The Bangladeshi Spring: A New Dawn For A Nation

Joydeep Hazarika for BeyondHeadlines

We are witnessing a revolution in the neighborhood. Bangladesh is undergoing a political storm. And may I put it this way that a Bengali spring has risen forth in the country that can bring far reaching consequences to their next door neighbor, us, India. As Dhaka continues to boil over the Shahbagh Square movement, it is but only clear that the political tidings in Bangladesh for the next few months will be an interesting follow up.

What burst forth as a movement asking for punishment for the war criminals of the country, may also bring in a tide of emancipation for the nation which has long been reeling under the pressure of religion driven politics. The war that the ordinary Bangladeshi has declared on the Jamaat for their nefarious role during the country’s independence struggle may turn the tides of the country forever.

Photo Courtesy: Mohammad Moniruzzaman

Following the footsteps of the Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall Street movements, and may I say our own Lokpal and the recent anti-rape movements here in India, Bangladesh is treading a path that few had expected from it some time ago.

Going by the daily news, Shahbagh Square resembles nothing less than a replica of our own Jantar Mantar. Thousands of people gathered, songs sung and placards swaying with cries of deaths for the Islamists, it only reminds us that finally the country is headed towards the path that the nation’s founders had envisioned for it. Sheikh Mujeeb’s untimely assassination had derided the nation’s quest on the path of secular progress, and the Jamaat had been a party to the process.

An apolitical movement that it is, the Shahbagh movement clearly shows the hatred that the average Bangladeshi nurtures for the Jamaat, which opposed the country’s independence efforts from Pakistan in 1971. Though the government backs the protestors at the moment, it must be kept in mind that the war crimes tribunal was a long delayed step that the ordinary Bangladeshi has always wanted to get over the horrors of the atrocities that were committed on the people during the country’s independence struggle. The death sentences on Abdul Kalam Azad and Delawar Hossain Sayedee are a welcome step, but the process is still long from over till all the accused persons are convicted for their heinous crimes. A decision on the death sentence on Abdul Kader Mollah, the butcher of Mirpur, is still awaited. But this movement will not end just with a death sentence on him. This is a chance to rid the country of the fundamentalist devils that have plagued it ever since it came into being.

Though Indian media has been a failure in capturing the Bangladeshi spring in its truest colours, I must say India has stepped in considerable support for this people’s movement, with foreign minister Salman Khurshid applauding the protests during his recent visit to Dhaka. India silently acknowledges the fact that the banning of the Jamaat can prove highly advantageous to its position in Bangladesh. Everyone knows that the presence of a powerful Jamaat in Bangladesh can prove disadvantageous to India, given their unabashed loyalty to Pakistan. A country that has Jamaat free politics can move ahead in the right direction and give a new lease of life to the down trodden people of Bangladesh. And let us not forget that the nefarious activities of the Jamaat does not just ends with their war crimes during 1971. Over the period after Bangladesh’s independence, the Jamaat has played a key role in making life a living hell for the minorities in the country. Systematic cleansing of the Hindu minorities in Bangladesh has been one of their main efforts and nobody can rule out the Jamaat’s brutal conversion tactics among the peaceful Chakma tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The thousands of Chakma refugees in India will testify to this fact. Bangladesh can do a lot better with religion free politics. And for this, the Jamaat must go.

But this is not going to be an easy task. Over the past few weeks, the Jamaat has also stepped up its offensive against the movement, with most of their activists going on rampage in various occasions. The violent counter tactics of this outfit is well known to us all, and for this Shahbagh protestors must brace themselves for some ugly scenes in the coming months. We have already lost one of the key figures of the movement, Ahmed Rajib Haider, to these miscreants. But what has been heartening here is that it only fuelled up the fire inside the people against the Islamists and strengthened the course of the movement. Today Shahbagh Square paints a raging picture of the democratic values over which Bangladesh was actually founded. Yes, violence in the coming time cannot be ruled out. A direct confrontation between the Islamists and the Shahbagh protestors may actually turn quite ugly. Most of the protestors are also aware of this. But one thing is clear, they are not afraid.

The curious thing that has emerged during this movement is the rise of social networking in Bangladesh. The Shahbagh movement is a sole resultant of the high indulgence of the new generation of Bangladesh on the social networking front which resulted in this huge gathering. Bloggers and activists had always been vocal about the dark nature of religious politics in the country, but it was the resentment against the life sentence on Mollah that exploded on the cyberspace among the young Bangladeshis that led to the Shahbagh phenomenon. This is a spunky new generation of Bangladeshis who know what they want for their country in this new millennium. And here, much to the surprise to the rest of the world which has a stereotyped image of Bangladesh as a poverty afflicted country, technology has played a key weapon in holding together the movement.

Now some pro Jamaat propagandists have been painting some derogatory pictures of the entire movement in the country. For them, it is a gathering of anti-Islamic atheists who want to topple the Islamic base of the Bangladeshi nation. To that, I, along with the countless Bangladeshis, would vouch for the fact that banning the Jamaat will not endanger Islam in even the remotest way. Most of the ordinary people who have shown their support for the movement are actually God fearing people who perform their daily namaaz, but have come out in support because they know they are on the side of truth. In fact, Bangladesh will anyday do better without the venomous snake that the Jamaat is.

Being the poor country that it is, Bangladesh badly needs a change of the political scenario with the exit of the Islamists from the country’s power game. Orthodox Islamic practices and outfits have done no good to the world’s fourth most populous Muslim nation, and the millions of illegal Bangladeshis who migrated to India to escape the poverty there, constantly remind us of that.

Bangladesh is staring at a door leading to a change that it needs. A change that can bring in newer tides for the nation where the youth wants a system that has no place for divisive religious politics, a system that can bring in progressive policies without the undue interference of the Islamists. If the Jamaat is taken care of in Bangladesh, it may also inspire us here in India to overcome our own demons and rise up against the fundamentalist outfits that have long been plaguing us, be they from any creed. The Jamaat, the Islami Chhatra Shibir and their other cronies will try all their best to deride this movement. But the government of Bangladesh and its people must not let this moment get out of hand. Few times does a nation get a chance to redeem itself. And this is one such chance that can change the course of Bangladeshi history forever.

So even now, as the protestors continue to sit at the Ganajagaran Manch at Shahbagh, hoping for justice, I proudly voice my support for them and call upon them to hold forth to their struggle for their nation. Justice may have been delayed all these years, but it is not very far now.

(Joydeep is a media professional from Assam, working in New Delhi. He can be reached at and you can follow him on twitter @joydeep1985. The views expressed here are personal.) 

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