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Washington: Authorities in Bangladesh looked the other way as Islamic militants went on a rampage killing secular and atheist writers, says Mahbub Leelen, writer and a publisher, who fled abroad after his colleagues were attacked.
Four writers and a publisher, including an American citizen of Bangladeshi origin, were killed in 2015 by machete-wielding assailants because of their writings that criticized religious extremism.
“Fundamentalists are getting green signals from the government, either directly or indirectly, that if they kill someone, nothing will happen,” said Mahbub Leelen, who left Bangladesh in December.
Leelen, 41, told BenarNews in an interview via Skype that he was seeking asylum in the United States because he could be attacked any time by militants – or arrested by police.
Since 2013, groups including Ansarullah Bangla Team have circulated hit lists of dozens of intellectuals they consider as un-Islamic. Authorities have also arrested secular activists on charges of offending religious sentiment.
Leelen is a writer and co-founder of Shuddhashar Publishing House, a platform for secular thinkers writing in Bengali since 2004. He was not in the office on October 31, 2015 when three of his colleagues were attacked and wounded there by militants.
That same day, in another part of Dhaka, militants killed publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan of the Jagriti Publishing House at his workplace.
It was the fifth and final machete attack of 2015 and it made clear that militants had shifted from targeting individual writers to terrorizing the publishers that mentor them, Leelen said.
No-one has been arrested for the attacks that day, but police subsequently sealed the Shuddhashar offices and showroom in Dhaka, allegedly for security purposes.
Leelen was a close associate of the Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death on Feb. 26. Leelen spent time with him on the day that turned out to be his last, joining Roy at the launch of a ground-breaking collection of writings by gay Bangladeshis.
What are your thoughts on the anniversary of Avijit Roy’s death?
Leelen: You will find a lot of people everywhere who know science very well. You will find a lot of people everywhere who can write very well. … You will find a few people who have a scientific attitude toward life, but they might not have writing skills or knowledge of science.
Avijit Roy was a combination of all these three things. He was a man of science. He had a high skill of writing and he had a scientific attitude.
He was also an organizer and mentor to young secular writers.
After one year, it is very hard for me to think about this anniversary. He was not only my friend, he was also the person of whom I could ask any question, I could depend for my personal writing.
Why was Avijit killed?
Leelen: They didn’t attack Avijit Roy for any one of his particular books, I believe. Rather they have attacked him because of Mukto-Mona. He became the organizer of atheist writers and atheist young people, through the Mukto-Mona blog site.
How is it possible that five people were killed in one year?
Leelen: From 2013, the [Bangladesh] government started cooperating with fundamentalists. This is the truth. They amended and prepared a law, the [Information and Communication Technology] Act, to stop secular writings.
In Bangladesh, punishment for attempted murder is two years and is bailable … but [offenses under] the ICT Law are not bailable. Minimum punishment is seven years, maximum is 14 years, and it can happen just from posting a Facebook status. … If someone just notifies a police officer that “OK, that guy posted a Facebook status which really hurt me,” then the police will come and arrest me and take me to prison for seven years.
In 2013, fundamentalists for the first time realized the power of bloggers … then fundamentalists marched in to Dhaka with their demand, and one of them was death penalty for bloggers ….
In the politics of elections, writers are really not effective voters. They talk a lot, but they don’t go cast votes and they don’t go campaign for someone. … But fundamentalists are an organized group, and a vote bank. And so I think the government decided, it is wise to cooperate with them. …
Fundamentalists are getting green signals from the government, either directly or indirectly, that if they kill someone, nothing will happen.
Where were you on October 31?
Leelen: That was a weekend, Saturday, I was at my house … at that time, two writers were [at Shuddhashar’s office] from the morning, Ranadipam Basu and Tareq Rahim, preparing their book. Tutul [publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul] went there around 11 o’clock. I guess those people who were watching Tutul did not notice that some other people were already inside. …
At the same time, in another place, Dipan of Jagriti publishers was killed. He was alone working in his office on that day. We guess that those attacks were at the same time, around midday, by two groups. Dipan died, and somehow, these people survived. …
They locked the door from outside when they left after the attack. Ranadipam Basu realized that he was attacked and going to die, he posted a Facebook status from his mobile, that “we are attacked at Shuddhashar office, Tutul, myself and Tareq.” Instantly friends saw that status, and in 20 to 30 minutes they could be rescued, just because of that Facebook status.
