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A Shattering First-Person Account Of Just How Dangerous It Is To Be Queer In Bangladesh

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Submitted anonymously:

I could never have imagined that I would experience such a dirty phase of life at twenty. With each passing day, my unbearable life seems like a dried bay leaf. Even a slight proximity to fire would turn it into ashes. Surviving another night is like speeding towards death. As if they are there! As if they would slaughter me! Perhaps, ‘us’ would suit better than ‘me’. The entire community is petrified as to who would be attacked next? Where? And how? Meanwhile, the jihadists are on their way; trying to establish authority through their serial killings. They don’t desire to prove it any longer, it has always already been proved. They are brave! Two homosexuals have been assassinated? Alright. Nobody cares. How does it matter if they were homosexuals or not? They used to fight for queer rights. It is not a concern for the general public. There are many more important things in society that overwhelm them. It is the civil society’s task to pick up and engage with lesser issues.

Xulhaz Mannan (L) and Tanay Mojumdar (R).
Xulhaz Mannan (L) and Tanay Mojumdar (R).

The media has hyped the news of the assassination of Xulhaz-Tanay. Ridiculous. I have many reservations; the most significant reason being that I have seen both of them very closely; worked with them at a certain point. Their primary identity is kept secret. The politicians are diverting the whole issue. The government brands it as a ploy of the opposition. Things are becoming stifling now. Is it our ethical responsibility now to feed the media with truths? How does it even matter? Will they disclose the truths before everyone? One can browse through the national and international news, the discrepancies are striking. The national newspapers fear using the word ‘homosexual’. Being the relative of a female politician from the ruling party and an employee at the American embassy in Bangladesh, have been the parameters to assess Xulhaz’s position. Tanay’s identity has been that of Xulhaz’s friend and a theatre person.

However, I would not ignore the fact, that, no national daily has mentioned ‘Roopbaan’, the journal that fights for queer rights. But things are taking a different turn. This conundrum has suppressed the news of a suicide. On this day, somebody from the community, also a volunteer of Boys of Bangladesh committed suicide. Two incidents are disparate. The boy has been suffering from depression for long. Having come out to the family, he was being forced to go for treatment. Unable to bear with the ambience any further, he chose to exit on the day of his birthday. Other than a handful of people, this news is not known by anybody. This is called fate.

The event of the assassination has bulldozed the community in no time. The situation has become vulnerable. Communication between people has been stalled. Everyone is up for saving themselves. The fervour to win rights sublimated in seconds. There is only one presiding thought now, ‘save yourself’. But is it possible? A country where the government, law and security forces ignores us; denies and rejects our existence, how can we seek aid from them? Our life is at threat, so what? What reason should I furnish to the police for assistance? The writer seeks silence. He has no answer.

Protest against killing LGBT Magazine Editor
Bangladesh Student Union protests the killings

An assessment of the present predicament would disclose a major issue, that is, solidarity crisis. Barring a few, the entire population is against us; against every possible issue related to homosexuality. But we should not take it as our failure because we were succeeding; slowly we were in the process of changing the popular mindset. We were progressing steadily. We were exploiting various mediums such as magazines, comics, plays, poetry and different events to ascertain our existence. But everything demolished. The last 10–12 years of endeavour received a major blow. Everybody fell at the same time. Those fallen ones would never again by enthused to work for rights. It is the tragic end of all aspirations.

“Why isn’t anyone from the community speaking up? Why aren’t they justifying their stand?” – people are asking many such questions. Nobody spoke a word after the assassination. But it is not possible to subdue everyone. In that non-communicative phase, many people wanted to speak up on their own but eventually could not, for the fear of their lives. But we do invite trouble sometimes; without informing anybody, a boy from the community gave an interview to NDTV. There he said certain things which may be dangerous for us at the present. On the other hand, somebody from the Roopbaan Board of Directors, has received a death threat. A letter has reached his home threatening him with assassination. The letter mentions his workplace and other details.

They won’t sit quietly after assassinating two. They are on a spree, on a hunt, to kill one by one. They have a larger plot in mind. they have prepared a list, with the minute details of everybody. They are proceeding as per plans, without hurrying; slowly and steadily. Eight days after the assassination, terrorist group ‘Ansar Al Islam’, an Al-Qaida-linked group published a five-page statement on their website. The reason for murder, their success, Roopbaan’s work, and India and United States’ support for the LGBT movement have found mention in their statement. Along with that, English news daily ‘Dhaka Tribune’ has received a strong-worded threat. In such turbulent times, what should we and should not do; who is safe and who isn’t, what would be the course of action; the answer to all questions has been – silence!

Did they achieve what they desired? Have the jihadists been successful? I would say, yes! They thought slaughtering the master would drive the pupils underground by default. But there is no one master. They won’t satiate unless all masters are eliminated. And I find this master-pupil binary problematic. They are preoccupied with narrating stories through flawed words. They have, however, been successful to disorient the entire community by creating turbulent situations. The closeted ones in the community could not come out and voice their demands and rights publicly. The mobilisation happened slowly. It was time-consuming. As soon as the fight began, the jihadists started their task. Only a few among the most discrete ones could come forward. Slowly the numbers were rising. One incident ruined it all. A luminous ‘full-stop’ broods over every possible reaction now!

There is a certain class of people who, consciously or unconsciously, do not cringe to extract benefits out of situations. Since the prime faces of the community are silent, certain people are releasing statements by claiming to be ‘activists’. The media is gulping that eagerly. They do not intend to estimate the authenticity of these claims. Stay away from such ‘fake activists’! It is easy to blow trumpet from a safe, privileged space. I am writing this long rant under a pen name, for not being in a secured place; I cannot talk about the work or grass-roots activities we have done. Somebody has to speak up, break the silence, or else these people would reap fame by furnishing misleading facts. Everyone deserves support in times of crisis, but I am sceptical about the morality of those who have made use of the assassination, sold it for their personal benefits.

At 20, I am experiencing a prison; continuing to write by being anonymous, sometimes hiding identity too. I have experienced the ridicule of society while working for queer rights but that had not weakened my will to work. I was getting more focused and determined each day. Everything got over!

This twenty-year-old has witnessed the murder of close ones. But he is helpless; couldn’t even visit them to have one last glimpse. What of what? His own life? The police will see, the bigots will see – such fear has started flowing through the veins. Cannot even protest the killings. What if they identify me? What if they include me in their list?

This powerless person at 20 is feeling choked for not being able to do anything.

Who would emancipate us from this misery? Are we forever forbidden to fight for our rights? Have we regressed back to the point from where we started for our fear of life? How long will they subdue? Attacking pens with sharp weapons, has this been their intention? Releasing religion from the veins of the writer? Since when has religion started to indulge violence? Or is it self-indulgence in the name of religion?

The vicissitudes of fate have brought us to such baseness today. This society. This state. This humanity.

Featured Image Source: Getty

Shortly after the death of activists Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar, an open letter was penned by LGBT+ activists from Bangladesh regarding the movement’s coverage in the press and by fellow activists in other countries. You can read it here.

In response, Avinaba Dutta penned a reply to the open letter, regarding the representation of the LGBT+ movement in Bangladesh.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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