Tweets from Projonmo Square—-four hours in the Tahrir of Dhaka, amidst a people’s revolution

Projonmo Square, around 150,000 protesters have been demonstrating here since February 6th without any recess.

Just walked into the #Shahbagh Square; people from all walks of life have gathered here since the past three days to stage their protest.

I was absolutely flabbergasted, overwhelmed and shocked by the huge crowd that lay ahead of me. Within a minute after I had entered, I was looking at virtually thousands of faces; faces emanating a jubilant feature you normally associate with patriotism and a vision for a better world.

Yet in those faces which had come from all sorts of diverse social backgrounds—-I saw a welcome to anyone willing to join them in this fight to serve the history. I had a momentary glimpse into the future of all ordinary, middle-class, patriotic Bangladeshis like me. I saw an insight into the glorious future that awaited my country, and the huge role that I can play in order to become a part of its history.

What a crowd! #Shahbagh, the Tahrir of Dhaka

Trust me when I say this: never before in my life have I felt a love for my country so subtle yet so overwhelming. At that point in time, even if someone had told me that my country required me to jump in the deepest crevices of the Atlantic Ocean, I would have taken the leap valiantly. It was a feeling that transcends almost all other subtleties in the universe. It was a discovery. A new discovery of patriotism.

Candle-light protests at night

Wherever I look, I find hope. Hope for a country where its nascent generations are as patriotic as the one that liberated it from the hyenas who once upon a time enslaved the masses.

For forty 42 years our land has waited; waited patiently for a blood and passion.

In 1971, in one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan at a cost of 30 million lives and the rape of around 2 million women (In fact, the war is described as one of the few in history where the Pakistani army used rape of Bengali women as a powerful tactic to not only intimidate the people, but also to subsequently create a society filled with bitter truths.). During the war, a group of Bengalis and Biharis (immigrants from Pakistan into Bangladesh), in an attempt to please their Pakistani masters, collaborated with the Pakistani Army and participated in the mass genocide and rape undertaken by the military regime. The main Bangladeshi political party that betrayed their own people to form a paramilitary group with the army was the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Shibir.

The people’s revolution on the second day.

For forty years, none of those collaborators at the top had been handed down a death sentence. And moreover, they are now occupying powerful and wealthy positions in our society. How ironic for a nation! #Shahbagh

But today after all these 42 years, the soil of our land has once again cried the cry of freedom and justice. And it only took one verdict.

On 5th February, 2013 when Kader Mollah———infamously known as Mirpurer Koshai (the Butcher of Mirpur) for mass-slaughtering around 400 unarmed, innocent Bangladeshis and raping many young women in his area during the war; some with his own hands and others by direct orders to his disciples—-came out of the International Criminal Tribunal with a verdict of guilty and a lifetime imprisonment, the general public became more enraged than ever before to see the criminal’s smiling face and victory sign flashing out of all media outlets.

A huge candle-light vigil, with the map of Bangladesh illuminated in the center.

For 400 murders, a person gets a life sentence? Really?

And so the online community of Bangladesh, extremely angered with the judge not giving a death sentence to the accused, called for peaceful protests and demonstrations in the gigantic crossroads of Shahbagh, a bustling part of Dhaka which is almost always clogged with speedy traffic.

Although initially led by the Bangladeshi Blogger and Facebook Activists’ Group, the protest was soon joined in by thousands of ordinary people from all walks of life who were discontented with the tribunal’s verdict.

It took barely a night for Shahbagh to become the center of the people’s revolution, and to represent a new call for justice and rule of law. Traffic was halted for at least a kilometer all around Shahbagh and security was tightened throughout the area.

But the most important part about the protests was the people’s unity. Students, teachers, clerics, liberals, leftists, right-wings, people regardless of their political and religious affiliations appeared hand in hand to lead a new uprising against the traitors, mass-murderers and rapists of 1971. Everyone promised to keep political speech out of everything, and asserted that the sole purpose of occupying Shahbagh was to ignite the spirit of 1971 into all the people of the country.

A revolution for the people by the people. Fourth consecutive day of the protests

It’s 2013. And our generation has now engulfed into a new war of liberation: ensuring justice for the souls who were murdered, raped and betrayed by these war criminals.

2013, 42 years after 1971, brought on a new war. A war that we, the new generation are entitled to fight.

On the third successive day of the protest, when I joined the crowd and chanted “Ekattorer haatiyaar gorje uthhuk arrekbar” (Let the weapons of 1971 be loaded once again this year) at the top of my voice, I knew that for the first time in my life, our land and our generation had a glorious future.

And I felt confident that this was where I wanted to be. That this was the city, this land of the 160 million and this vibrant vicinity was where I wanted to write the golden pages of my autobiography.

