Youths rekindle spirit of ’71 in Bangladesh
The nation yesterday saw the biggest gathering in recent memory as tens of thousands thronged the capital’s Shahbagh intersection to call for death penalty for the war criminals, including Abdul Quader Mollah, of 1971.
Men and women, boys and girls, young and old — tens of thousands of them — from all walks of life filled the few square kilometres area to the brim.
Since the daybreak, people, many with their families, started flocking the intersection first in their hundreds and then in thousands, carrying national flags, banners and placards for the 3:00pm mass rally. By then, the crowd stretched as far as the eye can see.
From Matsya Bhaban in the south to Kataban intersection in the north and from Hotel Ruposhi Bangla intersection in the east to TSC in the west, people were everywhere. Overwhelming was the participation of young generation — students of schools, college and universities — the life force of the movement.
In thunderous chants, they made their demand for death sentence to all war criminals and registered their determination to resist Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir.
It was the fourth day of the non-stop protest, which began hours after a war crimes tribunal on Tuesday sentenced Jamaat leader Quader Mollah to life term in prison for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War.
The movement was launched by Bloggers and Online Activist Network, but it soon transformed into a people’s movement. Demonstrators say a life sentence for Mollah was too lenient. They want death sentence for him.
Protestors have kept the interaction in their possession since Tuesday afternoon, with several hundreds of them staying overnights without sleep.
From yesterday’s rally, people took an oath to continue the movement until their demand is met. In addition to capital punishment to the war criminals, the demonstrators called for banning Jamaat and its student wing, Shibir.
People also vowed to boycott all businesses, banks, media outlets and social and cultural organisations owned by Jamaat leaders.
“We pledge to keep on demanding trial under a special tribunal of those Razakars and Al-Badrs who were convicted and were under trial but freed after 1975,” said Imran H Sarkar, administering the oath from a makeshift stage erected atop a truck at the intersection.
Imran, convener of Bloggers and Online Activist Network, is one of the initiators of the movement.
“We pledge that we will continue our movement from Teknaf to Tetulia under the leadership of general people until highest punishment is given to Razakars-Al-Badrs who committed crimes against humanity like genocide and rape in 1971,” protestors vowed after Imran.
The mass rally began with the recitation of a poem and rendering of the national anthem.
“This is another 1971,” said Mili Rahman, widow of Birshrestha Matiur Rahman.
“Today we are united in voicing our single demand. We freed the country in 1971 and today you will free it once again from Razakars and Jamaat-Shibir…. None can hold us back,” she said.
Noted writer Prof Muhammad Zafar Iqbal said, “I am here to offer my apology to you. I wrote in newspapers that the new generation only hits ‘like’ on Facebook and writes on blogs, but does not take to the streets. You have proved me wrong, and I thank you all for this.”
“The year 2013 has turned into 1971 and those of you who did not see 1971 are now witnessing ’71 in the year of 2013,” he added.
“Study when it’s time to study, write poems when it’s time to write poems, listen to music when it’s time to listen to music … and take to the streets when you need to. It is the happiest day of my life. All the martyrs and the country people are thankful to you,” he said.
Veteran journalist Kamal Lohani said the whole nation heard the roars of the mass people. “The only punishment to the war criminals, not only Quader but all, is capital punishment. Besides, their politics will also have to be banned.”
A number of speakers came down heavily on a section of foreign media for what they called its negative coverage of the war crimes trial and the ongoing movement. Protesters were heard chanting slogans against some foreign media.
Speaking at the rally, Sector Commanders Forum Senior Vice-chairmen Maj Gen (retd) KM Shafiullah said, “It’s a rebirth of 1971….
“We’ll have to carry on our movement until our one and only demand is met.”
Also spoke on the occasion Dhaka University Vice-chancellor Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique, Jahangirnagar University VC Prof Anwar Hossain, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University VC Prof Pran Gopal Dutta, Hasan Imam, cultural personality and novelist Anisul Haq, Shaon Mahmud, daughter of Shaheed Altaf Mahmud, and Shyamoli Nasreen Chowdhury, widow of Shaheed Dr Alim Chowdhury.
A numerous numbers of socio-cultural and political organisations and professional bodies expressed solidarity with the demonstrators.
Addressing the rally, Hasan Tarek, general secretary of Bangladesh Chhatra Union, demanded cancellation of memberships of Quader Mollah and Kamaruzzaman from the Jatiya Press Club.
Some private university students joined the demonstration wearing black T-shirts and ropes hanging from their necks, demanding capital punishment to all war criminals.
“Either the war criminals will be hanged or we will hang ourselves,” said Rezaul Karim, an MBA student of Independent University Bangladesh.
Tania Tun Noor, a BBA student of Dhaka City College, held a placard that read: “Shakunera akhono potaka chhareni,” meaning the vultures are still clutching the flag.
“The theme of the placard is that the black hands of Jamaat-Shibir are still clutching our flag and they are trying to take the country backward,” she said.
Around 100 children, aged between four and 15, of Khelaghar Dhaka Mohanagar joined the movement, chanting: “Ar kono dabi nai, Razakarder fashi chai,” which means “we want nothing except for the capital punishment to the Razakars.”
Entire country in ’71 mood
While the capital’s Shahbagh saw a massive demonstration yesterday, many other parts of the country were swept by protests demanding capital punishment to all the war criminals including Abdul Quader Mollah.
