He advised people to not publish anything inflammatory

Shabnam Nadiya remembers Avijit Roy and a freer Bangladesh.

On February 15, 2016, at the annual book fair held in Dhaka, police handcuffed Shamsuzzoha Manik, the 73-year-old publisher of the small press Ba-Dwip Prakashan, and shut down their book stall.

They seized six books. Their target was a translation anthology called Islam Bitarka (The Islam Debate), published in 2013, but they also grabbed five others: Aryans and the Indus Civilization; Jihad: Forced Conversions, Imperialism, and Slavery’s Legacy; Islam’s Role in Social Development; Women’s Place in Islam; and Islam and Women, in case they were “insulting to Islam”.

Alongside Manik, two of his associates were arrested under Section 57(2) of the infamous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act.

Bangla Academy director Shamsuzzaman Khan said this was all good, as did Zafar Iqbal, a popular science-fiction writer, who went on to tell everyone to be cautious when writing.

Last February I emailed Avijit Roy, science writer and founder of Mukto Mona, a web forum for South Asian rationalists. Although we had been close friends since college, it had been months since we had talked. But I thought of him as soon as I read about Rodela Publishers.

Rodela’s offices had been vandalised after the Hefazat-e-Islam organisation issued threats over the translation of Iranian writer Ali Dashti’s 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad.

The next day, although the publisher had apologised and pulled the book from distribution, Bangla Academy closed Rodela’s stall at the 2015 Boi-Mela.

Avijit responded immediately. He and Bonya, his wife and co-activist, were visiting Dhaka after many years. He noted how frustrating the Rodela business was and that Dhaka felt more stifling.

Two days later he was murdered.

In the months that followed, there was a killing spree. Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman, Niloy Neel – all bloggers, all murdered. Coordinated, separate attacks targeted Avijit’s publishers: Faisal Abedin Deepan’s throat was slit open; Ahmedur Rashid Tutul (alongside two other writer/activists visiting him) was wounded.

Bangla Academy offered no official commemoration for any of these writers or publishers – not even for Avijit, who died on their doorstep – during Boi-Mela.

Khan, at his pre-fair press conference, acknowledged the attacks, though: he advised people to not publish anything inflammatory.

Dissent, provocation, hurtful religious sentiment, call it what you will: here lies a truth uncomfortable for institutions such as Bangla Academy (not to mention the state) – the Bangladeshi literary canon contains many works that, examined through the static and narrow lens of strict religion, will be found offensive.

If you allow religious fanatics to have a veto, very little will survive.

3 Responses to “He advised people to not publish anything inflammatory”