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It is time to be loud and clear

Celebration of International Women’s Day 2015 at Nari Diganta

By Nazratoon Nayem

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Last Sunday, on 8 March 2015, the women in Movement for Equal Rights, Social Justice and Secularism at Nari Diganta have celebrated International Women’s Day 2015 with a diverse group of women and men belonging to 14 different ethnicities and nationalities in Britain. At a packed room of some 150 audience, the members of Nari Diganta have greeted Bengali creative women and renowned BME women’s rights campaigners at the Brady Arts and Community Centre in Tower Hamlets, London. The event was explicitly focused on secular Bengali women who have dedicated their lives to creative work and BME women’s empowerment in Britain and elsewhere.

Sarah Begum takes Nari Diganta to 'Amazon Souls'. Courtesy: Rumana Hashem

Sarah Begum takes audience from Brady Arts Centre to ‘Amazon Souls’ through her slides. Courtesy: Rumana Hashem

The unusual event of progressive Bengali women kicked in with a greetings from the Secretary, Nasima Kajol, and an opening message by the Chairperson of Nari Diganta, Shamima Begum. It followed by a compliment of International Women’s Day from a secularist-sociologist and BME women’s rights activist, Dr Rumana Hashem. Rumana invites Sarah Begum, an award winning young film-maker and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, to screen her documentary film about Amazonian life. Sarah took the audience to her film through a showreel and slides followed by a biographical speech, demonstrating the difference, passion and courage that a creative woman does posses in terms of freedom and women’s struggle for emancipation.

From right: Chandra Chakraborty,  Sarah Begum and Smrtiy Azad  spoke about their struggles as women in creative fields. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

From right: Chandra Chakraborty, Sarah Begum and Smrity Azad spoke about their struggles as women in creative fields. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Sarah’s talk was followed by a creative women’s panel and a bilingual discussion by three creative women from three backgrounds including music, film and theater. The panel chaired by Nari Diganta’s legal adviser, Piara Mayenin, was attended by a proclaimed Bengali classical vocalist Chandra Chakraborty, the film-maker and explorer Sarah Begum, and Bengali performer, Smrity Azad. The creative panelists have made a point that Bengali creative women are not just performers who would perform to please men and the society. Rather, they are innovative women who posses transformative power, who made valuable contribution to their respective societies by overcoming hazardous barriers and by choosing creativity and performance as a way forward to emancipation and progress of women.

The discussion by the creative women was followed by a panel of prominent BME women’s rights campaigners and secularists. The panel formed by Gita Sahgal, the producer of War Crime File,and a writer and the Director of Centre for Secular Space, and Maryam Namzie, an Iranian Secularist and the Founder and Spokesperson of One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation, was chaired by Bangladeshi women’s rights campaigner and a core group member at Nari Diganta, Rumana Hashem.

From the left: Gita Sahgal, Maryam Namazie and Rumana Hashem discussed the need for moving forward with a secular agenda for women's emancipation and BME women's empowerment in Britain. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

From the left: Gita Sahgal, Maryam Namazie and Rumana Hashem discussed the need for moving forward with a secular agenda for women’s emancipation and BME women’s empowerment in Britain. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The event ends with a staggering cultural programme of Bengali dance, music and poetry by women and young girls. Finally the singing sensation Farzana Sifat appeared with her solo music, followed by a choir of the members of Nari Diganta.

Vocalist Farzana Sifat sings for the women at Nari Diganta. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Vocalist Farzana Sifat sings for the women at Nari Diganta. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The cultural event, presented by Nasima Kajol and Munjerin Rashid ended with a powerful choir ‘We remain undefeated, we will remain undefeated.’

Sunday’s IWD event at Brady Arts Centre was as unusual as festive, and was filled with lively music and songs of Bengali women. The diverse audience of a wide range of ethnicities, dressed up in their national outfits, have joined from Iran, India, Libya, Norway, Morocco, Poland, Pakistan, Spain, Sweden, Scotland, USA, and of course, Bangladesh and England.

