A tale of lions, buffaloes and people

Teachers and students formed a human chain protesting the Chhatra League activities on the Rajshahi University campus on 16 February, 2023.Shahidul Islam

I’ve become a follower of Sir David Attenborough, renowned for his Planet Earth series. Perhaps that’s why video clips of the animal world often pop up on my Facebook page. They often depict how a group of lions chase a buffalo, catch it and tear it to pieces. The chased buffalo struggles, tries to defend itself with its massive horns, then once it is caught by the throat, it falls to the ground, helpless.

Rather shockingly, this terrible assault takes place in front of a large herd of buffaloes. Each buffalo is almost double the size of a lion and many of them have huge sharp horns too. I often think, if just for once they all ganged up and chased the lions, their companion would never have had to die. But instead they watch the attack, stunned and stupid. Perhaps one day, they too will be the victims. One may perhaps understand the silent surrender of a small animal like a deer, but sometimes it can be annoying to wonder why the buffaloes don’t get together and stand up against the foe.

But I don’t feel annoyed anymore. After all, as the most intelligent beings, we ourselves all too often become buffaloes.


Some of us have no end to pride over our own intelligence and knowledge. Yet when members of this ‘intelligent’ civil society of ours are attacked at various times, the others simply remain at a safe distance. False cases are lodged against some, the newspaper or company of some is closed down, some are victims of enforced disappearance, some are forced into exile, some are sent to jail and the life achievements of some are tarnished and smeared.

We herd of citizens silently watch these assaults carried out by the powerful rulers. Perhaps we think, we are safe, why invite trouble? Then another one of us is harmed, and then another. Nowadays we hardly stir.

Yet before us we have examples of standing up in unity, protesting and driving away the aggressor. We have the example of winning our liberation war, winning the struggle for democracy and human rights. We have been through difficult times of one-party rule, military rule, autocratic rule. When we remained united, when we rose up together, then we did not fall to the ground, our necks caught in a deadly bite.

It has been many years since we have arisen and stood up in unity. Some of us do raise our voices a bit, from a distance. But this is too feeble to intimidate to our attackers. On the contrary, they look at us in fury and many of us scatter hither and thither in fear. The voices of the rest fade further. Another attack and the voices are weakened even further.

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We should discard the façade of a buffalo and behave like intelligent and conscientious people. We must protest against wrongdoings at any time, and remain united in protest.


I have worked with this civil society for many years. I remain with the protests organised when some of them fall into danger. Now I see many are unwilling to even sign a mere petition, let alone take to the streets or join meetings and rallies. Some do not reply to emails and avoid replying to phone calls. Some come up with all sorts of excuses. They ask, was the victim with us in the past? What is his actual political orientation? Rather than protesting for the victim, they turn to digging up his shortcomings.

Sometimes even stranger incidents occur. Before the recent controversial election, I had tried to collect a statement for an afflicted member of the civil society. The afflicted person is someone disliked by the present ruling coterie and so many refused to sign out of fear. Suddenly I remembered we had not contacted someone who stood by victims. I asked the person who had initiated the statement whether I should contact that person or not. He immediately said, no, no need. I asked what was the problem. He replied, some among us consider him to be ‘BNP’. I laughed and said, those people even think you and I are ‘BNP’. I recounted an incident and explained that it didn’t matter if they thought anyone was BNP. He said he would discuss the matter later and gravely hung up the phone.

I wonder, at least the buffaloes are not as strange as us. They do not go to rescue the attacked buffalo because they lack the sense and the courage, but they do not lack unity. We do not lack intelligence, we make quite a show of courage too. Then why do we remain so isolated from each other?

There are many among the civil society who are very affectionate towards me. I use this opportunity to say to them, when  a house catches fire and we all rush forward together to extinguish the flames, do we first ask each other, what is your political ideology, are you adequately progressive? Or so we first just put the flames out together?

At a juncture when the democracy, institutions and the system of this state are all under threat, do we not need to remain united to save it?

I am an insignificant person. My words hardly make a difference. There are still united protests on softer issues such as why public toilets are being set up in sensitive locations or why trees are being cut down. But when the protests are uncomfortable for the government, then many do not come forward. We display a lot of enthusiasm to protest when it comes to a deviation among dissenting voices (if it is something like a derogatory statement about a woman). But when even more derogatory statements come from the mouths of ruling party leaders, then our protests vanish into thin air.

When the question of protesting against misdeeds arises, many of us first look into who committed the misdeed and against whom. Then we accordingly protest or remain silent. These people include some very renowned and reputed human rights activists too!


Many years ago I had written a story in Prothom Alo about a lion and a hyena. I had compared the common people with deer. The opposite side was not too pleased. Some of the ‘lions’ may be displeased with this writing too. And some of the buffaloes may be disconcerted. I tell those buffaloes, you are not safe either in the face of those crazed lions. One day you too may be attacked in one way or the other.

That is why we should discard the façade of a buffalo and behave like intelligent and conscientious people. We must protest against wrongdoings at any time, and remain united in protest.

* Asif Nazrul is a professor of the law department at Dhaka University

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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