As an active participant of the Shahbag movement, I find Shaik Obaid’s Pushing Bangladesh To The Right Of Centre, to be narrow-minded and misleading.
First, one thing needs to be clarified – 1971 wasn’t a mere civil war. It was an organised war against an extremely organised and desperate army of Pakistan. People of Bangladesh stood up against the long oppression and constant aggression to its cultural practices, language and other socio-economic identities. When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman secured a landslide victory in the 1970 election, the Pakistani leaders, instead of handing over power to him, unleashed genocide, rape and destruction. The Bengali supporters of the marauding Pakistani army, Jaamat-e-Islami helped in co-ordinating the crimes. These people are called ‘Razakars’ (literally collaborators); they are war criminals.
Second, Bengalis and Biharis have lived together side by side for many years before the partition. The cause Mr Obaid has articulated as responsible for the independence war is not only hilarious but also untrue, and it defames a nation’s struggle for freedom from every possible aspect. Many Biharis actively assisted the Pakistan army during the war, and were also involved in killing Bengalis. The conflict between Biharis and Bengalis was again ignited after the war by the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was a politically motivated move.
Third, Bangladeshis have always been moderate Muslims. The empowerment and leadership of women explains the mindset of the masses and their progressive attitude. The Hefazatis that we have seen recently in Dhaka, are unfortunately the people who have been always ignored by the mainstream system. They are the poor orphans living and growing up in madarsas, not receiving education that prepares them for the workforce. They are young students who had come to Dhaka without even knowing the consequences or the real reasons of the action. They came to Dhaka only because their teachers forced them to, and participated in the movement. In a country of 16 crore people, a few lakh don’t represent the mindset of the majority.
Fourth, when Mr Obaid calls a certain group “militant atheist”, I wonder who he is referring to and what evidence he has to call them that. Bangladesh is not familiar with any “radical” or “militant” atheist group.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman didn’t forgive all war criminals. He began the trial of the war criminals, who were proven guilty. After the trials started, the Father of the Nation was assassinated. The trial of these criminals who murdered humanity was shelved for 42 years. But justice cannot be denied, even though delayed.
And finally, on the war crimes tribunal – no other tribunal of this kind in the world gives the criminal an opportunity to appeal. Surprisingly, the prosecutors didn’t have the opportunity to appeal, but since the Shahbag movement started, there has been an amendment to this. Second, the judge controversy is also biased as the tape was not a leak; it was Jamaat trying to make the tribunal seem “controversial”. A very casual, regular conversation between two people. However, as he was the tribunal judge, Nizamul Hoque preferred to step down to keep the tribunal free from controversies. And on the same note, no war crimes tribunal of the world has been accepted by everyone involved.
All the disputes, violence and recent turmoil that Bangladesh has been facing, are due to the trial of the war criminals. This is a step we believe we have to take to remove the dirt from our history. Banning Jamaat and punishing the war criminals are long due.
Every nation has their unique history and certain reasons behind their actions. Those who are following the Shahbag movement have already acquired some knowledge on 1971 by now. We have come together, the youth of Bangladesh, for the first time since liberation. In 1990, the current political parties, Awami League (the ruling party) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the biggest opposition, joined hands to oust the military dictator, Hussain Muhammad Ershad. We had our Tahrir Square back in 1990. This Shahbag movement is non-partisan, yet political and emotion driven. Our people have tolerated a lot of corruption and disparity. We have always talked about a change in our history of family-led fragmented democracy. The current ruling party promised the nation of trying war criminals. People wanted justice. And therefore, Awami League won a landslide victory. The International Crimes Tribunal started with its procedures and investigation in 2009.
On 5 February 2013 when the butcher of Mirpur, Kader Mollah was given life imprisonment, we came down on the streets, within hours of the verdict. Thousands joined in the next few days. We screamed ‘hang them’. We screamed for justice and expected a maximum punishment. The punishment is valid in our law of the land. We didn’t ask for anything that is not permitted in our laws. The people demanded capital punishment.
This movement is an outpour of extreme betrayal. The youth felt betrayed by the ruling party. We thought they compromised with Jamaat (the collaborating party in 1971, and ally of BNP). The youth would never allow that. We had tolerated everything thrown at us, but not when it comes to our existence. Jamaat-e-Islami directly opposed our liberation war and was an ally of the Pakistani army. They are against the primary teachings of the constitution and spirit of the liberation war and finally, Jamaat-e-Islami controls about 12 percent of the economy. They have hundreds of businesses which fund their politics and politics of anti-state activities. They still act as Pakistani agents in this country. We want an end to them, to their politics. The nation and its politicians but agree on one history, of liberation. Jamaat-e-Islami distorts history; they make money and yet act against this nation.
We want justice, we want the collaborators to be punished. Another reason for asking for capital punishment is the fear that if BNP (now opposition and ally of Jamaat) wins the next election, in six to eight months, they would free the criminals. So, if these war criminals aren’t hanged, they will walk free and become ministers, once again. We cannot accept this. Shahbag isn’t a platform to discuss punishment, but justice. When we scream ‘hang them’, we scream justice for 3 million people who died in 9 months in the year 1971. We scream to ask justice for 200,000 women who were raped then. These collaborators helped Pakistani soldiers commit one of the most heinous crimes in the history of humanity. The genocide is even compared to World War II.
We are a peaceful nation. Bangladesh was recently listed as one of the happiest nation in the world. But we want a new Bangladesh. We want to free our country from dirty politics, religious fanatics and anti-state elements like Jamaat. We want Bangladesh to be a safe place for our future generations to practice diversified culture and grow in a progressive society. We have re-invented the spirit of our liberation war. And if this means we need to hang people, who are against it, so be it. If it means we need to kill Jamaat-Shibir (Jamaat’s student wing, responsible for terrorism), so be it.
Shahbag has turned Bangladesh upside down. But this is a tricky game and caretakers of the movement are working relentlessly to make it a bigger success. But to actually bag the desired goals, it requires something more. When the movement started, it stood on only one demand: Kader Mollah phashi chai. Slowly it expanded to Rajakarer phashi chai within few hours. Later, it actually turned rightfully into an anti-Jamaat movement, aligned with the main focus of our liberation war in 1971. Unfortunately the shrewd Jamaat has been successful in turning it to look like a hate Islam movement. The bloggers who started the movement had their individual religious beliefs. Most of them are believers and some are atheist. Jamaat has fabricated the atheist bloggers as anti-Islamic. Fake blogs and writings under Thaba Baba’s name were circulated that were extremely inappropriate and explicit. In the process we lost a major population from the movement and the character of the movement changed. Now we have to spend quite a good number of resources and time to prove that we are not anti-Islam. And thus get less time to focus on the rather important part of the movement.
Bangladesh is going through a deep social transformation. A simplistic and narrowed description of recent facts only insults a great nation. The Indian government – like any other government – should assist our march towards a brighter future. As a neighbor, Bangladesh holds a crucial place for India in every possible way. As a Bangladeshi, all we require from India and other nations, is support for a modern progressive Bangladesh.