Shahbag movement lives on

Directed at channeling the ‘patriotic spirit’ of youngsters in Bangladesh to create a ‘secular youth force’, the Shahbag movement, that peaked in February and March with tens of thousands of protesters and torchlight processions, is ‘not dead’ and ‘lives on’ sans the noise and the fury, its leaders and participating activists claim.

Thousands of people, mostly youths, had been staging protests in the Shahbag area of the Bangladesh capital from 5 February demanding capital punishment for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah and all others charged by the International Crimes Tribunal with committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.

Mollah was sentenced to life by the ICT. ‘Our agenda is to demand capital punishment for the perpetrators of crimes during the 1971 war and a ban on the Jamaat. However we didn’t anticipate it would become so big. There are both good and bad sides to it.

‘The good side is that you will see that post-Mollah’s sentence, the other sentence was death sentence. But on the downside such a big movement has led to high expectations among the supporters and this has led to frustration among them because of the absence of such large gatherings and other rumours. The movement is continuing... ,’ Imran H Sarker, a leader of the movement said.

Khushi Kabir, a prominent social activist and a supporter of the revolution, agreed.

‘The absence of mass gatherings doesn’t mean that the movement is dead... Shahbag is still on,’ Kabir said.

‘Now the situation is that we do not have a specific programme of mass gatherings. There is no crisis as well. When we need them (the protesters), they will be there... that is how we are planning. The spirit of the movement will be carried on. You might not see the effect right away, but in 10 years it will have a pronounced effect,’ added Imran, a staunch supporter of ‘capital punishment for Razakars (anti-liberation war militia)’.
It all began when Mollah, secretary general of the Jamaat, smiled and gave a victory sign to waiting journalists after the sentence was handed down to him on 4 February, triggering a groundswell of anger among people who were hoping he would be hanged. He was convicted of beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and shooting 344 people during the 1971 Liberation War. Calling the punishment ‘mild’, people from all walks of life, including youth, children, musicians, artists and writers, joined in the movement demanding the death penalty for Mollah and other war criminals. The anger spread online and quickly rallied thousands to Shahbag to demand death for Mollah and other Jamaat members accused of war crimes.

The Shahbag area – the epicentre of the protests – has been now christened ‘Projonmo Chottor’ (Generation Circle). The absence of large gatherings in the last few weeks has led to tension among the masses with reports of the protests fizzling out. Imran and other activists however assured that it has ‘achieved its primary goals’ and is progressing to the ‘next step in a step-by-step manner’.

‘It’s a long-term movement. We wanted to give the ownership of the movement to the masses, connect people, awaken them and instill in them an ideology of patriotism. That was our primary goal along with demanding capital punishment for Razakars. We have been successful in our primary goals,’ Imran explained. Sharif M Shafique of a group that calls itself ‘Generation F’ feels the movement might also blossom into a social or political revolution.

‘This is not a renaissance, but it can be a cultural movement to give direction for social or political revolution,’ said Shafique. For Imran and his friends, the next step is to ‘connect with people at the grassroot level in villages and districts’. ‘We have managed to reach out to schools, colleges, educators and academicians. We are preparing our workers in such a manner that there would be at least one representative in each village,’ Imran explained.

Assuaging the public’s fears, Imran said at the outset keeping up the ripple-effect of the initial hysteria was their target.

‘From the very beginning it was on our mind as to how to sustain it. We were thinking about it. Because in such issue-based movements it’s possible that after the initial rise it may fizzle out later,’ said Imran. ‘Its not that we just wanted our demands regarding the verdict to be fulfilled, it was meant for a general change.

How can they (the people) carry it forward? They can carry forward the movement wherever they are,’ Imran maintained. IANS
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