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

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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