Sunday, March 1, 2015

Shreya Ila Anasuya - How to kill a writer: Avijit Roy and Perumal Murugan

One has been hounded into exile, another hacked to death and silenced forever

There are many ways to kill a writer. One way to do it is to banish him, like right-wing political groups did with Perumal Murugan. The intimidation campaign against Murugan has been both vicious and systematic.

At a solidarity meeting in New Delhi last week, Murugan's publisher, Kannan Sundaram, revealed painful details of this campaign. The Tamil writer's neighbour has been threatened merely for receiving court summons on his behalf. His extended family have been hounded, and have chosen to stop speaking to him. He has left his beloved home of fourteen years to teach instead in Chennai.


Every single passage Murugan has ever written is being scanned, and any mention of any community in Tamil Nadu is being shown, shorn of any context, to members of that community. And P. Murugan, the professor, has publicly announced the death of Perumal Murugan, the author. He will write no more; his exile is total.

Another way to kill a writer is to do what just happened across the border, in Dhaka, to Avijit Roy. Take a cleaver to him, so that the only remaining physical traces of a once living, breathing man are bloodstains on the pavement.

One could argue that there is no comparison between what happened to Murugan, and what happened to Roy. And yet, Roy's murder is the chilling conclusion of the same forces that have tortured Murugan into silence.

Both have been persecuted by fundamentalists. Of course, the respective and self-proclaimed representatives of the religions who have perpetrated these acts will baulk at any suggestion of similarity between themselves and the other. One of the men cannot ever write again, and, as Sundaram has pointed out, the other will probably never be able to write fearlessly again.


Thousands of people, anguished by Murugan's self-censorship, have urged him and each other to go on speaking out in spite of threats and intimidation. But Roy's vanishing is final. No amount of urging can raise the dead. All that those who loved him can do is to remember him, for himself and particularly for his writing on atheism, secularism, and humanism.

Of course, one of the most effective ways to answer this death is to read Avijit Roy. That is one way - the only way - in which those who have killed him cannot silence him. His words are already out there. These words, provocative, and assured, turn chilling when he discusses the threats he regularly received against his life:"As soon as the book was released, it rose to the Book Fair’s bestseller list. At the same time, it hit the cranial nerve of fundamentalists. The death threats started flowing to my inbox on a regular basis. I suddenly found myself to be a target of militant Islamists and terrorists."

To read Avijit Roy is not necessarily to love him or even agree with him. If we do disagree with what he says about religion and society, the way we respond can be a powerful message in itself. Our soft disagreements, and respectful criticisms, are significant in the face of the kind of violence he faced for his work, that which killed him in the end. They are the counterpoint to the open and vile statements made by the fanatic Farabi: "Avijit Roy lives in America. So it's not possible to kill him now. He will be killed as soon as he returns home."

But these debates can wait until tomorrow. Today, we can simply agree with this roughly translated note of solidarity from Roy's popular blog, "We are grieving, but we remain undefeated." We can pray for the recovery of his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, who was also attacked along with him, and sustained serious injuries.

And, importantly, as a collective, civil society can mourn him and be enraged by his murder. We can use all our resources to condemn in the strongest possible way this wresting away of life. We can push our governments and justice systems to prevent future murders, either symbolic or literal.

Perumal Murugan just told the Madras High Court that he believes in his own obituary. Murugan was at the height of his creative powers when his art was snatched from him. And, much as we want him to return, what he says is important. Unless the State and civil society effectively and consistently create a fearless space for the writer, he cannot live.

Secular Democrats Speak out Against the Murder of Avijit Roy in Dhaka - PADS statement

Press Release - 28 February 2015
People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism strongly condemns the brutal murder of Mr Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi secular blogger and author on 26th February in Dhaka. His wife Ms Rafida Anwar Banna has suffered grievous injuries in the attack. Mr Roy was a popular blogger and author who wrote a number of books against religious extremism and the threat to human dignity and democracy from it. He had been on the hit list of Islamic fundamentalists for a number of years. He was advised caution but continued to put forth his views bravely in public. He was murdered while returning from a book fair after the release of his latest book. 

Islamic fundamentalists have been the bulwark of authoritarianism in Bangladesh even before the country became independent. They were hand in gloves with the Pakistani Army during the barbaric repression of Bangladeshi freedom movement, and have been in alliance with dictatorial regimes and authoritarian parties. They have also indulged in violence against Hindu and Buddhist religious minorities in the country. According to some reports up to twenty secular activists have been killed in Bangladesh in the past two years by Islamic fundamentalists. It is very encouraging to learn that secular forces in the country have not been cowed down by such violence, and spontaneous protests have erupted in the Shanbag square near Dhaka University against the murder of Avijit Roy.

It is increasingly becoming clear that authoritarian violent forces in many parts of the world are using religion to target non-believers and attack rights of minorities, women, and believers who do not share their fundamentalism. Murders of rationalist Narender Dhabholkar, and Communist Govind Panasare in Maharashtra, persecution of editor Shirin Dalvi, and increased vandalism against Churches, and rioting against minorities ever since Modi government took over are proof of this trend in India. People of Pakistan, many countries in the West Asia and Africa are suffering large scale violence by terrorist groups acting in the name of religion. Even a group of cartoonists in Paris have been killed. It is important that all democracy loving forces discuss and debate the public role of religion. This is possible only in a secular framework of polity, which gives equal public rights to non-believers and believers, and to believers of different faiths.

released in New Delhi