What started as protest against the grabbing of ten acres of land has become a sinister plot that includes accusations of blasphemy. I got to know writer-activist Salam Azad about six years ago (a reference to it is here). Today, his life is in danger as fundamentalist forces issue death threats. His crime? He wants the property of the Hindus returned to them.
“People of the locality started a movement to recover the land back and build a hospital and girls school in the Hindu owned vested land. Very few people are concerned about the plight of the Hindus. Slowly and naturally the people of locality placed me in the leadership of the movement. I told the local people, at first, we save the three Hindu temples and then recover the land they agreed with me. The movement still continues. This effort to save the Hindu Minority interest is not of interest to the average, aloof middle-class and fundamentalists. Meanwhile Mr Nuh-ul Alam Lenin, is former pro-Moscow communist and presently Publicity Secretary of Bangladesh Awami Legue Lenin, supposed to be a moderate, is hand in glove with Fundamentalists. On 22nd of June 2012 in Sreenagar stadium, about 50,000 fundamentalists gathered demanding vociferously to hang me. Some even went to my village home (village Damla, Police Station: Sreenagar, District: Munshigonj) and attacked my paternal home. It is very painful and horrific for me and my family.”
What is surprising is that in March 2010 he was shortlisted to be Dhaka’s deputy high commissioner in Kolkata. But Muslim leaders in West Bengal wrote to Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia not to send him because of his controversial writings, indirectly alluding to Taslima Nasreen. So, clearly he was not considered unwanted by the political elite and was not averse to a political role.
His book of fiction, Bhanga Math (Broken Temple), was banned by the Bangladesh Government on July18, 2004. However, as he states, “There was no other charge, like Blasphemy against me.”
Now, the ghost of this banned book is revisiting him. Two cases were filed in June, including an arrest warrant issued based on his “slanderous” references in 2004. No mention was made at the time. For commercial gain some vile forces are using religion. Land grab is riding on charges of Blasphemy. His situation reveals how monetary gain surpasses everything else.
“The citizens in a Secular Democracy do not have the faint idea how dangerous it is to live in a fundamentalist place with the charge of Blasphemy, hanging over the neck. The Government also tries not to displease the radical elements, unless that is absolutely necessary for their own interest.”
The death threats continue. The police have the numbers of the culprits, but have done nothing, provided him with no security till date. “I am in a dangerous situation and need protection.”
He has not sought attention for his banned book or his contribution to the minorities. He was accustomed to opposition, but after living a few years in exile he returned home. A home that apparently cannot shelter him.
“Where are our guns?” asked the 20-something. I don’t meet Bangladeshis too often, but whenever I have there has never been such a vociferous reaction. His father worked in the corporate sector, but scepticism about the lifestyle and youthful rebellion made him run away from home. He writes occasionally for the Bangla papers.
Although I have earlier written about India’s stand on Bangladesh (The Bangladesh India Forgot), the man born much after the 1971 War has inherited anger that we refuse to believe. I tried playing devil’s advocate: “But did not India help the Mukti Bahini?”
“We are thankful for the help. But when Indians say that Pakistanis ran away, then who took away our guns, our gold? We were left with nothing…”
“Are you saying India looted Bangladesh?”
“It is still looting. Bangladesh has rich natural resources. Burma and India have easy access, and India knows what is where.”
“And no one can control it?”
“We have fighting inside. I am concerned about our wealth. So many families lost their means of livelihood. I ask the elders and they are silent. How can guns disappear? Where are the records?”
“Aren’t you more concerned about the way things are now?”
“It is because of what has happened. Now extremists are taking over or people are looting us, destroying our land.”
He hates the Saudis and he hates Indians. He feels nothing for Pakistan. He is not a Muslim.
The conversation left me with mixed feelings – a minority in a land that needed a language, but who thought that both RabindranathTagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, contemporaries and poets that bound India and Bangladesh, were a waste of time and taught nothing about “how to live”. He did not speak about being a Hindu. He spoke as a Bangladeshi who will one day return home. A home without gold and lost guns.
(c) Farzana Versey