By Adi Chowdury
Let’s set the scene.
It’s early on a summer night. The stars had just slipped out of the darkness, illuminating the lonely fibers of nighttime as they revealed themselves, splayed and strewn across the sky of Bangladesh. The perpetual buzz and bustling of people in the streets during the day had died down. You keep to yourself as you enjoy your dinner in an elegant cafe in Dhaka, the streets of Gulshan illuminated now by streetlamps and headlights in the wake of the sunset. Your thoughts center around regular, everyday matters–friends, family, work, rent, dinner. Never once did you reflect on the looming shadow draped over the cafe, an ominous tension foreshadowing the horrifying atrocities that will rock the nation.
What happens next closely parallels the most terrifying nightmares of many. Darkly attired figures barge in, shattering the serenity of the cafe. Screams and shouts, more of confusion and shock than of horror, pierce the air. Eyes grow wide in terror. The intruders are armed. The barrel of guns are pushed into people’s backs, prodding them to the back of the restaurant. It dawns upon the populace of the cafe that they have been entombed in a hostage situation. Subjected to the whims of a terrorist.
Like thus the events on the first of July of 2016 unfolded in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This attack has even been described as Bangladesh’s 7/16, an allusion to the terror attack coined 9/11. The events in Bangladesh, perpetrated in an area known as Gulshan, is the worst terror attack in the history of the nation. 20 hostages were found dead, with nine other victims, including two police officers.
Being Bangladeshi myself, I stand with humanists and others worldwide in staunch condemnation of such barbarism and unprecedented, dismal disregard for human life.
“She didn’t give up her principles, even in the face of death”
So are the words perpetrated in respectful remembrance of Ishrat Akhond, a Bangladeshi victim of the attack. Here is her FB memorial page.
Ishrat was slaughtered at the cafe when she defended her decision to not wear the hijab. Sources and witnesses report that the gunmen confronted her and demanded why she did not don the hijab, a traditional garb expected to be worn by Muslim women. Ishrat, however, much to the resentment of these barbarians, refused to wear a hijab and sacrificed her life in exchange of standing resolute by her principles.
Ishrat lived her life by a far more enlightened and liberal principles, rooted not in the conservative sects of religious dogma that ISIS aspired to impose upon us, but rooted rather in reason, empowerment, and humanity. For simply this, she paid with her life.
Let us take some time to develop a more profound appreciation of her bravery. She was entombed in a hostage situation, amid other terrified customers at the cafe held at gunpoint. She was approached by the gunmen, nothing short of despicable barbarians and reprehensible scum. They interrogated her, prodding and probing her, trying to work out why a Muslim woman would not wear the hijab, trying to coax terror out of her. Rather than succumbing to the whims of terrorists, she stood strong and tall, refusing to abandon her principles.
Ishrat Akhond is rightfully entitled to the highest degree of reverence and admiration, if not higher.
But that’s not all–there’s a deeper nuance of wonderfulness to this courageous lady. Here’s a testimony to her other admirable works, from The Indian Express:
“But Akhond had also fought and won a far more significant and difficult battle.
[According to her peer and close friend, Professor Aloke Kumar]: “After China, Bangladesh is the biggest manufacturer of readymade garments. But an ugly truth about the industry in Bangladesh is that it employs child labour. I remember Ishrat being disturbed by this and we had several conversations regarding the issue and I had told her that she must do something about it. Like other outlets, the company she worked for also employed children. Ishrat fought a lonely battle to make sure that the children were taken out of the factories.”
He added: “She got in touch with UNICEF and numerous other NGOs and ensured that the children were rehabilitated, that they were sent to school. It took her some time but she did it. They were out of the factories by 2014.”
Let us applaud this exemplary woman, an icon and a beacon, today and forevermore.
Here is a well-articulated and heart-wrenching eulogy for her, written by her friend Professor Alok Kumar. His eulogy soon went viral after posting it on Facebook:
“My friend Ishrat was brutally tortured and killed by terrorist in a Dhaka restaurant yesterday when she was there with several Italian Fashion Designer.
Most of the Muslim Bangladeshis were spared after they identified themselves and recited lines from the Koran. Ishrat who was not wearing a Hijab and neither wanted to prove herself was hacked to death with a machete.
Twenty other foreign hostages were also hacked to death with sharp weapons by terrorists during a dramatic siege at an upmarket Dhaka restaurant that ended in a bloodbath today morning.
The majority of the victims were from Italy and Japan. There was one young girl. A student from India Tarushi Jain. No Britons have yet been confirmed among the casualties. Two Sri Lankans and one Japanese hostage were rescued, along with around a dozen Bangladeshis.
Six of the attackers were shot dead and one captured during the raid on the Holey Artisan Bakery, an expatriates’ favourite.
I am devastated on hearing the news as I was in touch with her periodically. She had come down to Calcutta last September and we had discussed my possible Lecture tour of the Universities of Bangladesh. This was scheduled to begin in the Fall Semester.
Usually my notes are long but today I have run out of words.
Love you Ishrat, wherever you are.”
Another Hero that Stands Tall
My respect for Ishrat is immense and well-earned, but I feel that this article does not suffice to capture the demonstration of courage during the attack without mentioning Faraz Ayaz Hossain, a youthful hero and icon of selflessness.
Faraz was among the hostages and victims of the attack. A young student of Emory University, he had visited the cafe with two female friends of his. During the hostage situation, women donning hijabs were let go. The terrorists also offered to let Faraz leave, seeing he is a Muslim. However, his female friends, dressed in western outfits rather than conservative traditional attire, would not be permitted to leave. Rather than leave his friends, he refused to leave, and stayed behind.
Selflessness in humans are not easy to come by, and such a spirit is one amid a billion. Hats off to this glinting and golden icon of chivalry and hope for humanity.
From India TV: “It is a story of sacrifice that will not be forgotten easily. Faraz Ayaz Hossain, a student at Emory University in the US, who was among the 20 hostages killed in the terrifying attack by terrorists at a Dhaka restaurant, apparently spurned an offer from the militants to leave as he didn’t want to desert his two female friends and fellow passengers.”
Let us not forget Ishrat and Fayaz. Let not these heroes, these beacons, these icons, fade from our mind.