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Shahbag

First published: http://blog.tehelka.com/justice-delayed-and-denied-as-well/
Date: July 15, 2013

The entire nation of Bangladesh had almost come to a halt since dawn on 15 July, the day when the verdict of Ghulam Azam had been scheduled. Anticipation, pondering, debate, tension, pandemonium, everything focused on only this issue. Meanwhile, the Jamaat-e-Islami had called for a nationwide strike demanding the release of Ghulam Azam. If you have carefully followed the history of Bangladesh, you would be familiar with his name. To those unaware, Ghulam Azam was the ring leader of the war criminals during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

Jamaat-e-Islami and its allies Al Badr and Al Shams, have been followers of Ghulam Azam and worked against independence. During the liberation war, which lasted for about nine months, three million people were killed and about two lakh women were raped, by some estimates. Almost ten million people took refuge in India and the leading academicians and intellectuals were abducted and murdered just before independence – all of which were initiated, led and managed by Ghulam Azam.

Even after independence, he continued to work against Bangladesh. This time he rooted for terrorism in the country, in the name of Islam. He allegedly gathered funds from the Middle East and Pakistan. Many say he was a language movement veteran too. Later, he went on to say that taking part in the language movement was a great mistake and that he wanted to work for a united Pakistan.

When the war crimes tribunal began its activities, all of us had assumed Ghulam Azam would be hung. Every child in Bangladesh has grown up with a sense of hatred against Azam, so much so that since 1971, not one child has been named Ghulam Azam. Acclaimed writer Humayan Ahmed once wrote “Tui Razakar” in a television drama, which translates to “you are a war criminal”, and since then this notion has become very famous and has been used for every war criminal, especially Ghulam Azam.

The International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh has now finally announced their verdict and five allegations were proved against him, most of which were of the highest degree. He was sentenced to 90 years of imprisonment- a very disturbing and frustrating judgment, I would say.

As soon as the verdict was out, almost all the social networking websites were flooded with reactions. Pro-Shahbag and liberation forces expressed their anger and frustration against the ruling party and the judiciary. On the other hand, Jamaat-e-Islami and its allies seemed quite relaxed and calm. Yet, they’ve placed demands to free Ghulam Azam unconditionally. Shahbag activists have resumed their protest. Apparently, the driving force behind the lenient judgment was his age. He is 91 years old. But this cannot be reason enough. His mass killings didn’t spare infants or pregnant ladies. He didn’t spare old men either. He never showed mercy for the citizens of Bangladesh, he still doesn’t. I wonder why the judiciary has shown mercy based on his age.

Apparently, 90 years of imprisonment is sufficient for a 91-year-old prisoner. Being politically correct, that is the highest punishment, every human rights activist will justify too. Frankly, I think even 900 years of imprisonment would seem less, so 90 years is almost like no punishment given at all. According to the constitution of Bangladesh, death penalty is the highest form of punishment, and he deserves nothing less.

Six million Jews were killed over six years during the Holocaust. If Bangladesh had required a similar timeframe for independence, the rate at which Azam and his allies committed acts of mass murder in the nine months, the entire nation would have been dead by 16 December, 1971.

We had expected God to show some mercy, that we’d be able to see Ghulam Azam be hanged. If this had been the case, three million martyrs and two hundred thousand rape victims would finally get justice. But, after the verdict, I know each and every soul feels disgusted. We’ve failed to honour our heroes. The blood soaked birth of Bangladesh has been reduced to a joke. Justice, has been delayed and denied.

First published: http://tehelka.com/a-narrow-description-of-recent-facts-insults-bangladesh/
Date: June 7, 2013

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.

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.

