Shahbag is still going strong; the resilience of protestors, untampered.
A Bloodthirsty Mob?
Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Photos: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
The Shahbag Movement, during the time of writing this piece, is in its 15th day. There has been no shortage of enthusiasm, optimism and speculation. To keep the momentum alive, independent groups have organised several activities surrounding the epicentre – and the crowd, while seemingly is decreasing, is rather getting stronger and more convicted.
However, just outside the borders of Bangladesh, the world isn't exactly excited about Shahbag. Numerous coverage across international media has blatantly portrayed the movement as a bloodthirsty mob seeking revenge. The strategies are well under scrutiny and with the retroactive legislation amending the 1973 International Crimes Tribunal Act, whether the war trials can eventually be fair have raised concerns. How can young people of a democracy find comfort in death penalty? What is the evidence? Is the Shahbag Movement truly apolitical? Are people fighting against Islam? What is the future, what are the next steps?
Unsurprisingly, for the people who are still chanting Joy Bangla at Shahbag, the sentiments are different. The trial of war criminals, as repetitively emphasised upon is justice awaited for four decades. The collaboration of major political parties, at one point of the other for their rise of power, with proven war criminals has given them a kind of political legitimacy that is unacceptable. Their stake in state affairs, influence over sidelining fundamentalism through political shrouds and in the process, getting away with crimes as significant as murder, bombing and vandalism are truths that cannot be forgotten. For the people of Bangladesh, Shahbag is the one off opportunity to not only truly protect their country's liberation and state of democracy, but also preserve its secularism and cultural growth for the long run.
But, why the death penalty? For a very long time, the judicial system of the country has been victimised by political expediency. The convicts of the 1975 assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, while sentenced to death penalty in November 2009, were brought under justice 34 years after the incident. Several foils of government under Zia, Ershad and Khaleda (source: The Original Sin by Ahmede Hussain, Star Weekend Magazine, The Daily Star, November 27, 2009) have protected the criminals, and judges, at gunpoint were forced to legitimise despotic rules for different military leaders. High profile and equally awaited, the trial of the war criminals, if does not culminate to death sentence, will most certainly be further tampered with – and those sentenced to life imprisonment will walk scot-free when their party or its allies come into power.
The fight is not against particular political opponents or Islam. The fight is against extremism and the misappropriate use of religion in politics. The fight is for justice, and the separation of political processes from judicial processes. While conversations about clear direction and next steps are in the air, the Shahbag Movement essentially sets tone for an overdue political reform. The fair trial and subsequent execution of war criminals is the starting point where politics should no longer infringe justice. The evidence can be difficult to accumulate, particularly in an inherently corrupt environment and the delay of the trials. Yet, the well-established records of genocide, oral testaments and eye-witness reports of hundreds of thousands of victims testify against the convicted – and speedy, fair trials are well deserved.
As speculations of the Shahbag Movement fizzling out are slowly inching in, the intent has been established. The people have spoken – and irrespective of criticisms, have realised their identity as Bangladeshis. The coined bloodthirsty mob has a much deeper agenda on their minds and their peaceful protests have set direction for generations to come to fight for their rights, their democracy, and their place in their country.
(Sabhanaz Rashid Diya has completed her undergrad from the Department of Media and Communication, Independent University Bangladesh, and founder of the non-profit youth organisation, One Degree Initiative Foundation.)
Can the Shahbag movement be a starting point to political reform?