I don’t remember the moment I heard Washiqur Babu was attacked. My brain has a tendency to forget painful memories. I vaguely remember scrolling through Facebook when coming across someone’s status saying a blogger named Babu was attacked. As I ran to check the TV news, not even for a second I thought that it was my friend and brother Babu. But it was him, he was attacked right in front of his home.
In that moment of unimaginable grief, I could only concentrate on the fact that the news had spelled Babu’s name incorrectly. They were reporting that he was taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Thinking he might still be alive I got up and dropped everything and rushed to the hospital. Some of his friends were already there. As we made our way to the hospital and out through the back door I realized where we were going. It felt like we are walking for days, then we stopped in front of the morgue. They could not save my brother, there was nothing left to save.
Babu was a very introverted man. He had a small frame and even smaller voice. Every time we talked I had to scold him to talk louder. You would not believe this shy man could write such sharp, witty and clever posts. He had a very small circle of friends and I was lucky enough to be in it. Few people knew Babu’s identity as a blogger. He only had one or two pictures of him on his social media. But when he got comfortable around people nobody could make him stop talking. But he will talk no more.
Babu’s murder had a bigger impact than Avijit Roy’s murder. Before this, the small, unknown bloggers thought they were safe; no one will come for the ‘nobodies’. With Babu’s murder the terrorists announced that popularity, name, recognition doesn’t matter, they will hunt down everyone. Also, Babu’s murder proved that there was a mole in our group. After that, the circle of trust amongst ourselves became non-existent. The protests became irrelevant gatherings, the conversations became small talks. A rising, thriving community became a shallow, muddy puddle.
A month after Babu’s murder, writer and scholar Ananta Bijoy Das was chased and hacked in front of his house. By this time we lost our ability to be shocked. Ananta’s death was a loss for the whole country. His books, blogs, activism were all for the good of the common people. For this, he was a very popular name in the intellectual community. His magazine was a point of pride for us. Prior to his murder, Ananta was trying to get out of the country but was denied a visa. Maybe just a few more days and he would still be alive.
By now we figured out the pattern. The terrorists were systematically eliminating their targets while instilling fear into everyone else’s heart. We knew that the next target will be someone not that much known. Bloggers were shutting down their accounts, leaving their homes to hide elsewhere, leaving the country to save their lives. It was like living underwater. The pressure was too much and I couldn’t breathe.
Niloy Chatterjee, known to his friends a Niloy Neel, was one of the first few friends I made at the Shahbag protest. Being friends with him was very easy. We could actually talk to each other without any fear of judgment or criticism. He had very outlandish ideas about society and relationships and we frequently fought over those ideas. After Babu’s murder, I lost touch with everyone including Niloy. In one of our final conversations, he informed me that someone was following him. He went to the police to report but they didn’t help him. He told me that he doesn’t want to leave the country but he didn’t wanna die either. I found out about Niloy’s death through a phone call. The murderers went into his house, locked his wife and sister in law in another room and hacked him to death in broad daylight.
By now we had a set drill. After hearing about a friend’s murder we would be shocked even though we knew this was coming, lose track of time while crying, go to the protests even though we knew it was pointless, come home early and then held our breath for the next attack. Surely, there was another attack a month later. This time, respected publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan. After that, secular writer Nazimuddin Samad, LGBTQ+ activists Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Majumder.
Bangladeshi Government became extremely considerate of its population’s feelings. Instead of finding the killers and bringing them to justice, like a serious government would, they told us to stop writing because it hurts religious peoples feelings. Some would say that this is a violation of our freedom of speech but we had a good laugh. What else could we do? Our religious families were ashamed of us, the whole country was against us because of Islamist propaganda, we couldn’t trust our friends and our law enforcement refused to protect us. So when the prime minister said that the victims were responsible for their own death, they shouldn’t have written those things and we should stop writing because it hurts people’s feelings we had no choice but to take it as a joke.
As of 2 July 2016, a total of 48 people, including 20 foreign nationals, have been murdered in terrorist attacks. So, I decided to leave the country. I applied to ICORN and was accepted. Not long after Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, invited me to their city as a guest writer. Reykjavik is giving me a lot of opportunities to become a better person. Here I can exercise my freedom of speech without any threat. I can live a normal life without fear. Here I have to opportunity to become someone my departed friends would feel proud of.