Every nation has their unique history and certain reasons behind their actions. Those who are following Shahbag Movement already acquired some knowledge on 1971 by now. We have come together, the youth of Bangladesh, first time since liberation. In 1990, the current political parties, Awami league (ruling party) and BNP, the biggest opposition, joined hand to oust the military dictator, Ershad. We had our Tahrir Square back in 1990. This Shahbagh Movement is non-partisan, yet political, emotion driven. Our people have tolerated every corruption and disparity. We have always talked about a change in last 22/23 years 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 around with its procedures and investigation 2009.
On February 5, 2013 when butcher of Mirpur, Kader Molla was given life imprisonment, we came down on the streets, within hours of the verdict. Thousands and thousands joined in next days. We screamed ‘hang them’. We screamed for justice. Justice! Yes. We expected maximum punishment. The punishment is valid in our law of the land. We didn’t ask for anything what is not permitted in our laws. The people demanded capital punishment.
This movement is an out pour of extreme betrayal. The youths felt betrayed by the ruling party. We thought they compromised with Jamat (the collaborating party in 1971, and ally of BNP). Youths would never allow that. We had tolerated everything thrown at us, but not when it comes to our existence. JamatEIslam directly opposed to our liberation war and was ally of Pakistani army, they are against the primary teachings of the constitution and spirit of the liberation war and finally JamatEIslam, controls about 12% of the economy. They have hundreds of business. These all fund their politics, 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. JamatEIslam distort history; they make money and yet act against this nation.
Therefore, we want justice. We want the collaborators must be handed. Another reason for asking for capital punishment is the fear that if BNP (now opposition and ally of Jamat) wins next election, in 6/8 months time, they would free the criminals. So, if these war criminals aren’t hanged, they would walk free, and become ministers, once again. We cannot accept that, as this will be a betrayal with 3 million martyrs and 2 hundred thousand rape victims, betrayal with the intellectuals who were killed just a day before victory to cripple the nation, this will be betrayal against humanity.
Shahbagh isnt a platform to discuss punishment, but of justice. When we scream ‘hang them’, we scream for justice of 3 million who died in 9 months of 1971,. We scream to ask for justice of 200,000 women who were raped then. These collaborators helped Pakistani soldiers to commit one of the most heinous crimes in history of humanity. The genocide is compared to World War II. We are peaceful nation. Bangladesh was recently listed as one of the happiest nation of the world. Even when we die of poverty we smile. We want a new Bangladesh. We want to free our country from dirty politics, religious fanatics and anti-state elements like Jamat. We want Bangladesh to be safe place for our furutre 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 jamat-shibir (shibir is jamats student wing, responsible for terrorism), so be it. Blood will flow.
This is a time to talk, to discuss, to fight, all for change. We are here to finish the unfinished war of 1971. Back then, right after the war, they weren’t tried for many factors, plus even after the trials started the Father of the Nation was assassinated. It got paused for long 42 years. But now, after long 42 years, justice cannot be denied, even though delayed.
23 young activists from Rumi Squad started till death hunger strike from 26 March till April 1 – for government to act according to our demand of banning Jamat from politics. They got dehydrated and weak but still went high on moral. We feel if we can achieve this, we can go farther demanding and winning more rights for the people. This is a start of a new Bangladesh. An Uprising.

ঘুরে ঘুরে এসেছে বিশেষ দিনগুলি
ধর্ম মনে করেছি বাংলাদেশকে
শহিদ মিনার,স্মৃতিসৌধ বা বদ্ধভুমি
পতাকাকে আঁকড়ে ধরে বড় হয়েছি
জেনে এসেছি দেশকে ভালবাসতে হয়
আজ বুঝলাম কখনো স্বাধীনতার মানেই বুঝিনি
কোন শক্তিবলে অর্জিত হল এই দেশ
কিভাবে পেল এই স্বাধীনতা সবই যেন
মার ভাত খাওয়ানোর গল্প ছিল এতকাল
৪২ বছর পর আবারও ফিরে এল যুদ্ধ
একইভাবে লড়াই চলছে
মাঠে ঘাটে বন্দরে রাজপথে অনলাইনে
আজকের দিনে গুগল দেখে
বুক ফেটে চিৎকার আসে
ভাঙচুর হরতালের রাজনীতি রেহাই দেয়নি
স্বাধীনতা দিবসকেও
যখন বুকের জমাট বাধা অপমানের ক্ষোভ
আর্তনাদ হয়ে চিৎকার হয়ে গাল বেয়ে পড়ে
এখন বুঝি স্বাধীনতার মানে কি হয়

শাহবাগ এখন কোন ঠিকানা নয়,
কোন গন্তব্য নয়।
শাহবাগ একটি চেতনা।
বাংলাদেশের নবজাগরনের সংজ্ঞা।
দুর্বার বেগে তরুনের প্রতিবাদ,
মোড়ে মোড়ে দেশের গান,
সবার চায়ের কাপে, খবরে, মননে
দেশের ভাবনার নাম শাহবাগ।
সামাজিক সাইটে অপরিচিত মানুষের সাথে
জন্মজন্মান্তের ভরসার নাম শাহবাগ।
স্লোগানে, মিছিলে, গানে
নিজেকে খুঁজে পাওয়ার নাম শাহবাগ।
মশালের প্রতিটি শিখার নাম শাহবাগ।

অনেকদিন হল কবিতা লিখি না
মনের ভেতর গুর গুর করে না ছন্দ
তোমার মায়ামাখা মুখ দুর্বল করে না আর
তোমাকে নিয়ে ভাবি না আজকাল
সকালের সেই বারান্দার এক ফালি নতুন রোদ
পাশের বাড়ির পাচিল ঘেষা বাঁকা নারকেল গাছটাও না
ভোরের অগোছালো বিছানা তোমার আমার আলো আধারির খেলা
নাহ, তাও না
রমনা পার্কের শিউলি গাছের কথাতো ভুলেই গেছি
শিলাইদ’র পুকুর পারে মন টানে না
এখন মনের ঠিকানা নিজেই পাই না
মন আমার শাহবাগে
অগনিত বিদ্রোহী বিপ্লবীর সাথে মিশে একাকার
আমি আর আমার একার নই
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