Justice delayed is never justice denied
(This piece appeared in the Star Weekend Magazine 2008)
It is yet another lie that the trial and punishment of the war criminals of the War of Liberation 1971 is being demanded, suddenly, after over three decades of supposed hibernation. That is simply not true. Search the newspapers, read the books, comprehend the poems, decipher the message of the street theatre, listen to the jaari gaan… there has been a persistent and consistent demand to try the perpetrators of one of the most heinous crimes in the history of mankind.
In straight Bangla, the 'heinous crime' was that together with the occupying Pakistan forces, brutal and inhuman as they were, their Bengali and Urdu-speaking gangs in the guise of Muslim League, Jamaat-e-Islam, Razakars, Al-badr, Al-shams, etc., unleashed a reign of terror commencing with the ill-famed Operation Searchlight on 25 March 1971 on unarmed Bangali men, women and children, and continuing until their meek surrender to our valiant Muktijoddha and the Indian forces at the then Race Course Maidan, renamed Suhrawardhy Udyan 1971 after the government of Sheikh Mujib banned gambling on horse racing. Over those nine months, the cowards murdered three million Bangalis, raped two lakh women, tortured innumerable people, and torched villages, towns and bazaars.
The fact is that cases were filed, thousands of criminals were arrested, and several were even handed out punishment. BUT, after the murder of Bangabandhu and most of his family in the 15 August 1975 coup that also saw many freedom fighter, Army personnel and politicians as victims, the trials were stopped and the prisoners released by a Presidential Ordinance. Many of them were allowed to flourish politically to counter the freedom-fighters.
“The Collaborators Act was promulgated immediately after the independence in December 1971. Persons accused of different crimes were arrested since January 1972. Proceedings were initiated against the accused from April 1972. General Amnesty was declared on 30 November 1973. A government Press Note appearing on 30 November 1973 stated 'General amnesty will not be applicable to those involved in rape, murder, attempted murder, loot and acts of arson'. Till 31 October 1973, under the Collaborators Act, 37471 were arrested. To expedite the process, 73 Special tribunals were set up and were in operation. Till 31 October 1973, 2884 cases were resolved.
As a result of the General Amnesty by the Bangabandhu-led government, 25719 accused were released. However, cases against 11000 were in various stages. All were not released. A total of 752 were convicted. Of them 11-15 were awarded the death penalty. On 31 December 1975, Ziaur Rahman scrapped the Collaborators Act. As a result, 11000 prisoners including those convicted under the Collaborators Act were released.” (Prothom Alo March 2008)
The trial was not held for so long nor demanded before, are no reasons for either not to take place now, or ever. The current wave is the awakening of the conscience in tandem with the appropriate political climate.
Let us assume for argument's sake that punishment of the war criminals of the War of Liberation was not demanded till now. So what! Just because it was not demanded before is no excuse for not ever demanding it. The question is whether the crime was committed or not.
More recently, the Jamaat-e-Islami leader, a collaborator in 1971, more as a defensive ploy against the rising demand for their trial, said if religion is separated from politics then it is against the principles of the Prophet Muhammad (SWM), and that those who are talking about banning religion-based politics are really talking about banning the ideals of the Prophet. [Janakantha 29 March 2008]. What a fallacious statement! This is exactly how these very traders of religion, I dare not say Islam because they do not know the 'I' of it, tried to mislead the innocent people of this country.
No one is advocating a non-religious society. Why should they? It is not possible. Most of these non-Jamaat politicians are Allah-fearing people. Many of them are practising Muslims, regularly distributing Zakaat, refraining from social ills, maintaining hijaab as is applicable, reciting the Quran and trying to follow it, and have performed Umra and/or Hajj. Likewise, the Hindus, Christians and Buddhists are going about practising their own religious rites. Is that not Islam? Tolerance for all beliefs?
What is being said is that those who use any religion as a political weapon to harm a counterpart, as done in 1971, is not on. Those who use religion to shield their crime and misdoings are not acceptable. In which religion is it deemed right to help Pakistani soldiers to kill Muslims, rape Muslims and torture Muslims simply for demanding their own freedom from a drunken and biased regime? Our religion and our beloved Prophet (SWM) propagate the belief that 'no Muslim should kill another Muslim', and yet that has been done.
We the people of Bangladesh are demanding the trial and then punishment of the war criminals of the War of Liberation 1971, like civilised human beings, not their direct punishment.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010