Any death is regrettable and those who died due to police fire may also come under this category. What is interesting is Jamaat’s modus operandi. The lone survivor of 14 December mass murder of intellectuals described in a recent TV documentary how Al Badr killed Prof Munier Chowdhury and others. Some were bitten with iron bars to death and at the final point; they would insert such bars into the head of their victims to ensure death. Jamaat-Shibir reportedly did exactly the same couple of weeks ago when they killed some police constables and others. It shows Jamaat-Shibir’s Standard Operating Procedure has remained unchanged for the last four decades…
(Rabiul H. Zaki, 1952, 1971, the genocide and Shahbagh)
“The Pakistani soldiers unleashed a reign of terror on the soil of Bangladesh in 1971. They brutally killed innocent people, molested Bengali women and ruined the economy. The Jamaat leaders, Ghulam Azam and Matiur Rahman Nizami, issued the fatwa that those activities were permissible to save Islam” (Dr Mohammed Hannan, Page 252, Bangladeshe Fatwar Itihas, 1999).
What is common between Syed Md Nurur Rahman Barkati, Shahi Imam of Tipu Sultan Masjid, Kolkatta and Maulana Syed Athar Abbas Rizvi, imam, Cossipore Masjid or Md Qamruzzaman, general secretary, All Bengal Minorities Youth Federation ? Well, if media reports are to be believed then they would be the leading lights of a demonstration to be held on March 30 th in Kolkata demanding stepping down of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena’s resignation. In fact, a dozen odd Muslim outfits are planning to hold the demonstration to protest against the verdict of the ‘war crime tribunal’ against Jamaat-e-Islami’s leaders in connection with the atrocities committed by them during 1971’s Liberation War’. According to them the actions of the Bangladesh government was not only ‘anti-Islam’ but ‘anti-humanity’ as well. The organisers of the demonstration have said that if their demands are not met then they would appeal to the Indian government to severe all ties with Bangladesh.
Definitely this is not the first demonstration of its kind held by the various Islamist groups in this part of South Asia. Not some time ago, similar organizations had organised a protest in the city which had turned violent. It was in response to the death sentence given to Delawar Hossian Sayedee, the Vice President of Jamaat-e- Islami by a war crimes tribunal after he was found guilty for mass killing, rape and atrocities during the nine month war against Pakistan.
Karachi had also witnessed a demonstration in the second week of March led by the Jamaat-e-Islami (Pakistan) ‘to protest the indictment of Jamaat-e-Islami (Bangladesh) war criminals of 1971 and the treatment of its activists by the Bangladesh government, judiciary and the police in the aftermath of the Shahbag movement against the Islamists in Dhaka.’ President of Jamat-e-Islami of Punjab, Pakistan who participated in the demonstration reportedly insisted that, ‘the sentenced leaders of the razakars (pro-Pakistan militias) were innocent.’ Incidentally, close to this protest site a protest against the mob attack on the Christians of Badami Bagh ,Lahore by a rampaging mob of fanatics , was also held, although it was not as large. (The Express Tribune, 15 th March 2013)
In fact, opposition of the Islamists to the new awakening in Bangladesh – popularly known as Shahbagh movement – which wants to reinvigorate the basic principles of secularism and democracy which became a basis for founding of the country, is not limited to civil society organisations or political groups alone. Leaders of many Islamic countries especially President of Egypt and Prime Minister of Turkey are reported to have written letters to their Bangladesh counterparts expressing their ‘displeasure’ over the war crimes tribunal. Few other Islamic countries have through informal channels also ‘requested’ the Bangladesh government to ‘go slow’ on the trials or ensure that ‘violations of human rights’ does not take place. Wittingly or unwittingly all such ‘protests’ or ‘displeasures’ about ‘danger to Islam’ or ‘danger to humanity’ or alleged concern over democratic rights violation which the ongoing trials have allegedly provoked make one thing very clear.
