Yet to come out of shock and trauma after he was attacked by Muslim hardliners for “trying to become another Salman Rushdie or Tasleema Nasreen”, newspaper columnist Kazi Masum Akhtar is now likely to lose his job as the headmaster of a madrasa in Kolkata’s Metiabruz area.
Investigations by The Indian Express revealed that the Metiabruz madrasa managing committee has petitioned the Madrasa Board and other departments dealing with minority affairs to remove Akhtar as headmaster “as there is an atmosphere of tension” ever since he was attacked by a mob on March 26. “His statements have hurt the religious sentiments of the local people and pressure has built up to remove him,” a member of the committee told The Indian Express on conditions of anonymity.
He further said the local Trinamool Congress leaders are also supporting the local community and religious heads in their demand to remove Akhtar as “Kolkata municipal elections are round the corner and no one wants to antagonise the minority community”.
Contacted, Fazle Rabbi, secretary, West Bengal Madrasa Board said the Metiabruz madrasa managing committee may have submitted the petition on Tuesday but the official file was yet to reach him.
Not in the know of the turn of events, Akhtar, who is yet to return to madrasa after the brutal assault, said he will resume office only if he is provided protection. He said he will be writing to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the concerned authorities dealing with minority affairs over the attack on him. “People with independent thinking expect support and encouragement from the ruling government,” Akhtar said.
The Minister of State for Minority Affairs, Giasuddin Mollah, meanwhile, said he came to know about the assault through newspapers but added that the madrasa teacher was yet to inform him. “We will certainly act once he informs us,” Mollah said.
The attack has evoked strong condemnations from various quarters, including a section of progressive Muslim leaders and intellectuals. In an appeal, called “Call to Resistance”, Arup Majumdar, Giasuddin, Rama Kundu and others on behalf of the Non-Party Democratic Forum expressed “deep distress and concern at the brutal assault on Kazi Masum Akhtar by some Islamic fundamentalists…some self-appointed muscle-flexing guardians of the society”.
The Forum further said that this attack “amounts to violation of the fundamental right to freedom of speech guaranteed” by the Constitution.
“This brute policy of gagging the voice of reason and dissent, and robbing the speaker of his constitutional right poses threat not only to rational, free-thinking, progressive Muslim citizens like Akhtar, but also signals a forthcoming Talibanistic orthodox reign of terror for all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” it said, adding that already “fatwas (edict) have been issued on conch-blowing, women’s sports and playing of music”.
Faruque Ahmed, editor of Udar Akash (Open Sky), an Urdu magazine, said the brutal attack “remind us of the fate Washiqur Rahman or Abhijit Roy of Bangladesh suffered recently. Such violence by religious fanatics cannot be allowed to be perpetuated”.
He said on April 9, a large number of intellectuals will march to Nabanna (state secretariat) and submit a deputation to the chief minister.