- Posted February 11, 2013 by
Rise and Rise Youth of Bangladesh: You Have Nothing To Fear But Your Own Power
On the afternoon of 5th February 2013, immediately after the verdict of Abdul Kader Molla was pronounced by the International Crimes Tribunal-2, whereby Molla was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes, dissatisfied by what they saw as an unduly lenient punishment for someone deserving of the capital punishment, some youths gathered at the city’s Shahbag intersection and started protesting. Their demand being simple: highest punishment for not only Molla upon appeal, but also all other war criminals currently under trial at the ICT. And the rest, as they say, is history, ladies and gentlemen. What started off as an impromptu call of protests by a group of bloggers had within a couple of days materialized into one of the, if not the, biggest political showdown in Bangladesh since the fight for democracy against military dictator General Ershaad in the late 80s and early 90s.
Today is the 12th of February 2013. 7 days on, rather than losing any steam as many had feared, the movement has become more vibrant and promising than ever. In fact, the movement has spread like wildfire throughout the country, whereby people are organizing similar protests in every major city and district of Bangladesh with the same demands as those in Shanbagh. Expatriate Bangladeshis are also refusing to fall behind in this endeavor. Reports and images have been pouring in showing how Bangladeshi people living in all continents of the world are organizing similar protests and demonstrations in their own unique capacity. The gist therefore is, this is no localized movement restricted in its ambit to Shahbagh area. It is a national movement for people of Bangladesh living anywhere in the world. It is an unstoppable force now.
However, I want to tell you more about Shahbagh. The square was initially being referred to as Dhaka’s Tahrir Sqaure, while some even entertained the thoughts of calling it ‘Occupy Shahbag’ in line with the Occupy movements in London and New York. But the people involved with the movement, rather than following a name borrowed from elsewhere, decided (and rightly so in my opinion) to call it ‘Projonmo Chottor’, which loosely translates in English to ‘Generation Square’, after the new generation credited with initiating such a spontaneous yet robust movement.
The atmosphere is electric. Thousands upon thousands of people are joining every moment and expressing their solidarity with those who are present. But who are present there? The composition of the crowd there is by any measure, extremely varied. There are students, of course, who are the life blood of the movement. They are providing the necessary voice of the movement. And what a magnificent sound they make. With each slogan I heard, I was filled with such passion for my motherland and felt such love for those who died in 1971 that I kept getting transported back to the tumultuous months of 1971. Their relentless chants and slogans are reverberating throughout Shahbag and its adjoining areas, night in and day out. Without any break, without any sign of tiring they are reigniting emotions in people even they didn’t believe existed anymore.
Students, as important as they always are in any movement, however, are not the only people you can see in Shahbag. This demonstration and protest is the only one seen in the history of this country where people are voluntarily joining from all sections of society, and from all parts of the country. And they are coming in all hues and colours. You have husbands coming to the protests with their wives, children with their parents, whole families including infants coming together in groups, old people barely able to stand coming with the help of wheelchairs and crutches and every other imaginable human character can be seen in this crowd. And no discrimination is allowed; Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Atheists are all united under one single umbrella here, that of cause.
It is also one of the most civil protests we have ever seen. In a country, where it is common place to vandalise buses and cars and set fire to them to make a political programme reach a certain momentum, 7 days of demonstrations here has not seen a single untoward situation. The language of protests is words, oral and written. Placards, banners, festoons, posters, street paintings, art, and music are the ammunition of this arsenal. You have candle light processions, community singing, poetry recitals, speeches etc. here and not hand bombs and rubber bullets. Flowers and flags would welcome you instead of tear shells and batons.
There are volunteers who are organising the people in an orderly and disciplined manner and voluntarily keeping an eye out for the specific safety of female protesters. People are deeming the venue safe enough to spend the night there. This was hitherto unimaginable in this city. Activists in the social media are also advising people what to wear there, what to take, and the other do’s and don’ts of participation.
It is also been somewhat different from other and previous big political events as this one has not been spearheaded by any political party or its activists. In that sense, it is almost apolitical. Although the subject matters they are dealing are highly political, the activists themselves belong to no political party. It also makes the movement quite neutral in one sense. And what subject matters are they dealing with?
The movement has already made its principal demands every clear: highest punishment for all war criminals irrespective of their political affiliations or their present role; banning the Islamist political party Jamaat E Islami and its student wing Shibir (for their poisonous extremist ideology), banning all religious political parties and make a move towards complete secularism. They youth have signaled their vision of the future for this country: it is that of a secular enlightened nation where all people are equal and able to compete with the whole world and rejected the idea of a isolationist, communal, extremist state of affairs which Jamaat/Shibir represents.
Updates from Shahbag are pouring in every moment, mostly thanks to facebook and twitter. We are hearing uplifting and encouraging stories of disabled freedom fighters coming in to express their solidarity with the young, rickshaw pullers and other hand to mouth earning people coming in with food and water for the protesters, people coming from distant parts of the country and even from abroad simply to extend their support for the people physically in Ground Zero.
Already the movement has seen some discernible benefits. Many see the government’s decision to bring about the necessary changes to the ICT Act 1973 as a direct and immediate success of this movement. But there is something more that this movement has achieved. It has finally shown an otherwise disenfranchised youth their potential to demand change. However, many are suggesting that the movement could only succeed so much as it somewhat meshes with the current government’s own electoral pledge of trying war criminals, and if they demanded on anything else which could potentially embarrass the government or the ruling party in any manner, then the government would definitely have created some kind of hindrance or the other. Nonetheless, that is irrelevant now. What is relevant is that it has started. The youth have taken on the task of their own emancipation in their own hands. At the rate the movement is growing in strength, it is doubtful whether the government has the power to stop it anymore. I see it in a simple manner however. The youth have only awakened. If they can stay united, and harness their strength and power in the right direction, this movement may just be the beginning of something even more monumental for this nation.
With Greetings from Projonmo Chottor,
Shah Ali Farhad