Can Dhaka bury the 1971 skeleton
The project of consolidating a secular Bangladesh is an ongoing on, and the ruling Awami League government is leaving no stone unturned as far realizing that dream is concerned. However, there are too many hurdles in its road, the biggest being the backlash from Islamist factions over a slew of measures that the Sheikh Hasina-led regime has taken, be it the sentencing of the 1971 war criminals, or the banning of the fundamentalist group Jamaat-e-Islami, and the latest, giving death penalty to the ‘Butcher of Bengal’, Abdul Quader Mullah. Mullah, who was found guilty by a special war crimes tribunal in February and sentenced to life in prison, had appealed the initial verdict, but the five-member panel headed by the Bangladesh chief justice M Muzammel Hossain ruled that he derved nothing but death penalty for his crimes against humanity, massacring families during a Pakistani army crackdown in Dhaka in March 1971. Though the efficacy of capital punishment is heavily questioned by human rights activists the world over, clearly, until it is abolished altogether, it would continue to be served whenever the harshest of punishments permissible under the law of a particular country would deemed fit to be granted.
Nevertheless, Bangladesh needs to gear up for communal tensions that are likely to be sparked off the sentencing of Mullah, especially from the religious hardliners who are out to hijack the good work done by the ruling Awami League government as far as development fused with the idea of a secular nation is concerned. As the protests at Shahbag Square in Dhaka earlier this year had established, the Bangla youth are hungry for a reconfigured nation and they are ready to shed the baggage of 1971, in case the perpetrators are brought to book. Evidently, while the debates are still raging in the country whether banning a party or doling out death penalty would fundamentally alter the fabric of the nation, which has witnessed a systematic decline in the number of Hindus in its population, what is important is that Bangladesh gives it people a fresh chance.