Saturday, September 12, 2015

Freethinking threatened in Bangladesh, says Ajoy Roy

By Biplob Rahman; Educationist Ajoy Roy has said freethinking is endangered after murders of at least five secularist bloggers by knife-wielding assailants in Bangladesh.
Ajoy Roy, a retired professor of Dhaka University and father of slain blogger Avijit Roy, told on the occasion of 44th birth anniversary of Avijit.

Avijit, a Bangladeshi-born US writer, was hacked to death by suspected Islamists on February 26 when he was returning home along with Bonya Ahmed, his wife, from a book-fair in Dhaka. Bonya was also injured in the attacks. His family along with thousands of followers will remember him on this daySaturday.
During nearly an hour of discussion with, Ajoy Roy, a professor of Physics, highlighted many pertaining issues related to the investigation of Avijit Roy killing. He also talked about the life, study, birth and activities of his beloved son.

“Freethinking in Bangladesh is in danger. But, I think the crisis is temporary,” the professor said referring to the recent attacks on the writers and freethinking bloggers. But he finds the perspectives of Islamic practices in Bangladesh and two other neighbours, Pakistan and Afghanistan, different saying Islam in Bangladesh was mostly Sufism-centric.

“Most people in Bangladesh are pious, not fanatics. They don’t like excesses in the name of Islam. They dislike militancy in the name of any religion,” he said adding that Bangladesh has a rich culture of co-existence of people from all faiths.

Eventually the so-called religious fundamentalists would not be sustained in this country because of its religious harmony, Ajoy said.

The Dhaka University teacher said the government must ensure protection of all writers, bloggers and activists threatened by different fundamentalist groups.

“The militants have been killing people branding them as atheists. It is my clear understanding that murder is a criminal offence, it does not matter whether the victim is atheist or theist,” Ajoy said adding that the government must act promptly and allow none to take the laws in their hands.

“Since the existing laws have remedies if anyone hurts others’ religious sentiment, none should be allowed to apply the laws without the legal authority,” he said adding that the militants are doing the same in the very nose of the law enforcements.

Ajoy, who fought the 1971 war of liberation against Pakistan at the battle ground, referred to the risks of writers as at least five bloggers were hacked to death since 2013. The fanatics’ mission began with the attacks on poet Humayun Azad, a professor of Bangla department of Dhaka University, in 2004. Humayun survived the attacks at that time, but died a few years later in Germany.

The recent attacks began with the killing of secularist blogger Rajib Hyder on February 15, 2013 at a time of mass upsurge to demand capital punishment of Bangladesh’s 1971 war criminals. Then the fundamentalists attacked Avijit on February 26, 2015 followed by a similar attack on blogger Oyeshekur Rahman Babu on March 30, 2015 in Dhaka. The suspected bigots continued their knife-wielding missions and killed science writer Anata Bijoy Das in Sylhet on May 12 and blogger Niladri Chattapadhay in Dhaka on August 7, 2015. Police arrested a few suspects allegedly involved in those attacks.

The Dhaka University teacher suggested the government to be tough against the fanatics. He also urged the teachers, students and the people as a whole to join an anti-fanatic social movement to thwart the rise of evil forces.

“Unfortunately, this is not yet happening.”

Phone call from the Prime Minister
Ajoy expressed frustration over the process of investigation into Avijit’s murder. He said only few people were arrested, nothing more than that. But the Prime Minister had called me to tell that the murder case was top priority for her government, he said.

“I personally believed that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was not antagonistic to the bloggers. A few people in the ruling Awami League might have different opinions on blog writers,” he said adding that the Prime Minister had phoned him on March 1.

“I was not at home at that time. She left a phone number for me and later I called back,” said the retired teacher. He said that the Prime Minister told him that she knows him for a long time.

“Sir, I know you for quite a long time. My husband (late nuclear scientist Wazed Mia) was direct student of you. What can I do for you?” the Prime Minister was quoted to have said by Ajoy.

In response to her query, the professor said, “You are the Prime Minister; you asked me what you can do? I want the killers be captured and tried. They should be handed to the law enforcements. She said she would try her best.”

The Prime Minister also asked Ajoy to call her in case he needs. “It (investigation into the murder) is my top priority,” Hasina was quoted to have said. The professor said he was not in touch with the Prime Minister since then.

He remembers that the Prime Minister praised Avijit saying “he was very talented person. I had gone through some of his writings. Not all. I myself do write too.”

Avijit born in 1971 The valiant freedom fighter reminisced that his son was born in 1971 when Bangladesh was on its liberation war against Pakistan. He joined the liberation war along with a group of teachers from Dhaka University who travelled to Indian border to join for training after the Pakistani forces started genocide on March 25 of 1971. They were given training on Comilla border and then took part in a number of operations.

“Avijit was in the womb of my wife Shefali Roy. I took my mother and the wife to Tinsukia of Assam where one of my brothers was staying as an engineer,” said Ajoy.

“A guerilla soldier brought the news at the battle ground that I was become father of a son,” he said adding that Avijit was born in an Assam hospital where her mother suffered from excessive blood loss. The doctors could not treat her well there and I need to arrange an ambulance to shift them to Digboi hospital,” he said.

Then Avijit was sent to Kolkata along with his mother and grandmother to stay with relatives, Ajoy said adding that he then left for the war field. He recalled he returned home after Bangladesh won the war and writer Ahmed Chafa and professor Ahmed Sharif of Dhaka University welcomed him at the airport.

Muktomona Ajoy Roy returned to his work at Dhaka University soon after the war was ended and started living at Dhaka University teacher’s quarter located at 13/H, Fuller Road. Avijit was neither a naughty nor very calm boy during his childhood. He was admitted at English Preparatory School nearby the quarter. The school later turned to Udayan School. He then went to Dhaka College and later at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said Avijit’s father adding that he was a company of idle talkers since his student life.
He used to pass time with his friends up to 9 pm.
Avijit studied mechanical engineering at BUET, then, he went to National University of Singapore for higher education, and eventually left for United States later, said his father.
Asked how Avijit became a freethinker, Ajoy said he was supposed to be a professional engineer. “But I found him changed after we visited Shantiniketan in 1997 as all of my family stayed there for a month. I believe Shantiniketan brought the change in him, he became a new Avijit after the visit” he said.
Ajoy said he had initiated a website called Muktomona in 2000, and suggested Avijit to takeover since he had the well know-how on technology. “I told him to change the website’s name if he feels like. But Avijit said that Muktomona was a very good name, then he developed it as a blog-site accommodating both Bangla and English,” added Ajoy.
The site becomes popular because it was neither extreme Marxist nor was it religious. It pursued secularism and liberal democratic principles in addition to the spirit of science, he said.
“They tried to explain every world event scientifically, and the site’s popularity started rocketing. Many people around the world are connected with it,” he said adding that an American gentleman, most probably Levin his name, had provided the space for the site, being visited by tens of thousands of readers. A biologist named Richard Dawkins is also linked with it, he said.
Muktomona is an idea. It would not be possible to eliminate through killing bloggers. None could ever stop freethinking by imposing something, said Ajoy.
“It is not possible, and, therefore, the struggle for freethinking to be continued in the days to come,” the retired professor hopes.
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