By Adi Chowdhury
“We are challenging this process through rational thinking and through our writing. Anyone who wishes to counter us can do so through their writing. But please do not issue fatwas to have me, to have us, killed. Do not dispatch undercover assassins with knives and guns.”
Such are the words of Bangladeshi publisher and writer Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, also going by the name of Tutul. Such are the words engraved memorably and honorably into the legacy of a man attacked in October last year by machete-wielding Islamic fundamentalists, propelled by resentment of his critical writings on religious doctrine and dogma. He suffered hospitalization under critical condition, later forced into exile in Norway with his family.
Tutul was a avid promoter of freethinker writings. He is the founder of the Shuddashar Publishing House, a pub of books dissecting religion. His institute promulgated writings by the renowned Avijit Roy and others, earning him popularity in freethinker circles and notoriety in fundamentalist regions.
On October 13 2016, Tutul made headlines as he received the International Writer of Courage award. He was announced as the winner by Margaret Atwood, who herself won the Pen Pinter Award earlier this year.
The award for International Writer of Courage is granted to commemorate the extent of the bravery needed to stand tall and strong for your opinions in the face of mass, enforced belief, even when you are subjected to abuse and attacks for it.
“Not only has he shown huge personal courage in the face of adversity, he has also risked everything to give a voice to many other Bangladeshis who are under threat of being silenced, whether through violence or ambivalence,” said Atwood in a glowing description of Tutul. “At a time when so many of our colleagues in Bangladesh are risking their lives simply by putting pen to paper, it seems very fitting to share this award with Tutul, and to highlight the plight that he and his colleagues continue to face.”
“I miss my country. I have done all of my work there and it’s difficult to establish working in another country for me. I am always dreaming that the day will come when I go back to my country,” Tutul told The Guardian. “The current situation is that it is not possible to continue my work in Bangladesh. But I am dreaming and thinking about how I can continue my job and my work in an alternative way. I’m thinking I will convert my books to ebooks, and continue my publication by e-publication, because the situation in Bangladesh is that it is not easy to publish any free-thinking books.”
One massively pertinent and powerful quote stood out from his speech: “If the Islamic fundamentalists have any logical ground, they can reply logically, by writing. I always think that text and books and writing can be the change in our social structure, in our mentality.”
Speaking in London, Tutul delivered a vibrant description of “a strong effort in Bangladesh to turn the wheels of civilisation backwards and repeat the events and lies of a barbaric era”.
Congratulations to Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury for his well-deserved victory, and let us hope his dream of a progressive Bangladesh manifests itself in reality.