Loud and clear: Bangladeshi youth choose their platform


 Dhaka Tribune, April21, 2013

The next generation has found its voice through the Internet


  • Photo- DhakaTribune

I never knew how active Bangladesh, as an entire country, was virtually until the Shahbag story broke out on social media this year. You can have your opinions about the movement, be dismissive or inspired, but one thing few can argue is that online activists played a critical role in using the Internet to organise and spread the story, and got thousands of young Bangladeshis to work together.

The role technology is playing in current events in Bangladesh is revolutionary. It was Bangladeshi online activists and bloggers who first protested Kader Mollah’s verdict, demanding the death sentence, used social media to spread the word, and staged sit-ins. That set off the series of events which have brought us to the present day. The recent crackdown on bloggers confirms the power online activism enjoys.

The participation of women in this movement is also unique. Many attribute this to the fact that women in Bangladesh have been organising at the grassroots level for decades. Seeing female leadership in Bangladesh is not really something new to us, despite our patriarchal cultural roots. We have managed to have women in major leadership roles across the board. The Arab Spring may have showed the world how to use social media to build one’s political platform, but this generation of Bangladeshis showed the nation, and the world, how to use the Internet to try to finally gain closure from a bloody Liberation War from which the nation is still struggling to fully recover.

The view from abroad as a Bangladeshi was electrifying. Almost immediately my Facebook and Twitter feeds became consumed with the word “Shahbag.” It did not take long to figure out what my fellow Bangladeshis were talking about, or reach across the oceans and find one another.

As the “Western media” grappled with why thousands of youth were pouring into Dhaka’s streets, and holding images of the hang-man’s noose, Bangladeshis from Dhaka to Dallas were tweeting one another, connecting online, and reaching out to Bangladeshi writers around the world to ensure accurate coverage of Shahbag in the mainstream media.

In the first few weeks of the Shahbag story, my posts were a direct result of the information I received from my social media contacts. Those who reached out to me did so to get the word out on a story that was largely being overlooked and misinterpreted. People I had never met were emailing me links, articles, and pictures to tell the world that the youth in Bangladesh would not sit idly by, while politicians paved their future without their participation. Bangladeshis, in Dhaka and across the world, were creating uproar on the streets of Dhaka and in the pathways of the Internet. The energy was palpable, and I felt an instant patriotic connection with my fellow Bangladeshis, a majority of whom were people I had never met.

Although millions of people organise nearly millions of causes every day online, I had never experienced this camaraderie amongst my fellow countrymen. I grew up being told that my generation was passive and uninterested in the future of our country. As our parents recovered from 1971, we grappled with a Bangladesh in many ways at war with herself.

What the Shahbag movement showed me, as a Bangladeshi not living in Bangladesh, is that my generation is informed, politically aware, protective of its history, and is online. It showed me that we are not apathetic about the future of Bangladesh. We may have fallen into a coma spanning four decades since 1971, but the youth of Bangladesh, across the world, are awake. Barriers that separate Bangladeshis across social customs, class and gender all seemingly disappear online. When “Internet trolls” harassed female writers online, myself included, fellow Bangladeshis I had never met came to my defence. Sometimes groups even organised online to stand up for us, and defend our work.

So, while what is being done is nothing new, what is exciting is that Bangladeshi youth are doing it, too: Using the Internet to connect and communicate so as to cultivate a better path for the future of this country.

This generation of Bangladeshis understand the power of online organising and is using it. Call me idealistic and naïve, but it is so electrifying and inspiring that it makes me believe and want to work for the kind of Bangladesh whose dream we keep nestled deep in our hearts.

By positioning themselves at the forefront of these protests, Bangladeshi women and Bangladeshi youth are using their voices, and breaking an age-old myth that this generation is voiceless when it comes to our country’s politics and future. Shahbag changed all that. The voice of the new generation of Bangladeshis is informed, organised, aware, active and online. The question is: Are you listening?
Anushay Hossain is a Bangladeshi born-Washington based policy analyst. She writes the blog, Anushay’s Point (www.AnushaysPoint.com)

 

Bangladesh -Jamat-e-Islami misguiding international human rights bodies


Thursday, 07 March 2013 20:28by Farooq Sulehria , viewpointonline.com

The Communist Party of Bangladesh or Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dol (Socialist Party) have been unwavering in their commitment to the war criminal trials

‘Sadly, the Awami League has not fully restored the 1972 constitution – the present constitution is a strange chimera – it has Islam as state religion and also says that that the republic is secular, at the same time !,’ says Garga Chatterjee.

