I had been trying to avoid it for hours last night but couldn’t escape it any longer, as it was all over social media. “Xulhaz Mannan, 35, the editor at Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine Roopbaan, along with Tonoy Mojumdar, a fellow activist, was hacked to death.” Many news reports read like this and all I was left wondering was how to process that piece of information. I had come to believe that in this digital age, only things related to the internet could be hacked; not people. I went back to the countless Facebook conversations where I and Xulhaz had talked about our mutual struggles, discussing the intersections within our work while envisioning a trans-national South Asian Queer solidarity.
When Roopbaan was launched back in 2014 under Xulhaz’s co-editorship, the most striking thing for me was the fact that it was a Bengali language magazine printed into hard copies. The message was clear – instead of limiting it to a virtual English-centric socially privileged group, the magazine aimed to reach the average Bengali speaking literate person with a message of diversity, tolerance and acceptance. It was no less than a heroic attempt to do so as it not only increases the visibility but also one’s vulnerability, especially in a society where state’s inability to control Islamist militant groups had already created a dangerous nexus for local human rights defenders. But all this couldn’t deter him and his team from doing their work as they continued to arrange social support group meetings, workshops, talks, trainings and rainbow rally to claim the space denied to individuals who don’t subscribe their lives and identities to the hetero-normative rules of the world.
Many a times, his unbridled zeal for doing what he believed in brought disagreements from few fellow activists and groups, but Xulhaz still went ahead with the work. Getting back into the shell and cocooning wasn’t his best trait.
Just a few days back I had read about the cancellation of Rainbow Rally during the Pohela Boishakh (Bengali New Year) celebrations and arrest of a few community members under the pretext of receiving violent threats from the Islamists groups. But I didn’t expect that things will take such an ugly turn.
Xulhaz was there at the Shahabag police station till the end, navigating with the police authorities and the parents of the arrested activists and organizing resources for their safe release. He could have easily chosen to move into his safety bunker at that time but that wasn’t the way he envisioned his life. And now his vision and his life both have been taken away from him, brutally.
It’s not the gruesome Islamist militants who are solely responsible for his death; it’s the appallingly inefficient state agents who failed to protect him, it’s the Facebook which let these Islamists post hate speech and death threats on their pages and refused to take those down, sending a lulling message instead that it didn’t violate their community guidelines. It’s also the very ideology of hatred and intolerance which develops subjective, self-suiting moral and ethical hierarchies within the society which give certain sections an unprecedented impunity while compromising the safety and vulnerability of marginalized groups.
Mourning is like a double edged sword. You keep on wondering about what is a more painful experience – being killed over by the hatred and ignorance of someone or being left behind to mourn, with the mountain like grief which has ability to consume you in some unknown manners. I wish I knew the answer. After reading what I didn’t want to read and know and process, in utter anguish, anger and helplessness, I messaged my other activist friends in Bangladesh; most of who are now on the death list of Islamist militants; and said, “Please stay safe somehow, although I don’t exactly know how.”
I don’t have encouraging words for you tonight, I don’t want to encourage you or console you. I am shedding down that mask of a string headed activist who must stay at the pedestal to inspire others. Tonight I want to feel and talk about how vulnerable and fallible life is, how unexpectedly one can be deprived of it brutally in just an instant.
I want to mourn and cry and wail my heart out because it’s not the first time something like this has happened, and is surely not the last time as well. Today, it was Xulhaz and Tonoy, tomorrow it can be me or someone else.
And just like that, this cycle of violence will continue unless the local and global mainstream political actors get serious about taking up LGBT issues, instead of merely providing lip service. But for now, it seems like a farfetched idea because the so called liberal superpowers of the West actually facilitated the selection of a country like Saudi Arabia to chair the United Nations Human Rights Council – a country which is constantly trying to keep LGBT rights out of the global mandate of human rights. So, till the time we are considered human enough, lets continue to resist, to exist, to mourn and to remember our struggles and our Xulhazs and our Tonoys; in our streets, in our neighbourhoods and in our hearts, through our actions, our writings and our dreams.
Farewell Xulhaz, meray dost, till the time we meet again!