The day after the attack … Tutul sent me a message, “as early as possible, try to leave.” Everyone is saying that fundamentalists now started thinking about closing down publishing houses rather than targeting individual writers, because the number of individual writers is unlimited.
What is the basis of your asylum petition?
Leelen: Fear, from two sides. At any time I can be attacked by a fundamentalist group and at any time I can be arrested by police … this year, they closed down one stall in the Ekushey Book Fair and arrested the publisher, Shamsuzzoha Manik. Shamsuzzoha Manik is a very senior writer, more than 70. He was an activist and a publisher. … They have also arrested the printing press manager. It is an alert to other printing houses: don’t go for printing this type of book.
What has Bangladesh lost over the last year?
Leelen: Its identity as a secular country or a moderate Muslim country – Bangladesh lost that. It is really very hard for me to say that … I also lost that, because when people talk to me, they consider me as a Bangladeshi.
Do you think you will ever go back?
Leelen: I would like to. I not only left my job and two houses; thousands of friends and family are there. People say “I like my country,” but I always say that “my country loves me” … if there is an emergency – I do not have money or something – I’ll not be helpless there.
And I talk, write, and I do my theater work all in Bangla. I’ll not find that anywhere in the world. … When I think and dream, I dream in Bangla. …
I can’t really restart my life. And I’ll not be a native of any [other] land. I might get permission to stay, earn some money to survive … but I’ll not get my life back, and I’ll not be a native. So if I get a chance, obviously then tomorrow, I’ll be there.
What are you doing now?
Leelen: I am now trying to do three things. Continue with my writings … develop Shuddhashar’s e-book publication side … and, with Mukto-Mona, we are trying to develop an archive of books, “Muktannesha.”
Bonya [Rafida Bonya Ahmed, Roy’s widow] already declared that all of Avijit’s books will be free of cost, e-books. Most of them are already uploaded on the Mutko-Mona site, and gradually other books will be converted. So I am working with other volunteers for Mukto-Mona’s archive.
If they stop publication and writing books, then basically they will stop everything. It is not just about a person’s life … because we hold now responsibility for more than 3,000 writers.
If Avijit’s image is stopped, then fundamentalists will realize that they have won. It’s now his spirit. I am working with young groups of people, with bloggers, writers … if we stop, then we’ll fail.
Published with permission from BenarNews
The LGBTQ+ acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others. In India LGBTQ+ community also include a specific social group, part religious cult, and part caste: the Hijras. They are culturally defined either as "neither men nor women" or as men who become women by adopting women's dress and behavior. Section 377 of the India Penal code that criminalized all sexual acts "against the order of nature" i.e. engaging in oral sex or anal sex along with other homosexual activities were against the law, ripping homosexual people off of their basic human rights. Thus, the Indian Supreme Court ruled a portion of Section 377 unconstitutional on 6th September 2018.
But the question is, "was India always against homosexuality"? Has the concept of homosexuality being unnatural existed forever? No, in Indian history and Hinduism homosexuality has never been an offense, in fact in several instances it has been depicted how people embraced their identity, be it sexual identity or gender identity. Section 377 was brought to India by the British in 1862, while India was colonized. Even after the Independence, it was only in 2018 that the Supreme Court ruled it as irrational and illogical.
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Homosexuality in Ancient India
When Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in India, there was an uproar about it being a western ideology and liberalism. But in reality, homosexuality has existed since the time of the Vedas. The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA) researched and discovered that it was around 3102 B.C. (during the Vedic Age) that homosexuality or non-normative sexual identity was recognized as "Tritiya Prakriti", or the third nature. Ancient India not only made mentions of homosexuality but accepted it as well.
Hinduism is the most vastly followed religion in India. Hinduism does not explicitly mention homosexuality however it does contain a homosexual theme and characters in its text. There have been various instances in our scriptures and texts that have introduced us to LGBT+ characters such as the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati Ardhanariswara meaning "the half-female lord". One of the most popular and ancient texts on sexuality, eroticism, and emotional fulfillment of life, "Kamasutra" has a complete chapter dedicated to homosexuality and homosexual sex. Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities.
Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities. Facebook
Our Mughals were Queer
Mughals are often seen under the light of cruelty, rigid ethics, nobility, and polygamy. Simultaneously, Mughals are also the ones credited for the emergence of Sufism, abolished jizya tax, love beyond religion, classes, and gender.
