

My family was tormented by the Pakistani forces. My father was abducted, brutally tortured and then dumped, nearly dead, in front of our house by soldiers. They raided houses and took away jewellery and money; women were taken to the camps and raped. However, my family had to suffer persecution even in so-called independent Bangladesh, at the hands of the collaborators of the enemy forces, at the hands of their descendants as well as the admirers of Pakistan’s theocratic regime.

Pakistani forces had brutally murdered progressive poets, writers, philosophers, teachers, filmmakers, musicians and singers and many others who were considered Bengali national treasures. In much the same vein pro-Pakistani fanatical groups have targeted progressive individuals and their number is quite considerable. Perhaps just as considerable as the anti-secular forces that Bangladesh continues to embolden today.

Thus, even those aforementioned forces of evil fly the flag of Bangladesh now. That’s because they are well aware that the government of Bangladesh is ruling at present using the same theocratic ideals as that of Pakistan. This explains why secularism has been expunged from the constitution to be replaced by a state religion, why democracy has been reduced to mere lip-service, why family laws are not egalitarian but determined on religious lines like it used to be during the Pakistani regime.

There are attacks against minorities every other day, just like in Pakistan. Over the past half a century the concentrated efforts of successive governments have succeeded in transforming Bangladesh into a second version of the Pakistan, a replica of a landmass a thousand miles away that they had fought a war to be independent of.

In our times the Victory Day belongs to the Al-Badr, Al-Shams, the Razakars or the numerous prejudiced peoples they had brainwashed with their influence. Back in 1971 the seculars had been victorious, today it’s the fanatics who emerge triumphant.

This is not my victory; it rather belongs to the lakhs of patrons of mosques and madrassas, to the patriarchal anti-secular religious businessmen, to the collaborators and their heirs. A tiny Pakistan had remained in hiding in Bangladesh in 1971 and today it has grown and become a monster. This monster has been victorious against the older secular values, against the ideals and the culture of the Liberation War—this Victory Day belongs to them.

I was driven out of my country by the government. Those who used to subscribe to a progressive secular outlook, were committed to the equality of the sexes and the ideals of the Liberation War, they were murdered by pro-Pakistani forces.

Subsequently, however, the government has only displayed reluctance in arresting the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, they have been disinclined towards standing up to brutality. History bears witness to this. The progressives have been forced to flee to other countries while those who remain have chosen to embrace silence.

The country named Bangladesh has guaranteed security to pro-Pakistani, Rajakar-friendly, misogynous and communal forces, while a person like me, always on the side of the Liberation War, has no security there.

Sometimes, I suspect that with this indulgence and support of the government Bangladesh will one day become worse than Pakistan, where not one progressive voice will be safe anymore. The only two choices would be for everyone to either die or leave the country. Whether people accept it or not, in the past fifty years Bangladesh has taken this tragic turn.

The name of the country remains the same, the national anthem Amar sonar Bangla… (My golden Bengal…) still is by Tagore. One day people opposed to the Bengali language and culture will perhaps change this too. And there is enough reason for this concern. We see who the biggest rallies in the country belong to, who the government panders to and whose unfair demands does the government always submit to. Nobody is unaware of the direction the country is taking.

The forces that had sided with the Liberation War are now firmly in the minority; if that is difficult to accept then let’s do a quick survey.

Even in Pakistan so many secular people have not been hacked to death. Does that imply there are no atheists there? Of course there are many but they have not had to face anything remotely comparable to what has happened in Bangladesh.

Has Pakistan forcefully exiled a progressive writer such as me? No, they have not. Even those who have left for the sake of security are allowed to return after a certain government is no longer in power. But a humanist author like me has not been allowed to return by any government of Bangladesh whatsoever. If something wrong is committed for a long time, eventually people begin to believe it to be normal and natural. The injustice done against me by successive governments over the past twenty-seven years has similarly become naturalised for many people.

Today, who celebrates Victory Day in a country we had won in exchange for the blood of thirty lakh people? Which ideals are supposed to be preserved by marking this occasion?

It’s true that the pro-Liberation forces are in power but they are distinctly in the minority now. The collaborators and dogmatists who have raised hell across the country also have access to power. The government too has bowed down to them and purged itself of all the ideals of the Liberation War, instead resorting to compromise after compromise.

I cannot say how long this Victory Day can be celebrated. Sometimes I fear that one day the collaborators of the enemy and their descendants will stop celebrating this occasion. The country will slip into darkness, way more acute and relentless than Pakistan, much like Afghanistan. Perhaps that day I, and most open-minded citizens, will have to bid farewell to my beloved country for good. – Firtstpost, 19 December 2022

Taslima Nasrin is a renowned author, a secular humanist and a feminist. 


Hindus Protest in Dacca.

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