Shahbag uprising: ‘Bangla Spring’ in the offing

Differences between Arab and Bangla “Springs” also significant.

Mathew Joseph C.

NEW DELHI: The ripples of “Arab Spring” has crossed over from its terrain and reached the shores of South Asia. The uprising taking place in the Shahbag Square in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh since the 5th of February led by the new tech-savvy generation, no doubt is the South Asian variant of the “Arab Spring.”

The main demand of the protestors who assembled at Shahbag Square is to give capital punishment to the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which formed the infamous Razakar Militia during the liberation struggle of Bangladesh in 1971. The Razakars indiscriminately raped, maimed and killed a large number of fellow Bangladeshis, in connivance with the Pakistan military, during the course of the liberation struggle.

Why suddenly this sort of an uprising, unfamiliar to Bangladesh till this date, has taken place? Is the well-known spirit of the youth of Bangladesh for protests and struggles helpful in explaining the Shahbag phenomenon? Is it an attempt of the young generation to settle scores with the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is believed to be a party behind the atrocities committed to the people of Bangladesh during the liberation struggle of the country in 1971? These are questions to be probed in a comprehensive manner. As per some estimates up to 3,000,000 Bangladeshis were killed by the Pakistan military.

The Jamaat-e-Islami cannot escape from the responsibility of allying itself with the Pakistan Military in its ruthless repression of the people of Bangladesh, the then-East Pakistan, during their struggle for liberation. The reason the Jamaat-e-Islami opposed the liberation struggle of Bangladesh stemmed from a politico-ideological position that it will result in the division of the Muslim nation-state of Pakistan. For the Jamaat-e-Islami, it was absolutely impossible to reconcile with the notions of religion-based state and language/culture-based state. Its position to align with the Pakistan military was a natural extension of this ideological stance.

After the liberation of Bangladesh, a tribunal was formed to initiate the war crimes committed by the people associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami and Razakars. After the assassination of Banglabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, the trials in the War Crimes Tribunal came to an abrupt end. Gen. Ziaur Rahman, who came to power after Mujib’s assassination, succeeded in building bridges with the Islamic extremists. This was certainly against the spirit of the liberation struggle of Bangladesh. After Gen. Ziaur Rahman, his widow and the leader of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Begum Khalida Zia, too, followed this political line without much of a change.

In the contemporary period, politics in Bangladesh is revolving around two political alliances led by the Awami League (AL) and the BNP. The Jamaat-e-Islami is a staunch ally of the BNP. The AL and its allies are the claimants of the secular spirit of the liberation struggle while the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami combine represents the strand of Islamic radicalism. When this ideological conflict in the politics of Bangladesh is in progress, the Shahbag Uprising assumes added significance.

The life imprisonment awarded to Abdul Kader Mollah, a prominent leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, by a War Crimes Tribunal instituted by the Bangladesh government on 5th of February was a shock to most of the people who expected capital punishment for him. Mollah, who is currently the Assistant General Secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was involved in the killing of 344 Bangladeshis during the liberation struggle in 1971.

Many people, mainly the youth, thought that the punishment awarded to him is not at all a punishment considering the nature of his various crimes. This resentment of the youth slowly led to the current protests in Shahbag. However, nobody had thought that the award of life imprisonment to Mollah by the War Crimes Tribunal will trigger an unprecedented uprising of this sort in Bangladesh.

The protest movement began by the launching of a Facebook page created by a group of young bloggers in the 20s to voice against the Mollah verdict. The response to their initiative by the people was tremendous. Day by day, the number of people who joined the movement increased phenomenally and now the Shahbag Uprising represents the voice of the people of Bangladesh about a troubled and traumatic phase of their national history.

One can find many similarities between the “Arab Spring,” which started in Tunisia and spread to the rest of the Arab World and the “Bangla Spring,” which is unfolding in Shahbag. However, the differences between them are also significant. While the “Arab Spring” was against the autocratic governments, the “Bangla Spring” is not identifying the Bangladesh government as an enemy.

In the “Arab Spring,” the liberal/secular democrats and the Islamists were on the one side and the repressive governments were on the other. It is important to mention that in the “Bangla Spring,” the liberal/secular democrats and the Islamists are opposed to each other. No doubt, the “Bangla Spring” is an ideological struggle between the liberal/secular democrats and the Islamists. This cardinal difference has to be underlined in the context of the many superficial similarities between these “Springs.” (Global India Newswire)

(Mathew Joseph C. is a Reader at the MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.)

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