An open letter to the Prime Minister, leader of the main opposition, and my countrymen
By Humayun Azad
Dr. Humayun Azad is a rule-breaking freethinking author, poet, critic, column writer and Professor of Dhaka University, Bangladesh. He is well known for his fearless practice of free thinking and open criticism of Islam and Muslims. On 27 February 2004 he came under a vicious attack by unidentified assailants following the publication of a novel titled Pak Sar Jamin Saad Baad. In this novel he tried to expose the attitudes and activities of the Islamists, Razakars (war criminals and collaborators of '71) and the ultra-nationalists in Bangladesh. He simulated a scenario that vividly portrayed fanatic and barbaric nature of these groups.
Dr. Azad received special treatment at Bumrungrad Hospital, Bangkok. After arriving in Bangladesh, he is receiving repeated death threats; also his family members are exposed to serious danger from Islamic fanatics of Bangladesh. Humayun Azad, being anxious, has written in a Bangla Daily on 28 July, 2004 the following heart rendering open letter to Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and to the countrymen depicting his utterly miserable present life. Mukto-Mona took initiative to translate the piece into English as per Dr. Azad's permission and recommendation.
Honorable PM, leader of the main opposition, my countrymen, I am penning this open letter to you after being utterly helpless, physically attacked, and in a state of hopelessness. All these have made my life and my family members’ life unbearable. As I was returning from this year’s ‘Book Fair’ in the evening of February 27, some killer goons attacked me physically; I was not supposed to have lived after the brutal attack. Nonetheless, I returned to this mortal world after being “dead” (in coma) for four days. For this, I remain ever so grateful to everyone. I am thankful to the honorable PM because she took care of my treatment in the aftermath of the attack; I am also indebted to the main opposition party leader for she came hurriedly to see me after I was physically assaulted and she feared for my life; I am also greatly indebted to my countrymen those who grieved seeing my hapless condition, they were moved and they prayed for my well-being. I am also thankful to my fellow academicians and students at the universities, artists, and politicians those who worked tirelessly to keep me alive. I was not supposed to come back to life, but I did. For which a dedicated bunch of physicians should receive my plaudits. I remain ever so grateful to them.
After I was mortally wounded on February 27, I became a darling to my countrymen; those who never knew me before they also inquired about my well-being. However, I am now attacked again and my family is living in a state of despondency; we are now living in a state of fright. On July 24, 2004, the evil bunch who attacked me earlier tried to abduct my only son, Anannya; on July 25, 2004, they put us again in a state of panic after threatening us through a telephone call this time they said that they will blast a bomb in my house. At this time, mine is the most panic stricken family in Bangladesh whose members may be hurt in any moment. That is the reason I am now appealing to you hoping that you may come forward to help me out. You are the only ones who lend your helping hand at this time of despair. You have done your duty when I was struggling with my death; aren’t you going to stand by me at this perilous time too?
I look physically alright now, but I am far from being mentally strong. One of my eyes is half blind. I am carrying a disfigured face with the scars of vicious attack on it, the sutures on my face are still painful for me, my lips are partially numb, I wear dentures, infirmity has taken hold of me. After my return from medical treatment in abroad, I am virtually interned in my home because my life is not safe outside. I maybe attacked physically if I venture to go outside. For my safety the government has posted some police force in front of my residence for which I am thankful. Still then, I am receiving repeated death threats; my family members are exposed to serious danger. All these are making our lives utterly miserable. I cannot look at the panic-stricken faces of my beloved ones because their countenance bears the mark of mental anguish. It seems as if they are living in a state of fear surrounded by sharp knives or living near a live volcano. Sometimes I feel that the marauding gang of assassins surrounds them and there is no one to protect them. Under this dire circumstance, living a normal life is all too difficult and meaningless; I don’t know whether you could imagine the state of hopelessness that I am now in.
