This article attempts to relate the events of 1971 and 2013 in Bangladesh, and to see how they compare and what we could learn from them. For the first part of the article, please see http://enblog.mukto-mona.com/?p=1802.
Again, the subjects are very broad, and my discussions would necessarily be brief on each topic. I would also try to avoid worshiping or vilifying any personality. Obviously, simple statements of facts can and should portray personalities in admirable or detestable lights.
Part II: The Spirit of 2013
Again, let us look at a very brief version of the facts in history, and let us begin with the independence struggle of Bangladesh.
In the face of the extreme brutality by the Pakistani military that began on March 25, 1971, the people of Bangladesh had no other dignified choice than organizing a liberation movement. People of all walks of life rose to the occasion, and took up arms any way they could. The commanding officers in the various sectors of the freedom fighters were mostly junior officers that defected from the East Bengal Regiment of the Pakistani military. Most of the freedom fighters were ordinary people who were motivated by their love for their motherland and for their determination of protecting the life and dignity of their people. They had to go on to combat missions with little or no military training.
The Pakistani military had no support from the population of Bangladesh, except for the hard-core Islamic hate-mongers, who were organized as militias, named Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams. With military support and training from the Pakistani military, they had considerable fighting power in Bangladesh. They were mostly Bangalees, and knew the localities and the population. Pakistani military as well as these local collaborators committed the most heinous of crimes, such as murder, torture and rape, on the unarmed population of the country. Their principal targets were the Hindu population, so that they could have a purely Muslim inhabited land. In fact, most of the one million people that migrated to India were Hindus. The Pakistani military and their local collaborators targeted the intellectuals, so that their Islamic way of life would not be tainted with rational minds. And, of course, they targeted the freedom fighters and their unarmed families.
It must be realized that the population and the freedom fighters were mostly Muslims, and were probably more religious, as opposed to religious hate-mongers, than the Pakistani military and their collaborators. It should also be noted that their parents’ generation was instrumental in the creation of the Muslim-dominated state of Pakistan in 1947, which caused the largest migration of population, and separation of families and friends, probably in the entire history of mankind.
In any case, the fighting for the freedom of Bangladesh came to a quick conclusion after India recognized the new country in December 1971, and intervened militarily.
What happened to the war criminals, the Pakistani military and their collaborators, after Bangladesh got its independence on December 16, 1971? How did Bangladesh handle the most outrageous crimes against humanity in the history of that land?
As for the Pakistani military personnel, about 90,000, they were taken by India as POWs. Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto played the dirty trick of treating about 400,000 stranded Bangladeshis in his country as hostages, who would not be released unless the Pakistani criminal military personnel were released. Thus, all but 195 criminals were released from India to Pakistan in 1973. The remaining 195 were also released in 1974, due to a promise of prosecuting them in Pakistan, made by the well-recognized dishonest mouth of Bhutto! The government of Bangladesh was a party to the deals that allowed the Pakistani military war criminals to go free.
An International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) was set up in Bangladesh on July 20, 1973. But before the August, 1975, assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the government was too slow in actually punishing any of the criminals. Moreover, in December 1973, Mujib actually granted a general amnesty to most of the collaborators who were on trial by a special tribunal for collaborators, which had been set up in January 1972. After Mujib’s assassination, all the criminals in custody were released by the military dictator, Ziaur Rahman. Zia rehabilitated the collaborators to the extent of making one of them the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
The big talks of genocide (three million murdered and two hundred thousand raped) in Bangladesh did not translate into any honorable action of punishing the heinous criminals until an amended ICT was put into effect by the present government in 2009. However, only a few (10 in total) of the alleged big criminals were on trial. Thus, this ongoing trial is mostly symbolic, as most of the criminals are not on trial. After the long time of more than 40 years, it has obviously become more difficult for the prosecution to present authentic evidences and solid direct witness testimonies.
The first concrete outcome of the 2009 ICT was the conviction of Abul Kalam Azad in January 2013, and a sentence of death for him. The second conviction was for Abdul Quader Mollah on February 5, 2013, and the sentence was life in prison. Interestingly, the death sentence verdict was for the criminal who was not in custody, and possibly safe in Pakistan, whereas for similarly heinous crimes the criminal in custody in Bangladesh got life in prison! That outraged a lot of people. That saw the beginning of the Shahbag movement on February 5, 2013, initiated by some internet savvy bloggers.
The Shahbag movement is now a broad national phenomenon in Bangladesh; the so-called “Spirit of 1971 in 2013.”
Following are the demands of the Shahbag movement:
1. Death penalty for all war criminals, including Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah, and revocation of the state’s power to grant them amnesty.
2. Amendment to the International Crimes Tribunal Act, allowing appeals against inadequate punishment and disposal of appeals from both the defense and the prosecution within three months of their filing.
3. The collaborators, who had been either convicted or under trial but set free from jail after political changeover following the coup on August 15, 1975, must be brought to book.
4. Ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami and like-minded religion-based political parties, anti-liberation forces and collaborators of Pakistani occupation forces.
5. All businesses, socio-cultural bodies and media outlets run by war criminals should be banned, the charter says, naming Islamic Bank, Ibne Sina, Focus and Retina coaching centers and media outlets Diganta TV, daily newspapers Naya Diganta, Amar Desh and Sangram and Sonar Bangla Blogs.
6. Trial of the political parties, forces, individuals and organizations that are trying to save war criminals and hatching a conspiracy to foil the on-going trial.
The government has already accepted the demand #2, and amendment the ICT accordingly via parliamentary procedures. Demand #1 has also been met partially via the sentence of death for the third convicted criminal, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, on February 28, 2013.
The death sentence for Sayeedi has made the Islamic fanatics of the country go berserk. They have gone on to arson, looting and murder in many parts of the country. The victims include thousands of religious minorities, and a few vulnerable loved ones of the Shahbag activists. The symbolic trials of a handful of criminals of 1971 have brought chaos in Bangladesh in 2013; and the government there has proven to be incompetent or insincere in providing safety for the life and livelihood of ordinary citizens. The situation seems to be out of control, and much of the poor religious minorities are fearful of what would be coming when the next criminal is sentenced to death.
(To be continued in Part III)
About the Writer: Sukhamaya Bain is a US citizen who was born in a place that is a part of today’s Bangladesh. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1987, and currently works for the US federal government, evaluating chemistry. While being a scientist by profession, he believes that societal justice is vital for the well-being of mankind. Thus, he occasionally writes on sociopolitical issues.