Everything Falls Apart
that fateful Friday, Dr Azad, in jeans and fatua, had
been sitting in the stall of Agami Prokashani at the
Ekushey Book Fair. He left the stall at around 8:45
PM; "Dr Azad left the mela, telling me he would
go home," says Osman Gani, owner of the publishing
house. It was around 9:30, a young man approached him
for an autograph; Dr Azad crossed the road for a rickshaw
after signing the autograph. And then two unknown assailants,
armed with chopping knives hacked the 56-year-old writer
on the jaw, lower part of the neck and hands, on the
pavement outside the academy.
but profusely bleeding, Dr Azad, who has authored over
70 books, was taken to the emergency unit of Dhaka Medical
College Hospital (DMCH). According to newspaper reports,
no doctor was available at the emergency unit of the
DMCH. Later, Dr Azad was sent to the Combined Military
Azad's attackers, might have come right out of his book,
Pak Sar Jamin Sadd Baad (Pakistan's national
anthem: Blessed be the Sacred Land). It depicts the
story of a religious fanatic who wants to establish
a "Taliban-styled distorted Pakistan" in Bangladesh.
protagonist, a member of the Jama'-e-Jihad-e Islam Party,
says in a monologue, "We aren't alone. Our brothers
all over the world are doing their work. If they fly
an aeroplane into a building somewhere, if cars crash
into a hospital or a hotel, or if a bomb blast kills
300 people in some recreational centre, then we know
it's the work of our brothers; in other words, it is
our work. This is Jihad."
name, Jama'-e-Jihad-e Islam Party, is believed to be
an allegory to the Jamat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JI), a
partner in the ruling coalition; as another character
in the book, Karim Ali Islampuri says, "We must
seize power. Right now, we are with the power and the
main party. At some point, power will come to us; we
will become the main party. We are entering everywhere
-- Islam will be established; (another) Pakistan will
be created. There won't be any infidels, Malauns (Hindus);
there won't be any Hindu or Jew in guise of Muslims."
Azad's novel, however, meets a melodramatic end. The
zealot goes through a dramatic change of heart-- he
falls in love with a Hindu girl; and later abandons
the path of religious bigotry and intolerance.
in real life, Dr Azad had been fearing for his life
since the novel was first published in the Daily Ittefaq's
Eid supplement in 2003. In an email to Muktomona, an
independent website, he wrote, "The Ittefaq published
a novel by me named Pak Sar Jamin Saad Baad
in the Eid issue in December 3. It deals with the condition
of Bangladesh for the last two years. Now the (religious)
fundamentalists are bringing out regular processions
against me, demanding exemplary punishment. The attached
two files with this letter will help you understand."
Along with the mail Dr Azad sent JPG files that included
news of protests against him.
fact, on January 25, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, an MP belonging
to JI called for the introduction of the Blasphemy Act
to block the publication of "such books".
Besides Sayeedi--who once called for blood tests for
journalists to see "if they are Muslims or not"--
many bigots have declared the maverick writer a murtad
(apostate). From an anti-Ahmadiyya rally on December
12, Momtazi, emir of Hifazate Khatm-e-Nabuat Movement
and the Imam of Rahim Metal Mosque demanded the professor's
arrest and trial.
has ever deterred Dr Azad, perhaps, the lone outspoken
writer in Bangla literature, from speaking out his mind.
Azad has even denounced some of his contemporaries,
describing their novels as opponnayash (degenerated
novel). Be it in writing against military bureaucracy
or dictatorship in the guise of democracy, Dr Azad,
with his iconoclastic views, has always stood out.
teachers at the university have been divided along the
line of their political allegiance, Dr Azad has kept
a safe distance from both the BNP backed White and AL
backed Blue factions. In fact, Latifa Kohinur, Dr Azad's
wife, cannot remember him going to the polling booths,
even, to vote for the general elections. Though everyone
does not subscribe to his opinion, Dr Azad's writings
have always generated much enthusiasm among the readers
for his fierce criticism of the establishment. But through
his candid statements on the political use of religion,
the writer has certainly earned the wrath of a certain
according to Latifa, the writer used to receive phone
calls "five or six years ago" that threatened
to kill the linguist for writing "un-islamic"
things. "I used to get phone calls five or six
years ago…They would say, 'You will get Humayun Azad's
corpse on the street… You will be a widow soon', and
so on," Latifa says. But the threats suddenly stopped
coming in one day.
