An Unprecedented Phenomenon– Shahbagh Square Movement 2013

February 16, 2013 2:56 pm 88 comments __
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By Faizul Khan Tanim

“Get up, stand up…stand up for your rights! Get up, stand up…don’t give up the fight!” – And the people of Bangladesh think that these immortal Bob Marley lines are reverberating in quick succession in their might and mind from a realization of ‘Mass Awakening’ kick started by a blogger group at the now Shahbagh Square or Projonmo Chottor (square). The cause is unanimously voted – demanding the highest punishment of the country for the perpetrators/collaborators also known as Rajakars from pre and post independent Bangladesh. Thus an energized, non-partisan, non-violent protest developed from the ‘revolution epicenter’ of Bangladesh and this call for justice and freedom was voluntarily and successfully executed by the wonderful advent of technology, ‘social media’. The reaction was some splendid sequel of events where everyday, thousands of Bangladeshis of this throng to the Shahbagh Square clad in green and red with painted faces with electrifying chants, sporting the belief and only one belief – rajakar der phashi chai (we demand the rajakars to be hanged for committing crimes against humanity in 1971).
Since this is a People’s Movement, this reporter felt it necessary to incorporate some interesting Facebook and Twitter quotes of the mass population. To begin with, this is what was on an educator Dr Faheem Hussain’s Twitter feed: #Bangladesh-i #Youth proved #Socialnetworking is not only about online dating & pic uploading..redefining mass mobilization #Shahbag

The Shahbag Mass Awakening movement of 2013 began on February 5, 2013 with the demand of capital punishment for a renowned rajakar Abdul Quader Molla and all other accused war criminals of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, after a verdict was given by the international crimes tribunal (ICT) which did not sentence execution of Molla and instead gave him life imprisonment. Many citizens felt betrayed and came to believe that under-the-table-dealings have taken place.  On February 5, 2013, the citizens of Bangladesh irrespective of religion, class, creed, political affiliation, took to the streets voluntarily. This event catapulted a wildfire and today, the whole of Bangladesh and Bangladeshis living abroad are participating in a mass revolution to protest against an engineered verdict.


Photo taken by Shahadat Parvez


Until this report was filed, the demonstrators from Shahbag Square said they will not leave the ground until Molla receives capital punishment. Some of their other demands are: Capital punishment for all war criminals, Ban Jamaat from politics, Boycott all Jamaat institutions to name a few.

Rubaiyath Sarwar, head of a development organization said in his Facebook status: I have been trying to learn about the movement as much as possible. Have also followed the livestream. We need a leadership. We need someone to stand out and set an agenda. We have made a statement that Mollah  should get the capital punishment. We have made the point that the government should appeal. I believe the prosecution will get a momentum now. But we need to move forward with one agenda followed by the other. My immediate agenda is to ban Jamaat Shibir and push the government to do so. They are the spawning ground to the political chaos that we have now. Let’s eliminate them. This is the time.

Speaking to a frontline activist of this movement, a blogger, member of blogger online activist network (BOAN) and a journalist Khaledur Rahman Shakil, working as the chief convener of the platform Juddho Oporadh Bichar Moncho (Justice for Genocide) said, “We were anticipating this type of verdict from the beginning as we found out that there are strong lobbyist groups working both inside and outside of the country who were pressing against a fair trial and that is what precisely happened, the verdict was engineered. Therefore, we tried to accumulate a force at both home and abroad and our aim is to continue till Molla is sentenced the highest punishment in this country. If Bachhu Rajakar, who apparently committed less crimes than Molla can get life sentence, it is absurd that Molla will walk away with life imprisonment. We are hopeful that an amendment will be made as stated by the Law minister and since there is a provision in our constitution for the Government to appeal at the High Court, we believe that there is a possibility of a revised verdict.” Even though various media houses have stated that the movement is scheduled to conclude on 14th February, Khaledur Rahman Shakil vehemently denies any such possibility. “These are rumours being propagated by vested quarters. The movement will go on until public demand for capital punishment is met. People want Quader Molla to be hanged, and they will not leave until it has been carried out.”

Shakil added more on the question of a proper leadership of Shahbag Movement that: we are looking at the prospect of that. There are a couple of groups working at the Square who always meet and take unanimous decision. This issue will not be an exception.

Another blogger and activist requesting anonymity said, “Once Molla receives only life imprisonment, there is high possibility that a favorable government of the war criminals coming to power will let Molla walk free. That will by far mark the biggest disgrace of our Judicial System.”

Everyday at Shahbag Square thousands of talented citizens sing patriotic songs, recite poems, chants slogans, arranges screening of films on the history of our Liberation War. Many activists shared their experiences and update the events, posts videos of the environment online and engage in colorful graffiti, street art, face paintings, making phashi chai bandanas, light candles and flower petals representing the map of Bangladesh and project a vibrant revolution free from politics and vested interests.

A student of the Dhaka University, Anika Mariam Ahmed in her social media status said: It’s about solidarity. It’s about kicking out fundamentalism. It’s about not taking sides with AL and BNP. It’s about shouting and for once being heard. It’s about fighting with music and art. It’s about making a start in the right direction. It’s about having a platform for today and tomorrow. It’s quite something.

Speaking to the executive president of Ekattorer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee, Shahriar Kabir said, “This tribunal did not do a fair trial of the mass killings of 1971. This tribunal failed to understand the very spirit of Law. What I fail to understand more is that we are speaking of Mollah’s trial but not the institution behind the criminal masterminds like Saidee, Nizami, Azam and others. There needs to be trial of both the war criminals and also the party which fuels such criminals and their activities, an example which is already set by the Nuremberg Tribunal. This movement at Shahbag Square is phenomenal…this young generation is the second generation of Freedom Fighters and we are proud of them.”

Talking about the trial being engineered, Kabir pointed out that it has been repeatedly told to the law minister and the government to enact a Witness Protection Law otherwise there will be cases where judges will be threatened against a fair trial and witnesses threatened not to testify for this trial. “And now it seems it is precisely what happened. I’m baffled as to why wasn’t this protection law enacted?”

Kabir also aired the same statement as Shakil saying: there is a provision in our constitution for the Government to appeal to the High Court for of a revised verdict.

And within the realms of the current power dynamics, it can be assumed that the coalitions of this country will embrace different preferred ideologies, but the citizens want to be led by the members of a coalition or a party which is pro-liberation, pro-people and most importantly, which will not have any association with the war criminals of 1971 – evident from the on-going movement. And in a question of what will come next in that best case scenario? First, the restructuring of institutions have to be created more efficient, corruption free and rajakar free. An environment has to sustain so that the majority and informed and involved Bangladeshis no longer have to associate with anti-liberation forces.


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