- Posted March 5, 2013 by
Shahbag Movement Bangladesh - Frequently Asked Questions - Part 1
Can we call Shahbag movement a citizen movement since the government is so closely facilitating it?
The Shahbag movement was initiated by a diverse blogger group called Bloggers and Online Activists Network (BOAN), who organized a peaceful sit-in on 5th February at Shahbag Square (now known as Projonmo Chottor) to express their disappointment and even disgust, over the life-sentence given to Quader Mollah (full verdict here). The movement soon spread as diverse groups and general masses started assembling at the Square to express their solidarity. The hundreds of thousands who organized and fueled the movement both in Dhaka and outside were mostly students and the youth in general. The government and student leaders affiliated with the Awami League have been providing logistical support and security in the area, but there is no evidence that they were influencing the demands coming from the Chottor. If anything, the demands have been putting intense pressure on the government too.
Can we call this movement a mass movement since mostly educated middle-class seem to have joined?
It is true that the ‘Projonmo’ movement, especially in Shahbag, was largely dominated by educated middle-class, which is not surprising since the core of the Bangladeshi middle class lives in Dhaka. When the organizers organized peaceful protests in areas such as Rayer Bazar and Mirpur of Dhaka, however, the gathering seemed more representative of people from all walks of life. In the protest sites outside Dhaka city, the diversity of crowd from different socio-economic backgrounds was even more apparent.
This is surely the biggest citizen’s movement since the 1980s anti-autocracy movement, if not bigger.
Can we call this movement a peaceful movement?
Shahbag has upheld the principles of peaceful public protest from the get-go. Its organizers have tried to follow Gandhian tactics, constantly urging the large crowds to remain non-violent. Although some of the slogans from Shahbag were violent in their tone, there have been few if any instances of violence erupting. Instead, people took to creative media such as street art, posters, candlelight vigils, writing letters to the departed freedom fighters, etc. to channel their frustrations. This peaceful nature of the movement has continued despite serious provocation from Jamaat-Shibir, such as the brutal slaughter of one of the bloggers involved with the movement, threats to kill many others, and calls for a ‘civil war’.
Even if the judicial process gives death sentence to the Razakars, can we really get a politically secular nation?
The objective of the demands for death-sentence of the Razakaars is not to establish a politically secular nation, but more to bring closure to the demand of justice for atrocious crimes committed during 1971. Although there have been sporadic chants from the Projonmo Chottor demanding the establishment of a politically secular nation and stopping all religion-based politics, the final and official 6-point demand drafted by the Projonmo Chottor made no such demands. Despite that, it is apparent that the Shahbag movement has philosophical and ideological roots of secularism and equal respect for all religions, drawing from the spirit of 1971.
What is the meaning of Razakar, in today’s context?
The word Razaakar generally refers to the Bengalis who provided active support to the Pakistani Army to commit mass murder and rape during the 1971 liberation war. But, in today’s context, this term is often extended colloquially to refer to people who subscribe to and promote the pro-Pakistan ideology of these collaborators. That does not mean however that the population is demanding punishment for these ‘ideological Razakars’.
What else will this Shahbag movement give us except hanging of war criminals?
The Shahbag movement represents a structural shift in the mindset of the youth and the general masses, who have shown resolve in rising up en masse for a cause, despite risks to their lives. Shahbagh represents the rise of collective consciousness of people against injustice related to identified war criminals having been rehabilitated and made Ministers. What change this public paradigm shift will bring for the socioeconomic and political situation of Bangladesh is best left for time to tell.
One of the popular slogan is “Who we Are” “Bangali, Bangali”. Is it promoting Bengali nationalism and promoting racism? What about indigenous population (Chakma, Garo, Marma), and the other ethnic groups in Bangladesh who are not Bangali?
Indigenous rights have continued to remain suppressed and neglected in independent Bangladesh. However, this slogan from Projonmo Chottor is not representative of that unfortunate reality. This slogan has historic roots in the liberation movement, when the pro-liberation forces were differentiating the Bengali nationalism from Pakistani nationalism. The slogan has simply made a comeback through this movement like many other popular slogans of that period. Reading the indigenous rights issue in this slogan means missing the bigger picture and the essence of the movement.
Is Shahbag movement undermining the legal process, or about the street dictating the law?
No. The demands are for the judiciary to impose the highest punishment on the war criminals, if convicted at the court of law. The leaders of the movement have repeatedly called for ‘due process’, ‘legal control’, etc. and have not once taken up the law in their own hands despite provocation from Jamaat-Shibir forces. These Razakars represent for Bangladesh what the Nazis represent for the West, if not worse (as traitors within our brethren). The restraint shown by the mass people in this movement has therefore been exemplary.
Read part 2: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-936813