This Article is From May 04, 2016

Hunted By Bangladesh's Death Squads, A Young Gay Activist Speaks Out

Bappy was one of the members of Roopban, Bangladesh's only magazine for its embattled LGBT community.


In a hotel room in Dhaka, we meet Bappy, 26, his voice breaking with tension.

Bappy is not his real name, and when his interview airs, his face will be concealed. The precautions are for good reason.

He was one of the members of Roopban, Bangladesh's only magazine for its embattled LGBT community, and whose founder Xulhaz Mannan was brutally hacked to death along with a friend inside his apartment last week.

For those like Bappy, the murders tore through what had just started to evolve as a remarkable space in a society deeply hostile to homosexuality.

"In the eyes of Islam (being gay) is a severely punishable offence," he said. Growing up, he would often hear "they (homosexuals) are called the meanest creature of God and must be killed."

At Roopban, they could confront the prejudice collectively. "Roopban published a magazine, organised events. They started publishing books, like Roop Pankti, a collection of emotional poetry. They tested for sexually transmitted diseases and they promoted safe sex."

But now, the collective is in shreds; almost everyone Bappy knows is in hiding. "They are switching off their phones. They are deactivating their Facebook IDs and other networking (platforms)", he said.

As for seeking out the police, Bappy is contemptuous. ''The police are hostile to us'', he said, arresting four activists last week for turning up at Rainbow Rally, an informal gathering of Dhaka's gay community held every year during Spring.

The men who killed Xulhaz are still at large - in chilling CCTV footage accessed by NDTV, five of them can be seen running down the street outside his house moments after the murder.

The police claim they are members of Ansarullah Bangla Team, a local Islamist militant outfit accused of being behind a wave of killings of secular-minded bloggers last year.

Al Qaeda's South Asian chapter however has claimed credit for the killing; the police reject this as hearsay.

So why, given the risks, is Bappy speaking to us? He, in fact had no qualms in showing his face. "The boys of Roopban are dabang (fearless)," he said smiling through the strain. We had to urge him to be prudent.

"Someone has to take the responsibility", he said. "We had many hard working people in this movement and we wanted to establish justice. I feel that from the bottom of my heart and I want to fight till my death and that is how freedom can be achieved. Without blood, without fighting, there is no freedom".

(For more, watch Truth vs Hype from Bangladesh: the Death of Difference. 9:30pm on Saturday and 7:30pm on Sunday, NDTV 24x7)