And after that day, time and again, I have strolled all the way from my home in Green Road to Shahbagh Square, recently renamed Projonmo Square (the Generation’s Square) in light of the recent events, simply to chant slogans and be a part of the crowd. I will do it tomorrow again, the day after as well, and also the day after that as long as the revolution exists and our demands for a death sentence for the mass murderers of 1971 are not met.

The entire country has but one verdict: the traitors must all be hanged for their mass-killings and rape during 1971.

I will be there as long as the blood underneath my body is hot and flowing through my veins. As long as my people, my nation does not get the justice it deserves.

I will chant ‘Joy Bangla’ (Long Live Bangladesh!) with my sore throat and never get exhausted because I have a feeling that this was what I always wanted to be a part of.

I will not stop, the blood of 30 million people that courses through me will not cease because I know that we are all united as a nation regardless of our religious or political divisions.

In 2013, although I am not in a battle-field, I am the freedom fighter. The new freedom fighter vying for the long-lost justice.

I might just be a speck of light in the huge crowd of #Shahbagh, but I know I am contributing towards sth far greater than any of us can ever dream about: towards building our great nation….

Joy Bangla!

 

 

 

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The English Language & Cultural Imperialism

A rare photo of the end of British Colonialism of India in 1947

They call it cultural imperialism.

When the British colonialists finally managed to take control of the entire subcontinent back in 1757, they soon realized that it was never going to be easy for them here. They were forced to confront to a nation that was united, regardless of religious and ethnic differences, and knew that somehow this unity had to be destroyed. By creating a division they speculated that the huge nation could be transcended to a high level of mistrust and jealousy. One religion had to be turned against another. One tribal group and its leaders had to be forced to fight against another. Alliances had to be broken and discrimination introduced.

And so the first thing they decided to do was take away the people’s most important tool of unity: language.

Before the British colonization, the main language of the subcontinent under Mughal rule was Farsi—the language brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints, Mughal and Afghan rulers. Both Hindi and Urdu are renditions of Farsi, while Bengali is an evolved form of Sanskreet, another prominent language of the highly diverse Indian culture. During the pre-British era, Farsi was the main language of instruction. Although all other languages were equally appreciated and encouraged by the many communities of the diverse sub-continental culture, it was Farsi that was spoken in courts and offices; it was Farsi that the books in schools and colleges were written in; and it was Farsi in which art and literature achieved a modern dimension in Asia and the Muslim world in particular. The British realized this premonition of unity, and thus decided that the subcontinent must produce a new breed of intellectuals and thinkers. And all these educated people had to be learned in English. They foretold that the only way British imperialism will be indelible in this region is by making the people ‘pukka brown sahibs’— brown South Asians talking and thinking in English and trying to sport both an Anglicized accent and behavior.

And so they abolished all the educational offices and reformed them. Built them all anew with new institutions based on English imperialist policies and designs.

This was precisely the way the Native Americans had lost their languages to European colonial settlers. The way the Aborigines and other native tribes like Maoris of the Australian continent had had their languages stolen, eradicated, wiped out and robbed out of them by the English settlers.

Years later, almost 70 years after the British left the subcontinent, robbing it off of all its riches and creating enormous sectarian divide and ethnic discrimination, their imperialist policies are still omnipresent in the region. English is treated as the language of the middle and upper class. While Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and other native languages have been pushed backwards to make them second languages. English no longer belongs to the British imperialists only anymore. From America to India to Australia—all these countries have been Anglicized from head to toe.

Thus posing a cultural theft. A robbery. A treacherous malice. A new means of imperialism.

While one might argue that in this increasingly globalized world, Anglicization was necessary—-and if it was with the loss of the native tongue then so be it—it must be worth mentioning, that native tongue is what creates an identity; a culture dating back to thousands of years. English has to be taught in schools and colleges, but not with the expense of the native tongue.

The fact that the British imperialist policies are still ubiquitous in Asia under cover was realized by none other than the Chinese government. In 2010, according to Olinda Hassan, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, the General Administration of Press and Publication in China banned the use of English in Chinese media such as books, papers and on the web. The government explained this move by saying that the use of English and the English-Chinese combination was rapidly deteriorating the ‘purity’ of the Chinese language and violently upsetting the nation’s traditional cultural values. However it must also be noted that the Chinese government also lowered the age for compulsory English from 11 to 9 in 2001 and has left that policy unchanged as increasing numbers of Chinese students go abroad for educational degrees. English to them is regarded as a means of personal achievement and the language of necessity; to be used in offices and global markets and to profit out as responsible global citizens.

