I was meeting a friend at a pub in South Mumbai when I first noticed the news feeds about the #DhakaAttack. As additional facts came to light, I found out that the incident had occurred at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan 2, a diplomatic area of Bangladesh’s capital. A few hours later, I learnt that the violent attack, which ultimately claimed the lives of 20 hostages, two policemen and six militants, was a few streets from the building I lived in for four years of high school. The shock came when I read through the Facebook posts of my school friends that I realised that three of the 20 hostages who were killed by the six militants – 20-year-old Faraaz Ayaan Hossain, 19-year-old Abinta Kabir and 18-year old Tarishi Jain – were fellow students of my school, the American International School, Dhaka, and were just a few years younger than me.
Suddenly, the attack wasn’t just another terror incident with a likely connection to Islamic State, a group that has claimed the killings of several atheist writers, bloggers and publishers, as well as the recent murder of a Hindu priest in Bangladesh. As my mind travelled back to my high school years, I realised that this one had hit home and suddenly it seemed too real. The emotions that followed were not casual sympathy but sadness and anger, mixed with a hint of fear. These emotions stemmed from the sheer unpredictability of the incident, and the thought of how it would cause parents to dissuade their children from stepping out to grab a bite at an eatery in the near future.
Most of the 20 hostages who were killed on July 1 belonged to various nationalities, mainly Japanese and Italian. News reports stated that the militants had offered to spare the lives of the hostages who could to recite verses from the Quran. Bangladeshi national Faraaz Hossain’s family members had reportedly stated that even though he was able to recite the verses and was spared, Hossain chose to stay with his two other friends who could not pass the ‘test’. He was killed anyway, thus laying bare the absolute mindlessness of the ideology of Islamic State terrorists, who label themselves as crusaders of Islam.
My stay at Dhaka ended almost 10 years ago and the city was not a peaceful or a ‘normal’ place even then. Bomb blasts during political rallies and a general environment of unrest often hung in the air. The wealthy were ostentatious in their mannerisms and those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder could be seen in orderly queues on their way to garment factories. But Gulshan, the area where the attack took place, always seemed to be remain untouched and aloof from the effects of such times.
After the Bangladesh National Party’s (BNP) tenure had ended, in January 2007, the President Iajuddin Ahmed had declared a state of emergency and the military had intervened to support the caretaker government which suppressed all forms of political activity to stabilise the country reeling under corruption. Apart from political leaders, the cleansing drive also probed into people with unjustifiable wealth due to which many people went underground and many others left the country until things settled down. Despite all that, the city I left behind that year was resilient and fear had no place in it.
Our school, the American International School/Dhaka, had one rule to dispel all doubts about whether the school would remain open during occurrences like heavy rains or political unrest – if the school buses are plying, everyone is expected to show up. Our teachers at AIS/D encouraged us to be global citizens and to respect and learn from each other’s cultures. Our mascot, the tiger, inspired us to chase our dreams without fear. This shameful attack on innocent people however, has affected former as well as current students and teachers as many of us are still trying to come to terms with the loss of three members of the AIS /D community.
Even though most of us didn’t manage to keep in touch in the past several years, we reacted in unison and stood together in solidarity. Religious fanatics abruptly ended the lives of three bright and brave members of the AIS/D community and many others who were utterly unaware that their day would end on such a horrific and bloody note. Our condolences with them and their families.
The lesson I learnt from this ordeal is that every terror attack is an equal blow to humanity, irrespective of the number of casualties. Unfortunately, this won’t be the last one. The show of solidarity isn’t much to offer, but in such times it helps to cope with the emotions and prevent fear from taking over our lives and day-to-day activities. It is thus, important to take a strong stand against such acts of violence and ride out the rough waves together as one. Go Tigers!