There can be little doubt that liberals and secularists are in mortal danger in this country today. The irony is that the threat to the lives of those who believe in freedom of expression and who espouse the spirit which went into the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 comes at a time when a government wedded to that very spirit happens to be in office. Things ought not to have happened this way, but the murder of yet one more blogger somehow reinforces the fear among citizens that a concerted, well-organised and sinister plan is underway to systematically undermine the liberal ideals Bangladesh's people and the ruling Awami League have believed in for the last four decades and more.
The killing of Ananta Bijoy Das in Sylhet will perhaps not be the last in this plan of programmed murder by religious fanatics. And when we say this, we do so with an intensity of pain that has as much to do with the cruelty of those who have made it their mission to kill good men and women as with the failure of the authorities to take effective steps to hunt down the killers. Those who attacked, some years ago, the respected academic Humayun Azad escaped detection and punishment. In these past few years, the bloggers Ahmed Rajib Haider, Avijit Roy, Washequr Rahman and now Ananta Das have been done to death. The impunity with which their assailants have gone after them and the manifest inability of the authorities to bring them to justice have only contributed to an erosion of our reputation as a self-respecting nation abroad. Much as we blow the trumpet about our sense of justice and fairness before others, the fact remains that our authorities --- the police and other security agencies --- are failing us and failing us grievously.
That truth comes alive for us once again through the grievance voiced abroad by the widow of Avijit Roy. As one who herself came under attack while her husband was being hacked to death but survived somehow, Rafida Ahmed Bonya has ample cause for complaint. She has claimed that no one from the government has in all this time since her husband's murder been in touch with her. And there are reasons to think that her in-laws, especially the eminent academic Ajoy Roy, have been ignored since the tragedy took place for reasons that remain inexplicable. The inevitable question arises here: is the belief taking root among the law enforcing agencies that with the passage of time such tragic circumstances will be forgotten, that people will go about life as usual?
That is a question of an incendiary kind, for it arouses in us the old uncomfortable feeling that justice is a regular casualty in this country. The malignant ailment of murder and mayhem which set in with the violent coup d'etat of August 1975, in which the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated,followed by a long series of killings in the times of military and quasi-military dictatorship in the country, was allowed to fester until the return of secular, progressive government in 1996. The trials of Bangabandhu's killers as well as the war crimes trials have given us fresh cause to suppose that rule of law will once again be the basis of our societal existence. But when the police and other security agencies fail miserably to net those who harass women on such occasions as Pahela Baishakh and who have no clue as to who or which elements have been behind the killing of the bloggers, we know that a deep malaise is yet abroad in the land.
The malaise attains darker shades of meaning when responsible police officials, in this instance the Inspector General of Police, try to make light of seriously worrying conditions. The sexual assault on young women on Pahela Baishakh was something more than the work of three or four naughty boys. Why is the IGP insulting all of us through such ill-considered remarks?
A careless, cavalier attitude to issues which call for serious action is reflective of either incompetence or laziness or both. And those who fall within this mould must make way for people better able to do the job they have failed to do. Whenever a blogger dies, indeed whenever any citizen dies in unnatural circumstances, it is the fundamental responsibility of the state to hunt down his assassins. It is a shame when murderers and other lawbreakers stay so many steps ahead of the police.
Let the government move from precept to practice. We would like to be convinced that the Prime Minister's pronouncements on zero tolerance in dealing with crime will henceforth be practised in their totality.