None of them want that the role of organisations like Jamat-e-Islami or or many of its not so illustrious leaders in the 1971 war of Bangladesh’s independence is investigated afresh. They do not want to look into the fact that how many Jamaat activists became Razakars – literally volunteer – which was the paramilitary force organized by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 and helped unleash untold miseries on nationalist Bengali suspects. The Razakars received training at the hands of the Pakistan Army. Both organisations were later accused of having violated Geneva Conventions of War by raping, murdering and looting the locals.
In fact they want to dilute gravity of Jamaat’s support to the Pakistan army and also cover up its shameful attempts to provide religious justifications of torture, rape and murder, arson etc under the specious plea that it has been more than 42 years that the developments took place, and it is time that people should ‘move on’ or ‘forget and forgive’.
It needs emphasising that the demands of the Shahbagh protesters are not limited to trials of the war criminals , they have demanded that Jamat-e-Islami be banned and its financial sources be confiscated by the state. Launching the second phase of the movement on the 42 nd independence day of Bangladesh (26 th March) activists have reiterated their immediate demand of trial of the war criminals, many of whom are senior leaders of the Jamaat and strongly criticised the Awami League government for dilly dallying on their central demand of banning Jamaat-Shibir politics.
It is not difficult to understand why Islamists from this side of the border have suddenly woken up to the ‘human rights’ of all the Jamaatis, those very people who were involved in unspeakable crimes against humanity during that tumultuous period in the nation’s history.
To be very frank, the Bangladesh Jamaat today finds itself in unforeseen situation, put on the defensive by the youth led uprising demanding capital punishment to the war criminals of 1971 coupled with the actions of the Awami League government against its leaders.A press release issued by the Jamat itself (http://www.jamaat-e-islami.org/en/newsdetails.php?nid=NzU0) on 20 th March 2013 describes how ‘ [t]he leadership of Jamaat is either in jail or is living in fear of arrest ‘
Its Ameer (i.e. President) is in jail. There are warrants of arrest issued against the Acting Ameer and he is now in hiding ..The party’s Secretary General is in jail. The two people who were subsequently appointed (one after the other) to replace him have also been arrested and are now in jail. The third person appointed is now avoiding arrest in fear of custodial torture. Of the 7 Assistant Secretary Generals, 6 are in jail. 12 of the 16 member Executive Committee have been arrested. Of the 6 City Ameers in the 6 metropolitan cities, 2 is in jail, while the remaining 4 are in hiding.
At the grass-root level, the situation is far worse. 54 of the District Ameers in the 64 districts of Bangladesh have been arrested. The rest have warrants of arrest issued against them. All of the sub district (or Upazilla) Ameers in the 493 Sub Districts of Bangladesh have warrants issued against them and are now in hiding.
It is clear that none of the ‘dozen odd Muslim organisations’ who never miss a moment to talk about ‘Umma’ (community) and who would be participating in the Kolkata protest are really concerned about the impact of the depredations of their Bangladesh counterparts on the common masses – a majority of them happen to be Muslims only. They just want to save the skin of fellow Islamists from that side of the border despite their acts which were anti-human to say the least.
As already mentioned many of the Islamists have talked about the ‘passage of time’ and need to ‘move on’. It is clear that in their hurry to save these Razakars they have either not thought over this proposition or would like to rake up the principle selectively.
Does a passage of time lessens the quest for justice or lessens the gravity of the crime ?
If that would have been the case, then the struggle for justice for the victims of Gujarat 2002 carnage or for that matter Babri Mosque demolition (1992) would have lost the case quite early. In fact, this logic to ‘move on’ has been used time and again by people in power whenever justice loving persons/formations have demanded that perpetrators of say massacre of Dalits at Kizzevanamani (1969), Nellie massacre (1983), which witnessed killing of more than 2,500 in a span of few hours (1983), the killings of innocent Sikhs in their thousands in 1984 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the genocide of innocents in Hashimpura (1986) and similar other carnages are punished. The moves by the powers that be to substitute justice by ‘compensation’ has always been questioned and challenged.
