Four decades have passed since Bangladesh got her independence. It came at the climax of one of the bloodiest wars of our times. It came at the cost of three million lives, and 20,000 women raped. Independence ushered a new hope for a country in her infancy, one of equality and justice. And thus began our experiment in democracy. We were naïve to think that with the oppressors, the oppression would end. We knew only that we were free at last, that justice and the rule of law will now prevail.
For forty years, Bangladesh as a nation has failed to try the Razakars – the pro-Pakistani Bengalis who committed some of the gravest atrocities during the 9-month liberation war. The Razakars supported the Pakistani army, and helped them infiltrate the country. Their leaders were absolved after the war, and have been prominent opposition figures. They were free, had full citizenship and had their own political party with seats in the parliament. These are the men who supported the killing and rape of Bangladeshis; religion is more important to them than nation. And it is in their freedom that Bangladesh has failed to respect the sacrifice of so many.
In 2010, the Bangladeshi government set up a tribunal to prosecute those accused of committing war crimes during the 1971 war of independence. Three years later, on the 5th of February 2013, the tribunal has handed down a life sentence to Abdul Quader Molla, assistant secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which supported the cause of undivided Pakistan in 1971. Nine other top Jamaat leaders, including its former chief Ghulam Azam and current chief Motiur Rehman Nizami, are also standing trial in the two war crimes tribunals for alleged crimes against humanity.
This war trails have reopened old wounds among Bangladeshis. The youth of Bangladesh have rekindled the spirit of 1971, and have gathered on the streets of Dhaka, to demand capital punishments of war criminals and an end to religion-based politics. Hundreds of thousands of people are gathered in Dhaka’s Shahbagh intersection, in the biggest public gathering since 1971. This is neither about politics nor religion. This is about national pride and justice. The protesters have been in the streets for four days now and have vowed to stay until their demands are met. People around the country are boycotting businesses, social and cultural organizations that are owned by Jamaat leaders. In the words of the prominent author, Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, “The year 2013 has turned into 1971 and those of you who did not see 1971 are now witnessing it this year.”
The youth of Bangladesh is not trying to overthrow a regime. This is not our Arab Spring, but the parallels are striking. Shahbag is our Tahrir Square. Social media is our means of organization. The time is now to end what we started in 1971.
As a Bangladeshi in expatriation, this is my tribute to the protesters all across my country.