Issuing an ultimatum to the government to bring war crimes charges against Jamaat-e-Islami and initiate the legal process by March 26 to ban the party, the Shahbagh protesters yesterday announced a series of countrywide programmes beginning today.
The declaration came at a mammoth rally in the capital's Shahbagh in the evening. The rally wound up the nonstop sit-in that began at the intersection on February 5 demanding capital punishment to all the war criminals.
Late at night, Imran H Sarker, a key organiser of the movement, said, "I announce the end of the rally. I request you to go home and we will see you at 10:00am tomorrow [today]."
However, many people were still at the venue around midnight.
As part of the countrywide programmes, special prayers will be held at mosques after Juma prayers as well as at churches, pagodas and temples today.
Organisers told The Daily Star although the protesters would not keep the Shahbagh intersection occupied for 24 hours from today, they will gather at the venue the day before the war crimes tribunal is to deliver a verdict. The aim of this gathering is to resist any possible violence by Jamaat-Shibir.
Yesterday, the 17th day of the protest which coincided with the Amar Ekushey, all eyes were on the "Gonojagoron Mancha" as the movement held its third grand rally.
Hundreds of thousands thronged the Shahbagh intersection, now known as Projonmo Chattar, to join the rally while million others were glued to the TV at home and abroad.
The programmes announced at the rally include holding more grand rallies, demonstrations and cultural programmes at different parts in Dhaka and other divisional cities.
The protesters, who have all along maintained calm and showed respect for all religious beliefs, began yesterday's programme with the recitation of verses from the Holy Scriptures of the four major religions in the country -- the Quran, Gita, Bible and Tripitaka.
After the recitations, thousands of people, irrespective of faith, age, profession and ethnicity, stood as one and sang the national anthem. The rendition of the national anthem and the recitations from the Scriptures showed, once again, that "religion is personal, but the state is for all".
Giving the ultimatum and announcing the programmes, Imran Sarker, said: “We want to clearly state that this Gonojagoron Mancha is firm in its demand for justice for war crimes. We hold nothing against any religion. Rather, our struggle is to end the ill politics of Jamaat-Shibir that exploits religion for political gain."
"With a view to banning politics of Jamaat-Shibir, bring war crimes charges against Jamaat-e-Islami under the amended law [The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973] and start the legal process by March 26," he added.
The spirited protesters, their mood one of unyielding determination, burst into thunderous cheers as he spoke.
People of from all walks of life, mostly dressed in black and imbued with the spirit of the 1952 Language Movement and the 1971 Liberation War, flocked to the Shahbagh intersection to express their solidarity with the protesters. They chanted fiery slogans throughout the day, demanding capital punishment to all the war criminals.
Protesters carried national flags, banners and placards that read: "Death to Razakars" or "Death to war criminals." Many joined the protest directly from the Shaheed Minar.
The crowd stretched from Matsya Bhaban in the east to Kataban intersection in the west and from Hotel Ruposhi Bangla intersection in the north to TSC in the south.
Protesters took to the streets in the afternoon of February 5, hours after Jamaat assistant secretary general Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in prison for war crimes in 1971. Protesters say a life term is too lenient a punishment for Mollah, known as the "Butcher of Mirpur" for his notorious role in the killing of hundreds during the war.
A group of youths, mostly bloggers and online activists, initiated the movement but it soon turned into a people's movement, spreading across the country.
A mass signature campaign will also begin today and continue till March 7 in and outside the country to register people's solidarity with the six-point demand.
“In our veins runs the blood of Shurjoshen and Khudiram. I am here driven by their ideologies,” said Tariq Ali, one of the trustees of the Liberation War Museum.
Jahangirnagar University Vice-chancellor Anwar Hossain, Communist Party of Bangladesh President Mujahidul Islam Selim, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal leader Shirin Akhter, cultural personalities Nasiruddin Yousuff Bachchu, Mamunur Rashid, Sara Zaker, Asaduzzaman Noor, Rokeya Prachi, Ferdousi Majumdar, Ramendra Majumdar, Tropa Majumdar, and journalist Abed Khan, among others, joined the grand rally.
Although attempts were made to co-opt the movement by certain political quarters, the protesters refused to allow any party to do so.
The stage, said the organisers, belonged to the ordinary citizens, activists and bloggers.
As the mass protests continued, grief descended upon Shahbagh as one of their key organisers, Rajib Haidar, was hacked to death on February 14, allegedly by Jamaat-Shibir men. Another protester, Tariqul Islam Shanto, died of a heart attack while taking part in the on February 18.
As the movement gained momentum and spread across the country, Jamaat-Shibir resorted to a smear campaign against the movement, with the help of a few radical Islamist groups in and outside the BNP-led 18-party alliance and media houses.
Terming Projonmo Chattar anti-Islamic, the anti-liberation forces tried to stir controversy and confusion among the general public.
The demonstrators, however, strongly rejected such allegations and the general public, too, dismissed them as fictitious.