- Posted February 12, 2013 by
San Francisco, California
A Bangladeshi Movement in San Francisco
(Written with contribution from Raj Hameed)
On the weekend of February 9th, the Bangladeshi diaspora around the world met at city squares of Berlin, London, New York, and San Francisco to show solidarity with Bangladeshis in Dhaka, who are demanding capital punishment for the war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971.
On February 9th in San Francisco, Ms Rabab Mohsin, Ms Salwa Mostafa, and Mr Ashraf B. Islam organized an event at the Golden Gate Bridge Visitor’s Information Center. They planned to express solidarity with the protesters in Dhaka by passing out leaflets to San Franciscans and tourists to inform them of the spontaneous protest movement in Dhaka. Like the Dhaka protesters, this group was unaffiliated with any political parties of Bangladesh, and the organizers took great pains to ensure that the event would not be hijacked by politics. And like the Dhaka protests, this event was organized using social media, and the invites reached a large number of bay area Bangladeshis in a short time.
The event was scheduled from 12 PM - 2 PM. By 1 PM the visitor center became filled with bright red and green Bangladeshi flags, and people dressed in sarees and dresses in red and green were everywhere. People drove in from as far as Sacramento and San Jose. There were students, families, kids in strollers, as well as elderly grandmas ambling along with their walking sticks. An estimated 70-80 people showed up, and they mingled with tourists and other San Franciscans to explain what they were demanding.
They came with homemade placards and leaflets that said:
"We demand maximum sentence for the killers of the Bangladeh Genocide in 1971"
The emotions of the participants were palpable. “We want justice. We have waited 42 years, no more.” they said.
The highlight of the event was when the crowd sponstaneously sang out"Dhono Dhanney Pushpe Bhora"--a well-known song of patriotism, followed by the national anthem: "Amar Sonar Bangla" . The non-Bangladeshi on-lookers stopped and started taking pictures during the songs.
The Facebook page for the event is: https://www.facebook.com/events/526044234085747/
Events in Bangladesh
The Shahbag Mass Movement of 2013 in Bangladesh began on February 5, 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the demand of capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and all other accused war criminals of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. On February 5, 2013, the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal(ICT) sentenced Mollah to life in prison because he was proven guilty of committing genocide, murder and rape (including rape of underage girls) during the liberation war. Mollah was found guilty of being behind a series of killings including large-scale massacres in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, which earned him the nickname of "Mirpurer Koshai" - Butcher of Mirpur. The movement began at the Shahbag intersection in the heart of Dhaka city, which subsequently came to be known as Projonmo Chottor, or Generation Circle (English translation), which hints at the spontaneous protests and mass movement of the current generation of youth whom many thought were apathetic and uninvolved. Thousands have been holding vigil at Shahbag demanding that they will not leave the streets until Mollah receives capital punishment.
During Bangladesh’s nine-month war of liberation in 1971, atrocious war crimes were committed against civilians. "It is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland,” reported a high ranking US official in Time Magazine. More than 3 million people were killed, nearly a quarter million women were raped, and more than 10 million people were forced to take refuge in India due to persecutions at home.
Excerpt from the writings of an eye-witness reporter of the mass murders:
"11.11.1971- I went on the top of the hill on the other side of Faiz Lake with three others. What did I see? Countless dead bodies. All women. Naked. Most of them young and two/three days old dead bodies I estimated. Then I noticed, most of the dead bodies have fetus rotting in their wombs. Bodies were piled in 10/15 a pile all over the hill. One of my companions fainted. I tried best to keep my senses and counted the bodies one by one. One thousand and eighty two, 1082. They were all killed by slicing open their wombs. Later I came to know these women are educated and from reputed families, abducted and kept here at Chittangong cantonment to satisfy the sexual needs of Pakistani soldiers. Since these women were for so long and repeatedly raped every day, they became pregnant and sexually less desirable. So they were killed and disposed of in this remote place."
During the war, Bangladeshis who opposed the liberation movement were employed by the Pakistani army in trained paramilitary forces called Razakar, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams. These groups were in charge of “keeping the peace” by terrorizing the local population as a means to discourage individuals from supporting the freedom fighters.
Abdul Quader Mollah joined these groups, and was found guilty by the ICT for murdering 6 people, plotting the massacre of 344 people, and for committing rape. The International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh sentenced him to life in prison.
Aftermath of the verdict
Following the verdict, the protests started almost instantly, with online activists urging people to come join them at Shahbag--the central square of the capital city. The demonstrators sang the national anthem, drew murals, and chanted slogans demanding capital punishment for Mollah and others like him.
Why are protesters asking for capital punishment
In Bangladesh law, there is ample precedence of capital punishment verdict for crimes such as murder and rape. Therefore, there is a legitimate demand for similar punishment for crimes committed during war.
Additionally, the Bangladeshi legal system is such that a prisoner given a “life term” can have his/her life-term reduced by the executive branch. If the government changes in the next election, for example, a prisoner like Mollah can be pardoned and released. He could potentially receive a heroes welcome from the government and be given a job as an ambassador or minister, free to declare revenge against the witnesses who testified against him. Because this scenario has occurred several times in the past, Bangladeshis are demanding capital punishment.
2. Pakistan: The Ravaging of Golden Bengal, Time, 1971-08-02 http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,878408,00.html
3. A.K.M Afsar Uddin, Eye witness ( from book ISBN: 984-70124-0107-1)