Part of the mixed audience at Brady Arts Centre IWD2015 at Nari Diganta. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani

Part of the mixed audience at Brady Arts Centre IWD2015 at Nari Diganta. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani

Despite the delayed start and some alterations to the programme, audience have expressed their full-solidarity to the organisers and the women at Nari Diganta who have shown passion and ability to create a space for a mixed and secular audience in Tower Hamlets. The jolly composer of the event, Rumana Hashem started the evening by calling upon the audience to engage with the ideas of creative Bengali women who appeared on national dresses and on posh-colourful saris in festive mood. Dr Hashem says, explaining the importance of sari for Bengali women: ‘those who are new to Brady Arts and Community Centre or who joined us for the first time at Nari Diganta may get a culture shock by seeing Muslim Bengali women on fancy sari. Believe me it is our everyday dress and this dress demonstrates our professionalism back home. You got to take it easy. Note that we are Bengali women at work.’ The room broke into laughter and a festive breeze had been felt throughout the evening.

Two daughters of members of Nari Diganta perform for their mothers and sisters. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Two daughters of members of Nari Diganta perform for their mothers and sisters. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Inspite of threats of radicalism by the unexpected intruders who sneaked into the venue in the midst of the programme, without permission of the organisers, the festive atmosphere was obvious at the event. Both the audience and speakers remained calm and bold throughout. The support of the wonderful audience became apparent especially in their efforts of networking and friendly comments. The speakers and presenters were articulate in their statements that Bengali women are progressive, secular and not blind to male-dominated social norms and customs.

Young girls of Nari Diganta danced for the creative Bengali women. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Young girls of Nari Diganta danced for the creative Bengali women. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Vocalist Chandra Chakraborty declared, in her final comment, ‘indeed, women are the superiors in terms of their ability’. She argued that it is wrong to assume that men are higher than women in relation to ability of creativity and ethics of care. Even though it is mostly men who hold political power, women are the ones who have the real ability to do things innovatively and passionately. We must recognise women’s real power, she said.

Gita Sahgal addresses the mixed audience. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Gita Sahgal addresses the mixed audience. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

In her remark about Nari Diganta, Gita Sahgal said that she was delighted to hear the powerful statements of the creative women and the secular ideas that they upheld. She thanked the women at Nari Diganta for taking a secular agenda in the question of women’s rights.

Maryam Namazie calls upon the women at Nari Diganta to take a bold step against patriarchy and religious oppression. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Maryam Namazie calls upon the women at Nari Diganta to take a bold step against patriarchy and religious oppression. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Maryam Namazie, the Iranian-born women’s rights campaigner and secularist, has similarly expressed her thankfulness to the organisers for their courage to create a space for secular practices and for overcoming religious barriers in Bengali women’s lives.

She said, in her complimentary speech on IWD, ‘It has been great to join you all.  We need to keep moving forward with a secular agenda from here’.

The pledge to women’s emancipation and secularism were apparent throughout the event. In her welcome message, Nari Diganta’s chairperson Shamima Begum Hena said:

‘I hope that you will enjoy the event and will stay with us. We are celebrating International Women’s Day at a juncture when our homeland, Bangladesh is burning, as many other countries. We are facing division and confrontation between the progressive and extremist forces. In such a situation women’s insecurity became most obvious in all of these countries. We remain vigilant and  we try to establish a clear position in the question of women’s rights there and here. We want to celebrate International women’s day by recognising the good work that our Bengali creative women are doing in Britain, overcoming their situation every day. We want also to scrutinise BME women’s situation in Britain.’

Part of the colourful audience at  Brady Arts Centre. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani

Part of the colourful audience at Brady Arts Centre. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani

She added, ‘We need to be critical and be careful to any uncritical solidarity. We need to avoid generalisation of BME women’s rights issues with all women in Britain. We want to be loud and clear about the real situation within which we work, and we want to hear how our creative women may make their voices against bigotry and oppressions heard. In a world of uncertainty, we need to be loud and clear about our mission, vision and achievements. I am very pleased to see that so many of you have come to our event, despite it being a Sunday.’

