Shahbagh seized by the people

Shahbag seized by the people
Text & Photographs by Awrup Sanyal

Image: Awrup Sanyal
Image: Awrup Sanyal

Shahabag seized by the people, reverberates with slogans– “Ami kay, tumi kay? Bangali, Bangali”.

“Jamati Islam, made in Pakistan”.
The crowd swells by the minute: students, office goers, families, old and young; zil…lions of signatures are being scribbled on long strips of cloths; a retail economy thrives selling food, beverages, water, flags, headbands and all kinds of wares; big screens have come up playing old patriotic films and TV plays; multiple pools of candle light vigils, accompanied by slogans, drum beats, songs rattle and hum; mock trials and mock hangings are enacted on a special set created for the purpose; every surrounding surface is draped with banners and posters; OB vans, camera cranes and newsmen abound; the police and the RAB watch in ‘attention’.

Image: Awrup Sanyal
Image: Awrup Sanyal

The center island of the Shahabag intersection has become the main stage from where slogans, speeches, songs and call for justice pour out relentlessly. Joy Bangla, Mujib’s iconic slogan, till now Awami Leagues’ property, has been reclaimed by the people. Calls for boycott of all Razakar businesses and establishments are being made.

The whole zone is WiFi-ed and people are uploading and reporting instantly from their hand-helds.

This is a siege, up till now a siege by the polity.

[Text excerpted from a longer p0st on Facebook.]


  1. awrup, can you please quote some of the calls for justice as opposed to simply hanging . have you seen the gallows – do you have any comment on that

    • Below are sample slogans from what I have seen on facebook:
      Slogan 1: Tumi k? Ami k? Bangali! Bangali
      Slogan 2: Ekta ekta shibir dhor. Dhoira dhoira jobai kor
      Slogan 3: PhaNshi, PhaNhi, PhaNshi, chai! PhaNshi chara rai nai.

      So no, this is not a call for justice. This is a call for revenge, for retribution.This is Bengali nationalism at it’s worst

      • I disagree. Bengali nationalism at its worst is in Chittagong Hill Tracts, under Bengali settler and Military occupation since the 1970s, and with ever-increasing force since the (nor fraudulent) 1997 CHT Peace Accord which was never implemented.

        But I wonder if you will protest that particular Bengali nationalism?

      • I will and I do. The sentiments that fuel this hatred for Jamaat ponthi, is the same one that fuels the aggression in CHT– our fear and outright rejection of the ‘Other’ that does not rejoice with pride in Bengali nationalism

      • Thanks for also protesting the aggression in CHT.

        But I disagree with drawing a parallel between CHT Jumma and Jamaat. Radically different issues and a comparison like that would just flatten the specific shape of each situation.

        More on this later.

  2. [This comment combined from two posts by Sanyal.]

    Sara Hossain, In this particular post (that Naeem reposted from my facebook status update, with my permission) was a direct reportage of what I heard and saw on the 10 February, around 9 pm at the Shahbag intersection, popularly being called Projonmo Chottor. The main slogans both offline (Shahbag) and online (facebook primarily, and other blogging sites) have primarily been about ‘rajakarer phaNshi chai’— the main theme, one can say. Have there been banners or slogans asking of broader justice and due process? Yes, there have been some, but that’s not the dominant emotion, I am afraid.

    This movement has many layers to it. It has some positives. It’s, I believe, still a response of the polity, and not a front for any political party. There have been cases where AL ministers and officials have been turned away because they don’t want the main stage to be usurped for or by any political agenda. Lucky Akhter, a prominent voice of the movement, has been attacked by BCL official, who had come with a minister Toffael Ahmed (sorry If I have the name muddled up) because she refused to let them use the platform for any political speech. This has also come about at a time when the J-e-I was wreaking havoc, killing people, police, burning properties, calling hartals, and demanding release of their leader with ultimatums of a civil war; where the political parties were basically doing what they do, looking after their own power-hungry agendas— in that sense this was a citizen’s response, primarily the youth’s response. There is also another narrative: the demand to ban religion-based politics. Side-by-side, also a demand to boycott all Rajakar businesses (a list has been generated and circulated with all the Rajakar businesses, like Ibn Sina, Medinova, Digonto TV, Islami Bank, to name some). I would go on to say, this is also an emotional response of the polity – after being let down again and again by the political leaders – because they feel emasculated.

    Yes, I have seen the mock gallows, the mock hangings. Headbands saying “phaNshi chai” being sold (quick monetizing of the ‘revolution’), for example amongst other such memorabilia. The ‘noose’ is the most prevalent symbol in the Chottor. I am afraid – I have talked to some of these young people who are at the forefront of this movement – it’s an emotional issue and very focussed on the verdict, and the feeling is that this is what has brought the people together, and it can’t be diluted.

    Many, Naeem here, Navine Murshid in her ‘rant’ (, Jalal Alamgir’s article from the Forum, Daily Star, dating back to 2010 (, and I on my facebook status update of 7 Feb (given below), and other voices have been asking to focus on justice and due process, and not the narrow agenda of revenge.

    [My facebook status update of 7 February: Shahbag: a great development, probably, underway; only time will tell.

    Firstly, the youth has been galvanized, in a politics that is about existence, honour, justice and rights.

    Secondly, and the more important one, topically, it is a coming together of a united voice against the Jamaat – outside of partisan politics – of the citizenry.

    But, thirdly, and this is where I am circumspect, it is also about ‘baying for blood’, ‘eye for an eye’. The people that have come together can’t possibly be displaying the behaviour of the Jamaatis, then where is the difference in principles of justice? I would like to believe that this gathering is seeking justice, not revenge. They are two different things. The latter puts us at the same level with the ones we want be tried for their crimes, because that is their credo. This has to be above that, even if this sounds unpopular.

    I am rather for the call for justice being meted out to all the perpetrators of war crimes. Should have happened long ago, but never too late. But I, personally, don’t support capital punishment. The offenders will have to be tried and slotted for life, and once vindicated their rights taken away just like they violated other people’s rights — let them live in ignominy. Death takes away the suffering that they so richly deserve too easily.]


    Here’s a rejoinder and a clarification to my comment above.

    I had written, “Lucky Akhter, a prominent voice of the movement, has been attacked by BCL official, who had come with a minister Toffael Ahmed (sorry If I have the name muddled up) because she refused to let them use the platform for any political speech.” I must say that I haven’t been an eyewitness to this incident and was referring to or reporting this from a video post on facebook ( Another post ( claims that Lucky Akhter has clarified that ‘she was struck from behind by someone’.

    Therefore, anyone reading my comment should please take in to consideration the conflicting ‘posts’, whose veracity I can’t vouch for.


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