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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Thoughts on March 26—-from 1971 to 2012

This piece was written on the occasion of March 26, the day when as one of my friends had aptly put “the world became pregnant and bore a new country called Bangladesh”. It marked Bangladesh’s 41st Independence day.

1971 flag of Bangladesh

1971 flag of Bangladesh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Flag of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

I stand atop the mounted floor of my apartment’s roof, over the newly embellished cream-colored tiles. I stare ahead of me at the monstrous skyscrapers of Dhanmondi dominating the skylines with prestige. I think of this evening. I think of what it might have been like at this very instant back in 1971.

Although the Indian writer Sharmila Bose has firmly argued that the figures of the Bangladesh liberation war were fabricated, I try to imagine the moment, the time when the city was shivering after the loss of around 4000 unarmed civilians within one midnight at the hands of a brutal regime that was supposed to protect them. I try to feel the darkness that had engulfed the sun which had risen over Dhaka on March 26, 1971. And all that I get is the stench of death, the death of a vibrant, overpopulated city. People ambushed and then run over by the military tanks in an effort to mix the dead with the mud. Alas! From the mud we rise and to the mud we return, and it is there that we meet the Hereafter.

I see people running. Not in the year 1971, but today. Running about their daily affairs, working hard to meet their everyday needs. Trying their best to make some sense of their life. These are the people, I think to myself, whose diligence have given our country economic progress and emancipation. These are the people because of whom at only 41 years of age, Bangladesh is already the 42nd largest economy—ahead of the colonialist nation that had devastated and exploited it before its liberation—- according to IMF in terms of purchasing power parity . These are the people who make me proud today for working towards the golden future of the glorious land of Bengal, towards the legacy begun by the illiterate Dravidians, continued by the courage and power of Shaista Khan, Siraj-ud-Daula, Preeti Lata, Titu Mir, Sher-e-Bangla, Maulana Bhashani, Sheikh Mujib and countless others. These are the people who teach me to live, enjoy and blog.

What was it like for these people back in that pitch dark day of March 26, 1971? Were they still running about? To bring food and shelter for their families? Or only to flee the darkness that loomed ahead and awaited them eagerly? Was the Adhaan to signal the commencement of night still so loud back then as it is today? And did the men and women still prostate and switch off radios and televisions after the Adhaan even on that particular day?

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The spirit of freedom and egalitarianism has penetrated permanently into our hearts the day Sheikh Mujib took the mike on 7th March and announced freedom from tyranny as soon as even one ounce of blood was dropped from a Bangladeshi man. Ever since that day we have taken pride in being part of a nation that has been oppressed and treated as second-class ever since its formation after independence from the British Raj. We know for a fact that no matter how many Sharmila Boses rant at us and accuse us of being story-tellers, no matter how turbulent our political arena has become, no matter how rampant corruption is in our everyday lives, we are a nation that can be proud of its achievements. We are a nation looking for peace, diligence and simple lifestyles.

It is always very exciting to hear remarks about the War of Independence from foreigners. And what could be better than a quote directly from a new generation Pakistani? One interesting link I made recently is with Nayab Fareed, a Pakistani student studying Mass Communications in Abu Dhabi. This is what Nayab had to say about the Bangladesh liberation war:

“All I know is that Bangladesh was once East Pakistan & then they got separated. It was our fault till an extent. I asked my mom but she told me that she herself was a kid back then. We lost a war to India because of some East Pakistanis when they disclosed some secrets about the navy (I am not sure which incident Nayab is referring to at this point but the Daily Prothom Alo recently published a report on a group of Bangladeshis in the Pakistan Army who accumulated arms and ammunitions for the Bangladesh cause) That’s what I heard once. Also, I heard it was our fault too. Discrimination. We were not very fair to them. At the moment my own country is in a mess, so we discuss Pakistan or maybe other Muslim countries like Palestine/ Iraq/ Afghanistan. It’s disappointing though. Pakistanis regret it & still wish it was our part. I know the Pakistani version of the story, never heard the Bangladeshi version though.”

Of course, expecting a Pakistani to know something about the liberation war is pointless really. The history lives only with the ones who suffered. It is transferred only by those who had been afflicted with pain, with an anguish so terrible to bear that it becomes an offense not to transfer it on in words, thoughts and deeds. Actually, I half expected Nayab to tell me straight in the face that Bangladesh was the result of the India-Pakistan rift as described by many conspiracy theorists. But whatever it was, Bangladesh paid dearly. We lost 3000000 civilians including freedom fighters, children and women, while countless mothers and sisters were raped incessantly till their death. In addition, the country suffered huge droughts after the war as a result of which many more lives were claimed.

Although the Bangladesh government later on proudly proclaimed the raped women as ‘war heroines’ the damage was already done. This is what Taslima Nasrin, an eminent Bengali writer currently exiled from the country for her sectarian writings, had to say later on about one of her aunts and the month of December when the war finally came to an end:

“……………It is December now. This was the month when 18 years ago, nine months after the war, I, as part of a bunch of kids, did procession in the backyard tying a piece of cloth, with red on the dark green and yellow map in the red, on a piece of bamboo, and uttered: Joy Bangla.

In Mymensingh, from March until November ’71, the head Imam of the big Mosque has dumped many into the well after slaughtering them in his own hands. It was in December again when the city people brought out countless corps from the well in order to find their nearest ones. My relatives went out to search for those who had left for the war, or vanished without for good. Pakistani soldiers looted our properties, burnt our house before they left, took my father away and bashed him with boots and bayonets, shot two of my uncles and left their dead bodies on the road, plucked my brother’s right eye out. In December two out of my three uncles, who had left for the liberation war, returned. Sixteen days later, from the Pakistani camp, returned home my 21 year old aunt. Some of the neighbors, who fought for liberation and returned home, have lost their hands, some their legs. Still December is the month when the relatives of the crippled war victims became overwhelmed with joy for their homecoming.

But nobody expected my poor aunt’s return home. They all would have been relieved if she did not. Ever since, I always proudly referred to my father, brother and uncles. I was proud of our losses. But I never mention my aunt. Today stepping out of all damn inhibitions, I am proudly saying that: in the darkroom of the military camp ten brutish lechers (Pakistani soldiers) have incessantly raped my aunt for 16 days.

Our society did not pride on my aunt. In newspapers and magazines, in conferences, meetings and seminars the big shots went loud about raped women. Their pompous title “War heroines” for the victim women of war is nothing but a farce in the name of liberalism.

Although everybody accepted the ravage, the torture by boots and bayonets, even dreadful deaths unleashed by the war-they did not accept the hapless accident: rape.

Photograph of a brutally raped & murdered woman found on the streets during the war

In December, the political leaders were shouting outside for the honor of the raped mothers and sisters; then in December, the month of our victory, as the last resort to keep her honor: my aunt hanged herself on the wooden beam of their house.

Taslima Nasreen: Nirbachita Columns (P: 25-26)
The genocide that began for ethnic cleansing to remove Hindus from the Muslim land, while murdering Muslims and Hindus without any discrimination did eventually come to an end. But the truth is, we are nowhere near to achieving the dreams seen by our freedom fighters. We are not making sure that the women who were raped and the people that were martyred were not done so in vain. We need people to carry on that light of equality, human rights and justice that refused to preempt the courage of the fighters against all odds. We need to relay on this light of freedom.
Are we, as yet, ready to carry on that light forward for our own sake?
Photos & Taslima Nasreen’s words copied from muktadhara.net