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Casting off its 1971 baggage

 Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury |  2013-07-29 19:42:01.0  |  New Delhi

We can see in the history of modern states that revolutions are sometimes followed by reactionary repulse. Bangladesh had her version of the tale in 1970s when the nation’s revolutionary birth was hugely offset by the resurgence of Islamist fundamentalist later that decade.

By next two decades, these regressive forces consolidated their revival under the auspice of the military rulers and the centre-right political forces for sheer political expediency of the latter.

But the chief fundamentalist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and its leadership, was just not an ideological aberration from the spirit of revolutionary struggle for independence of Bangladesh; they are also culpable of war crimes and crime against humanity alongside the occupant Pakistani Army in 1971 during the war of independence of Bangladesh.

The startling and vivid evidence of the outcome of such crimes are in abundance in photographs, videos, newspapers, magazines etc., not to mention the multitude of oral tales of millions of common Bangladeshis.

The clamour for the trial of the war criminal was never muted, but varied in loudness in the past due to hostile political atmosphere. Even in that, a widow and mother of a 1971 martyr freedom fighter Jahanara Imam captured the nation’s imagination and mobilised millions of people in demand for the trial of the war crime perpetrators.  

The issue was again reignited in 2007-08 by the movement of Sector Commander’s (Freedom Fighter) Forum. The Awami League incorporated the demand as a commitment in their election manifesto of 2008.

The landslide victory of the party with three-fourth majorities set the motion for the arrest and trial of these accused mostly JI leaders and one or two of the main opposition of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

It took some time for the government, a bit too much perhaps, to actually start the trial, and, in recent days, the verdicts started to pour in. Things, in the meantime, got twisted politically by the Shahbag Movement by the liberal youths demanding capital punishment for all the war criminals and later by the grand rallies of the ultra-orthodox Islamists, e.g., Hefazat-e-Islam (HI) in reaction to some opposition inclined Goebbelsian newspaper propaganda that Islam and its prophet is being desecrated in the writings of atheist Shahbag youth.

Both the generalised accusation of desecration and atheism is found to be untrue and the accusation is partially correct for a tiny few.
The government acted with some measures to stabilise the situation, a bit late though. But substantial damage was done by the false propaganda by then.

The JI and its student wing carried out violent, if not so popular, protests against the verdicts throughout, attacking public and private properties and law enforcing personnel.  Despite their smaller vote share than the main two parties the JI is a well-organised cadre based and hierarchical party with their own social bases and international connections.
They are a faith-based entity and not concerned much with democratic tenets. Democratic façade is a temporal attribute for them; a means to theocracy, not any end ideal in itself. Their organisational strength and its nuisance value is also a cover for the crime committed by their leadership in 1971. Even their lawful subjugation isn’t easy for the Awami League govt.

It’s important for Bangladesh to bury its troubled and divisive post-independence past and look forward to reemerge as a cohesive nation. For all these unresolved contentious issues, the nation remained tied to its past and failed to explore its full progress potential. The completed trial of the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the first major step in the direction of fulfilling the historic obligation, the other essential step being the current one.

Bangladesh was born through a mass revolutionary movement that championed certain progressive ideals, which the Bangladeshis dearly term ‘Muktijuddher Chetona’ (Spirit of the War of Independence), including democracy, secularism, social justice, progressiveness etc.
The JI and some of its like-minded organisations stand in stark contrast to that. This is a seemingly untenable situation given the JI and its leaderships culpable past in relation to killing, rape, arson, torture of the people of the land and active opposition to independence in a watershed period of the nation history.

Proper fulfillment of the historic obligation through the complete trial or war criminals and their organisation will cast off Bangladesh’s past baggage finally and allow this relatively younger nation to look forward without much distraction.  

With general election is just around the corner and the diminishing popularity of the Awami League due to lack of deliverance on developmental and good governance issues another twist on the matter appears to be the writing on the wall. Therefore, the final outcome of this high tautness issue is yet to be seen. 

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