We as a family feel that this fear for untimely death is dictating our daily life now. We could have committed a mass suicide if we knew beforehand we would attain the Nirvana from our wretched life. We would have showered our assassins with the moon and flowers as we prepare to exit from this mortal world. But we are infirm, our love for this mortal world is too strong, and that is why we remain in a state of alert. I fear for the safe return of my family members whoever and whenever go out. When I am out, I fear for their safety who are at home. Even in 1971, my life was not that difficult! These days I feel pity for myself, for my life, and for my hapless motherland. What has become of this land where a professor and a writer cannot lead a simple and placid life, cannot browse a book or pen a stanza of poem. This is because the roving assassins are making his life a miserable one even in his sleep. Did we want
for all this? Did many a patriot shed their blood for this? Bangladesh
I am a professor and a writer. I have been teaching for the last 36 years and writing for even longer period. I never did neglect to teach my students properly; I taught them as per their acumen and interest; thousands of students considered me as one of their dearest and best teacher. Their love and respect for me had gratified me. I always tried to teach my students new things; tried my best to get them out of the old moldings because I believe in my heart that it is the very nature of knowledge to create new things. The world of ours has progressed thus far because humankind has been able to generate new information. I have been writing ceaselessly, not keeping myself confined in a particular area, but expanding my interest in variegated disciplines from linguistics to poems. Poetry, novel, essay, criticism, linguistics, political analysis, literature for kids, etc., are the myriad fields in which I have contributed thus far. I have published about 70 books. Many a readers agree that I have enriched Bengali literature through my writings, and even after my departure from this world my contributions will be remembered. Despite all these positive contributions, my life is a wretched one at this time because the assassins are regularly issuing death threats against my family members and me. Living in the shadow of a constant threat I am becoming oblivious to knowledge and literature. Is it then fair that one of the leading professors of
has to live under constant threat of being killed? Have I done well in my studies, earned a good name for myself as an academician and writer, earned the respect from my countrymen only to be threatened by the goons who want to see me dead? Will my premature death in the hands of the assassins bring prosperity to Bangladesh ? Or, will it mar the nation with disgrace? Bangladesh
I am both a scribe and a sensitive human being to whom it is more disgraceful to live in the confine of my house than to be dead. I oft-remember once I used to take a stroll by myself, visit a village to see the moon, birds, and rivers. Today, I am denied of this privilege; today, I cannot walk alone or look at the moon, river, or birds. To the contrary, those marauding assassins, who never looked at the moon, have their rights preserved who want to see me a dead man. To a person who wants to enrich himself with knowledge and who wants to write, nothing could be worse than being interned into a house; this would blunt his creativity. I am not alone in this predicament; quite a few other professors of
had been given the death sentence by the obscurantists. I feel their pain, but for how long do we have to endure this pain? Dear Prime Minister, leader of the main opposition party, my countrymen, this not the time for you to remain reticent, you must take care of those people very sternly who are inflicting this pain on us. This is your noble duty. You have to carry out your duty or else the future generation will look at you with ambivalence. Dhaka University
We want to see our motherland,
, as a developed, modern, and peaceful country; however, we failed in the past to build our nation in that way. The image Bangladesh portrays to outside world is not a good one; the way the recent threats to my family and myself have perturbed us will mar the image even further. For sure, you know that those who are making my life miserable belong to a separate ideology. A nation is deemed to prosper, and could only progress when there exists diversity of opinions, and when people holding diverse opinions can live side-by-side. The essence of democracy is to respect and tolerate diverging opinions and beliefs. Bangladesh
We could refute an opinion or ideology only through knowledge and reasons, but nowhere it says that a person with differing opinion should be threatened to be killed or eventually be killed. Unfortunately, in
it has become a norm not to debate with a person who holds a counter view, but to settle the score with a threat to kill the person or by killing the person. I have become a prime target now for political assassination. Isn’t it true that my writings have enriched Bangladesh ? Have I not dedicated my life for Bangladesh because I love my country? Once I am gone from this mortal world, won’t Bangalees feel proud for what I have done? If these are correct, then why am I being tortured this way when I am still alive? I am hoping that you will come to aid in my time of distress, immediately at this critical time of our extreme distress and danger. Bangladesh
Bangladeshis amidst a great danger now, a devastated flood has struck us, there is no end to human sufferings; however, this is not the last deluge to hit . Bangladesh is sinking albeit very slowly, according to some geologist the nation may sink into the Bangladesh Bay of Bengalin the next quarter of the century. But we could obstruct this downward journey through knowledge and our effort. If we fail to take up the measure, then we, the nationals of , have to swim ashore to another nation just as a rodent does. Maybe, others will refuse us to climb ashore. Many of us would be dead in the next quarter of the century. However, we should work for our next generation. We are duty bound to build a nation that is safe and advanced for our next generation. Bangladesh
But no one gives a damn about it. The fundamentalists are bent on killing people who hold a similar philosophy of life like mine; they think annihilating folks like me would solve all the problems that ailDear honorable Prime Minister, leader of the main opposition party, my countrymen, in this time of great danger I am handing over the security of my family members and mine in your hand. It is up to you to decide whether
. Amidst this devastating flood, I would like to mingle with our people, but I am bereft of that right. Being confined to the four walls of my house I could see how agonizingly they are passing theirs time. I hear that my ancestral village is under water, but I could hardly visit the place; if I attempt to go there, the marauding band of assassins will surely follow me. The nature is wreaking havoc on us now, but those assassins who hold a differing view from mine put my life in danger. This vile force has not given up the idea to threaten me ad infinitum even when calamities have struck Bangladesh . Bangladesh
will remain under the sharp instrument of murder hold by the marauding band of assassins, should my family members and I spend sleepless night frightened by the ominous presence of the goons? Should the nation of ours be inundated with blood? Will the humanity get a shiver watching Bangladesh in this pathetic state? We don’t have much time. You decide what would be the proper step to take, and this is my earnest request to you all, my countrymen, including you- respected PM and the leader of the opposition. Bangladesh
Read his original letter in Bangla:
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