In the Baburnama written in memoirs of our very first Mughal ruler Muhammad Babur, several instances documented Babur's infatuation and affection towards a teenage boy named Baburi. We also have multiple Persian couplets as evidence of Babur's affection for Baburi. Mughals engaged in homosexuality and pederasty, and they believed that later was a form of "pure love".
But as time passed homosexuality was suppressed more and more though people practiced it in secret if revealed they were punished. According to the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri Sharia-based text of the Mughal Empire, there is a common set of punishments for homosexuality, which could include 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim.
British Raj and Independence of India
In 1862, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexual sex came into force. Even after Independence in 1947, the section remained a part of the Indian Constitution. There were protests all over the country to give people of the LGBT+ community basic human rights but it was not until 2018 that The Supreme Court of India ruled the portion of Section 377 has unconstitutional and struck it off. One judge said the landmark decision would "pave the way for a better future.". With Section 377 gone are LGBT+ people allowed to fall in love freely? No, people are still afraid to love because of the stigma in our society when it comes to homosexuality; they are seen as lesser humans.
ALSO READ: Significant Support for Rights for LGBTQ+
Although the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexual activities, same-sex marriage remains illegal in the country. Homophobia is still prevalent in India, and homosexual children would rather commit suicide than come out to society with their true identity, that's how harsh of a world we live in. Lacking support from family, society, or police, many gay rape victims do not report the crimes. In 1977, writer and Indian mathematician Shakuntla Devi published "The World of Homosexuals". It was the first study in the Indian context; the book contains interviews with homosexual men set in the years of Emergency. She wrote, "rather than pretending that homosexuals don't exist it is time we face the facts squarely in the eye and find room for homosexual people." We've had small victories in our fight against homophobia and getting LGBT+ community the rights they deserve as humans, but we still have a long and exhausting fight ahead of us.
The Mysore kingdom became a popular tourist destination after India became an independent country. The Wodeyar dynasty who succeeded Tipu Sultan are still royalty, but they do not rule the state. Their heritage and culture have become what Karnataka is famous for.
Among the many things that Mysore offers to the state of Karnataka, the Mysore Peta is one. In north India, various cultures have their own headgears. They wear their traditional outfits on the days of festivities and ceremonies. Likewise, in the south, especially in Karnataka, the Mysore Peta is worn.
Made of the traditional Mysore silk, the Peta is usually a white turban decorated with a gold silk thread. It is worn by the Maharaja of Mysore during Dasara, or any other public appearance. This tradition has been preserved and is used all over the state by prominent leaders.
Politicians who want to appease older, more experienced politicians, offer a peta as a sign of honour. International guests are welcomed into the city with a peta and silk shawl. In universities, the peta is worn as a replacement to the black caps, as a sign of graduation and scholarship.
Even today, in the court of Mysore, petas are worn and given out as tokens of honour. The peta of the king varies from the ones a courtier wears, and even among them, there is a difference according to status. Petas are made by a particular family and passed down from generation to generation.
Keywords: Mysore kingdom, peta, silk, Wodeyar
Renowned feminist activist, author, and a face of the women's rights movement in India, Kamla Bhasin, passed away today morning at the age of 74.
The news of the same was shared by activist Kavita Srivastava on Twitter. The tweet said, "Kamla Bhasin, our dear friend, passed away around 3am today 25th Sept. This is a big setback for the women's movement in India and the South Asian region. She celebrated life whatever the adversity. Kamla you will always live in our hearts. In Sisterhood, which is in deep grief."
Bhasin, since the 1970s, has been an advocate of women's movement not just in India but other South Asian countries as well. In fact, in 2002, she founded a feminist network named as 'Sangat', which only motive was to work with underprivileged women from rural and tribal communities, often by using non-literary tools like plays, songs, and art.
Having a Master's degree in literature, Bhasin has written many books on gender theory and feminism, and interestingly, many of them have been translated into more than 30 languages. Another quick fact revolving around Bhasin is that the chant of 'Azadi', which is often heard at protests and rallies, was first popularised by her as feminist slogan against patriarchy.
Bhasin was awarded with the "Laadli Life Time Achievement Award" in the year 2017 for her commendable work.
Keywords: Kamla Bhasin, Feminism, India, Patriarchy, Literature, Feminist, Women, Rights