Faculty at a university in northwestern Bangladesh said they were planning to boycott classes scheduled for Sunday and Monday in anger over a colleague’s grisly murder by suspected militants.
Rajshahi University English professor A.F.M. Rezaul Karim Siddique was hacked to death while heading to campus Saturday morning, in a murder whose motive remained unclear but that bore the hallmarks of machete-killings of secular writers, bloggers and intellectuals, police said.
Seven such killings at the hands of suspected Muslim radicals took place between February 2013 and April 7, 2016, with six occurring within the past 14 months. The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the professor’s murder, the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group tweeted on Saturday, although Bangladeshi officials have vehemently denied that IS has a presence in their country.
“We will bring out a protest rally tomorrow, and the teachers will boycott all classes on Sunday and Monday in protest of the killing,” Shateel Siraj, former joint secretary of the Rajshahi University Teachers’ Association, told BenarNews on Saturday after faculty members held an emergency meeting.
Rajshahi University students who were incensed at news of the killing of Siddique – known as a lover of poetry who was trying to start a music school in his village – staged a protest rally on campus earlier in the day demanding that his killers be arrested and prosecuted.
Saturday’s killing in Rajshahi, a riverfront city located some 200 km (124.2 miles) from Dhaka, was in fact the second hacking to death of a professor from the campus in less than 18 months. But the murder of sociology professor A.K.M. Shafiul Islam in November 2014 stemmed from a personal conflict with a student and was not religiously motivated, police told BenarNews.
At least two suspects who were arrested in the Islam homicide case and are now standing trial on murder charges tried to throw police off their trail, by creating a Facebook page where they posted messages that made it look like militants were behind the sociology professor’s killing, police said.
‘Militants may be killers’
Siddique, 61, was attacked by machete-wielding suspects around 7:40 a.m. as he was walking from his home to catch a bus to the university, Golam Saqlain, an assistant police commissioner at the Bolia police station in Rajshahi district, told BenarNews.
“The killers hacked him on the neck from behind. They hit at least three times. [A] two-third portion of his neck was severed from the body,” Saqlain said.
His attackers may have fled the scene on a motorbike, police said.
“The way the bloggers in the past were hacked to death, Professor Rezaul was killed in the similar fashion. So, we suspect that some militant groups could have been involved in the murder,” Rajshahi Metropolitan Police (RMP) Commissioner Md. Shamsuddin told reporters.
Police were still trying to pinpoint a motive, according to Saqlain who is part of a six-member team investigating Siddique’s murder.
“We have yet to ascertain what group could have killed him. Besides, we are also investigating whether any other causes led to the murder,” he said.
‘Very simple and soft-spoken’
Hasan Imam, a sociology professor at Rajshahi, described Siddique as a quiet man who had no enemies and was not a political activist.
“He was a very simple and soft-spoken person; so personal enmity is unlikely to be the cause. Rajshahi University is making news headlines at the cost of our colleagues. We do not know who is going to be the next [target],” Imam told BenarNews.
According to Siddique’s brother, Sirajul Karim Siddique, the professor had never received any death threats.
“He had been involved in writing and trying to set a music school in his village Dargamaria,” he told reporters.
Dargamaria lies in Bagmara, a sub-district of Rajshahi where the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) emerged in 2002-2003, and is now among militant groups being targeted by Bangladeshi authorities in an ongoing anti-terror crackdown.
Bagmara is also where a suicide bomber attacked a mosque frequented by minority Ahmadiyya Muslims on Dec. 25, killing himself and injuring three worshipers.
Twenty-first of February is an important annual date for the peoples of both, Bangladesh, and West Bengal. On that day in nineteen fifty two, students of East Pakistan’s institutions of knowledge like Dhaka Medical College, had been mercilessly struck down, after they were fired upon by the soldiers of West Pakistan. Their crime? Bangla, the indigenous mother-tongue of all Bengalis, irrespective of religion and location, had been the prime focus of East Pakistan’s ‘Language Movement’. The seat of power, despite the East’s relatively larger demographic, had been, for all means and purposes, firmly lodged in the West, separated from the Eastern wing, by thousands of miles of territory belonging to the state of independent India. West Pakistan wielded absolute power over Pakistan’s army, its internal security, administration and the judicial system. Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki, and Sindhi, were the most recognized and respected lingua franca. Bengali was deemed by the West, to be a ‘Pagan’ language, the tongue of millions of ‘kaffirs’ that worshipped a plenitude of deities.
The Bengalis, a people deeply protective of their cultural heritage, cutting across religious lines, took offense, and thus commenced the movement for the restoration of Bangla, as the legitimate representative of the East Bengalis. What followed, is well known, to South Asian History, enthusiasts. Exploiting the opportunity that had presented itself, and asphyxiated by more than ten million Bengali refugees who had migrated to eastern India in wake of ‘Operation Searchlight’ imposed by West Pakistan on its eastern wing, India had invaded the latter in the early December of 1971. The shortest war of modern history, had ended a fortnight later, with the emergence of an independent homeland, for all Bengali speaking peoples: Bangladesh.
Bangladesh turns forty-seven on the twenty sixth of March this year. Over the last nearly five decades, much water has flown under the bridge. Significantly, it has taken along with it, a bulk of the initial bonhomie and camaraderie, that Bangladesh and India shared with one another. From trustworthy allies, the two neighbours, have now entered a phase of grudging respect, but that too is often found in suspended animation, once anti-Indian regimes come to power in the other country. There are a number of reasons why India and Bangladesh have experienced a souring of relations over time, and much to the ordinary Indian’s chagrin, not all of the blame can be laid at our eastern neighbour’s door.
A) WHAT’S IN A PICTURE? EVERYTHING!
