We are expatriate Bangladeshis. Like the ordinary people of Bangladesh, we hold Bangladesh deep inside our hearts. That is exactly why, when we spend sleepless nights watching Bangladesh win in cricket, or the younger generation excelling at the math olympiads, we are as proud as ordinary Bangladeshis. Then again, when we hear of the corruption in Bangladesh through national and foreign media, we are ashamed, just like everybody else. When floods and cyclones ravage our country, we try our best to help those in need in Bangladesh. It’s as if our whole existence is painted with red and green, the essence of my, our Bangladesh.
We are the constituents of that generation which didn’t see the Liberation War. We are the representatives of that generation who grew up reading the wrong and distorted history depicted in our textbooks. We are that unfortunate generation who saw the war criminals representing Bangladesh on both domestic and foreign soil. It is because we are members of such a generation, when we see the war criminals put on trial in our country, we tell others with great pride that even 41 years after our independence, we are going to bring these traitors to justice.
Then the question may arise, why are we protesting at Shahbagh? Since the protest began immediately after the verdict against Quader Molla, are we against the International Crimes Tribunal? The answer is NO. Even though it was initially against the lenient punishment dealt to “proven-beyond-doubt” war criminal Quader Molla, the protest has evolved into one that demands all war criminals be brought to justice; we want such a Bangladesh where no war criminals will be able to raise their heads. Thus, the Shahbagh Movement is not only against a particular verdict, but is primarily setting the wheels in motion for a process that had been in suspended animation for the last 41 years. In no way is this movement an immediate, overtly emotional reaction by Bangladeshis, rather it is the volcanic eruption of years and years of pain, suffering and rage amassed in our hearts, which echo in the shattering slogans at Shahbagh.
Although it is indebted to various past initiatives, the mass protest at Shahbagh is engaging and unifying the youth more than any other movements in similar issue. Hence today, the Shahbahg Movement is one that embodies our existence and our core beliefs. Shahbagh is the manifestation of our patriotism and our fierce love for our country. Shahbagh is the all-encompassing sentiment that broke through brittle religious and economic barriers we had foolishly put up between ourselves all these years and shown us who we are at our deepest core – we are Bangladeshis, children of the same mother. Shahbagh is ’52, ’69, ’71, ’90 and 2013, déjà vu. And Shahbagh will forever change the way the world looks at Bangladesh – no longer will it be a nation that makes international headlines because of poverty, corruption and natural disasters, but as a nation that was able to properly respect its martyrs’ dying wishes, soothe its daughters’ silent screams and empower the current generations by bringing all war criminals to justice for their crimes against humanity.
We expatriates have gathered in important places on various cities and university campuses worldwide to express our solidarity with this movement. We are laying out the atrocities the war criminals have caused to a global audience through different placards and banners, and by our active demand for proper punishment of these criminals. But as expatriates, we are not limited only to this. We are trying our best to debunk myths about the movement circulating in international media and to ensure that only the truth about the Movement is being reported. In these previous years, supporters of these war criminals have been slyly distorting the history of Bangladesh in the international media. These lies and misinformation formed the basis of the false international reporting on the movement in its early stages. In a few instances, local journalists published absolutely fabricated stories, exhibiting a widespread symptom of sensationalism as seen in mainstream media. The online activists and expatriates have teamed up and working relentlessly to fix these issues and get the truth out there. The Wikipedia entry on the Shahbagh movement serves as an epitome of such efforts – it started out as just one paragraph with important details and few photos, but in a couple of days, it has become a valuable historical reference, thanks to the meticulous efforts of such Bangladeshis.
The primary aim of such activism is to create an archive of unbiased journalistic pieces on this movement from the global perspective. In order to gauge the significance this movement carries on an international level, we need a footprint, in the form of newspapers, blogs, and mainstream media reports. But the question still remains – how much of the truth is actually getting out there? Photos of demonstrators were published on the Washington Post who claimed them to be protesting against the harassment of Jamaat leaders. Consequently the captions were corrected after streams of complaints were filed. In a similar fashion, a BBC article, published 5th February, presented the Liberation War in a false and biased light and even added fabricated explanations of events that took place in 1971. The number of deaths that occurred in 1971 was finally corrected after another wave of complaints that arose from both Bangladeshis’ and foreigners alike. Not only that, the initial the headline of the report mentioned the death sentence was demanded for “Islamists”, and was consequently changed to reflect the true nature of the protest – a movement that demands death penalty for war crimes. But the biased reporting has not stopped, as the representatives of the Associated Press (AP), American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and other foreign news agencies are still publishing misinformed and misunderstood reports about the movement.
The Shahbagh Movement taking place today is a reflection of the desires of the ordinary Bangladeshis, the manifestation of our hatred towards war criminals, the one single voice of people from all walks of life demanding justice. This Movement does not uphold any specific agenda of any particular political party. The people are adamant about the death penalty and will not budge even when flooded with distorted, biased and malignant representations of the movement in international and domestic media. Our victory over yet-to-be officially convicted war criminals and the evil they spread and breed in form of supporters has been assured by this splendid awakening of the new generation that emanates their demands for justice and their love for their country in slogans throughout Shahbagh. Thus, countless voices and hands have joined together throughout the world in solidarity with this movement, to bring a new dawn in Bangladesh.
Expatriate Writers – Zahidul Islam, Fahim Hassan, Ishtiaq Rouf, Rumana Reaz Arifin, Munawar Hafiz, Shantanu Banik, and Nafis Hasan – reside in Canada and United States.