April 23, 2020
On April 25, 2016, we lost Xulhaz Mannan and Khondokar Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy in a gruesome attack. It has been four years since that day and we still carry the heaviness of their loss in our organizing work, emotional lives, and social circles.
After 3 long years of neglect, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit submitted the charge sheet of the murder case to the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court (CMM) in July 2019. The CTTC accused 8 members of Ansar ul-Islam, and among them, Syed Ziaul Haque, a former army major and wanted militant, is the alleged mastermind behind the murders. As of that time, 4 of the accused had been arrested. We understand that the magistrate is expected to shift the case documents to the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal for holding the trial. However, no further development has been announced on the case since the charge sheet submission.
We are not surprised.
Our deep experiences taught us that our struggle for LGBT+ rights is intertwined with other progressive political struggles unfolding in Bangladesh. The exclusion and erasure we continue to experience must be seen in that broader picture. We are talking about a country where the “war on drugs” campaign has turned into a cover for extrajudicial killings; where the Digital Security Act threatens and suppresses the voices of journalists, activists, artists, human rights defenders, and others; where violence against women and children are on the rise; where mainstream media stories provoked conflict between refugees and host communities; where the former chief justice was forced to resign under threat from the government; where dominant society continues to marginalize minorities from Geneva Camp to the Chittagong Hill Tracts; where growing GDP goes hand in hand with widening inequalities; where COVID-19 pandemic is leaving millions hungry, jobless, medically insecure in the streets, and so on.
We believe ensuring justice and accountability—for example, a responsible completion of Xulhaz-Tonoy murder case—is the only way the government can lift the climate of fear that persists among human rights defenders in Bangladesh, and pave the path for a just and inclusive society. We unequivocally affirm people’s rights to express themselves and live their lives freely.
However, we also believe that governments, court cases, laws, and policies are not everything.
As the organization which published the first LGBT magazine in Bangladesh, Roopbaan has been the flag-bearer of LGBT+ visibility in the country. Since Xulhaz and Tonoy’s murder, we have been more probingly asking ourselves how we can move forward. We do not perceive LGBT+ visibility as the only way to further the struggle for LGBT+ rights, and we certainly do not see visibility as the most important front for our present work. With the same queer pride that motivated us from the start, we are now beginning to experiment with our organizing efforts, centering community-building over appealing to the state. We choose this path with humility because we believe there are diverse strategies for struggle.
Mourning Xulhaz and Tonoy’s departure taught us that we must love the living members of our community. As queer kins, we must care for each other and build from among ourselves the beautiful communities we want to see. It is no news that our LGBT+ communities are fraught with classism, lookism, internalized homophobia, racism, trans/bi-phobia, etc. We, too, have been part of these hurtful and complex societal realities within which we grow, organize, and become who we are.
In this month of reflection and grief, and as we get closer to the holy Ramzan which teaches us compassion, we call upon our LGBT+ communities near and far to reflect on our own collective actions and to notice who among us needs what. Who is hungry among our queer relatives? Who is homeless? Who lost a job or hasn’t yet found one? Who is struggling with mental health? How are our kothi, hijra, trans, non-binary relatives doing? How are our less privileged queer relatives dealing with COVID-19 lockdown? We call upon our communities near and far to pick up the phone, write that email, send that message, whatever you may do to stitch together the hole that Xulhaz and Tonoy’s death has left behind.
If you are wanting to support LGBT+ people in need, let’s get in touch and work out what we can do. If you are a community member who needs support, send us a message at email@example.com. We will do our best to support you.
On the fourth anniversary of losing Xulhaz and Tonoy, let us tell ourselves: We will live. We will love and protect each other. We belong to this world.