Feature Img
Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

On October 16, 2011, we had written a piece (Bloggers (Asif and the likes): An emerging third force in politics?) on the activities of bloggers contesting the power relationships. 16 months later it looks like the analytical assumptions are proving truer than expected. We had written:

“A quiet revolution is taking place in Bangladesh. The blogosphere as a tried and tested weapon of the citizen not under the control of the state authorities or untrustworthy politicians has made its presence known. After many a summer, there is a definite whiff of optimism in the air as the footprints of a new future starts emerging.”

* * *

It is both ironic and tragic that the first ‘martyr’ of what is increasingly becoming a war of sort saw a blogger fall. Ahmed Rajib Haider, one of the main strengths of Shahbagh Movement was killed in a particularly gruesome manner for speaking out and organising. His enemies are obvious but his death is unacceptable. It would seem that like so many all over the world the voices of protest are stronger than its mere footsteps.

* * *

Shahbagh is a spontaneous expression of those who feel left out of the national political governance process. Young people unburdened by partisanism of the AL-BNP variety where brains are basically asked to take a vacation will not tag along so easily anymore. It’s a wonderful display of protest, power and aspirations. At one level, it’s a classical Bengali thing: hyper emotional, politically charged, liberal left, culturally decorated and resurrecting images and symbols that inspire them. Had the political structure of Bangladesh given them any space, Shahbagh would not have happened but that is exactly what Shahbagh is. It’s a gut reaction of many to the exclusion from national politics, always a private monopoly of the party in power. Shahbagh is truly people power particularly young people’s power.

* * *

BloggerBut it’s also many other things including description of the state’s health particularly of its judiciary which has been ailing for long. The ICT has now become the symbol of what is not right with it. Any comment on the judiciary is usually punished and many people think many of them feel not accountable to the people except the political leadership. This has been going on for quite a while and questions raised by many were never addressed. Unfortunately the crisis went on deepening till it exploded and Shahbagh was born.

* * *

The ICT was promoted by many but what was not so well promoted was the ability to conduct quality trials. Any criticism was followed by summons and scolding but the court itself failed to live up to its expectations. It was not the skype controversy that was the key but that no action was taken except to move the judge out and sue the hackers. People had been saying that the prosecutors could be much better but nothing was done. The public looking for revenge had no problems with a court they saw as a revenge ensuring mechanism not a legal one. The Government probably thought the same.

This probably made the authorities careless and the prosecution did such an inadequate job that the judges who have already had given death sentence to one had to pass a life term in the Quader Mollah case without explaining why. It was compounded by the fact that Mollah was found guilty on four charges where the maximum penalty was death but none seemed to merit the highest punishment. And the public waiting for a hanging verdict were deeply disappointed and responded with Shahbagh. Obviously, in everyone’s mind, the accused had been found guilty before the trials began. But the massive response by ordinary people in rejecting a court verdict created a crisis whose impact may be high.

The exclusive jurisdiction of the judges in court decisions went out of the window and the legal process has become a matter of review by the street too. It signals the near end of the supremacy of judiciary on legal matters.

* * *

Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

Judiciary had encroached into the civil society space through several cases and decisions recently. The court decision to scrutinise Humayun Ahmed’s novel ‘Deyal’ and the direction to use court approved language in media were two symptomatic instances where the public and civil society space was transgressed seriously. Once the sacred understanding that one institution such as the judiciary wouldn’t intrude into the space of another such as the civil society, was broken it was a matter of time before the public would also go into the judicial space as they have done now. So no verdict which is based on evidence will be enough for a judgment court. It will also have to pass the public opinion test.

But the judicial discord has also taken other forms as well. Such is the emotion of the crowd that it wants blood and not justice. The only justice they want is hanging and anything less is not good enough. Increasingly, it seems the state is taking cognizance of such demands as state politicians lend support and laws are adjusted. But the crowd however noble is not a constitutional force yet it has now become a factor making extra constitutionality a significant part of the judicial system.

