How our generation sees Shahbag
by Khushi Kabir
[AoD Editors: This written during the second week of Shahbagh. Though situation on ground has changed a great deal since then, we are sharing with bloggers to look at an earlier perspective when the movement first started]
I have several differences with some of my closest friends on this issue, a) those not participating fully in the movement b) those who pay occasional visits for a couple of hours at most, c) those who are outside the country so don’t get the pulse, d) those in the country and never go. Some differences are on semantics, as well in content, some in regard to positions taken. This understanding of what is happening is something that unless one is part of, it is difficult to describe.
The Shahbagh phenomena grows, it changes, slogans change. It is organic and developing as per demands of the day. I have been there from the moment it began on the 5th February with less than a few hundred gathering, to what it is now, a national movement of epic size, which I certainly have not seen in terms of the numbers gathered at one spot, in the last few decades and definitely not in the number of days it has been sustaining itself.
People were skeptical it would not last over a week. It is now almost one month.
It is true that it is the generation born after 1971 who are in the lead. They are trying to ensure that this does not get taken over by the ‘elders’, the known leaders, many of whom hover in the centre everyday. The ‘elders’, the cultural activist leaders, the professional’s federation etc. have started their own programme from yesterday, March 1, as they always do each year.
Shahbagh belongs to the youth. Women are there in large numbers and are in the forefront of giving slogans, which has been the mainstay and life of this movement.
Now to give you and put forward very briefly, how I have seen this movement. There is no one single group in leadership. Though after the killing of one of the bloggers, one face is now the public face, a Dr. Imran. This probably due to security reasons, but he is not the only decision maker.
It started with a call from a group of bloggers, after the verdict given on Kader Mollah’s case, who thought they would do a human chain at Shahbagh crossroad, near the Museum. A venue popular for human chains, as it is very central. On the other side of the long avenue is the Teacher Student Centre of the Dhaka University. Various student organisations, esp from the left, decided to join them from the University area with a torch light procession. We joined that group and met and merged with the bloggers at Shahbagh. By nightfall, the area got crowded and the movement gained momenturm.
The next day, it grew bigger and bigger. Now why did this gain such a momentum? Kader Mollah’s verdict is the second verdict in the tribunal. The first was Abul Kalam Azad, who was commonly known as Bachu Razakar. Bachchu Razakar mysteriously left the country just a couple of days before his trial began. He was found guilty in one case and given death penalty in absentia. On the other hand, Kader Mollah also known as the butcher of MIrpur, is in custody, had witnesses, even now people are stating and giving eye witness accounts of his role in murder, rape etc. was found guilty in 5 cases, given life sentence in one and other sentences ranging from 5 years to 15 years, all concurrently, not consecutively.
This apparently duality in the verdict of both cases is what triggered the movement. People felt that if Kader Mollah who was one of the main people behind the genocide of 1971, gets life sentence with enough evidence (though some of my friends differ with me on this, but the fact remains that the Court found him guilty) then the other more important criminals who are awaiting trial, and the fear that the verdicts of the others would also be much less, depending on what position the accused holds.
The message as I understood from people at the movement is this, it is not just the fear that the next Government which may well be BNP/Jamaat would give amnesty, but that they, the gen. public had no faith in the present Govt. not doing a deal and letting them off. The young people had enough of compromises and underhand dealings and wanted to state that though they were born after the liberation war, they were sick of major political parties playing politics of convenience with our own history.
As many have mentioned and media has played this up, women are very visible in this movement. Parents come with their kids and young teenaged daughters. Women feel safe walking up and down the streets alone without fear of being harrassed. Lucky Akter has become a household name as the best slogan giver able to arouse masses. People are there day and night. the masses are there 24/7.
Of course political analysts do not understand how and why ‘the masses’ are mobilised without a party backing them or funding them. ‘People of course can not or do not ever make their own decisions or choices’ can they? They are merely objects, so how can they act? So, it gives great fodder for debates, discusions, talk show analysis.
Regarding demands. The one demand that hit me as it hits many others is the demand for ‘phashi’ , hanging. Talking to people, both those in the centre, I am just putting forward their explanations, ( though I did say there is no one leadership, the bloggers, some youth groups, some students groups sit every evening to discuss next plan of action. Here I should state that they have and belong to different ideologies), capital punishment is being demanded because a) it exists in our laws and they want the war criminals to get maximum punishment and b) because they don’t trust our Governments and fear that after this trial, any chance for the trials of war criminals will be lost forever.
People want to take back the liberation war as their war, not a party or a military or an Indian war.
The hero of this movement is Jahanara Imam who had given the call for the trail of all colaborators. She died of cancer, but she is the name, the picture, the passion behind the movement, not Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Her portrait towers over the centre and is on every wall of the avenue.
The other demand was ‘who am I, who are you, Bangalee, Bangalee’. Recently Shathi Chakma gave a call over facebook, emails, sms, blog, went to the centre, read out a statement as to how alienated this slogan made all indigenous/adivasis feel. We all, along with Indigenous leaders from all communities went with her to ensure that their voices are heard and registered.
Even if most of those leading the slogans are women, the slogans themselves were very male centric. Nahid, Rahnuma, Shipra all of us have started chanting women centric or gender neutral slogans, That too is now taking on. We have now taken up the banner of Bikhhubdo Nari Samaj and sit every evening on the avenue, many young people, both men and women join us and we talk about how this movement needs more women centric demands.
Our biggest issue being, though women are present in large numbers, there is no feminist perspective. That one of the biggest crimes committed were the rapes, but that has not been given the priority neither by the prosecutors, in the trial, nor the media. That the ‘vcitmisation’ of women during war is a deliberate and patriarchal ‘weapon’ used against those being subjugated.
The killing of one of the bloggers and then trying to divert attention by claiming that the blogger was an atheist has been in my eyes a big big negative, now with people in the centre and periphery trying to prove that they are all believers.
My advice for what it may be worth to all is, since this is happening, we don’t know if we will ever witness such a happening again, let us join the movement, raise our slogans, our voices, our demands and this is the time that we can bring feminist and secular demands to a mass uprising.
The recent violence all over Bangladesh is now our current worry. We are all in need of support and strength to fight this. Not to allow AL to take over.
That is what the Political parties want, to take control. It would be a pity if that were to happen. But the fear remains, as the massacre and actions against minorities, non Jamatis, police, Awami supoorters has taken on huge proportions which will need state machinery to fight it. I will end by stating that the movement is a political movement but not a partisan movement.
Khushi Kabir was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for her work at Nijera Kori, which has helped organise over 175,000 landless people in Bangladesh’s rural areas since 1980.