Forty-two years after the Liberation War, sentiments of liberation were rekindled as thousands yesterday refused to leave the street and go home until their demand for capital punishment for war criminals were met.
The spontaneous agitation began on Tuesday afternoon shortly after a tribunal gave life sentence to Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah, and continued throughout the night. The occupation of Shahbagh intersection, initiated by bloggers and activist network went on all day yesterday, with the number of people escalating as the day wore on.
The spirit of the protest spread to other parts of the country, with sit-ins and demonstrations taking place in Chittagong, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sunamganj, Barisal, Rajbari, Noakhali and Narsingdi.
In the capital's Shahbagh, different political parties and their student wings joined the rally that began as a people's movement. The parties include the ruling Awami League, Workers' Party of Bangladesh, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (BSD) and Ganotantrik Bam Morcha.
However, nobody from the main opposition BNP and its student wing, Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, was seen in the rally.
The spirit in Shahbagh was infectious as people broke out in chants of “Tui Razakar” (you're a war criminal) and sang gono shongeet (mass song) in unison.
Art college students painted murals and caricatures of the known war criminals while others made effigies with papers and card boards and hung them from the nearby poles. There was even a life-size game of “Razakar ludu” -- a game of snakes and ladders with the war criminals as the main players.
Street plays and dances lent the event a festive air, without lessening the gravity of the protestors' demand. Candle light vigils and torch processions continued throughout the evening.
“One can't help but feel alive after being here for a few minutes,” said Mohaimmen Kabir, a writer, adding that he hadn't seen such a spirit since the movement against Ershad's autocratic regime in the 1990s.
“It gives me hope to see the youth carry on the fight that we started 43 years ago,” said Nazir Ahmed, a freedom fighter.
Many people from Ahmed's generation echoed his view, saying they were impressed to see the passion and dedication of the youth.
Saying that he had lost hope seeing the war criminals enjoy state power over the past decade, Saiyed Ahmed, another freedom fighter, said: “But now, once again we can collectively fight against our nation's enemies, and our young generations will lead the fight."
Many joined the demonstration after seeing and hearing the news in the media, while others had been attending the demonstration on and off since it began.
“We will stay here till our demand is met,” exclaimed Viqarunnisa student Fairuz Ashraf.
Others around her echoed her sentiment.
Prominent political and cultural personalities gave speeches throughout the day, motivating the crowds.
“The verdict does not fulfill Awami League's demand,” Environment and Forests Minister Hasan Mahmud said at the rally.
He, however, dismissed reports of a mutual understanding between the government and Jamaat.
CPB President Mujahidul Islam Selim said, “When the Pakistani army surrendered on December 16 [of 1971], they agreed formally to withdraw their camps, soldiers and associates from this country.”
Therefore, Jamaat should not be able to function in independent Bangladesh, he argued.
Eminent dramatist and freedom fighter Nasiruddin Yousuff Bachchu said, “I think the centre of the movement has been shifted to the young generation from the freedom fighters.”
Information Commissioner Sadeka Halim rejected the verdict and said she had been driven to the demonstration by her consciousness.
JSD leader Shirin Akhter said people must continue their movement on the streets.
Ministers Shahjahan Khan and Dilip Barua, worker's party president Rashed Khan Menon and its General Secretary Anisur Rahman Mollik, JSD President Hasanul Haque Inu, eminent historian Muntassir Mamoon, sculptor and survivor of the 1971 war crimes Ferdousy Priyobhashini, Jahangirnagar University Vice-chancellor Anwar Hossain, barrister Amir-Ul Islam, singer Mita Haq, AL leaders Nooh-Ul-Alam Lenin and Abdus Sobhan Golap, among others, joined the rally.
Organisers announced the movement would continue today and there would be a grand rally tomorrow. They invited student and youth organisations from all parts of the country to join the event.
"Slogan 71," a pro-liberation organisation formed by a group of Dhaka University students, supplied drinking water among the demonstrators.
When several thousand people joined the Shahbagh demo, members of another pro-liberation organisation "Brittanto 71" were seen patrolling the city streets on a pickup to drum up public support in favour of the demand for death sentence for Quader Mollah.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, the AL high command has directed the party rank and file and all of its associated and like-minded bodies to stage demonstrations across the country to mobilise public support in favour of the war crimes trial.
Accordingly, central party leaders yesterday directed its 73 organisational district units to take to the streets.
“We have directed all our district unit leaders to stage demonstration in favour of the war crimes trial and capital punishment for the war criminals,” AL Organising Secretary AFM Bahauddin Nasim told The Daily Star yesterday.
The verdict that gave life sentence to Quader Mollah did not reflect people's expectations, he said replying to a query.