You have heard of Tahiri Square, Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street, but recently a similar movement happened in Bangladesh, that went unnoticed or comfortably ignored by the western media – Shahbag movement. I am going back 40 days, to a day which has a two-fold importance in the history of contemporary Bangladesh. It was a day when people of Bangladesh felt betrayed immensely, and at the same time it inspired the youth of Bangladesh like never before. I am going back to a day when I felt I would die on the streets if I have to, but will not leave until justice is served.
I remember I was speechless in shock that afternoon when Qader Molla the war criminal and leader of Jamat E Islam was given life imprisonment and not death sentence after proven guilty. I turned my laptop on to share my anger and frustration on face book, and noticed immediately that everyone else was also fuming in protest. Within minutes, Dr Imran H Sarkar, a member of Blogger Online Activist Network, created a face book event, calling us all to unite and form a human chain at Shahbagh to raise our voices against the unjust verdict. Usually, human chains don’t last more than an hour, but this one expanded like wildfire!
A question may arise, what took us 42 years to finally unite. This is due to the spread of education, economic empowerment and availability of information. However, for the past few years due to the mass usage of social media the youth of Bangladesh are coming to each other’s contact and getting to know various aspects of the history that was previously not there. This constant contact and discussion forums on social media enabled the youth to finally unite. 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 total number of Facebook users in Bangladesh now stands at 3.2 million. It is no surprise therefore, that Shahbagh began as a movement for social, personal and national justice, aptly aided and propelled forward by social media like facebook, twitter and blogs. Although the movement took shape in the hands of tech savvy youth, Shahbagh is now home to millions of Bangladeshis from all over the country.
With the passing of each day the numbers began to grow, and the rage began to intensify. From Dhaka it spread to numerous parts of the country and abroad. Shahbagh, now known as Projonmo Chottor or Generation Square. Shahbag is no more a name of a place – Shahbag now stands for national conscience. Started as a facebook event, the mass movement evolved and two very specific and clear demands from the people emerged: all war criminals are hanged, and Jamat-e-Islami as a political party be banned.
At this point, I must also inform you that Bangladesh has over 31 million internet subscribers, while
tele density is 65.77% and internet density is 20.65%. Over the last month there were so many contents created and shared that is new in the social network history in Bangladesh. We haven’t lately uploaded any content in last one month that is not on shahbag.
Thanks to social media, Shahbag has become the biggest youth movement in Bangladesh. What is more amazing is that despite the overwhelming burst of emotions among each of us screaming for justice, till date, it has been an absolutely non-violent movement inspired by the fundamental values of our first constitution: democracy, nationalism, secularism or equal status for all religions, and socialism in the sense of social justice. At Shahbag we sang together; we talked; watched documentaries on the liberation war; listened to poems on the heroics of our freedom fighters; and peacefully re-enacted the spirit of 1971, disseminating the values to every corner of the country.
We are also fighting a cyber war against Islamic militancy & fundamentalism. We are fighting for peaceful and harmonious co-existence of all religions and ethnicities in Bangladesh. Jamat E Islami & its global network, created a well funded force working from different countries in the world, to spread propaganda through international and social media. They are getting support from international fundamentalist organizations. In order to fight back religious extremism or terrorism in the name of religion, we have to develop a global network with the support of humanists around the world.
Shibir has transferred their cyber war into cyber crime since Shahbagh. They have been creating myths and putting it on social sites. Thus creating deep divisions and confusion among general public. For instance, they targeted and hacked to death a blogger, who is known as an atheist. Immediately after the murder, shibir published a host of fake blogs in the name of that blogger, containing controversial comments against islam and prophet. They have then spread a myth about sighting of Sayedee, a convicted war criminal, on the moon. There have been numerous posts tempering pictures by photoshop. Shibir has taken the path of crime, both on the ground and off the ground. The discussion and demands that starts in Shahbag, however it continues to social media in several contents as status, images, notes, tweets and blogs. Till the movement only few hundred bloggers were actively fighting Jamat’s propagands. Since the movement began there are thousands of online activists and bloggers who are debating and fighting relentlessly against heinous attempts by Jamat Shibir.
The movement is mainly led by the online activists. An organization named Blogger and online activist network has began the movement and since Jamaat calls Shahbag an anti Islamic movement, but it is important to consider, in a country of 90% muslim population, Jamat got only 3 seats out of 300 constituencies. Jamaat doesn’t represent Islam. The Islam we understand and value, teaches us to be peaceful, not violent. In our hearts and minds they are criminals who have infiltrated our society, making money exploiting religion, and have been using these profits to continuously implement plots that are highly detrimental to national interest.
We must also bring to light the fact that demanding death penalty does not make us a blood-thirsty generation, as some have called us. The world needs to understand that for 42 years we have been denied justice. These war criminals did not just accidentally kill individuals, they had killed humanity.
Jamaat was the mastermind behind the killings of the most brilliant Bengali intellectuals right before Bangladesh was liberated, with the intention of leaving the nation crippled. It is evident that, Jamaat is a criminal organization that is infamous for politics of violence and distortion of Islam. This party and its student wing Shibir, have in recent times desecrated memorials for martyrs and burned the national flag of Bangladesh. They have hacked to death a blogger and organizer of the movement; have murdered two eyewitnesses of the war crimes tribunal. Shibir and its allies have been burning trains, uprooting railway tracks, attacking and firing upon the police, vandalizing temples, terrorizing Hindu and Buddhist families and destroying their settlements, and have stooped as low as actually burning the Holy Qu’ran and setting fire inside the National Mosque! Recent escalations of violence in Bangladesh, systematically initiated by Jamaat, have now claimed about 200 lives roughly.
Amidst all this conspiracy to prevent the legal process to bring war criminals to justice, Shahbag movement has grown stronger and more headstrong in resolve. We remain determined to re-popularize the spirit of the Liberation War and ensure the country’s progress by taking her enemies head-on.
Wael Ghonim, one of the key protestors at Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution, once told a US news show: ‘Our revolution is like Wikipedia, okay? Everyone is contributing content’. That’s how Shahbagh is evolving too. Each of us; every single one of my people who has for years dreamt of a nation proudly upholding the values that brought about our existence, is contributing whole-heartedly to the growth of Shahbagh, and its prowess to serve as a towering symbol of Bangladeshi Secularism, Socialism, Nationalism, and Democracy. Truth lies within the people.