This article is from the autumn issue of Index on Censorship magazine, which focuses on anonymity.
I have a name. I am not anonymous. But what if I didn’t have a name? What if I could enjoy the luxury of being safe at home in Bangladesh, and not far away in Germany?
I could have distanced myself from my identity, adopted a pseudonym and continued to write in Bangladesh. Had I done so, my family wouldn’t have to spend each moment in fear and anxiety. My sister wouldn’t have to wake up from nightmares about rape threats. But I am not anonymous. I carry my name and history with me. And so the possibility of an unnatural death haunts me.
Since 2013, my name has surfaced on multiple “hit lists” targeting Bangladeshi bloggers and other activists. I still regularly receive death threats from religious extremists on Facebook and other social media. One simply told me, “It’s your turn now.”
My words often create problems for others. I see myself as writing for the freedom of various groups, for the rights of oppressed communities, for women, for the sexually marginalised. In my debut book Chastity Versus Polygamy, I addressed the patriarchal notion of purity that is assigned to women’s sexuality; this was considered controversial and it enraged many.
I strongly believe that all human beings possess an equal right to express themselves, to assert their ideas and to be recognised for who they are and what they want to be. When the identity of the writer is out in the open, along with a certain level of insecurity comes a burden of responsibility that commits the writer to his or her words. This is why anonymity never appealed to me. I had faith in the democratic setup of my country, Bangladesh. But the state failed to uphold our freedom by suggesting we should stop writing, rather than that terrorism should stop. So I left.
Anonymous bloggers and activists in Bangladesh come from all parts of the ideological spectrum. They include religious radicals, communists, liberals. Unfortunately, certain sections of this anonymous community aim to create chaos, rather than a constructive democratic debate. A number of them publish hate speech, or post videos which are meant to incite violence.
Generally, however, the bloggers are on the receiving end of aggression. Sometimes, even anonymity is no protection. Those who would silence them are often incredibly adept at technological espionage, and can all too easily crack their identities. In March 2015, anonymous atheist blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was traced and killed in broad daylight outside his residence. Even I didn’t know his identity at the time.
In the face of threats, therefore, going anonymous is hardly a foolproof solution. However, it may not always be feasible to declare one’s identity under dire circumstances, which is the case in many places across the world right now. Anonymity might turn to be one of the necessary shields in the larger, longer battle for free speech.
This article is from the autumn issue of Index on Censorship magazine.
Ananya Azad, a Bangladeshi writer and blogger, is currently in exile in Germany. His father, author Humayun Azad, was the victim of assassination attempts, and later died in mysterious circumstances.
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