This is the story of Sajjad, a young Bangladeshi man who was full of life, forever beaming with a smile and good humour, who never stopped battling through life’s tempests and making time to serve people around him. Until one day the battle became too much for him.
By Shaikh Md Mominul Islam
Translated by Riaz Osmani
Edited by Colin Stewart
Today we mourn the loss of Sajjad and we speak out. We must not remain silent about the dark secret behind his untimely demise.
His name was Kd Sajjad Hossain. His father was Kd Mansur Rahman (deceased). His mother’s name is Saleha Begum and his home was in Goalkhali, Khalishpur, Khulna, Bangladesh. Born on Oct. 18, 1991, he was the youngest among his siblings. Having lost his father at a young age, he grew up with the family of his elder sister and his brother-in-law, who treated him harshly at first and later abusively. The brother-in-law made him do everything from working in his tea stall to tending the cows. And yet Sajjad continued quietly with his studies at Azam Khan Commerce College in Khulna.
He finished his honour’s degree in accounting and was completing his master’s in finance. He moved into a home of his own, with a roof made of venera leaves. Basically it was a shack, but he was never one to feel down about life. On the side, he worked at Aarong, an upscale fashion house, and was preparing for the Bangladesh Civil Service exam.
Along with all this, he regularly engaged in his artistic hobbies such as dancing, the special Bengali painting called alpona, cooking, food carving and decorating, mehendi design and preparing Bengali cakes called pitha. He did catering and even marketing surveys.
He worked with the Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS), an organization that helps sexual minorities. He also served with other NGOs, including Light House, Khulna Mukti Sheba Shongstha and the Link-up Project. He was one of the leaders of the Chhinnomul Manob Kallyan Society, a community-based organization, and of Vivid Rainbow, an LGBTQIA+ self-help and self-support community. He shared selflessly with any members of the LGBTQ community and any neighbours who were in distress or in pain, and also at times of joy.
He was mentored by the legendary LGBTI rights activist editor Xulhaz Mannan (deceased) and took part in his Roopbaan Youth Leadership Program in 2015. He truly was a brave warrior.
Let’s now come to the mystery of his death. I do not have first-hand knowledge of what happened, so I am relying on accounts from his closest, intimate friends.
His family forced Sajjad to wed a woman in two days of ceremonies starting Aug. 21, 2017. Prior to the arranged marriage, Sajjad repeatedly told everyone that he was homosexual, totally unattracted to women. He told this in person to his sister’s family, the people who raised him.
But instead of abandoning the plan for the wedding, Sajjad’s brother-in-law blackmailed him, threatening to divorce Sajjad’s sister if he did not go through with it. Distraught, poor Sajjad told his selected bride-to-be and his future father-in-law about his sexuality. But the future bride remained keen to get married to him. Her father predicted that Sajjad would be free from “the ghost of his homosexuality” once Sajjad was married to his daughter.
On the day before the wedding was scheduled to begin, Sajjad went to the Daulatpur bus stand in Khulna, preparing to flee to Dhaka, the country’s capital. Just before the bus was due, Sajjad’s sister, his brother-in-law, and a few people who looked like gangsters seized him from the roadside and took him home. Sajjad was forced to undergo the wedding rituals.
That night, he did not touch his new wife. He slept separately. The next morning she complained about him to anyone who would listen. Then she found a photo on his phone of Sajjad cross-dressing and became enraged. The father-in-law insulted Sajjad and condescendingly called him a “hijra,” an often-derogatory name for South Asia’s eunuchs.
The place of no return
Sajjad had tried to escape from everything, to escape to Dhaka, yet got caught and could not flee. Now he decided to flee to the place from which there is no return. No brother-in-law, no gangsters, no police can bring anyone back from there. He decided to end his life.
Sajjad’s nature was to do everything according to plan, so he entrusted a close friend with all his savings along with a list of beneficiaries and relevant amounts. He also wrote a four-page suicide note. He wrote to a close gay friend, whom I’ll call Shanto, that the back pocket of the pair of jeans he was wearing contained the ring he received from the wife’s family. Please give that back to the bride, Sajjad asked.