But it’s not the verdict of a single trial that has created Shahbagh. It’s the much longer process of ignoring public opinion that led to the public taking to the street. The crowd didn’t believe the court had passed an appropriate sentence and rejected it. The crowd had no option but to gather at Shahbagh.

* * *

The Shahbagh crowd is behaving like many other crowds. To this is added the Facebook crowd and the inevitable part in this the ‘US and THEM’ mentality. So what will be the reaction of Shabagh if I were to say that all including war criminals has a right to a fair trial. That unless proven guilty every accused is innocent in our law. Will someone who does ask these questions be dubbed a Razakar as some have been”? As a blogger asked, “have you taken sides?” while trashing ‘foreign critics of the trial’, ‘pristine liberals and those who oppose the death penalty as a matter of principle’.

So is there a third space in the third force?

* * *

Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

Although the 1969 mass movement was significantly led also by the Leftists including Maulana Bhashani, the booty was collected only by the AL. This was because this party was the most organised of the lot. The way the AL has overcome its initial embarrassment in 2013 and is slowly trying to takeover the movement is very interesting to observe. It responded like a mature political machine and accepted the crowd verdict and has moved closer to them. Now that Rajib has been killed, law enforcement will become an issue so the government will become a protector of Shahbgah. This process will obviously give AL much greater affinity to the movement and as the party in power they can be expected to gain from it. To whom will the spirit of Shahbagh belong now? The spontaneous crowd or the organised political party?

* * *

Shahbagh is a confirmation that the people are not happy with the existing political arrangement and many are willing to stand up and be counted. The historic closure of 1971 wounds hasn’t happened either and many are desperate enough to seek any route including mass demand movement to do so. That the state institutions — executive, legislature and judiciary — are at bay and lie at the risk of becoming irrelevant to the people. As someone who has lived through and participated in 1971, I hope our lives are never touched by another carnage.

* * *

As for Rajib, we must remember that to fear a blogger is to recognize his legitimacy. To kill him is to fear his strength which is the power of words and emotions. The bloggers have provided evidence that the conventional and traditional politics have a parallel universe where new rules operate. But the two universes also clash and Rajib is the first victim of the clash between the old and the new.

RIP Rajib…

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.

Afsan Chowdhuryis a bdnews24.com columnist.

15 Responses to “What led to Rajib’s Shahbagh?”

  1. Ershad Mazumder

    Please do not forget Shahbag is not Tahrir. Shahbag is protected and supported by government while Tahrir was opposed and tortured by the government. Tahrir was there to overthrow a dictator and to establish democracy while Shahbag is to support government. One is revolution and the other is submission.

    Yes, I do agree Awami League is successful to manipulate and use the young innocent spirit for their political purpose. Some so-called secular and non religious or anti religious bloggers have also been trapped by some forces unseen.

  2. Golam Rabbani

    It seemed to me that the author wanted to say something which he could not.

  3. Jamat Basher

    I think AL has some of the most prudent political consultants. As election is nearing, AL brought Jamat issue in the forefront, giving BNP no change. It is like GW Bush’s “you are with us or against us”. There are issues which AL had to deal with, like corruption, kidnapping, Padma bridge. AL’s another term is guaranteed if it can keep the hysteria going; BNP can’t do anything without Jamaat or with Jamaat.

    What an wonderful political stunt. Death penalty for someone absconding. So that verdict doesn’t have to be executed. Life-term for somebody at hand, who could have been executed. We are the 1969 generation, has seen firsthand how the AL capitalized on All-Party student agitation.

    Gook luck AL leadership.

  4. Tonmoy

    I really hope and pray that the sacrifice of Rajib doesn’t go in vain. May his soul rest in peace. I will pray for him every day even if he was an atheist (which is no way a crime to me).

    • iqbal Miah

      The loss is very heavy for all of us including the late Rajib’s surviving family members. But Rajib will remain in the heart of million for his scarifice for the just cause of his country. May God rest his departed soul in eternal peace.

  5. dunno

    Shahbagh does have faith in rule of law. If they didn’t they would have taken law in their own hand. Have they done that Mr. Chowdhury? It is the citizen’s right to express dissatisfaction if a wrong is committed.

