And Then There Was A Movement ....

অতিথি লেখক's picture
Submitted by guest_writer on Wed, 06/03/2013 - 7:10am

I haven't written in a long time. To put it simply, there was nothing to write about. For the last 10 years of my life, all I read were textbooks and all I wrote were answers to exam questions and prescriptions. This coupled with arduous clinical shifts squandered my love of reading and writing for pleasure. And then there was a movement. Yes readers, if you are sick of opinion pieces on Shahbag, this is where you stop reading.

I was never really aware of the 1971 liberation war until I was about 16. My earliest recollection on the subject is my French teacher asking me,'Quelle année le Bangladesh était-il né ?' (In which year was Bangladesh born?) I stared at the teacher quizzically having no idea what he was talking about. After he translated the question to English my quizzical look remained. 'You don't know?' he asked equally shocked, 'Le Bangladesh était né en 1971.' Oh I knew there was a war in 1971 and we separated from Pakistan but that's all I knew. I went home that night and asked about the war and,as most of you know, anyone who has survived 1971 always has enough material for at least a one hour lecture.

While most of my friends opted for private universities in posh areas of Dhaka, I ended up in a medical college in Shahbag. Over the next 6 years I was exposed to what I like to call the DU-culture, a wonderful culturally rich body of students that secured my sense of belonging. I experienced Boi Mela, Ekhushey February, Pohela Falgun , Pohela Boishakhi celebrations in true, unadulterated form, the kind of experience one can gain only in the 'University Elaka'. Having spent a chunk of my childhood abroad followed by English medium schools, this cultural explosion helped me secure my identity as Bangladeshi. With this realization came newfound interest in the my country's history and current events. But through it all the one thing that stood out for me was the liberation war of 1971. I saw the pictures,footage, articles depicting the Pakistani Army's atrocities. I learned about a group of Bengali traitors who had aided the Pak army in committing the 1971 genocide and rapes - the infamous Razakars. A family friend described how he had watched, hidden to save himself, as Pakistani soldiers stomped a 2 year old to death. There was no doubt barbaric crimes had been committed against my people during the war but what I couldn't get around to was the fact that these Razakars were still on our land. Not just on our land but in our political system, getting elected as ministers (!), marauding around in cars flying flags of independent Bangladesh. I watched in shock as Motiur Rahman Nizami, a well known Razakar, made an appearance at a friend's sister's wedding surrounded by armed men, as people cleared the way and welcomed this very special guest. A friend whispered into my ear, 'আমরা আজকে কি দেখলাম? আমরা আজকে একটা রাজাকার দেখলাম!' Despite the justified hatred for these Razakars in the general population, the fact remained that nothing had been done and nothing was being done at the time to bring them to justice. 'Why doesn't the government just round them up and shoot them?' was a rhetoric question I often asked out of frustration. The response almost always was along the lines 'আমি আর তুমি চাইলেই তো হবেনা. মাজখান দিয়ে আমাদেরকেই রগ কেটে মেরে ফেলে রাখবে'. I was aware of the corrupt political and legal systems in our country. I was aware that if one political party put them in jail, when the opposition came to power they would be set free. Our opinion, the common people's opinion, was only used as a weapon in times of need to gain votes. In a country riddled with problems, there was no time to waste on crimes committed over 40 years ago. My ultimate conclusion, however frustrating, was that no one really cared anymore. And then there was a movement.

When I heard about the arrest of some well known war criminals (and leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami) in 2010, my response was an uninterested 'ok'. When I heard, in 2013, one was given the death penalty in absentia, my response remained the same. When I heard Abdul Kader Mollah, convicted of aiding in 344 murders, rape of an 11 year old and murder of a poet, was given a lifetime sentence (meaning he would be out when the opposition came to power), I felt the old frustrations rising. Only for a moment though because I had trained myself to be indifferent to injustice in Bangladesh.

The next day someone mentioned protests in Shahbag. Political protests are nothing new in Bangladesh. Hold a rally, give a speech, destroy some property and go home. Maybe call a hartal or two. But wait these protests are by the general people not a political party. What? Confused, I went online and found Facebook , Twitter and websites of Bangladeshi newspapers flooded with pictures of Shahbag square, the area I had spent the 6 best years of my life in, transformed to Projonmo Chottor. What was happening? Who were these protesters? I read everything I could find on the Shahbag protests. With every article, I felt something I hadn't felt in a long time. I felt hope for my country.