after the publication of Pak Saar Jamin Saad Baad,
the family members did not receive any such call, Latifa
says. But she became anxious for her husband's safety
when "a religious fundamentalist outfit called
for Dr Azad's trial and the banning of Pak Saar Jamin
Saad Baad ". That anxiety turned into fear after
Sayeedi's infamous demand in the parliament.
couldn't hide her anger on the night of February 27
at the CMH. "Fundamentalists (zealots) have done
this… Who else could do this? You know an MP even verbaly
abused him in the parliament," she said. "Why
didn't you take security measures to protect him after
such an outrage in parliament?" Latifa asked Lutfuzzaman
Babar, state minister for home, when he went to visit
Dr Azad in hospital.
the police had claimed to have "cordoned off"
the area immediately after the attack, the agitating
students of Dhaka university, who had been demanding
the home minister's resignation, recovered another blood
soaked Chapati (chopping knife) from the spot on the
police, however, arrested Abbas, alias Boma Abbas, joint
secretary of Sir AF Rahman Hall unit of Bangladesh Chatra
League. "We have information about his presence
near the spot before and after the incident. And there
was a bomb explosion during the attack, he might be
involved in the crime," Officer in Charge of Ramna
Police Station Mahabubur Rahman said; Abbas has a history
of bomb-making, the police officer alleged. The case
was later handed over to the CID; and though the state
minister for home has promised to give the case highest
priority, the police are yet to unearth any motive behind
attack on Dr Azad and the police's failure to nab the
culprits have angered general people. The Dhaka University
Teachers' Association has called an indefinite strike
demanding the home minister's resignation. The anger
turned into fury when armed hoodlums belonging to the
Jatioyatabadi Chatra Dal (JCD), attacked peaceful procession
of the general students on March 4. It is not clear,
though, as to how a peaceful demonstration demanding
the arrest of Dr Azad's killers can anger the ruling
party's student wing.
save its skin the government resorted to suspicious
secrecy. When, immediately after the attack, the country
held its breath to hear the latest condition of Dr Azad,
the government even barred journalists from entering
the CMH premises. It was an irregular, and in cases
irresponsible, press-note of the Inter Service Public
Relations that became the sole source of information
for the anxious general people. The government's suspicious
behaviour gave birth to a wide spread rumour of his
death. Some government officials, when asked, came out
with reports on his condition that were self-contradictory.
Lately Azad's condition has, however, improved; and
rumours died down when members of his family and Dr
Azad's friends were allowed to visit him.
attack on Dr Azad, in every sense, is shocking. Though
religious fanatics have declared many writers and intellectuals
as apostates, in fact, this is the first time in our
history, that a writer was physically assaulted for
his work. The attack, in front of Bangla Academy, one
of the glorious products of our language movement, sends
a chilling message to those who still believe in freethinking.
wanted to reap dividend from the attack on Dr Azad.
While Dr Azad was fighting for life at the CMH, leaders
of both the major political parities and intellectuals
of their creeds kept themselves busy interpreting their
own version of the event.
just want to see the man back home," says Latifa
Kohinur. After 33 years of independence we cannot even
be guaranteed security for our lives; forget free speech.
Blame Game Goes on
was hardly a big surprise when PM Khaleda Zia accused
the AL of perpetrating the barbaric attack on noted
litterateur Humayun Azad amid thunderous applause of
a crowd of several thousands of a public meeting. It
is the same old blame game where the government always
accuses the opposition and the opposition retaliates
by charging the government for every mishap or crime
that occurs. Politicisation has been taken to a new
level. It's no more just the police or BTV, history
and National Days are being politicised. Politicisation
is spreading its root and branch. Be it a bomb blast
or a price hike the government invariably smells the
opposition's foul play in it, while the opposition always
points figures at the 'government's failure'.