But in the subcontinent, English is deemed as the language that makes everyone an aristocrat. Being able to speak fluent or broken English in public means that you are an educated, literate and important citizen. No further qualification is required to attract stares and points, and the public will be enthralled by what you have to say. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is exactly what the British rulers wanted and predicted.

It must be noted that in the increasingly multicultural, largely globalized society that we dwell in, English is a very important tool for success. According to many scientists, being multilingual actually enhances the capabilities of your brain by opening up more synapses and thus increasing the proportion of workable brain. But it should be impressed upon the fact that English must not be used as another tool of cultural imperialism the British colonialists imposed upon the subcontinent. The English newspapers, periodicals and publication for teenagers should not be filled with reviews of British and American music, movies and books every single day while the local produce is left for only the lower and underprivileged classes to explore. Foreign productions should be treated as international produce, and no matter how much we try, foreign art and culture can never be ours.

I am sure the British colonialists are laughing from their graves. The once highly patronized subcontinental languages have now largely been replaced with English as the language of the upper and middle classes. The traditional languages have been dumped for the poor working classes and all English-speakers have been made superior. And all this has been achieved through cultural imperialism!

The Plight of the Stateless: The Rohingya Diaspora

This article was written in collaboration with Eshpelin Mishtak for umnotablogger.com, a Bangladesh-based e-magazine, to address the recent Rohingya refugee crisis of Bangladesh.

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Photo courtesy: The Daily Star

The photo shows a Rohingya man pleading to officers of the Bangladesh Border Guards to let him and the children and women of the boat to land ashore on Bangladeshi land. The military officers then gave them food, water and fuel, and mandated them to return back to their home from where they had escaped to flee a murderous sectarian violence between the Muslim Rohingyas and the Buddhist Rakhines in the state of Arakan.

Heart-breaking as the photo looks, it clearly symbolizes what the Rohingyas have been going through in Myanmar for decades.

Rohingyas are a particular ethnic tribal group of Myanmar who speak a local dialect of Bengali and are all Muslims. These two reasons make the Myanmar government claim that the Rohingya are actually Bangladeshi immigrants who have settled there when in fact the tribes have existed there for centuries at a time. During the partition of India in 1947 when the British packed all their belongings to leave, the Rohingyas asked Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, to include Arakan in Pakistan (which was formed as a separate state for the Muslims) because of the huge Muslim population prevalent there.

While the Myanmar government persistently claims that Rohingyas are actually Bangladeshis, the Bangladesh government in turn says that they are all

Photos from the conflict

Burmese(people from Myanmar). As a result of this, the government of Myanmar has denied citizenship to the Rohingyas, keeping them widely segregated outside the wider Buddhist communities. They are severely repressed and no family is allowed to have more than two children. Access to their basic human rights such as food, shelter and education are all controlled by the central government. They are not allowed to get posts in the government or in the private sector, and no Muslim minority is allowed to be employed in the police or army.

However despite all these problems the Rohingyas have coexisted peacefully with the Rakhines in Arakan. Most of the youth have crossed the seas and traveled into Malaysia and Thailand, where they work as illegal laborers with no security as the law enforcers there can arrest them off as illegal immigrants. But the majority have moved into the neighboring Muslim-majority state Bangladesh.

Now in Bangladesh, which is already brimming with a huge population of its own with a severe competition for resources, most of these stateless Rohingyas get captured by the Border Guards Bangladesh and are then dumped into the UN refugee camps found in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. An estimated 30000 Rohingyas live in these camps while the number of Rohingyas present in Bangladesh is actually around 300000. The ones who survive abuse and arrest from the Bangladesh border forces escape into the nearest villages. A significant portion marry off among the Bengali Muslim communities, get a Bangladeshi passport and a national id card and become Bangladeshis for life. A good number use the Bangladeshi passports to go off to the Middle-Eastern countries, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where they work as laborers and foreign expatriates.

But recently the plight of the stateless Rohingyas have escalated all of a sudden. When a group of three Rohingya men raped a Buddhist woman, the Buddhist communities fired assaults on the Muslim minorities. A bus carrying Rohingyas was burned down in response to the rape and eventually this fueled into a huge sectarian conflict between the Muslim Rohingyas and the Buddhists. Far from being rational, the state media and the political leaders of the newly-democratic Myanmar launched countless assaults on the Muslims and thus brought about a huge anti-Muslim fever among the apparently peace-loving Buddhists. Houses, shops and businesses were vandalized and openly Muslims were persecuted under the heat of the day by the locals and also the law enforcers. The people dubbed the Muslims as terrorists and compared the violence to that of 9/11 and the Mumbai attacks without having absolutely no knowledge of the events that led to the aforementioned attacks.

