‘Our flag in our hands, the national anthem in our voice’

First Published: March 08, 2013 15:24 IST
On: NDTV blog

Dhaka: The Shahbag Square movement, a largely student-driven uprising against fundamentalism in Bangladesh, has seen thousands converging at Shahbag, a neighbourhood near Dhaka University for over a month now. 34-year-old Paula Aziz, a social worker has been closely involved with the movement. Here, she explains its mission.

It has been exactly 30 days, 21 hours, 33 minutes and 34 seconds since the Shahbag Movement began. It has been one month that our collective and individual consciences were awakened and we found our protesting voices. On February 5, the verdict against Quader Molla (an infamous war criminal who was found guilty of killing 344 people in the Alubdi village, on the outskirts of Dhaka, and raping a minor during the Liberation War) shocked the public. Even though Molla was proven guilty, he received life imprisonment. Accordingly to Bangladeshi law, the highest punishment is death. And we the protesters at Shahbag want the highest punishment for people who took a stand against the nation and carried out genocide.

Hours after the announcement of the verdict, young bloggers and online activists called out to the people of the country to unite and protest at Shahbag, near Dhaka University, and people responded. This has become the biggest youth movement in Bangladesh. The protestors at Shahbag are involved in a non-violent movement that is inspired by the fundamental teachings — democracy, nationalism, secularism (equal standing for all religions) and socialism (social justice) — of our first Constitution. These are the values that inspired our forefathers to fight against the Pakistan Army and its local allies. We, young Bangladeshis, stand on the same ground once again, fighting the same evil forces that had carried out genocide, raped, looted, forced conversion to Islam and so on.

After 1971, the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, started the process of bringing war criminals to justice. However, after his assassination in 1975, the government that took over started reinstating these war criminals into the country and the trials were stopped. In 1991, under the leadership of Jahanara Imam, mother of a martyred freedom fighter, a social movement was initiated by Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Comittee. Jahanara Imam wanted to re-establish the values of the Liberation War among the people of the country. She also staged a mock trial for the war criminals in 1992; it was called People’s Court. We have been trying to re-popularise that spirit through blogging for more than 6 years now; finally it emerged as a mass movement on February 5.

The movement has a six-point demand:

Death penalty for all war criminals, including Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, and revocation of the state’s power to grant them amnesty.
Amendment to the International Crimes Tribunal Act, allowing appeals against inadequate punishment and disposal of appeals from both the defence and the prosecution within three months of their filing.
The collaborators, who had been either convicted or under trial, but were set free after political changeover following the coup on August 15, 1975, must be brought to book.
Ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami and like-minded religion-based political parties, anti-liberation forces and collaborators of Pakistani occupation forces.
All businesses, socio-cultural bodies and media outlets run by war criminals should be banned, namely Islami Bank; Ibne Sina Hospital; Focus and Retina Coaching Centres; Diganta TV; daily newspapers Naya Diganta, Amar Desh and Sangram; and Sonar Bangla blog.
Trial of the political parties, forces, individuals and organisations that are trying to save war criminals and hatching a conspiracy to foil the on-going trial.

Shahbag has been a blessing for the country, and the people. Bangladesh will never be the same. “Joy Bangla” (long live Bengal) is our main slogan that unites us. It has been the slogan of our freedom fighter forefathers during the Liberation War. Shahbag has given voice to the voiceless, the ordinary people; given us the courage to stand for what we believe in; courage to demand a secular, just and harmonious system. People from all age groups, classes, ethnicities and creeds joined the movement.

For the last 42 years, the nonchalant attitude of the young and political game of vote banks encouraged the growth of a political party like Jamaat that thrives on hate. BNP has now categorically aligned itself with Jamaat. Both Islami Chatra Shibir and Chatra Dol — Jamaat and BNP’s student wings respectively — have the audacity to desecrate Shaheed Minar and our national flag. Since Delwar Hossain Sayeedi’s (another war criminal convicted of murder, looting and forced conversions) death sentence, they have been burning trains; uprooting railway tracks; attacking police, Hindu and Buddhist families; vandalising temples; burning copies of the Holy Quran and so on. Since the verdict, the total number of deaths is 130.

Though people from all over the country joined the movement, it is called a youth uprising as it is being led by a group of non-partisan individuals in their late twenties. Our parents, who had lived through the war in 1971, are encouraging us and supporting the cause. They believe that they started the war and now it’s our responsibility to end it.

Just like the on road warriors there are social warriors too, who are constantly updating Facebook and Twitter pages and informing the world about the present situation of the movement. Social networks have been immensely helpful in the Shahbag Movement. However we are facing vehement opposition from Jamat-e-Islam, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and their student wings Chatra Shibir and Chatra Dol. They killed two bloggers and Shahbag activists, killed the son of Narayanganj district GonoJagaran Mancha convener’s son. Our activists are constantly under threats by the Jamat and its allies.

The country is currently going through a very crucial time. However with flag in our hands, national anthem in our voice, we shall stand strong until victory. Therefore, for the spirit of the movement we have to believe nothing can come in between, no ifs and no buts.


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