The sight of a female lawyer lying as a bunch of lathi wielding thugs of the ruling party attacking her with all brutality has become one of the defining images of contemporary politics and society. Violence against women can take many shapes and forms and this was one brazen form. It doesn’t just show the kind and nature of politics but how we look upon power relationship. In some ways, the attack of violence against a woman subjected to beating is also a form of physical abuse the extreme point of which is rape. Rape is an expression of power in most cases expressed through gender violence and on that day at the Supreme Court, it was on display. It was the kind of damning sight that shows a culture where violence against women is not only accepted but when it comes to politics, is welcomed. It was a day of shame!
Where are the HR and Women rights organisations? Doesn’t political violence count as gender violence? If Hifazat calls women ‘tamarind’, a vile and disgusting way of describing women, activists are up in arms, but the noise is so missing when one of them gets beaten up so viciously.
Such happens under every regime so it’s not about this or that regime, it’s about politics and its culture in Bangladesh including its hypocrisy.
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Meanwhile, politics reached its most absurd level as Khaleda Zia stood and harangued law enforcement officials who were preventing her from going out and address a rally as part of her March for Democracy programme. BNP is a strange party. Instead of talking and taking to the streets as any normal agitating party does, it hid behind the violent skirts of the Jamaat-e-Islami activists and condemned police action. No matter how many got arrested it should have played by the rules of agitation. But they didn’t thereby weakening all connection with the people while earning the Jamaat ally stigma. Khaleda Zia didn’t look tragic nor comical, but plain silly, the symbol of national opposition politics abusing a policewoman coming from Gopalganj. So what did the AL look like?
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The AL is a master at manipulation and its decision to pass the 15th amendment was done to make sure that the BNP would react exactly the way it did. The AL has in the past used the constitution for its political gain, beginning with the 4th amendment or one-party rule amendment and the 15th was another attempt to ensure continued rule without bothering with any opposition. In the end, such is historical irony that the AL may well end up with one-party rule, the great stigma of democratic politics.
The caretaker government system now disbanded is a constitutional admission that multi-party democracy doesn’t work in Bangladesh. What it did was to keep the political government system through elections ticking. Through the 15th amendment, it actually made life politically difficult and dangerous for the ordinary people who have suffered so much in the last few months.
When none of the proceedings of the 15-member parliamentary committee on the 15th amendment was ever made public, when no one asked the courts to examine the issue and when every important jurist said it was unnecessary and would lead to constitutional debacles, this government passed it. AL, along with BNP and Jamaat, must be held responsible for what is happening today. There was no need for the 15th and it was done knowing full well what would happen.
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BNP is probably not even a political party anymore but a club of anti-AL activists and so when the push came to shove, it simply folded thinking a “people’s revolution” would take it forward. Well, Khaleda Zia, where is it? The leaders are all in jail, or in hiding and the workers have dispersed leaving the field to the desperate and murderous fanatics of the Jamaat-e-Islami to unleash a series of violent attacks against the innocent and the helpless. Whether the BNP likes it or not, it’s they who let in this party of traitors into politics and they must take responsibility for their actions today. It’s quite possible that the trials were bad but the reaction of the Jamaat was to take revenge on ordinary people just as they had done in 1971 proving that given the ideology this party has not changed at all.
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This is what the BNP never understands — while the Jamaat does guarantee a certain number of votes, it cuts off many votes too because who would want to vote for an ally of Jamaat-e-Islami? It’s a party where common sense has taken a back seat to anti-AL hatred producing a politics that not only makes no sense, stokes violence and ultimately makes it dependent on the party most if not everyone hates. Had the BNP not been a mix of senile old guards and thugs and a few wily lawyers it would have understood that it can be on a winning ticket but only without the Jmamaat. Instead it only managed to create a crisis.
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The AL must have feared an election defeat and the party’s 15th amendment was not a short but long term action. Does it mean that it feels it can have no control over the EC? Sadly, this EC now has as bad a reputation as the Ershad’s one and it has managed to bungle its way to hold a de-facto one party election. The AL has weathered many crises this year from Rana Plaza to Hallmark to the Padma Bridge but has seen that public apathy is so high that it can get away with whatever it wants. As events show, it has gotten away with much including an election that nobody thinks is an election. There is no problem till January 5 but after that one, no one knows what will happen.
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The retail violence by the AL activists show what the AL is capable of when needed. The murder of Biswajit was another example. All of this done under police protection so it’s just not the party but the government that has been mobilised. The refusal by the government to allow the BNP to hold a meeting was a good example of how nervous this government feels even with a nearly toothless BNP. The AL’s excuses were not bought by many either. Things look bad for both in the long term and the year of living destructively may turn into decade.
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A few questions to ponder.
– What will be the price to be paid for an election which no longer looks like one? Other than Menon, Inu and Rowshan Ershad, nobody seems to take the election seriously including many AL leaders.
– Will the BNP be able to mount an agitation given that they have shown great reluctance to participate in civil disobedience activities? How much chaos and for how long can it go on?
– Will the hanging of the war criminals happen over a long period of time causing long term instability by Jamaat activists?
– How long will the police have the stamina to sustain this constant campaign and at what cost?
– Will there be a large scale depletion of the national economy and how much more depletion can we handle ?
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Will it ever end and will we ever be able to live under a constitutional rule free from what we have been suffering since the 15th amendment was passed?
Let’s wait and see what’s in store for us in 2014. But please, let it not be a repetition of 2013! We have had enough!
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.