  6. Didar

    The killing of Rajib was done in such a brutal manner and yet the Shahbagh youth is not baying for blood which shows how matured this movement is! I am impressed beyond word. I wish the politicians of the country took some lessons from this movement.

  7. Bijon

    This was a very sensible and matured piece. But Shahbagh has indeed shown how powerful youth can be, if they fight for a just cause.

    • Dark Knight

      Sorry to disagree, but the writing lacks investigative journalism!

      No new information or evidence to justify the heading, a repeat of the same common information regarding Shahbag, but under a different title.

      I am sure people would like to know a bit more about Rajib, his writing and the reason for his unfortunate circumstance. If the Bangla media and websites don’t produce the quality of work, who will?

  8. A K Sarker Shaon

    I don’t know if Afsan Chowdhury has gone to Shahbagh Chottor. If he did, I don’t think he would have written this piece differently. Yes the protesters are chanting for death sentence. But is that so wrong? Are they demanding anything that’s illegal? Death sentence is still legal in Bangladesh and as i have learned from going to Shahbagh every day, these protesters are demanding the highest punishment. And i haven’t heard of anyone being called a rajakar who is against death sentence, at least not anyone from Shahbagh.

  9. Anwar A. Khan

    Dear All,

    During our liberation war of independence of 1971, I was a college student. During those hard times, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Al-Badrs’ concentration camp was not very far from our residence situated at Kishoreganj Town (Now Kishoreganj District). Duk-bunglow (now the District Council Building), the Pakistan army’s local head quarters was also the same distance from our house. Being an eye witness, I am now giving hereunder a brief account and at the end, I shall make a few comments:

    1.Professor Mahtabuddin was the Jamaat-e-Islami Chief of the then Kishoreganj Sub-Division (now District). I saw him many times in my own eyes that he had been encouraging the Al-Badrs to kill the innocent people. Everyday, he used to come to the Al-Badrs concentration camp situated at the Bunglow of the then Kishoreganj Railway Station Master ( after forcibly driven away the Station Master and his family from his allotted quarter) to boost them up to kill more and more people in the name of religion-Islam. The entire Al-Badr and Al-shams, the killing outfit Jamaat-e-Islami throughout the Kishoreganj District, was under his operational command.

    2. One afternoon, some time in August, 1971 an innocent boy was caught by the Al-Badr gangsters. He was inhumanely tortured on the main road at broad day light near the Kishoreganj Railway station; he was bayonetted, blood was coming out from his lower part of the belly, he was groaning, he was tied with strong ropes behind a Rickshaw putting his two legs upward. All these atrocities they committed pronouncing “Naraye Takbir, Allah Huakbar.” He was forced to say “ Pakistan Zindabad” but he did never say so. Rather, he repeatedly said “Joy Bangla.” Then a microphone was fitted with that Rickshaw and then these creatures of hell made campaigns throughout the town showing that poor dying boy that the same dire consequences would happen with those who would be Mukti Bahini (liberation fighters) or their supporters. And thus announcements were made all over Kishoreganj Town showing this dying poor boy. It created a tremendous panic in the Town. Prof. Mahatab came, saw him and with a great smile applauded his accomplices (Al-Badrs), asked them to make all-out efforts to catch similar such people and encouraged them to eliminate the so-called enemies of their beloved Pakistan in such a brutal or the other ways. The boy then died a martyred death for the cause of this motherland. His body was refused for burial and allowed the decomposed body to eat by the vultures, jackals and dogs.

    3. I shall now narrate another ghastly incident. One afternoon in 1971 (possibly in September), I was passing through the main road from Kishoreganj Railway Station to Newtown area, when I reached in front of the house of Advocate Emdad Mia (situated just beside the main road), I found that some members of Al-Badr were pronouncing “Naraye Takbir, Allah Hu-akbar” and simultaneously after inhumanely beating forcibly made a boy to lie down on the grass beside the main road and slaughtered that boy with a big knife like as we usually sacrifice the cows on the Eid-ul-Azha day. The two pieces of the dead body were then thrown into the marshy land beside the road and allowed for eating by the vultures, jackals and dogs

    4.The river Narasunda is nearby to our house at Kishoreganj. During the months of August-up to early December, 1971, I saw many young people were inhumanely tortured and being taken blind-folded near to the bank of that river, brutally shot them to death pronouncing “Naraye Takbir, Allah Huakbar” and then kicked them off to the Narasunda River. No dead was permitted for burial by them.