For as long as I can recall, the political scenario in Bangladesh has been dominated by two political parties - Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh National Party (BNP). If one was in office, the other did everything possible to live up to the term 'opposition', regardless of how silly or harmful their tactics were for the country. Another political party that should be mentioned here is Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical Islamic fundamentalist party, the leaders of which have been established as Razakars ( through documents and eye witness reports). Most members of the older generations, who have lived through the 1971 war and witnessed Bangladesh's subsequent tumultuous (often confusing) political history, have already decided to be loyal to either AL or BNP. However it is a different case for the youth of today. We've heard and read about the political history of Bangladesh following independence and while certain facts have been established, most of what we hear or read is from the narrator's perspective. There are many versions, each in favor of one party or the other. What you are told will depend on who tells you about it. If you do your own research you will find that both parties have prioritized power over good of the country. Both are so consumed with opposing the other that they are willing to overlook everything else, including the purpose for which they have been given office. Both have formed coalitions with Jamaat, an organization with well known Razakars as leaders, to gain points over the opposition. So who do we choose? In the end we either chose the lesser of the two evils ( a huge debate!) or simply refused to choose and vote 'no' in the ballots. Jamaat on the other hand is known for its fundamentalist principles and it's student wing, Shibir, is infamous for violent and guerrilla attacks if opposed. While all political parties have shown some degree of violence, Jamaat-Shibir have made violent murders and sneaky bombings their trademark. It is the leaders of this group who are currently under trial for war crimes.

The Shahbag movement started when a group of bloggers and online activists decided to stage a protest against the lifetime improsonment verdict of Abdul Kader Mollah, a convicted war criminal. The demand is for capital punishment. The protesters, consisting mostly of bloggers and university students,were few in number initially but grew exponentially over the next few days. The movement is popularly described as 'awakening of the youth'. There is no social class, religion, age or gender barrier among participants. People are joining the protest spontaneously without provocation or convincing. How do I know? How do you convince a doctor and a rickshaw puller, an actor and a street vendor, a school student and a senile grandparent to come together for the same cause? What could you possibly say , do or pay this range of people to get them to come to Shahbag and spend hours chanting slogans in protest? As word of the peaceful movement spread, Bangladeshis across the globe pledged solidarity with Shahbag. The Internet flooded with pictures and videos of Bangladeshis across the world staging protests in their current cities. I doubt our government or opposition has enough money or power to orchestrate worldwide support of this magnitude. So why are people coming together this way? The answer is simple. For years we've lived with the pain of what happened in 1971.Like myself, most people had given up on justice for 1971 but the ache remained, constant and frustrating, like a disease controlled but not cured. Shahbag gives us hope for a cure. For once we have an opportunity to break out of the constant corrupt political battles and stand united for a cause we truly support. The question is not why do we support Shahbag, the question is why not? If you have the opportunity to support a movement that aims at bringing justice to the millions lost and tortured during 1971, without religious or political bias, why wouldn't you? Another demand has been made by the movement - ban Jamaat from politics. While I understand the complications of fulfilling such a demand given the fact that ours is a democratic nation, I still choose to support it. Jamaat-Shibir have openly admitted to opposing the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. They have consistently incited violence in the country. Their leaders are well known (and recently convicted) war criminals. More recently they have set fires in Mosques; destroyed Hindu and Buddhist temples; attacked the minority population and destroyed their property; attacked security forces; openly destroyed the national flag and Shahid Minar(monument for language martyrs of 1952), a direct message of their hatred of independent Bangladesh.....and the list goes on. They clearly have no respect for religion (their own or others), no respect for the country and absolutely no respect for human life. You could wait until they do more damage before deciding to support the ban but for me, this is enough.

It has been a month since the movement started. In this one month of peaceful protest, one more war criminal was given the death sentence and an appeal has been made to the court by prosecutors asking for capital punishment of Kader Mollah. Jamaat-Shibir have responded,as expected, with widespread violence, drowning the country in chaos. While they murder and destroy in protest, Shahbag remains peaceful and focused on the task it has taken on. Political and religious propaganda is being used in every possible way to debunk the movement. Still Shahbag remains undeterred. I don't know how this will end or if Shahbag will achieve what it set out for but to me, the movement is already a success. It has shown people the power of a nation united. It has given us hope. It has shown us that our identity is first and foremost Bangladeshi and together we have the power to fight for justice and our hard earned independence. Shahbag has given us a way to save ourselves from the guilt of not having done anything for the millions lost and tortured in 1971. I may not have seen the liberation war but I will not give up this chance in 2013 to stand by my country. Just like I have heard stories of 1971, I hope I can one day tell my children the story of how my nation had once lost all hope for justice. And then there was a movement....



এস এম মাহবুব মুর্শেদ's picture

I enjoyed your point of view of the Shahbag movement very much! Keep writing!

Afroza13's picture

Thank you for the encouragement হাসি

রিসালাত বারী's picture


Afroza13's picture


শিশিরকণা's picture

Great article to reach out to the generation who lost touch with their roots and don't know where they belong. চলুক spreading on twitter.

~!~ আমি তাকদুম তাকদুম বাজাই বাংলাদেশের ঢোল ~!~

Afroza13's picture

Thank you ! হাসি

আনন্দী কল্যাণ's picture

I am impressed হাসি . You should take writing seriously. We need thousands of unbiased voices like you who stand for justice.

Afroza13's picture

Wow. Thank you! Unfortunately (or fortunately) I've already been labelled as being biased towards the Shahbag movement. খাইছে

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