Women in Shahbag: Building a New Bangladesh

Women in Shahbag: Building a New Bangladesh

First published on: Tehelka Blog, 18 April, 2013. http://blog.tehelka.com/women-in-shahbag-building-a-new-bangladesh/

In the last two and a half months, Shahbag Movement has been through many highs and lows. The movement started as a youth uprising – inspired by the primary teaching of our constitution – demanding justice for the bloodshed that happened 42 years back. Activists and general people want the highest punishment for the war criminals and banning of Jamaat-e-Islami from politics. These demands remain the main focus of the movement despite turmoil over the last few weeks.

Jamaat has always portrayed any action against them as “anti-Islamic”. This has been easy for them, thanks to their party’s name, but whatever action they take has very limited relationship with the proper teachings of the religion. Since the 10th day of the movement, when blogger Rajiv was murdered, Jamaat-e-Islami has been labelling the movement as anti-Islamic. Though this has caused few people to move away from the movement, most of the activists and protestors are staying true to the cause and are still steadfast in their demands for justice.

The movement is in full swing all over the country and abroad. Shahbag movement has been successful in creating a Gonojagaran Mancha in every district. There are various kinds of programmes and activities going on to keep the pressure on the administration to take all necessary steps to hold fair trials of the war criminals. The movement took a very interesting turn on 6 April when Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamic organisation, held a rally and huge gathering in Dhaka. Though Hefazat wanted to establish it has no link with Jamaat-e-Islami, many of the Hefazat’s top leaders are associated with Jamaat. Hefazat’s demands would directly benefit Jamaat and its allies.

Hefazat has presented a 13-point demand, which goes against the spirit of the Liberation War and women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. Their demands clearly stand against secularism and social justice, as per the constitution. Hefazat also wants to put a stop to what it believes to be “foreign” or “un-Islamic” cultural practices, and mingling of boys and girls in public. Also, among the demands are: abolishment of the “anti-Islamic” inheritance law, modern education policy, and development policies benefiting women. This would mean women won’t be allowed to get equal share of property as their male siblings, women have to cover themselves according to Sharia (Islamic law), and their mobility will be restricted. Hefazat is also demanding to make Islamic education compulsory at all levels – from primary to higher secondary.

Fortunately, women of Bangladesh have boldly stood against these demands, and so did the government. Unfortunately, however, Hefazat is holding violent protests to establish its demands. They have beaten a female journalist on the day of their rally in Dhaka for “being a woman and covering their activities for the TV station she works for”.

It should be mentioned that Shagbag movement was successful from various ends but the outstanding female participation has earned a loud applause from around the world – marking themselves as equal progressive stakeholders of the development happening in Bangladesh. This has a major role in the upcoming general election as well. The working women will be crucial players as vote banks for the next election.

We are expecting the general election in 8 months. This will be one of the most crucial elections in terms of the present context and for the future too. If the current Opposition party BNP wins the election, it will be interesting to see their actions as Jamaat’s ally.

On 17 April, an article in the daily Prothom Alo caught my eye. It says that the Pakistan election commission has given a ruling against using religion as a tool in the upcoming election. For a country like Pakistan, and also for any other nation for that matter, it is important to go beyond religion when it comes to politics. Politics and religion should not be allowed to mix. We too hope for a similar ruling from our election commission.

International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh has concluded the proceedings for Ghulam Kamaruzzaman and Ghulam Azam – war criminals and Jamaat leaders. The country is eagerly waiting for the verdict. We anticipate that Jamaat will again break into violent protests nationwide if the verdict goes against their interest. The government and law enforcing agencies are required to plan security checklists to avoid further violence against the people of the country. Shahbag movement has various programmes in the upcoming days to reinforce the primary demands of the movement. The coming days might be harder for Bangladesh; however, unity will decide our fate.

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