EVENTS in Bangladesh do not augur well. The recent past has seen a number of horrifying killings in the country. The latest incident occurred on Monday when two people, one of them a leading gay rights campaigner, were hacked to death in an apartment in Dhaka, while a third was injured.
These murders came soon after the killing of a professor of English at the Rajshahi University, who was similarly set upon by men wielding machetes as he left home to go to work. And while affiliates of the militant Islamic State group claimed the killing which they said they carried out for the murdered man’s ‘call to atheism’, the professor’s colleagues say that he was neither an atheist, nor had he written anything controversial. That said, the role of religious extremism in this string of murders seems to have hardened into a pattern.
Over the last year, as many as four prominent bloggers who professed a secular ethos were hacked to death. Taken together, these attacks betray a deadly push against tolerance, plurality, and the freedoms of expression and religion in Bangladeshi society.
Unfortunately, matters are not helped by the political climate in the country, where the government is heading in the direction of intolerance and authoritarianism as it apprehends and executes political opponents after farcical trials.
Caught between the two sides — religiously motivated elements that have no qualms about killing for their beliefs and a government that is increasingly turning to repressive tactics in order to stifle dissent — is the public and its fast-vanishing hopes of tolerance and democracy.
The task before Sheikh Hasina’s government is clear: encourage freedom of thought and expression in the country while protecting the right to life of all its citizens, and refrain from contributing to the culture of intolerance by cracking down on political opponents.
Much like Pakistan — which has also experienced militancy and repressive tactics by rulers — Bangladesh stands at a crossroads. Only wise decisions by its political leadership can propel the country in the right direction.
Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2016