Following Hena, Dr Hashem invites everybody to join Sarah Begum’s talk. She added:

Sarah Begum attempts to connect her work with women's emancipation.  Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Sarah Begum attempts to connect her work with women’s emancipation. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

‘Sarah’s film is a politically informed documentary and it bears a highly political message of women’s empowerment and freedom. May I ask everybody please focus on the “theme” of the film rather than the “scene”’. In explaining the significance of the theme and the design of the programme, Rumana Hashem explains also that the programme was designed differently because it bore a political message for women’s empowerment, equal rights and bigotry-free society. She said: ‘We are a young organisation and only four years old. But as you would know, sometimes a four-year child can be more clever, bold, innovative, scrutinising and imaginative than many adults. We believe that today’s event would demonstrate this creativity and boldness of a four years old child. The design of our event is unusual and the theme is important. We hope that you will like it and you will bear with us.’

Nasima Kajol addressing audience during cultural programme. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Nasima Kajol addressing audience during cultural programme. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

In commenting about IWD2015 at Nari Diganta, Nasima Kajol, the Secretary of the organisation told that: ‘We have tried to do something different, something new and something especial. I do not claim that it was a fully successful event in terms of Western discipline and order. Still I am pleased that we have done it differently than many traditional events in Tower Hamlets. One does not gain success in one day. I think that we are doing well as a young organisation. I am proud of our ability to unite in a secular and progressive political stand at Nari Digatna.’

Nasima Kajol and Munjerin Rashid jointly greeted the pleasant audience. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

Nasima Kajol and Munjerin Rashid jointly greeted the pleasant audience. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The evening was filled with film, dialogue, music and dance with Creative Bengali Women speaking out against oppression and bigotry. It was partially sponsored by the Tower Hamlets Council, PCO Claims, Amifro Associates, Chambers of MM Hussain, and Hillside Travel. The organisers have greeted the sponsors with bouquet of flowers for the much needed support that the funders have provided to Nari Diganta as faithful friends and well-wishers.

The choir at Nari Diganta on International Women's Day 2015. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The choir at Nari Diganta on International Women’s Day 2015. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The daughters of the women at Nari Diganta performed for their mothers and sisters. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The daughters of the women at Nari Diganta performed for their mothers and sisters. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The IWD2015 Raffle draw. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

The IWD2015 Raffle draw. Courtesy: Pijush Kuri

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Support Those Fighting Religious-Right and Jihadists in Bangladesh

By Rumana Hashem

Nari Diganta is horrified and outraged by the brutal killing of Bangladeshi-born freethinker and humanist- writer, Avijit Roy. This is not the first time that we are shocked by watching how the fatal stabbing of humanists and freethinkers happens in Bangladesh. There has been a series of such killings for which fundamentalist and Islamic groups are responsible. Just about six weeks ago a freethinker and female teacher, Anjali Devi Roy, at Chittagong Nursing College was stabbed to death by Jamat-e Islami’s cadre for she had spoken out against Hijab and refused to cooperate to impose Hijab on her students in the college. Previously Bangladesh has witnessed the brutal attack on renowned humanist –literary Professor Humayun Azad in 2004, who was forced into exile in Germany and was succumb to death there. In 2013, humanist-bloggers Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed and Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed by religious fanatics in Dhaka.

Avijit hattar Bichar chai Poster

Poster: Avijit hattar Bichar Chai #IamAvijit

As reports demonstrate, Avijit Roy was killed in a similar fashion to all of the above, by Islamic extremists and men hired by identifiable jihadist groups in the capital city of Dhaka on his way back to home from the Bangla Academy Ekushey Book Fair, a place/space that was historically known as secular in Bangladesh. The killing of Avijit by jihadists is neither an isolated incident nor surprising to Bangladeshi secularists and freethinkers. Rather it was expected, and now being accepted by many Muslims in and outside Bangladesh who believe that Avijit was “a talent but a bit insensible and careless! He spoke and wrote things that he shouldn’t have. People belonging to Hijbut Tahrir are extremists, how could we fight them?”