It is clear that people like Syed Md Nurur Rahman Barkati, Shahi Imam of Tipu Sultan Masjid, Kolkatta and Maulana Syed Athar Abbas Rizvi, imam, Cossipore Masjid and many of their ilk, who would be leading the demonstration on 30 th March are seriously jeopardising struggle for justice in all such cases by their espousal of Bangladesh Jamat-e-Islami’s cause. Their support to the handful of the razakars and murderers who have committed crimes against humanity and who have been indicted by the tribunal is nothing but a betrayal of the cause of the ordinary people of Bangladesh who struggled against heavy odds to live a life of dignity and free themselves from the yoke of Pakistan’s subjugation.
Would all these people would have any moral right left tomorrow to speak for justice in other cases of genocide. What weight their voice would carry if they give a fiery speech in future demanding that perpetrators of Gujarat carnage be punished or justice should be done to all those Hindutva formations who were instrumental in the demolition of Babri Mosque. All of them would appear as nothing but windbags.
As an aside it needs mentioning that while the Pakistani army has expressed regrets that it made “mistakes” during the 1971 war but Jamaatis have yet to express any formal apology for their criminal actions. They have yet to say “sorry” to the nation and express sincere remorse over their actions which involved not only siding with enemies of the nascent Bangladesh but also their participation as hired mercenaries of the occupying army.
Lest anyone claim that it is mere propaganda it would be opportune here to quote Jamaat leaders themselves.
..On 20 June 1971, Ghulam Azam at a press conference at Lahore Airport said, “With support from many non-Muslims in East Pakistan, Sheik Mujib intends for secession. (Pakistan) Army has uprooted almost all miscreants from East Pakistan and now there is no power which can challenge the dominance of the army”.
..On August 12, 1971, Azam declared, “the supporters of the so-called Bangladesh Movement are the enemies of Islam, Pakistan, and Muslims”.
..On 5 August 1971, Matiur Rahman Nizami (then head of Al Badr) said “Allah entrusted the pious Muslims with the responsibility to save His beloved Pakistan. (But) when the Muslims failed to solve the political problem in a political way, then Allah saved His beloved land through the (Pakistan) army”.
( Courtesy : Daily Prothom Alo, 11 January 2012, a compilation of statements based on what was published in Jamaat’s own newspaper The Daily Sangram in 1971)
A section of the people are supporting the Jamat’s cause under the pretext that the historic Shahbagh movement is being led by youth who are atheists, un-Islamic. A cursory glance at the then East Pakistan (modern day Bangladesh) history makes it clear that this tactics of ‘name calling’ has been used by the Islamists since the days of the language movement (1948-52). Youths, who fought for such worthy causes, were then also called atheist and anti-Islamic and it is no surprise that today Jamaat-e-Islami and its apologists would call Shahbagh youths- “atheists”.
A longish extract from Rabiul H. Zaki’s writeup (1952, 1971, the genocide and Shahbagh, http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/03/16/language-movement-liberation-war-71-genocide-and-shahbagh/) would make it clear how history is repeating itself.
Badruddin Umar in his book “Bhasa Andolon Proshongo, Kotipoy Dolil” (1995) included a treatise named “Pakistan Language Formula: A Scientific Study of the Language Problem of a “Uninational”, Ideological, Islamic State in a “Multilingual” Country” produced by Maulana Ragib Ahsan, Ex Member, Bangal Muslim League Parliamentary Board, Founder, Jamiat Ulema-I-Islam, March 1952. Among other things, Maulana Ahsan theorized the followings:
“The Worship of Language for the sake of Language or of Race and Homeland is the idolatry of the age and Pakistan has come to smash these idols and emancipate man from the slavery of Race, Language, territorial nationalism and materialism”. (page 77)
Bengali “far from being akin to Islamic spirit it is absolutely anti-Islamic and anti-Musalman in its origin, form and spirit. The “Musalmani Bengala” of the Muslamans is not fully developed and requires careful culture to bring it in tune with Islamic culture and ideology of Pakistan”. (page 80) ..