The final ceremony of the wedding, called “Bou Bhat,” was to be held on Aug. 22. At around 2 p.m. on that day, Sajjad consumed poisonous insecticide . He wrote on Facebook prior to breathing his last:
“I wish to write a short story, a story of a cat and a mouse. The cat always wants to torture a mouse, to bring it out from hiding and end its life. When a cat catches a mouse, it plays with it and tries to send it to the afterlife. And while the cat plays, the mouse tells the former: ‘please don’t play with me because that will end my life.’ But kitty does not hear a word and tortures the mouse even more. Seeing no other way, the mouse accepts its fate in silence and thus gradually embraces death. At one point it goes to the place of no return. It pains me to think that what could be good for society may not be good for everyone.”
In his next post he wrote:
“My world has ended today and so soon. I won’t be coming back to the world.”
After consuming the poison, Sajjad began convulsing on the side of a street in Khulna’s Baloormath area. Members of Khulna’s gay community found him and took him to Khulna Medical College Hospital at 3 p.m. But due to amateurish treatment at the hands of interning doctors and the fact that the poison was spreading through Sajjad’s body rapidly, he increasingly became motionless. He threw up blood. He slowly spoke his last words: “I have freed everyone.”
Like the mouse in his story, he went to the place of no return.
As is often the case in Bangladesh, disputes arose after Sajjad’s death. Sajjad’s family, particularly his brother-in-law and the father-in-law, started blaming Khulna’s gay community for his suicide. They sent gangsters and police after them. The boys who rescued him had to flee for safety. They could not grieve openly for their friend.
Placing blame in the wrong place
People on both sides of the family started blaming Sajjad’s friend Shanto for the suicide, claiming that he egged on Sajjad to end his life. Although Sajjad and Shanto were very good friends, frequently visiting each other’s homes, their relationship was completely non-sexual — more like siblings. But everyone started surmising that Sajjad must have had a romantic and/or sexual relationship with Shanto, which was supposed to be the reason Sajjad did not touch the bride on the wedding night.
Everyone blamed Shanto, not the family, for Sajjad’s death. No one criticized Sajjad’s family for torturing him mentally and physically by forcing him to sit in front of the wedding pyre. No one understood that you cannot rid someone of homosexuality by virtue of marriage to the opposite sex. No one understood that two gay men can have a close friendship like that of Shanto and Sajjad. Just as a sexual relationship is far from certain when two random heterosexuals of the opposite gender are next to one another, so too it is wrong to assume that two same-gendered homosexuals will necessarily develop sexual relations with one other.
The remaining questions
Sajjad left us, but he left behind many questions.
Are gay people not human beings? Don’t they have the right to live freely? Don’t they have the right to love?
Why did we have to lose such a creative, upwardly mobile, hardworking, skilled and highly educated young man?
Why do people believe that homosexuality be “cured” by marriage to a member of the opposite sex? Why do people believe that homosexuality is an illness? Who is responsible for this untimely death? The state? The society? Family? Religion? Culture? The legal system? The sexual orientation itself? Or some mental illness? Was money involved? Why did his bride marry him, knowing that he was not attracted to her and did not want to marry her?
Sajjad suffered from no depression. He was always happy-go-lucky. He loved to play games, be merry and socialize in the afternoons. He would give good advice to people and was someone who was conscious about his future career. The circumstances of his decision to take his own life are unfathomable.
My final questions are for everyone: How many more lives will be sacrificed due to social structures? How many young men and women will be forced to enter loveless conjugal lives because of the temptations of dowries and nuptial agreements? Is marriage a kind of business? Why should homosexuals marry heterosexuals when they have no sexual attraction towards the opposite gender? Don’t gays have any rights as human beings? Didn’t they too get carried in their mothers’ wombs?
Sajjad’s was not a solitary death. Many more such deaths occur in Bangladesh; who will take responsibility for them? I ask the conscience of the people of Bangladesh.
A version of this story previously appeared in the Banyan Tree blog. It is used here by permission.
This article was revised on Sept. 4 to correct the caption on the Gaye Holud photo.
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- Bangladesh, repeal our repressive anti-LGBTI law (September 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Two LGBT activists murdered in Bangladesh (April 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Media disagree on role of Bangladeshi murder suspect
- Bangladesh: Man held over murders of LGBT activists (May 2016, BBC)
- Four arrests of LGBT activists at Bangladesh celebration
- First third-gender person seeks Bangladesh public office (December 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Anti-gay Bangladesh protests target Nobel Prize winner (December 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Bangladesh survey finds homosexuals live in fear
- Bangladesh newspaper urges repeal of anti-gay law (August 2013, 76crimes.com)
- Bangladesh: Lesbian couple arrested, risks life in jail (July 2013, 76crimes.com)
- Archive of this blog’s articles about Bangladesh