After this killing of this renowned freethinker on Thursday, 26 February 2015, such a statement is outrageous and unacceptable. It is time to recognise that expressing indignation, denunciation and paying tribute, as so many are doing, is not enough. It is time to act and prevent the brutal attack and killing of freethinkers from happening. We need to support our freethinkers openly and without reservation. Everyone will be killed one after another unless we have recognised the importance of freethinking, secularism and humanism – unless we stop being partial to the religious-Right.

A glance at the Bengali-speaking media shows that whilst many Bangladeshis condemned the violence itself, the majority of them are hesitant to accept the fact that the killers were hired men of Islamic groups, and deny the fact it is religious-right that is responsible for Avijit’s brutal killing. Some also expressed a view that freethinkers like Avijit must have insulted Islam and hence this is his ‘fate’. These stories are similar to what we have seen and experienced after the fatal stabbing of Professor Humayun Azad, another humble atheist, a triumphant academic and an unforgotten Bengali literary who was killed in August 2004, following the publication of his last revolutionary book ‘Pak Sar Jamin’ [the Holy Land]. Professor Azad’s narrative is so very like Avijit Roy’s. Both of them were fatally stabbed during the month of February, near the Bangla Academy, in Dhaka University neighbourhood and as returning from the historical Book Fair in February. The Dhaka University’s secularists, humanists and freethinkers have broken into outrage that time too. But as usual, a large number of the population in the country was undecided and hesitant to support us – those who were fighting at the frontier, those who demanded justice for Humayun Azad, just like today.

Many have said that it was ‘sad’ that the Professor ‘had to experience this brutality’, however, it was ‘arrogant and insensible’ of the Professor to attack Allah and the holy Quran in the way that he did in his Pak Sar Jamin. The media and civil society in Bangladesh were divided into two sections, along the above lines. Their attitudes suggest that atheists must ‘be polite or face death’. This trend in the media, government and civil society in Bangladesh demands our grave attention. It is shocking to see that secularists and atheists are the ones who must keep silent and who do not get the kind of respect that the believers do. It is shocking to see that believers and Jihadists could kill people if any individual wants to enjoy free speech to the same degree as the believers do in a state that was created to enjoy secularism and freedom of speech. The separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 was primarily to establish a secular state which would ensure freedom of speech and would promote freethinking. But today’s Bangladesh and the murder of a renowned freethinker tell us that we belong to a state of extremism and a state of Jihadist/killers.

We believe that the attitude of government, media and civil society in a supposedly secular and democratic state, Bangladesh, has given birth of too many Jihadists, who continue to kill voices and stab freethinkers like Azad, Rajib, Anjali and Avijit Roy. It is indeed the obsessive religious-Right that is being supported and given centre stage in a supposedly secular state. This must stop. It is time for cure and prevention. Those who are on the forefront of countering armed fundamentalists must gain justice instead of being left to their own devices. It is time to recognise importance of those secularists who are at the forefront and who seek to reform society with their courage, critical thinking, political clarity and their great abilities. It is time to stop referring to Allah, Quran and Islam when humans are being killed in the name of religious sensibility. It is time to stop any killing in the name of religion.

We insist prevention, and NOT protest and outrage only. We do not pay tribute or express condemnation only but also stand in solidarity with Avijit’s family who demand justice for Avijit. We join all who fight religious fundamentalism and Islamic extremists in Bangladesh and other states across world. As reports show, clearly it is a Bangladeshi Islamist group who is responsible for Aviji’ts killing, and they can be tracked down if government of Bangladesh would be willing to do so. The group calling itself Ansar Bangla-7, is a fundamentalist group who claimed responsibility for the attack in a series of Twitter postings by saying that Roy “was a target for more than 3/4 years” for his writings that it characterized as being critical of Islam. Although the group’s Twitter account was later disabled, we believe that it is possible to trace the group if government and mainstream media in Bangladesh are willing to help us to ensure justice for Avijit Roy.