He is a political commentator on the sub-continental issues. His articles are regularly published from newspapers and magazines in Lahore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Dhaka, Sri Nagar, Delhi, and Kathmandu. By profession, he is a brain scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Read on:

You were recently in Dhaka. Tell us about the unrest that has gripped the country of late.

I was in Dhaka recently when the protests at Shahbag were going on in full swing. The protests started when one of the war criminals of 1971, a Bengali killer-collaborator called Kader Mollah, was handed down a life sentence. The initial protest organizers, sort of an informal alliance between a network of bloggers and certain secular and left student organizations, snowballed into a continuous protest against the verdict. People from many walks of life, especially women and youth, joined in. People who have seen protests in Dhaka before told me that they have not seen anything this big since the pro-democracy protests against General Ershad. Some say this even dwarfs that. Soon enough, the demands on the protesters went beyond asking for death penalty for Kader Mollah. This finally coalesced in to the 6-point demand from the ‘Projonmo Chottor’, which is the informal name for the Shahbag demonstration – which roughly translates as the Generation Campus/Square.

The 6-points are:

1. Maximum penalty for all war criminals including Kader Molla.
2. Ensuring equal legal rights of both defendant and prosecution, ensuring 3-month time limit on all trials, abolishing clemency power of the state for these trials.
3. Banning Pakistani aggressor force’s allies Jamat-Shibir and all communal parties for resisting Bangladesh liberation and committing war crimes. Immediate arrest and justice for activists of Jamat-Shibir for threatening a civil war by identifying through television and print media pictures.
4.  Bring all the political parties, forces, individuals and organizations who are trying to safeguard these war criminals, resisting the trials and conspiring with them to justice.
5. Arrest and bring under ICT Trials all the war criminals who were either convicted or undergoing trial till their release on December 31, 1975
6.  Ban all the business, social and cultural organizations like Islami Bank, Ibn Sina, Focus, Retina Coaching, etc. Block all the local and foreign sources of income of Jamat-Shibir. Shut down war criminal owned media organizations like Diganta TV, Daily Naya Diganta, Daily Amar Desh, Daily Sangram, blogsite SonarBangladesh.com , etc.

The last point is significant because Jamaat and its cohorts run one of the largest business networks in Bangladesh.

Also, solidarity protests have been held beyond Dhaka in almost all parts of Bangladesh. I myself saw protests in Barisal being held in front of the Ashwini Dutta Town Hall. Certain progressive-left cultural troupes like Udichi are taking a very active role in organizing these- through singing songs of Liberation war and also Bangla songs of Robindronath, Dwinjendro Lal Ray and other stalwarts.

There are extempore paintings being done by local artists. In Shahbag, at any point, 2-3 film screenings, 4-5 street theatres and numerous small gatherings (jotlas) were happening side by side with the central assembly. The atmosphere was electric – nothing like what I have ever seen before, and being from Calcutta, I have been to many protests, including the much talked about Delhi rape protests.

It is being commented that people are asserting the secular identity of their country. Why this stress on war crimes. What is the link between the secular identity and the war crimes?

People in Shahbag are indeed asserting the importance of secular politics. This is evident in their slogans and in the absence of informal obeisance to this religion or the other, which take place in many other ‘secular’ scenarios. Apart from brief Namaj [prayer] breaks, I noticed nothing that had any particular stamp. What was interesting that most of the assemblies were not talking of ‘true Islam’ or ‘true Hinduism’ but of a politics bereft of the use of religion. I am not sure whether Shahbag’s strand of hard secularism is representative of Bangladesh as a whole, but Shahbag is a political act and in that, it aims for a change, rather than simply reflect what is. So Shahbag’s secularism is derived partly from the present polity but also is trying to project a political programme. Interestingly, this separation of religion from politics is something that is enshrined in the 1972 constitution, which the military rulers removed. Sadly, the Awami League has not fully restored the 1972 constitution – the present constitution is a strange chimera – it has Islam as state religion and also says that that the republic is secular, at the same time!

The question of war crimes is central to this movement. The 1971 Liberation war is the central defining event that resulted in the nation-state of the people’s republic of Bangladesh. That central fissure, of those for and those against the idea of Bangladesh, remains unresolved – as those against the idea have retained considerable clout in politics. They have tried to systematically distort history. The War crimes are important because in spite of all the distortion, except a few religious cranks, no one really disputes that they really happened. The war criminals represent a festering wound – of the kind few nation-states have. Imagine having the butcher of Jallianwalabagh being a minister in post-British Punjab! Then you start getting an idea of what we are talking about. The war crimes trials are a short-hand for historical justice, but also for many, something that needs to be resolved so that those who opposed independence violently can be delegitimized in politics.

