Vol. 4 Num 270 Mon. March 01, 2004  

Humayun Azad: The marked man

Only few days ago a nervous but determined writer, Prof. Humayun Azad, sent e-mail to the moderator of a forum for freethinkers by the name Mukto-Mona. Prof. Azad is a member of the forum. He wrote, "Dear Rahul, The Ittefaq published a novel by me named Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad in the Eid Issue in December 03. It deals with the condition of Bangladesh for the last two years. Now the fundamentalists are bringing out regular processions against me, demanding exemplary punishment. Attached two files with this letter will help you understand." Dr. Azad enclosed to JPG files that contained news items including a photo of fundamentalists protesting against him outside the national mosque in downtown Dhaka.

Prof. Azad's premonition came true. The goons perhaps hired by the bunch that hates Prof. Azad struck outside Boi Mela (Book Exhibition Center). Hours after a bunch of assailants descended on Prof. Humayun Azad's body to silence his voice for ever, I received an e-mail from news forum "Future of Bangladesh." A kind member from Dhaka frantically wrote, "A little while back (Dhaka, February 27, 2004 at 9:30) eminent writer Humayun Azad was attacked in front of Bangla Academy by a group of unknown assailants with chopping knives and has been grievously injured. Channel I has just now showed a completely blood drenched Azad being brought by the police to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and given primary treatment. His face, hands, T-shirt, trouser everything was soaked in blood. His condition is serious."

An hour later, the same person from Dhaka who sent earlier an e-mail sent a grim message: "Humayun Azad has been shifted to CMH as his condition turned worse." My telephone started to ring immediately. My friends who write passionately on liberal issues pertaining to Bangladesh were very much perturbed hearing the sad news of an attempt on Prof. Azad's life.

Unless you are out of sync with news from Bangladesh, you perhaps are well acquainted with the fact that the tiny country of 140 million has become very intolerant as of late. Only years ago, another Bangalee writer, Poet Shamsur Rahman, was attacked by some goons in the privacy of his own house. The attackers could not do more harm then because of the immediate action by the poet's neighbors. The Mullahs in Bangladesh have also given threats to Taslima Nasrin. Mind you, these are not idle threats.

This time the goons have targeted Prof. Azad. It is worth mentioning here that Prof. Azad's recent writings included in his book "Pak Sar Zamin Saad Baad" have drawn attention from Jamaat leaders. Maulana Delwar Hossain Saidee, one of the most garrulous Jamaat MP, and his followers have asked the Khaleda Zia Administration to ban Prof. Azad's book. On February 28, 2004, the Daily Star reporting on attempted assassination of Prof. Azad wrote, "Addressing a demonstration at Baitul Mukarram National Mosque on December 12, leaders of an anti-Ahmadiyya outfit demanded arrest and trial of Prof Azad for the novel."

Freedom loving Bangalees from all walks of life should denounce this heinous attack on one of the luminaries of Bangladesh's literati, Prof. Humayun Azad. Intolerance against liberal writers is on the rise in Bangladesh, which is symptomatic of a wholesale Islamisation of Bangladesh. I am confident other freethinkers and secularists would pen protest notes against this barbaric attack on Professor Azad. The government should apprehend the perpetrators of this crime and bring an end to this kind of attack on intelligentsia and freethinkers.

Free speech is a hallmark of liberal democracy and Bangladesh society should go an extra mile to foster free speech everywhere in our ancestral land. Prof. Humayun Azad has many followers in expatriate communities who would express their anger through posting in myriad Internet forums. I urge the Bangladesh government to investigate the matter thoroughly and see what role avowed detractors of liberal writers have played in this barbaric attack.

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a research scientist and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA