Bangladesh has never been so positive, so neutral and so united, at least not in my lifetime. It was February 5 when it started; when the verdict against Quader Mollah went against public expectation. Even though the war criminal was pronounced guilty, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Within an hour of this unexpected and most shocking outcome, young bloggers and online activists called out to the people of the country to unite and protest in Shahbagh Chottor. And within a few hours, it became a crowd to reckon with. With each passing day it grew bigger and bigger turning into the biggest youth movement in Bangladesh so far. This movement has a unique characteristic. It has no leader, no political banner. The spontaneity, the conviction to heal old wounds is what is driving the force. There is no violence, no vandalism and no extremism. Everyone joins in solidarity – unified in conviction.
Today is the 14th day of the movement, everyday thousands of people gather in Projonmo Chottor expressing solidarity with the protestors demanding capital punishment for all the war criminals. This is a people’s movement. A round-the-clock protest. People stay there all night, light up candles and sing patriotic songs, chant slogan snowballing a brilliant momentum.
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On 15th February a blogger and an active Shahbagh protester Ahmed Rajib Haider was brutally murdered. This instead of thwarting the movement has added new vigor and force to it. Along with the main demand ‘capital punishment for war criminals’, the protestors have now started to demand ban of Jamaat-e-Islami; boycott of all Jamaat-owned, supported organisations. People’s perception in general is Jamaat-e-Islami is not an Islamic party but a party that (mis)uses Islam to its benefit.
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To many, capital punishment is unacceptable. I respect their view. But people who are defending capital punishment for these war criminals need to know the difference between genocide and murder. These war criminals didn’t kill human beings, they killed humanity. The non-negotiable issues in life require stronger move. Self respect, national pride are those non-negotiable issues for us. For these war criminals we want nothing less than the highest punishment. And in Bangladesh death sentence is the highest punishment.
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This country won the independence from Pakistan in 1971 after three million people were killed and two hundred thousand female were raped. As a friend wrote on her Facebook status: “While the concept of capital punishment in the 21st century has been brought under scrutiny, it cannot be denied the likes of Quader Mollah and other war criminals committed heinous acts – not only against the sovereignty of a nation, but also the greater humankind. Killing and raping of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, who had little or no clue what was coming onto them and preying on the weak at the dead of the night is not collateral damage, it is cold-blooded murder. Anyone who commits such crimes deserve nothing less than a death sentence. It is not religion or politics – it is the right of the people of a democratic and free country to receive justice. Justice that comes liberated of agendas, elections, fundamentalism and partisan politics; justice for the common people.”
People have come out on the streets fighting back Jamaat-Shibir. They have come out spontaneously with whatever they have to fight back. This is extraordinary. The youth has finally woken up. They have stood against Islamic extremism and for the Bangladeshi nationalism. Joy Bangla is the magic word that has united us all. The Shahbagh Movement has now become a national movement.
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It is important to mention that Shahbagh Movement is not against Islam. Patriotism is a mandate of Islam. Though most of us are Muslims, it doesn’t mean we can visit any other Muslim country without a visa. The reason being the country comes above all. That is what my faith Islam has taught me. My faith Islam also taught me to have patience, to love. It had taught me to stand beside my motherland. Jamat-e-Islami was against the very birth of Bangladesh. Then how can we tolerate its existence in our soil?
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How long the Shahbagh Movement will continue? Only time can tell. But for the moment it is certain that these people are not leaving the ground without a verdict that goes in favour of the public. Emotionally sprung movements often have no systematic conclusion. But the unity this Movement has formed, the courage it has generated among the people, are what matter. We are much braver than what we were two weeks back. Bangladesh has finally woken up.
We are Shahbagh, we are Bangladesh. Hear us out.
Paula Aziz is a social activist and an active participant of Shahbagh Movement.