year has passed after the machete attack on noted writer and
academic Prof. Humayan Azad. After the initial face-saving
arrests followed by months of inaction, there is little hope
On February 27, 2004, Prof Humayun Azad was
returning to his Fuller Road home. Like every other day, once
out of the Bangla Academy book fair, where he had spent the
whole evening greeting his admirers, he started walking along
the footpath that borders the Suhrwardy Udyan. This was his
usual route; it became a routine for the writer to return
home on foot during the month-long book fair.
that dreadful night, a group of young men swooped on him.
Machetes in hands, the youths attacked with a vengeance, meaning
to kill the writer who was a maverick among his fellow faculty
members in the Dhaka University, where he used to teach in
the Department of Bangla. They even left two of their weapons
behind, one that the police picked up as evidence on the night
of the attack and the other that was discovered by the mob
the next morning. Sheer negligence of the police led to the
discovery of the second weapon by the public the next morning.
The discovery of a dagger spurred the mob that consisted mainly
of university students to beat up a police officer present
on the spot.
The wrath that almost cost the writer's life was of another
kind. It was stoked by a brand of fundamentalism that goes
back to the days of independence of Bangladesh. In his last
novel that came out the previous year and was enjoying a speedy
sale in the February book fair, Azad delineated a character
from that extremist school. He painted an almost realistic
picture of a so-called Islamist with prurience making up the
core of his personality. Pak Sar Jameen Saad Baad
(the first line of the Pakistan national anthem), the novel,
is direct in its approach. And it was apparently an instrument
for the writer to disrobe religious extremists who had no
qualms about their association with the Pakistan-era dictators
and about actively joining hands with the Pakistan high commands
in massacring the Bangalis during the war of 1971. The same
bunch has an intense ill will against the people who fought
for Bangladesh. With a pathetically distorted notion of Islam,
Azad's protagonist represents the murkiest hue in the spectrum
that stands for such convoluted as well as unforgiving brand
The same ruthlessness has cost Azad his life.
Miraculously recuperated after the attack that left him disfigured
in the face, he was discovered dead in a hotel room in Munich,
Germany, four months later. It was The Writers in Prison Commitee
(WiPC) of International PEN, an international writers' forum
that had given him a scholarship at a very short notice and
had flown him to Germany. Later it was the same organisation
that refused to pay for the return of his dead body.
Azad was a voice of dissent against the rise
of the conservatives. He was popular as well as controversial
as he often espoused iconoclastic views. At times he would
even stretch his voice of reason to the extreme, as in the
case of the bombing of Afghanistan by the US after the September
11 debacle. His position on the issue was bewilderingly simple,
he endorsed the attack.
He was equally vociferous against the faint-hearted.
He had the knack for sneering at the knee-jerk responses against
the fundamentalists from the so-called liberal bastions. With
no political affiliation or clout, he was an easy target.
"If it had not been for the attack that left him scarred
and alone, he would not have died four months later,"
believes Sajjad Sharif, a poet and one of the Deputy Editors
of Prothom Alo. "In a sense he brought it upon himself,
as he also knew that the rise in intolerance had made it almost
impossible to touch upon the kind of subject he dealt with
in his novel," he adds.
was brave enough to brush off the threats he used to receive.
Long before Pak Sar Jameen Saad Baad, he was being
plagued by calls that threatened to kill him if he did not
put a stop to his writing against the fundamentalists or values
that they considered Islamic. It was a one man resistance
that he put up through out the years, and in consequence,
he lost his life. And the case that had been filed by Monzurul
Kabir Matin, his younger brother, on behalf of the family,
has seen no headway since the turbulent days of protests and
rallies right after the attack.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID)
inspector, who is in charge of the case, has little to say.
"There has been no progress since the arrests of the
two suspects..." is his short answer over the phone.
Many are of the opinion that the arrests that followed were
a face saver. Two men were picked up who belonged to two divergent
political outfits. Boma Abbas, who is currently on bail (according
to Inspector Malek) was the Joint Secretery of Chhatra League
of F Rahman Hall. The other suspect was a 40-year-old man,
Golam Mostafa. A member of Tabligh Jamaat, he was picked up
on March 2 by the CID.
It was the Home Ministry's monitoring cell,
after a meeting on February 29 that treated the attack on
Azad as a case of "an attempt to murder and included
it on the list of sensational cases". Soon after, the
CID of police took over the charge of investigation. It has
been almost a year, and the public as well as the family of
Dr Azad are still in the dark.
"In the beginning inspector Malek used
to visit my husband in the CMH to ask him who he thought carried
out the attacks. He also visited our house a few times, but
nothing ever happened," says Latifa Kohinoor, the widow
of Prof Humayun Azad.
family kept receiving calls that threatened to end the life
of the writer who had just escaped death from the machete
attack and had returned from abroad after receiving treatment.
An attempt at kidnapping the sixteen year old son of Azad
was foiled on July 24. He slipped out of the clutch of a group
who grabbed him near their home and pressed him to give away
his father's plans and movements of the last few days.
far as the Bangladeshi brand of fundamentalism is concerned,
the actions always predate threats over the phone and in the
public gatherings. Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a member of parliament
representing Jammat-e-Islami, known for their collaboration
with the Pak army in the war of independence, was the one
who first brought the attention to Pak Sar Jameen Saad
Baad. The moulana known for his firebrand attacks on
all things secular, asked the government to ban the book by
promulgating the blasphemy law. The hatred-generating Sayeedi
is an orator who works as a mouthpiece of his organisation
to mobilise the mob.
Even after the attack there was no let up
in the vitriolic attacks. On July 25 there were newspaper
reports on Islamic leaders and parliament members doing their
bit to resists free speech. They allegedly told the crowd
that Azad would face "dire consequences" for his
writings. The next day an anonymous telephone call was made
to the family home. It is at this point that PEN voiced their
concern and asked Bangladesh government to take steps to protect
him and his family. The organisation later granted him a scholarship.
"I don't raise a strong voice to demand
a probe into the case of the machete attack, as I fear retaliation.
If I become too vocal my children could be the next target,"
fears Azad's widow Latifa. Her tone of voice turns more distressing
as she dwells on the fact that "the man (Azad) has gone
and even if justice is met to the culprits, he isn't here
to know about it." But reason forces her to steer away
from the throes of emotions and face hard reality. She argues
that these events had put the bigots in a commanding position.
"I can't imagine that a writer could be attacked because
of his opinion and beliefs. If the attackers are not rounded
up and punished more crimes of this nature will take place
giving a free reign to terror and lawlessness," Latifa
contends. Her concern stems from her lived experience in Bangladesh,
where almost a year after the atrocious attack on her husband,
a noted writer, there is no trace of the accused let alone
the possibility of a fair trial.