30/04/2016 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Islamist Extremists Weren't the Only Killers Of My Friend Xulhaz Mannan

STR via Getty Images
This photograph taken on April 14, 2014, shows Bangladesh activist Xulhaz Mannan as he attends a Bengali New Year rally organised by a Bangladesh LGBT society in Dhaka. Xulhaz Mannan was a rallying figure for Bangladesh's marginalised but increasingly outspoken lesbian, gay and transgender community, but his brutal murder has dealt a huge blow to the movement and forced some of its leaders underground. / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)


By Hadi Hussain

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 Mahbub, a fellow activist, was hacked to death." Many news reports read like this and I was left wondering on 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 Xulhaz and I had talked about our mutual struggles, discussing the intersections within our work while envisioning a transnational South Asian Queer solidarity.

He could have easily chosen to move into his safety bunker...but that wasn't the way he envisioned his life.

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 literate Bengali-speaking person with a message of diversity, tolerance and acceptance. It was no less than a heroic attempt, as it not only increased the visibility but also vulnerability, especially in a society where the state's inability to control Islamist militant groups had already created a dangerous nexus against local human rights defenders. But all this didn't deter him and his team--they continued to arrange social support group meetings, workshops, talks, trainings and a 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 time, his unbridled zeal for doing what he believed in caused disagreements with fellow activists and groups, but Xulhaz still went ahead with the work. He was not one to hide.

Just a few days back I had read about the cancellation of the rainbow rally during the Pohela Boishakh (Bengali New Year) celebrations and the arrest of a few community members under the pretext of receiving violent threats from the Islamists groups. But I didn't expect that things would take such an ugly turn. Xulhaz was there at the Shahbag 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 just the Islamist militants who are responsible for his death; it's the appallingly inefficient state agents... it's the Facebook which let these Islamists post hate speeches...

It's not just the barbaric Islamist militants who are 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 speeches and death threats on their pages and refused to take them 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 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 wondering about what is a more painful experience--being killed by the hatred and ignorance of someone or being left behind to mourn, with mountain-like grief threatening to engulf you. 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 that mask of a strong-headed activist who must stay on 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 it's surely not the last time.

I want to mourn and cry and wail my heart out because it's not the first time something like this has happened, and it's surely not the last time.

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 go beyond lip service and get serious about taking up LGBT issues. 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, until we are considered human enough, let us 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!

Hadi Hussain is a social researcher, writer and activist who is continuously struggling to resist, exist, indigenize and decolonize. His interests include intersectional politics, feminism, South Asian LGBT discourse, body politics, cultural anthropology, peace initiatives, decolonization studies and transnational indigenous social movements.

This post was first published on Gaylaxy

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