resorting to wholesale accusations against each other
instead of addressing the real issue, which though may
earn them temporary success, in the long run they are
losing their credibility. Unfortunately, our wise politicians
seem to be unbelievably incapable of realising the gravity
of the risk they are running.
take the most recent example. Only 15 hours into the
barbaric attack on Humayun Azad the PM blamed the AL,
alleging that the attack was meant to create panic ahead
of an AL-sponsored hartal. But she didn't provide any
solid proof to substantiate her claim. Interestingly,
she made the revelation at a time when the police investigation
had just begun. And if we consider the fact that the
investigation is still on and after 8 days since the
PM's claim the police are yet to make any breakthrough
into the case, the PM's declaration seems premature
and undesirable in retrospect. Such rash comments might
very well make objective investigation impossible. Given
the highly politicised nature of the police, it is quite
likely that instead of conducting the investigation
objectively the police might try to prove the PM's 'guess'
right. What happens in the process is that the real
criminals are allowed ample time and scope to melt in
the air and plan for the next target.
is exactly what has happened over and over again in
the last few years, not only during the present government,
but also when AL was in power. The way today's PM Khaleda
Zia has hurried onto the conclusion that the attack
on Humayun Azad was made by AL, appear to be almost
a replay of the then PM Sheikh Hasina's allegation that
BNP was the mastermind behind the tragic Ramna Botomul
bomb blast that claimed 11 innocent lives. Another ghastly
bomb blast in Paltan Maidan in a meeting arranged by
the Communist party that killed seven people was also
met with objectionable observations from Sheikh Hasina.
She suggested that the bomb blast was a result of internal
conflict of the Communist party within hours of the
incidents, an accusation based on no evidence whatsoever.
consequences are before us -- not a single criminal
behind any of the high-profile sensational bomb blast
incidents that left behind scores of dead bodies and
hundreds of permanently maimed, mostly innocent persons,
has been brought to justice. Bomb blasts have continued
to kill innocent people and our political leaders have
continued to capitalise those incidents for their petty
political gain. But it has to be stopped, right now.
We all have to raise our voice so that the government
and the opposition don't play the blame game exploiting
the barbaric attack on the life of Humayun Azad and
are forced to find the criminals and bring them to book.
We cannot allow terrorists to silence the voice of freedom.
chronology of bomb blast incidents : None of the criminals
has yet been brought to justice
March 6, 1999: A bomb blast at an Udichi function at
Jessore kills 10 and injured about 100. A veteran left-leaning
political leader Kazi Aref is among the dead.
October 8, 1999: A bomb blast at Ahmedia Masjid in Khulna
claims 8 lives and wounds 30 others.
January 20, 2001: 7 persons are killed and 50 injured
in a bomb attack at a CPB rally in Paltan Maidan.
April 14, 2001: A bomb attack on a gathering at Botomul
on Pahela Baishakh kills 10 and injures 50.
June 3, 2001: 10 persons are killed when a church is
bombed at Baniarchor in Gopalganj.
June 16, 2001: When a bomb explodes in the Awami League
office in Narayanganj 22 persons are killed.
September 23, 2001: 8 persons are killed and more than
100 injured in a bomb attack on an AL public meeting
at Mollahat in Bagerhat.
September 26, 2001: A bomb attack near an AL public
meeting in Sunamganj kills 4 persons.
September 28, 2002: A series of bomb blasts at Roxy
cinema hall and inside a Circus tent at Satkhira kills
3 persons and wounds more than 100 people.
December 6, 2002: Bomb blasts in four cinema halls in
Mymensingh kills 27 and wounds more than 200.
January 17, 2003: A bomb blast at a fair in Tangail
kills 7 and injures 20.
March 1, 2003: One police sergeant is murdered when
unidentified assailants threw a bomb targeting him in
March 11, 2003: Two police constables are killed in
a bomb blast..
September 6, 2003: An Awami League leader is killed
in a bomb attack.
January 15, 2004: Journalist Manik Saha, a long time
Khulna correspondent for the Bangla daily Sangbad and
a former stringer for BBC is killed in a bomb blast,
allegedly the work of outlaws.
January 12, 2004: 12 persons are killed and 30 others
injured in a bomb blast at the shrine of Hazrat Shahjalal