The link between secular identity and war crimes is important. The war crimes happened in the name of preserving the unity of the Islamic state, Pakistan. The Hindus of East Bengal were victims of war crimes in disproportionately high numbers. Even in 1971, the pro Liberation forces were touted to be anti-Islam for being pro-Bengali. In this nation-state, Muslims form a progressively stupendous majority. So, the demand for war crimes trial, also is part of the demand the calls for a return to the ‘ideals of 71’ – which, in theory, is not communal.

Do you think there are lessons for other Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, in this movement?

There are important lessons for other countries with large Muslims majority populations. The Shahbag protests are quite different from the other iconic protest of recent times- the Tahrir Square. Unlike Tahrir, in Shahbag Islamists were not part of the protests. So beyond superficial comparisons, Shahbag is quite different – in composition, in political direction, in participation and leadership of women ( leading some pro-Jamaat groups and clerics to call Shahbag a den of vice and prostitution!). Shahbag also underlines the role of long-term political organizing in Muslim-majority societies that may be missed in the ‘spontaneity’. Make no mistake about it, without the student and youth organizations of the political left, there would be no Shahbag. I remember a cartoon by Sabir Nazar that was printed in The Friday Times, where he shows the successive destruction of ‘minorities’ in Pakistan – Hindus, Ahmadis, Sunnis and then a bullet coming towards the Sunnis. In Bangladesh, this politics of ‘purification’ is something that was countered, albeit incompletely, during 71. Given the devastating effects of finding the one pure faithful befitting Pakistan, Shahbag, in its prioritizing the issue of genocide and war crimes of 71, brings to front, what solution such ‘purifying’ politics leads to. In all places, where minorities are living a threatened existence, Shahbag should act as a political message. From Shahbag, there have been slogans that venerate Surya Sen and Pritilata Waddeddar. These ‘Hindu’ freedom fighters from 80 years ago were centre of mass slogans by an assembly that was largely Muslim. Can Pakistan conceive of a politics where Bhagat Singh can have a similar status? These are issues that need to be reflected upon.

Jamaat was feared in Bangladesh. It seems that fear is disappearing. Your comments.

This is something I heard at many places. Many said, if Shahbag has done one thing, it is this – earlier, in many places, the ‘commoner’ would criticize Jamaat in a low voice. Now they swear openly at it.

The Jamaat and its associates are a marginal but significant political force in Bangladesh. The silence was due to their terror techniques. Especially notorious is their student wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir. The similarity with the IJT’s terrorizing of campuses in Pakistan is striking.

Has Jamaat-e-Islami been on the defensive? Is it true that JI members have been killed by Awami League? Or is it the case that Jamaat has been targeting opponents. In Pakistan, Jamaat is propagating that their members have been killed by Awami League activists?

If the 6 demands of Shahbag are fulfilled, then Jamaat will be severely compromised politically – though their strand of politics will find other outlets. So for JI, this is a battle for political survival. They are fighting back on all fronts. In any case JI cadres are brain-washed to believe that they are perennially besieged. They are doing online propaganda, trying to misguide international human rights organizations, and on the streets, they are doing looting, killing and arson. Very recently, they have been targeting Hindu and Buddhist temples, homes and businesses to create a riot-like situation. The state forces of Bangladesh have come down in a heavy handed manner – so it is incorrect to say that Awami League (AL) is killing them now. It is true that AL, BNP and Jamaat have been involved in murderous clashes. The student and youth wing of the Awami League has been particularly violent in the last 2 years – but most of it has been feuds between AL factions. The student wing of the Jamaat however is the most notorious, having earned the terrifying epithet of ‘rog-kata’ or ‘muscle/tendon cutters’.

What has been the role of Awami League and other mainstream parties during these trial? Also, what about the left: its stand and level of participation?

The AL has been formally supportive of the trial. This was one of their elections manifesto pledges. They have however mismanaged the trial but nominating a bunch of loyal but worthless lawyers in the prosecution side. Also the tribunal does not have much resources. This has led many to question whether AL really wants the trial and prosecution of war criminals. AL has earlier made underhand deals with many powers, including the Jamaat. However, this time, the tenor of the struggle on the ground is different.

The left organizations, like the Communist Party of Bangladesh or Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dol (Socialist Party) have been unwavering in their commitment to the war criminal trials. They have been trying to follow a line of tactically criticizing the AL to keep it in line with its election manifesto commitments on the war trial issue. The AL smells election benefits of Shahbag, if it can channelize the youth vote, which is an increasingly large part of the electorate. At the same time, AL knows that the widespread support and participation in Shahbag has happened as it was no explicitly partisan. It is a case of the goose that lays the golden eggs. AL wants to steal the eggs – however, it also knows that trying to do that too brashly, will kill the goose.