In a book named “Political History of Bangladesh” (2001), Dr Mohammed Hannan, says, “Prior to the general election in 1954, the Muslim League Government of Pakistan even gave a fatwa issued by their Moulavis that casting vote against the Muslim League would dissolve marriages of the concerned voters”. (Page 251)
In his memoir, “Amar Dekha Rajneeteer Ponchash Bochor” (1989) Abul Mansur Ahmed, provided a vivid description of the Muslim League and Pakistani mindset in 50’s and 60’s:
“They (i.e. leaders of Muslim League) started to say that opposition of Muslim League was akin to opposing Pakistan. Gradually they started to claim that Pakistan came into being for the wellbeing of Islam. In essence opposing Muslim League is opposing Pakistan, which in turn means opposing Pakistan means opposing Islam. …therefore opposition party in Pakistan means enemy of Pakistan and Islam”. (page 40)
While Islamist groups and politicians plan to protest in Kolkata in solidarity with the Razakars of the Jamaat -e-Islami, it is noteworthy that the ongoing movement has generated a different type of reaction among a section of the Muslim majority countries. Take the case of Pakistan. Pakistani band ‘Laal’ has paid a rich tribute to the Shahbagh protestors. A video of the song “Na Honay Pai”, released on the band’s Facebook page is said to been made with assistance from Bangladeshi group ‘Ei To Somoy’.
The description of the video says: “In this new work, we not only wish to express our solidarity with the Shahbag Movement in Bangladesh but also to speak about that unspoken part of our history that simply refuses to acknowledge the historical wrongs that were committed. Many people may find it disturbing; others will shower us with all sorts of abuse and accusations. We will face all these, speaking truth to power, and representing the point of view of all oppressed humanity without fear.
“No good will come of pretending that we have nothing to do with those events. All of us have a direct relationship to this past and cannot escape our role or responsibility in it. I feel a grave sense of historical duty to raise my voice against the atrocities committed. Similarly, I hope that my fellow Pakistanis, who today suffer from the same extremist forces in our own country, have the courage to recognise that all this has happened before and will happen again if we do not speak truth to power and if we do not stand for justice.”
Undoubtedly, the key demand of Shahbagh movement which talks of banning Jamaat politics and confiscating its financial sources in fact puts it far ahead of other democratic movements in most parts of the middle east. It tries to deal with the debate – about place of religion in politics – which is raging in the Muslim majority countries in a unique manner. Even a cursory glance at these countries makes it clear that citizenry of most of these Muslim majority nations not only want religion to be a part of their daily lives but are also keen about greater religious orientation in governance. Victory of Islamic Parties in many of the countries of the region, may it be Egypt, Turkey or Iraq and many other smaller countries makes it clear how the wind is blowing.
Peter Custers, international correspondent of ‘The Daily Star’ rightly puts it : “After all: here is a movement which does not just have an uneasy relation with Islamist parties. No, Bangladesh´s mass upsurge from its inception has borne the seal of secularism and tolerance, and is opposed to fundamentalist politics. Indeed, the South Asian country is not just re-living its own historical legacy, i.e. the secular spirit that pervaded the struggle for the country´s independence. Perhaps it is on its way to setting a fresh example for the Muslim world and for the West.”
- Solidarity vigil for Shahbag in Delhi
- Kalyani Menon Sen: What a time to be in Dhaka!
- Jyoti Rehman: The Jamaat factor in Bangladesh politics
- Naeem Mohaiemen: Shahbagh – The Forest of Symbols
- Nagesh Rao and Navine Murshid: Lessons from Delhi and Dhaka
- Richa Jha: India slept through a revolution in Bangladesh