PHOTO: RASHED SUMON
Because We Stood Witness
Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
I remember my friend was once questioned at an international seminar whether Bangladeshis could ever be unquestionably united towards a common cause. Whether, for once, our people wouldn't be divided in opinion or spirit, and retain the incredible unity we exhibit when the Bangladesh Cricket Team wins a match. I wouldn't go into a lengthy commentary on what a loud-mouthed, arrogant and ignorant fool the questioner was. To make matters worse, my friend stuttered while responding to it.
As we head into the 42nd year of our independence and having spent a mere 22 years of life in it, my friend – like many young people – stutter and look around desperately when they are asked about the future of Bangladesh. Ask them about politics, unity or working together – and more often than not, stories of frustration and corruption surface. The reality deems embarrassing and while young people are slowly growing a proactive conscious, the tip of the iceberg can only prove so much.
Therefore, when the International Crimes Tribunal sentenced wartime convict Quader Mollah to life imprisonment, it wasn't expected to create more chaos than the 'usual' burnt buses and partisan hotchpotch. What came as a pleasant and awaited surprise was the nonviolent reaction against the court order. Common people, just like you and me were suddenly swayed by emotions and strongly protested against the unaccepted verdict that didn't accurately punish Mollah for his heinous acts during the 1971 Liberation War. Furthermore, the verdict created scope for other wartime convicts, those who have been at the forefront of innumerable killings and rape to be acquitted with minimal punishments. Injustice would be made against democracy, against the definition of a liberated country and the lives that have been lost to give birth to Bangladesh.
On the afternoon of 5th February 2013 after the court issued its order, Shahbagh witnessed a rapid transformation. Roads that are usually clogged with traffic became filled with people from every walk of life, united to protest against the court order. At dusk, candles were lit, songs of rebellion and slogans of liberation sung and people kept pouring in. What may seem like a usual gathering of crowds was infact history being created. Rickshawalas, students, teachers, businessmen, the boy next door, the mother who watches Hindi serials, the child who reads misinterpreted history of '71, the artists, the journalists, the activists, the lazy kid, young and old – everyone was there. Suddenly, Dhaka was no longer a segregated place of concrete apartments; rather an incredible force of people who came without differences and believed in freedom.
The protest continued all night. Strangers brought food from home to feed everyone, the rich and poor shared a smoke and streets became heated living rooms. There was no loud political commentary, no partisan recitals – yet everyone knew their common cause. The protests led to the following day, the following night – and at the time of writing this piece, till the court orders a more just verdict. The movement spread across the country, peaceful yet powerful, led by commoners yet signifying the greatest strength given to a democracy, and we despair changing to hope.
I wrote this piece today because I want people to remember. I want young people to never stutter again and witness, in their time, the courage shown by their countrymen. At the edge of soft global political diplomacy, I want people to reflect on this day when we shed our agendas and came together to hope, to dream, and to save a liberated Bangladesh.
(Sabhanaz Rashid Diya is a graduate from the Department of Media and Communication at Independent University Bangladesh, and founder of the nonprofit youth organisation, the One Degree Initiative Foundation.)