Farooq Sulehria is currently pursuing his media studies. Previously, he has worked with Stockholm-based Weekly Internationalen. In Pakistan, he has worked with The Nation, The Frontier Post, The News, and the Pakistan. He has MA in Mass Communication from the University of Punjab, Lahore. He also contributes for Znet and various left publications internationally.

Voices from Bangladesh- Youth Power #Sundayreading


 

 Shayantani,

In Bangladesh political parties are mired in corruption. Amongst ordinary people, there is little hope of achieving positive change through party politics. The brutal stabbing of Bishwajit in December 2012 in front of hundreds of people reveals this to be a country deeply divided by communal tensions. The destruction of Ramu in late 2012 show that this is a countr­­y where religious fundamentalists dare to burn down an entire Buddhist village. This is a country where the murder of a journalist couple in February 2012remains uninvestigated and the killers remain unpunished. This is a country where war criminals and perpetrators of genocide have the privilege of being members of parliament.
We, the youth, had almost forgotten that we are the strength of this country. For so long we forgot that Bangladesh was born as a secular, democratic country. We forgot that we have the power to change our future. We forgot how to stand up for justice. We, the people did not know how to raise our voice.
On the 5th of February 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) delivered a verdict on Abdul Quader Mulla. Widely known as ‘koshai Quader’ (butcher Quader), he is a leading member of the political party Jamat Islaami and was prosecuted at the ICT for killing 344 people during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Abdul Quader Mulla was sentenced to life imprisonment. It was a day that has taken on special significance for my generation and for the history of Bangladesh. The first verdict passed by the ICT was against Mawlana Abul Kalam. Known as ‘Bachchu razakar,’ he was sentenced to death for killing one family during 1971. The question arose: if Bachchu gets life sentence for killing one family, why did Quader Mulla only receive lifetime imprisonment for killing hundreds of people and raping an eleven year old child? It smells of corruption.
Rumors began to circulate that the justice of the tribunal delivered such a verdict under the influence of a bribe or a threat. The people of Bangladesh were devastated. Would there never be justice for the heinous crimes committed in 1971? They lost all hope and they were angry. The crimes committed at the very birth of the nation need to be addressed if we are to change the corrupted system. If we cannot bring justice for the crime that has been committed 42 years ago, how will we demand justice for all other crimes in recent times? If we cannot bring those to justice who were against the birth of the nation and still working against the nation’s welfare, will there be any moral ground for fighting corruption and injustice?
Around 4 pm on 5th February, through social network sites and receiving phone calls from friends, we received news that a group of bloggers had gathered near Shahbag, the heart of Dhaka. Hearing that many passersby had stopped to support them I immediately felt like perhaps there was some hope for justice. I rushed to Shahbag to stand with them. There were about 50 people sitting on the street. I sat with them. Some of the bloggers instructed us to guard the periphery and by the evening, there were several hundreds of people gathered. The surprising part was that all these people were young. These were Bangladeshis who never saw war of liberation. They never saw the rape of women and children in 1971. But all of them were united for one purpose: the highest possible punishment under Bangladesh law for war criminals.
By the second day, thousands of people had gathered at Shahbag. With the help of press coverage and electronic media, across the nation people came to know about the protest at Shahbag and began to gather in their respective districts. Within 3 days, the number of people at Shahbag exceeded half a million and the number kept increasing.
So far, this has been the biggest social movement that I have seen in my life. It is the largest non violent movement since the birth of Bangladesh and globally it is one of the biggest uprisings against religious fundamentalism in recent history. The youth identified politics driven by Islamic fundamentalism as the root of the problem. Their anger focused in on the terror unleashed on Bangladesh by Jamaat-e-Islami and their student arm, Islami Chhatra Shibir. Members of these parties slaughter innocent people in the name of Islam. The youth identified ‘Jamaat-Shibir’ driven business, health, education and media organizations and vowed to boycott them. The youth demand the elimination of political parties based on religion. We demand that we proceed towards a secular Bangladesh.
Against all odds, Bangladesh won the war in 1971, which gave us independence. The youth of 1971 were fearless and patriotic. They fought till their last breath. They fought for justice. And now history is repeating itself. We are fighting a war now in 2013. Our weapons are candles, paint brushes, colors, music and our voices.
We have found our voice and we know now how to raise it. We stand up for justice and what’s right. At Shahbag we are building a platform from which we can stand up against crime and corruption. We are the strength of Bangladesh. In fact, we are the strength of the world.
visit her blog at -http://shayantani-twisha.blogspot.in/

 

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