We stand in solidarity with the protesters and peace activists who are working to prevent all of those fanatic occurrences around the world from happening. Our struggle is against religious fundamentalism and racism and for universal human rights. State must take the responsibility to safeguard freethinking and humanity. Bangladesh government must ensure justice for Avijit and all other freethinkers who were killed in the name of religion and Islam. Avijit Roy will leave as long as we protest and seek justice for #AvijitRoy .

Protesters paid tribute to murdered #Avijit  at  Trafalgar Squire,  London. Sunday, March 2, 2015. Photo: Paul Dudman

Protesters paid tribute to murdered #Avijit at Trafalgar Squire, London. Sunday, March 2, 2015. Photo: Paul Dudman

Letter from Avijit Roy’s daughter Trisha Ahmed: ‘…everyone could share his story…Use your influence to help bring some sort of justice to the atrocious acts’

Avijit Will live as we speak Poster by Freethinkers

Avijit Will live as we speak Poster by Freethinkers

Avijit Roy’s daughter, Trisha Ahmed, called upon everyone to spread the words of her father who was never submissive and never to be forgotten. In a form of paying a tribute and expressing solidarity with Trisha and her mother, we have reproduced the letter of Trisha Ahmed below, which she has posted on Facebook, which she wanted us all to share as widely as possible. Readers are requested to please read, share and spread the story of Avijit Roy, as written by Trisha, to honour Dr. Roy and to remember an ever-powerful humanist voice.

My dad was a prominent Bengali writer, most famous for his books about science and atheism. He and my mom went to Bangladesh last week to publicize his books at Bangladesh’s national book fair. 15 hours ago, Islamic fundamentalists stabbed my dad to death. My mom was severely wounded from the attack and is still in the hospital. His death is headline news in Bangladesh.

The reason I’m sharing this is less for me and more for my dad. He was a firm believer in voicing your opinion to better the world.

He and my mom started dating when I was six years old. In the twelve years that followed, he became my friend, my hero, my most trusted confidante, my dance partner (even though we’re both terrible dancers), and my father. Not once did he tell me to simmer down or be more polite; he taught me to be informed, bold, and unafraid.

To say that I’m furious or heartbroken would be an understatement. But as fucked up as the world is, there’s never a reason to stop fighting to make it better. I’ll carry the lessons he taught me and the love he gave me forever. I love you so much, Dad. Thank you for every single thing

What would help me the most right now is if everyone (even people I’ve never met) could share his story. His story should be heard in the US because Bangladesh is powerless; it’s corrupt, there is no law and order, and I highly doubt that any justice will come to the murderers. I want his story to be on US headline news, not only Bangladesh’s. If you could just do all you can to spread word of what’s happened, I would appreciate it so so much. Inform your schools, your communities, write all that you can. Please don’t allow my dad to die in vain.

Please use your influence to help bring some sort of justice to the atrocious acts that have been committed against my parents.

‪#‎WordsCannotBeKilled

Read also:

‘I am Avijit’ Vigil in London https://www.facebook.com/events/645691532226458

‘Avijit was an intellectually-fulfilled-atheist who dedicated life to promote science and secularism’- Listen to Rafida Ahmed about Avijit https://m.soundcloud.com/bbc-world-service/rafida-bonya-ahmed-murdered-blogger-avijit-roys-wife-i-will-not-be-quiet

Prominent writer killed by Jihadists in Dhaka http://www.ajc.com/news/news/alpharetta-blogger-hacked-to-death-in-bangladesh/nkKmy/

Blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh capital: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/02/blogger-hacked-death-bangladesh-capital-150227045121388.html

Blogger killed in Bangladesh machete attack: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/27/us-bangladesh-blogger-idUSKBN0LV11G20150227

Bangladeshi-origin U.S. Blogger Critical of Fanatic Muslim and Extremist Stabbed http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-bangladesh-blogger-slain-20150227-story.html

Avvaz petition to Bangladesh Government https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Bangladeshi_Government_Prosecute_Islamists_who_Killed_Avijit_Roy_and_Protect_Freethinkers/?sMXAXib