The widespread persecution have prompted a diaspora of the Rohingya populace into Bangladesh in boats and fishing trawlers. Now for Bangladesh, this has become much more than a problem. It is quite evident that the government of Myanmar will never accept these Rohingyas back into their land, and there is no way that the government of Bangladesh will be able to accede more people into the already impoverished country. Therefore the best thing that the government decided to do was to strengthen the Bangladesh-Myanmar borders and coerce the incoming Rohingyas back into their land, where they are almost sure to be persecuted by the wider Buddhist communities. This not only violated several international UN laws for refugees—-through which international human rights groups have asked Bangladesh to open up its borders—–but also brought about an ubiquitous dilemma for the Bangladeshis living inside the country. On the one hand, denying the Rohingyas into the land automatically increases the likelihood that they will be persecuted and discriminated against in their own homelands. While on the other hand, Bangladesh happens to be both one of the most populace and poverty-stricken country at the same time.

The decision sparked massive outrage among the public in Dhaka and the rest of the cities. A poll carried out by the Daily Star shows that most of the people want the borders to be opened for the Rohingyas to come in. But the majority of the intellectuals think that Myanmar should solve its own problems. The Rohingya massacre should be stopped no doubt, but Dhaka is unwilling to comply with mounting international pressure to allow the Rohingyas into Bangladesh because of the obnoxious, racially-prejudiced Myanmar government which continues to call the Rohingyas Bengali immigrants.

According to international journalist and Myanmar specialist Francis Wade, more Muslims are being persecuted than reported by the media. This is what he had to say:

“The role of security forces in the violence has also been underreported, which contributes to statements like this one yesterday from an EU spokesperson: “We believe that the security forces are handling this difficult intercommunal violence in an appropriate way.” That does not marry with reports from locals on the ground.
At least four people have told me that police are acting alongside Arakanese in torching homes of Muslims, while several reports have emerged of police opening fire on crowds of Muslims (NB: Muslims are forbidden from entering Burma’s police force or army – this does carry significance when violence is of this nature). An NGO worker said last night that her family friend, a former politician from Sittwe, has been killed after being arrested over the weekend, while AFP reports that a Rohingya shot by Burmese police has died in Bangladesh.
The UN is unlikely to act unless there is clear complicity in the violence by state agents. The trouble is however that with few journalists or observers on the ground, those responsible for the deaths (which could well be in the hundreds by now) are hard to pinpoint. The UN has withdrawn staff from the region, but Human Rights Watch has urged the government to allow observers in.
There also seems to be something of a PR campaign to cast Muslims as those behind the killings (to make clear, Muslim groups are not innocent bystanders, but have also been involved in arson attacks across the state). One such example is the shaving of the heads of dead victims, often Muslims, and dressing them in monks robes – “and they (media) will take photos of this fake monk corpse to show to the world that these dead bodies were murdered by Muslim [sic]”, one source wrote.”

On the other hand, Rohingyas captured by BGB, Bangladeshi Border Guards, tell horrific tales of persecution and abuse by the Buddhists, who are normally perceived as peace loving and gentle. One family reportedly lost a daughter en route to Bangladesh, and were forced to bury her at sea since they could neither go to Myanmar to bury her, nor reach Bangladesh without being pushed back. Reports of robbers/pirates attacking refugee boats are also prevalent, with one boat captured by BGB with no-one but a malnourished new-born inside; supposedly, the elder members could not take him when they jumped out of board in order to save themselves from pirates.

Amidst all of these, the Bangladeshi Government is maintaining a strict policy of not calling them refugees, and nor allowing them entry. The newly formed democratic government of Myanmar agreed on principle, to take back 30,000 registered “non-refugees”, but the project has seen no light since the talks, and it appears that the Bangladeshi government is scared about taking in more of them because of the categorical denial of citizenship of the Rohingyas as Burmese.

In this situation, many Bangladeshis, who are in favor of allowing the Rohingyas to enter Bangladesh, have started publicly supporting the view. Facebook groups have opened up, and many are blogging in support of them. Some categorically suggest invading Myanmar, an improbable idea, while others opt for allowing entry on humanitarian grounds. Bloggers have even asked the widely popular Bangladeshi premiere, Shiekh Hasina, to intervene directly into the matter and not forget that the prime minister herself was given asylum by Germany when her life was in danger back in 1975.

While all decisions rest on the government, the enraged public is patiently waiting to see an end to this massacre. Because this is not only a crisis and a violence that disrupts interfaith and interracial harmony, but also prompts a huge humanitarian crisis for the world. After all, each drop of human blood, regardless of religion, castes and creeds is equally important.