Shahbagh Protests and me

Shahbag 2Jahanara Nuri, 28th February, 2013: It took a V sign, a verdict and a click on the mouse of a Laptop, that stirred a nation’s lingering memories of unprecedented events of pain, from hit, strike and betrayal’in the history, and there arose the youth like a phoenix from the ashes of their martyred parental generation.

`I shall not go to the Mosque until Jamat E Islam is banned, I shall pray at home, for if I go, among the congregated Muslims there are Jamat E Islami’s, there may be a bomb blast and I’ll be killed, They took a student from the Mosque to their Procession, who never returned alive, they will take me;’ A student of 10th grade wrote this letter to the Bloggers & Online Activists Network In Bangladesh. His worry was in tune with the slogans of the protesters of the Gono Zagoron Mancho, which was formed first at Shahbagh, and within three days in most of the cities and towns in the country. The slogan that the protesters shouting ` Awake, Let us unite my country people, rise with one demand’ distinctly defined,–their demand for a secular country. And to them first step towards achieving that was to right a wrong done back in forty two years..

On the afternoon of 5th of February 2013, the protesters came out refusing the life sentence verdict for Kader Molla, and arose up with the brief demand- the hanging of Kader Molla- for an organized killing of more than 300 people at Mirpur-a locality in Dhaka. Historically it was said that on the 14th December 1971, Kader Molla and his militia goup assisted in the arrest of Intellectuals at gun point., they had been taken hands bound, blindfolded, and shot dead by the Pakistan Army. All the militia men were from Jamat E Islam and its students wing The Islami Students Sangha. Four of the five crimes committed by the accused have been proved in the court. The protesters believed, that the sentence given did not match with the intensity and magnitude of the crimes committed.
Sun set, Night fell and the sun rose again. The protesters settled and kept twittering, dancing, shouting along the whole length of Shahbagh square, first three days without sleep.Later more youths kept pouring in, joining them taking turns to guide the mass voices slanting slogans, giving birth to a momentum. As a result, the first nationwide youth gathering on the 9th February locked the major part of the City. Till then the protesters were reluctant to give their space to anyone who may differ, student wings of different political parties came forward but were negotiated not to raise their party’s agenda and they were glued to their `one demand one slogan’ moral. People in Bangladesh did not remember when they have seen such peaceful flow of mass events without a single incident of violence or harassment.

As events rolled on, mass awakening generated, creative responses joined in; Government was pressed off to find ways how to respond to the demands yet still a neutral stand about the trial being maintained. The Opposition Party watched quietly, people kept rushing to Shahbagh till midnight linking them to their center of gravity;those girls and boys who were shouting slogans tirelessly. On the Friday the 8th weekend Shahbagh square turned into a roaring sea of life. The energy of the mass gathering was heightened by the hoisting of a huge national flag in the sky over their social & cultural congregation.
A letter was sent to the ongoing spring session at the Parliament house on the 10th. The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the parliamentarians in the session expressed solidarity with the youths. This was followed by drafting a bill correcting the Collaborator Act passed in 1972. The amendment acknowledged rights of the accused to appeal in case he has objection to a verdict. Nevertheless the law did not pronounce similar rights for the justice seeker, the state. Protesters demanded that to maintain equal balance this be added to the act and the verdict be challenged by the state.
On Day 7, 12th February, entire nation halted and stood up, showed the strength of silence for 3 minutes commemorating the martyrs, Parliamentarians joined them from the session, those who could not come, joined from home or workplaces. At the outset the opposition party The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) expressed their worry about the unified one demand but next day decided that the time they embark on the power, they would go for trial for crimes committed against Humanity.
The roaring mass gathering changed its color to spectacular red and yellow in celebration of 1st day of Spring on the 13th February. Artists, painters begun traditional cultural programs. Each and every one with a new pace and tone than previous years, women with flowery headbands and garlands, men with new dress, shouting slogans, hands raised, head held high. Installation of a huge motif of Jahanara Imam, mother of a martyr who decade ago initiated demands for trial of war crimes marked the day. This day, the Parliament passed the draft bill and equal rights of the state to appeal to the higher court achieved. With the first victory the movement called on to celebrate the Valentines’ Day by `an awakening gathering’ and lighting candles nationwide. Lacs of candles lit the evening not only at Shahbagh square, but on top of all the offices, hospitals, over bridges. Streets were lit with Bangla words, numbers etc. In honor of a fourth grade staff of the central bank who was killed during the previous day’s Hartal of Jamat E Islam, 1 minute silence was observed.

Though in the last 10 days the rising non-violent youths have passed their messages on to the nation and to the world singing songs shouting slogans that denote love, compassion, fearlessness and commitment for justice. Jamat has already been on street since the International War crimes Tribunal 1 & 2 have been established in 2010 and 2012, both the tribunals were dealing with 8 cases. In 2013, political tension rose high with the first death sentence announced for Moalana Abul Kalam Azad, in January.