    5.They were directly involved in rape, arson and looting and burning of houses of innumerable people. I saw how they helped supplying women-folk to the local army head-quarters at kishoreganj.

    6.On the morning of 17.12. 1971 (Kishoreganj Town was liberated on that morning), I entered into that Concentration Camp of Al-Badrs along with some of my friends and found its floor with ankle deep thick human blood. One can easily imagine how and what was the extent of torture done on those un-armed and innocent human beings in this concentration camp by the Jamaat’s killing squad-Al-Badrs. Those helpless people could never go back to their parents.

    Comments :

    1.I have cited here only a few incidents only.

    2.Jamaat-e-Islami, Al-Badr and Al-Shams played the major role in bringing about the human tragedy of the highest magnitude in 1971.

    3.Leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, it’s the then student wing-Islami Chhatra Sangha (now Islami Chhatra Shibir) and their killing outfits- Al-Badr and Al-shams are all congenital liars-pathological liars.

    4. One has to become a human being before he wants to be a Musssalman/Muslim but they are just beasts, worst creatures of the hell. Same thing has been repeating by the same ugly force now.

    5. They are all enemies against humanity. They and their accomplices can do anything ugly for their own interests.

    6. They are just ugly religion traders because whenever they murdered our innocent people, they used religion- :Allah Hu Akbar”; “Naraye Takbir” and so on.

    7.No one should have any sympathy for them. But I reiterate that they are just religion traders and congenital liars; they are mass murderers, looters, miscreants and what not.

    8. They all deserve capital punishment because of the magnitude of crimes and sins they committed during our people’s war of independence for Bangladesh in 1971.

    9. Jamaat-e-Islami, as a political party, as an organization and above all, its leaders are all war crimes criminal.

    10. No compromise; no negotiation is possible with those who brought untold sufferings to our people, those who looted our valuables, those who burnt our houses, those who raped our millions of sisters and mothers, those who killed millions of our people.

    11. I want capital punishment of them all. Jamaat-e-Islami, as a political party be brought to book and banned.

    12. I am now close to 60. I did never do politics and shall not do politics in future also. In my 5 times prayer, I pray to Allah so that He gives capital punishment to these worst creatures of the hell.

    • Pratiti Shirin

      Your stories brought me to tears.Yes, nothing but hanging.Human beings deserve a fair trial not beasts.They are lucky that they are being tried and not being shot by a death squad…Joy Bangla!

      • Dark Knight

        Being tried! Has such sublime meaning.

        With the call for a change in verdict, is it now fair, just, independent and transparent!?

  10. sujit

    It is a nice article but it shows a kind of sublime displeasure about AL. But if you see that most of the people are coming from pro-liberation and pro-AL camp. They are the people who are trying to move Bangladesh forward towards secular society.

  11. Akash

    In most of your writings, I have seen your predictable gravitation towards a scolding, if not a scathing criticism, of AL after making a sweeping equation between AL and BNP. You seem to forget that it was AL that set up the tribunal and had the gall to arrest the people for war crime charges who for 40 years or so enjoyed the hospitality if not direct coddling of the other party and its various allies (nitpicking over the perfectness of the tribunal does not confirm AL has failed). No, this is not a movement to find a third alternative. Its a pretty good thing to pursue that as you perhaps do in a democratic polity, but don’t force it into the voice of Shahbag. In fact, I have been amazed at the clarity and resoluteness of the protest organizers: they simply want to clean up the anti-1971 debris that the nation has accumulated. If anyone thinks that it is just an emotional issue from the past, they are mistaken, and the youth at Shahbag proves the mistake. A nation cannot move forward until the very reason of its being is cleared up.

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