Dhaka – A statement on protests at Shahbag Square

February 19, 2013

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[For the last two weeks Shahbag Square has been witness to marathon protests. Since the Arab Spring such protests have become a frequent phenomenon in the large cities around the world. What makes the protests at Shahbag somewhat unique is that they raise demand for punishing crimes of a war which was fought 41 years ago, when most of the protestors were perhaps not born. Many may find the persistent demand raised at Shahbag for hanging war criminals untenable. Some may be apprehensive of the latent Bengali nationalism, which has had a dubious track record. But the promise such protests can hold for establishing a secular, democratic Bangladesh cannot go unnoticed. We publish the translation of a statement of Mongoldhoni, an alternative media initiative of Bangladesh. The original Bengali text can be found here. – Ed]

Statement from Mongoldhoni on the prosecution of war crimes

Build solidarity in the struggle for a democratic Bangladesh free from exploitation

The war of liberation of 1971 bears a special significance on the history of people’s movement of this land. Historically, the people of this land are a fighting lot. They have fought against the British colonial rule. The aim then was to build a democratic society free from exploitation. Due to the pressure of this struggle the Indian subcontinent was divided into Hindustan and Pakistan in 1947. The British handed over power to the new rulers of these countries. But aspirations for a democratic state which people had during the State formation of Pakistan remained unfulfilled. On the contrary, they were oppressed by a military bureaucratic, personality-centric rule. Some Islamic political parties have always acted as allies and provided support to this oppression. In opposition to this, people’s aspiration for a democratic society free from exploitation, gave birth to innumerable political struggles. 1971 came as logical consequence which took the form of war of liberation. During the war Jamat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Sangha (presently Islami Chhatra Shibir) formed fascist vigilante groups such as the Razakars, Al-Badr, Al-Shams under the Pakistani military command in order to protect the Pakistani military-bureaucratic state. These specialforces fought against the liberation war. From a casteist and communal mentality they perpetrated a regime of killing of innocent people, atrocities on women, loot and plunder as they saw the latter as allies of the political leadership and workers of liberation war. They also tried to uproot and annihilate the religious minority Hindu population.

In spite of thousands of atrocities and repression, the Bangladesh State was born. We even received a Constitution in 1972. By that Constitution a personality-centric authoritarian rule was established, in contradiction to aspirations of the people. The legacy of this continues to this day. At the same time people’s desire for a democratic society free from exploitation which gave birth to the liberation war, remained unmet. On the contrary, the State embarked on a path of annihilating the various people’s pressure and struggles which were continuing from the inception of the Bangladeshi State formation. The State provided opportunities for the fascist forces of Razakars, Al-Badr, Al-Shams to re-group so that they can act as its allies. So, in opposition to the efforts to build a democratic, exploitation-free society in Bangladesh there has been a process to establish a personality-centric authoritarian rule; the State and the political parties which have been running it have been nurturing the Islamic parties for the last 42 years as allies. Yet the people of this country have rejected this strand of politics of the ruling class time and again. At the same time people have raised demand to prosecute and ensure highest punishment for Jamat-e-Islami and its partners for their war-criminal fascist role in the 1971 war.

The present ruling party Awami League had framed its electoral manifesto in 2008 keeping this aspiration in mind. But after coming to power several dithering and delaying manoeuvres started over the prosecution. There was lack of clarity on the formation of the Tribunals too. The Awami League pays lip service to Jamat-opposition, but in practice it adopts a policy of electoral pressure and friendship with them. We have seen evidence of this in the inactivity of the State when Shibir workers attacked nationalist forces during hartal called by the Jamat, or in the court judgement of Qader Molla. The people have not accepted the delaying tactic and election-centric politics of the State and the Awami League Government in dealing with war criminals. They burst into protests as soon as Qader Molla’s judgement was announced, and came together in a massive protest at the Shahbag Square. Even Awami League joined the protests after a stage. As a result of Shahbag protests Awami League has brought in an amendment of the legal process in the national parliament.

In this scenario we have the following position. We, who constitute the ordinary citizens of the country, do not have a clear idea of legal procedures. We want that Jamat-e-Islami, Razakars, Al-Badr, Al-Shams, who had clearly opposed the war of liberation which was organised for the formation of the State of Bangladesh, and who had committed genocides, atrocities on women, loots to protect the military-bureaucratic authoritarian Pakistani State, should be prosecuted. They can never be provided protection in the polity of Bangladesh. This political strand has to be annihilated politically. At the same time we appeal to the people organised at the Shahbag Square that, it’s true that we have fought the liberation war, but we have not been able to establish Bangladesh as a democratic State, free from exploitation. Today the Bangladesh State is based on a military and civil bureaucratic structure, which finds its expression through political fascism, and this acts as Bengali or Bangladeshi nationalism. As long as you do not link your movement to the process of formation of a democratic State and society free from exploitation, all the forces which oppose freedom and liberation war will continue to dominate Bangladesh. Channel the trajectory of your movement to that direction and play an active role in the movement for formation of a democratic and exploitation-free State.

(Translation by Debarshi Das)