The protesters staged sit-in and rallies interspersed with brief cultural programmes and chanted slogans against war criminals and Jamaat-Shibir.
In Chittagong, cultural activists of Bangladesh Udichi Shilpi Goshthi continued their sit-in before the Chittagong Press Club. They sat round with musical instruments, singing songs, reports our correspondent.
Thousands of people joined the sit-in with anti-war crime banners, and placards.
Like the previous two nights, the Jamal Khan area was abuzz with a huge crowd till late at night.
Protesters chanted, “Ektai Dabi — Razakarder Fashi Chai.” The youths sang patriotic and parody numbers.
In the divisional city of Barisal, protesters raised Ekatturer Mancha and staged demonstrations in front of Ashwini Kumar Hall. Students of fine arts painted on the road and organised children’s open painting festival there.
Outraged over the verdict of the International Crimes Tribunal-2 against Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah, thousands of people in Sylhet staged a rally in front of the Central Shaheed Minar for the third consecutive day yesterday.
In Faridpur, leaders and activists of different socio-political and cultural organisations took to the streets at Alipur intersection in the town demanding death sentence to the war criminals.
Besides, the local unit of Sector Commanders Forum and several leftist political parties staged a sit-in at Shatmatha, the centre point of the town. They demanded the government ban Jamaat-Shibir and mete out capital punishment to Quader Mollah.
Protests were also held in Narayanganj, Kishoreganj, Madaripur and Satkhira.
Meanwhile, Industries Minister Dilip Barua yesterday said the youths will expel the fundamentalists from Bangladesh.
He was addressing the opening ceremony of a temple at Kharabagh village in Nesarabad of Pirojpur.
Shahbagh rally unites nation
The ruling Awami League believes the countrywide movement supporting war crimes trial has led to a new beginning to end the unfinished revolution of the Liberation War in 1971.
Terming it a step forward in uniting the progressive and democratic forces, AL says the movement will once again draw a clear line between the pro- and anti-liberation forces.
“The movement will inspire a qualitative change in the country’s politics,” said AL presidium member Obaidul Quader referring to the movement at Shahbagh.
He said such spontaneous movement had not been seen in Bangladesh since the mass upsurge in 1969 and the liberation war in 1971. Through this movement it would be easier to tell who hold the spirit of 1971 and who of 1947.
Obaidul, also the communications minister, yesterday told The Daily Star that the youths had given their message loud and clear. “They have expressed no-confidence in the prevailing ill politics.”
Meanwhile, the main opposition BNP, which had been doubtful about the spirit of the movement and had described it as government-motivated, yesterday said the country had once again proved that it was still able to wake up and unite in any crisis.
BNP Standing Committee Member Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman claimed that they were very much with the movement, as they too support the trial of war criminals. “I personally support this movement. We oppose those who committed crimes against humanity,” he said.
The former Army chief said the youths of the country had once again proved that they could take to the streets in any crisis like they had done in 1971.
However, BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir kept from making any comment on the Shahbagh movement.
The Workers Party of Bangladesh, AL’s ally in the 14-party combine, said those who raised questions about the war crimes trial had remained isolated from the people.
Its president Rashed Khan Menon said the countrywide movement proved that the nation was united in the war crimes trial issue. “It is evident that the trial is not a partisan agenda, rather a national one,” said Menon while addressing a party gathering before attending the Shahbagh movement in the capital.
NO AL LEADERS WILL TALK AT SHAHBAGH
Party insiders said AL President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had advised her party’s top ranking leaders not to give speech at the Shahbagh demonstration, as the opposition might try to give the spontaneous movements a political colour.
The directives came Thursday night after a few of the ruling party leaders and ministers, including AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif, were mistreated by some of the demonstrators of the mass movements.
Imran H Sarker, convener of the Bloggers and Online Activists Network, in his speech yesterday afternoon conducted the following oath at Shahbagh:
“We swear an oath that the leadership of mass people from the Gonojagaran Mancha will continue the movement from Teknaf to Tetulia until capital punishment is handed down on those Razakar and Al-Badr members who committed crimes against humanity like mass killing and rape in 1971.
“We take the oath that we will remain vocal both on the streets and online until politics of war criminal Jamaat-Shibir is not banned and nationality of their members not cancelled.
“We further take the oath that we will continue demonstration demanding trial under a special tribunal of those Razakars and Al-Badr activists who were convicted and under trial but freed after 1975.
“We swear that we will boycott the war criminals’ business entities — Islami Bank, Ibn Sina, Focus, Retina and different other coaching centres. We know through these they collect money to continue with anti-liberation activities.
“We will also boycott the academic and cultural organisations through which they are spreading anti-liberation sentiments among the children. In brief, we will work for banning all the business, social and cultural organisations belonging to Razakars and Al-Badr activists.
“We swear that we will continue with our demand of stringent punishment to Jamaat and Shibir, who have committed crimes of sedation by threatening with a civil war, after making their immediate arrest by recognising them through video footages and newspaper pictures.
“We swear that we will boycott war criminals’ mass media like Diganta TV, daily Naya Diganta, daily Amardesh, daily Sangram, Sonar Bangla Blog, etc.
“We will not subscribe to newspapers of war criminals at any office or house. At the same time, we will request the pro-liberation mass media to boycott war criminals and their accomplices.”