Shahbag Protests - Observations

The photos from Shahbag are stunning. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in this square, as if waves of people in a tumult ocean, singing, protesting, united in one common cause, asking for the capital punishment for all war criminals. The passion of people, many of them born many years after the 1971 war, their yearning for justice that were long been snubbed in these past 4 decades after the liberation war in Bangladesh, look refreshing, and feel rejuvenating.

The demand for fairness and a democratic system free from any religion and violence based politics are long standing. The history of Jamaat and its past and current alliances are well documented, though perhaps can be fading in memory.

There are precedence in history when the war criminals are put into trial many years after the war ended. Many Nazi members after the Second World War’s inhumane brutality are the prime examples. The majority of Bangladeshi’s demand is to see justice been done on these criminals whose crime in 1971 of murders, genocides, rapes went unpunished, and sometimes seemed rewarded by being promoted to various high level government posts in successive military and civilian governments after the liberation war.

I am all for justice and fairness. I believe that anyone committed crimes against humanity, who that may be, should put on trial and be accountable for. This absolutely includes the accused Jamaati and BNP leaders, but also the unmentionable ones, who are not affiliated with Jamaat or BNP, but residing in alliance with the ruling party Awami League or perhaps with other unnamed entities. Also, we need to ask one question: what does war crime really mean? Wikipedia has good definition of it and here is the link: War Crime.

Here is a relevant extract of examples of war crime: “murder, the ill-treatment or deportation of civilian residents of an occupied territory to slave labor camps, the murder or ill-treatment of prisoner of war, the killing of prisoners, the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, and any devastation not justified by military, or civilian necessity”.

After the past BNP government’s slowing down of the war crime tribunal process, Awami League restarted the process from 2010 after coming to power in 2009, and this is a welcome sign for many. At last, the suppressed cries and agonies of millions of victims from 1971 war are getting heard. Though four decades have passed, the indelible memories of pain and sufferings from 1971 in collective consciousness of many Bangladeshis have overwhelmingly embraced this trial.

This trial also received positive receptions from international community, including US, UK, European Union, and many others. However, concerns raised regarding the transparency and fairness of the tribunal process that must be addressed in order to ensure that the accused, however brutal their alleged crimes maybe, do get treated impartially in the court of law. Court should not be interfered or pressured by the Awami League government to get a quick verdict without going through an exhaustive and transparent legal process.

One may contend that these war criminals should not be shown any leniency, and also the roars from Shahbag Square demand the hanging of the criminals in expediting time frame. These all are full of emotions, how noble it can be seen in the light of victims’ haunted memories, but a cautious and level headed actions are needed, that are not governed by blind hatred toward opposing views or usurpation of party affiliations.

Like the Jamaat and their cohorts’ war crimes, there were also war crimes committed by victorious freedom fighters, hooligans and party affiliates. The extra judicial killings of Biharis and the so called “collaborators” in broad daylight without going through any fair judicial process are also fall into the same category of crimes against humanity. The law is blind, and there are good reasons that it should be. The law should not prefer or subdue one crime over another. Like the alleged war criminal Abul Kalam Azad, Abdul Quader Mollah, Saka Choudhuri, etc.,  shouldn’t the similar criminal charges be laid against Kader Siddique, hailed as the Hero of Bengal for his fearless contributions in 1971 war as a freedom fighter? No doubt he was indeed a respected freedom fighter, but for his direct involvement in the massacres of prisoners of war in 1971, shouldn’t he and possible others like him be tried in the same war crime tribunal court?

In a free, fair, transparent and impartial court of law indeed all war criminals would be tried without any prejudices.

I can see the colorful flag, young and old’s hands pointed up in unison, and I can hear the beating of tabla, singing, and chanted slogans: “Tui Rajakar…You are Rajakar”….over and over again, and the demand for the war criminals’ capital punishment, whereas in all the modern and advanced nations of our world with surprised possible exception in the United States, capital punishment is banned for good reasons, as it is considered the “ultimate denial of human rights”. Why is it necessary to kill any human being for their past crimes? Doesn’t it stoop into the eye for an eye type of medieval vengeance? To me, and many others, a life time jail sentence for a criminal should be the ultimate price to be paid, whereas, capital punishment, cruelest as it is, also can be quick for the criminals, but a lifetime prison sentence can serve the right justice, as it will deny the criminals the outside coveted world in all their incarcerated lives.

It is not through the polarized division that peace can be brought (unless going through another bloody and unpredictable civil war), and not through the repeated tormenting slogans the deeply reopened wounds can be healed. The refreshing and rejuvenating Shahbag can be a starting point for the redirection of Bangladesh toward a just and more democratic nation, but with caution, and not by devaluing itself being the mouthpiece of the same old and corrupted political elites, whose goals have always been diversion and division. 

Wake up Shahbag! Seize the moment! Demand for a free and fair justice of all war criminals, barring none.