The protesters heavily used all possible social media to convey their messages in and abroad. Adding complexities to the scenario, Ahmed Rajib Haider, one of the organizer protester was chopped to death on the 15th February night. Violent online propaganda against him and his fellow bloggers began.Masses showed wisdom of patriotism in an extra ordinary manner. This was responded by the biggest ever – Namaz Janaza held for Rajib and on contrary to religious rule women and children joined men. Threats of death sentence sent to the Imam who lead the Janaza, non-violence won over the pain, but the protesters returned to their 24 hour routine.
Elements kept on occurring to turn the fumes into a blaze. Millions of taka flowed from Zamat to buy support for the accused from abroad. A national Daily `Amar desh’ took part in the propaganda. Jamat e Islam has called on hartal, people refused by walking to their work places, children to schools. Terror spread throughout the country encountering peace. The prayer mat of the central mosque was put on fire, the students wing of zamat came out of the Mosque, attacked journalists and police on duty; 17 journalists were injured in big cities, cameras broken, and several police killed. BNP supported this hartal and joined the counter current. Continued propaganda clouded the atmospher. Another organizer Shanto died of heart attack a couple of days later. By the 18th, legal barriers for the trial of Jamat E Islam as a group for war crimes were removed by the amendment of the 1972 Collaborators Act.
On The 21st the Language Martyrs Day and The International Language Day, the protesters joined the human waves to Shaheed Minar, and in the late afternoon, carrying letters, hundreds of thousands of balloons flew to the stars symbolizing a communication of love & respect to the souls of the martyrs . Powerful waves of youth, mesmerized people from all walks of life including their families to join the protest. Everyday their numbers increasing, heads covered and hands painted by national flags, poets reading poems, freedom fighters tuning with the voices of new generations, intellectuals and artists came in to express solidarity. Activists of various political groups were allowed this time only to express solidarity.
On the 22nd February morning the nation woke up to see several of the Shaheed Minarsdamaged, flowers burnt to ashes,which was followed by a procession of the religious extremists rushing to fight the protesters at Shahbagh. Online propaganda invited the Muslims for jihad against the shahbag protesters and anyone who supports them.
The mass protesters maintained calm, stayed tenacious carrying on their plan to organize mass gatherings at different places in the country. On the 18th all educational Institutes hoisted national as well as black flag mourning killing of Rajib, and others by the activists of Jamat E-Islam.
The organizers of the `Gano Zagoron Moncho’ were termed`aethist’, `Anti-Islamic’ by religious extremists. Activist Bloggers identified a blog which had been opened in Rajib’s name containing blogs with extreme negativity about The Prophet (peace be on him) and searched out that the blog was activated after Rajib was killed. Made up videos went out inviting Muslim brotherhood in a fashion that can be termed-an undeclared jihad- online and on street. While five of their leaders are put to trial the accused Jamat E Islam claimed them innocent of war crimes and demanded abolishment of the Court.
In response, protesters marched on streets assembling in the places where mass killing had been committed by The Pakistani Army. First they have assembled at Rayer Bazar near the Memorials of the martyred intellectuals. They took oath not to return home until justice is ensured, until Jamat E Islam is banned from Politics and tried, and promised to boycott all economic, social and educational institutions operated by Jamat Gang.
On the 20th day spreading the spirit from Shahbagh, unprecedented waves of youths, students rallied, children, working women and housewives, even babies, marched to Mirpur 10 Square, a locality 5 km from the Parliament house where crimes of Kader Molla had been witnessed by local inhabitants in 1971.
Today the 22nd day of the Movement, the youth kept roaring at the square of Motijheel Shapla Cattar, the biggest commercial square in Dhaka. They are a major part of the present population in Bangladesh. They carry the spirit of the liberation war in 1971 that engulfed their parental generations, that waged the nation millions of lives and reportedly more than 3 lacs of rape of women.On the victory Day, the 16th December, it was literally a beginning for the nation from the ashes of the fire of an war-they did not cause to occur.
Now at the end of February 2013, what filled the air even more with horror that the terrorist group Jamat E Islam was backed by the major opposition, and the anticipation of carnage of the battle of Jamat against the non partisan protesters gave delightful opportunity for their in and outside supporters to head hunt the leaders of the movement.
As the setting sun spreads its salute to the memorials at the mass graves of Dhaka City, the nation awaits for verdict number 3, of Delwar Hossain Sayedee.Tomorrow the 23rd day of the Mass movement, Jamat has called for strike again, and the new Bengalis in Bangladesh, sit in protest, roaring ` Joy Bangla’-a slogan that denotes love, respect, commitment but anger too. The rising youth, Hundreds of thousands all over Bangladesh, today wait to hear if the Government and other nation states will stand beside peace or terror.

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