Any patriotic Indian, often ruminates fondly over a well circulated photo that emerged in the December of 1971. It was taken during the capitulation of the West Pakistan army to India. The photo is held up by Indian nationalists, like a trophy and proudly referred to as the ultimate symbol of India’s crushing of Pakistan. This historic photo in question, has a sombre Lt. Gen. J.S. Arora, looking on, as a visibly demoralized Gen. A.A.K. Niazi of Pakistan signs the document of surrender. A sea of khaki and army green dot the backdrop of the image. Smiling soldiers of the Indian Defence Forces, can be seen interspersed between high ranking members of the Pakistan Army. However, remarkably, missing from the image, is the presence of the very people, who had had to sacrifice their life, their limb, and their precious dignity, to make their own independence happen.
As time has passed, millions of Bangladeshis have taken stock of the historic footage that seemed to signal their freedom day, and yet, they have asked: “Where are our people?” Yes, indeed. It is a photograph that, once the euphoria had died down, was bound to reveal its troubling nature. It may have been the defining moment for our own military men, but for the patriots within our newly born neighbour, this image is one of being slighted; of being overlooked, and insulted. Indians should have realized awhile back, that parading the said photo, was not a wise thing to do. The newly liberated nation, did not and to this day, cannot claim the image as their own, due to the complete absence of any East Bengali presence.
B) WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK!
In 1996, Bangladesh and India had signed a treaty over the sharing of river waters. The agreement – known as the Ganges Treaty – had promised to equally divide the volume of river waters shared by the two nations. Waters of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna mega-basin, constitute the globe’s second largest hydraulic region, with a high population density inhabiting its banks. Simply put, the so-called division of water, is neither fair, and nor useful, to Bangladeshis. Through the Farakka Barrage, India, with its advanced systems of harvesting trans-boundary water, virtually controls the upstream flow of currents, which it then utilises without a care for the consequences being experienced by the people that live around the downstream currents of the barrage. As a result, Bangladesh has become a victim of environmental degradation which is a direct consequence of India’s water harvesting policy and techniques. Flora and Fauna, especially a variety of edible fish, important to our eastern neighbour, have either drastically lessened, or come close to extinction, due to callous and selfish, Indian interests over river-water sharing.
A) THREE IS A CROWD!
A fundamental problem that posited itself even before the Liberation War in East Pakistan was over, and should have been a dark indicator of what was to come, was the deluge of refugees that had escaped the porous Indo-Pak border at its eastern end, and come to stay in India, as hopeful citizens. Even though Bangladesh is itself a witness to a refugee apocalypse in the form of the Rohingyas, they do not seem to be able to join the dots between their own problem, and that of India’s, for which their homegrown, poverty-stricken population is responsible. The Indian state which has borne the brunt of our refugee crisis, has been the north-easterly one of Assam. Bordering Bangladesh, this volatile Indian region has had to absorb the vast majority of illegals that continually transgress into our territories, by paying a small bribe to the jawans of the BSF (Border Security Forces), and obtaining false ration and identity cards. Bangladesh has chosen to delude itself by claiming time and again, that the alleged social scenario is an impossibility, accusing India instead, of tainting Indo-Bangla ties with our calumnies against them. In a heart-breaking tragedy that unfolded in the Nellie town of Assam in 1983, thousands of Muslims were slain by the local Assamese, over fear of the former’s illegal alien status.
It must be acknowledged, that though a sizeable proportion of the deaths were of Indian Muslims who were unfortunately caught in the crosshairs; the remaining victims were indeed of Bangladeshi descent. The crisis could have been averted, if a national population census board had been specifically set up for the beleaguered Assam state, decades previously. But illegals from Bangladesh have been known to wade deeper into Indian territory, in hopes of a better life, and confirmed sources have located many such uprooted families living in the shanty dwellings of even megalopolises like Mumbai, which lie on the far-off western shores of India. If left unchecked, the Bangladeshi Illegal Aliens crisis, may snowball into a far greater threat than it is today. Given the pull of money, such individuals and indeed, families, may be willing to join insurgency operations that are threatening the fabric of unity that holds this country together.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY!
India’s pliant and contiguous ‘ally’, on her East, may have begun by solemnly swearing to secularism, but with the passage of time, she has metamorphosed into a caricature of her own founding principles of equality. Her one-time bete noir, Pakistan, is now edging closer to her and she seems to be egging it on. When elections approach, her largest minority, the Hindu one, pass their days in fear, wary of the poll results. Irrespective of who wins at the ballot, Bangladesh’s Hindu minority is persecuted by the losing side, as if it was their fault. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, a certain section of East Pakistan, described as being the Razakars – once active in the erstwhile Indian royal kingdom of Hyderabad under the auspices of its cruel Nizam – had backed the West Pakistan regime’s crackdown on the Bengalis. In the post-war era, they have been contesting elections under the garb of the JEI or ‘Jamaat-e-Islami’.
A vast segment of their fellow citizens have indeed lent support to the JEI’s nefarious plans of defeating secularism in their nation, and engendering anti-Hindu, and anti-India policies. One is often mistaken into thinking, that the father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rohman, was sincere about preserving the tolerant fabric of his country. This is not entirely true. Just as Pakistan’s PPP (Pakistan’s Peoples Party) was once headed by Benazir Bhutto who had nobbled Islamist forces to infiltrate Indian Kashmir, while simultaneously projecting herself to be in favour of religious equality, Mujibur had gone lax on the Islamic fundamentalists of the JEI, when he realized that they had a large section of his society, in their pockets. With the assassination of Bongobondhu (Bengal’s Friend) Mujib, the Islamist army chief General Ziaur Rehman assumed power in a coup. His policies had brought Bangladesh closer to the Islamic world, and strained its relationship with its benefactor and neighbour, India.