Just at 4.00 pm on February 12, 2013, people from every walk of life—working in offices, moving on the streets, riding on vehicles, shopping at market places, sitting inside houses, studying in schools, colleges and universities, doing share-transaction at broker houses, reporting at media houses, talking part in parliamentary activities, playing in stadium and all play grounds, even watching TV at drawing rooms & cooking at kitchens— suddenly stood still in silence. Besides, Bangladeshis who live in the USA, CANADA, UK, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, India and many other countries stood up in an eloquent silence adjusting their clock with Bangladesh time at 4.00pm and continued this silent-mode for three minutes following the same in Bangladesh. Why? What is the reasoning and philosophy behind such unity among country-people that we hardly find in the recent history of Bangladesh? Under what motivation, do the people across country stand together, hold hands and keep silence to express their voice? The only reason is the demand of capital punishment of war-criminals for their atrocities, rapes, arsons, genocide, mass-killings and collaborations with Pakistani occupants committed in 1971. This is in fact the spirit of liberation war of Bangladesh that the young generation has rekindled on February 05 at Shahbag intersection following their deep dissatisfaction against a verdict for accused Quader Mollah of war-crimes ordered by International Crimes Tribunal.
Through this ‘programme of three minutes silence’, mass people of Bangladesh indeed made their voice heard to others— particularly politicians, incumbents, accused Jamaat & Shibir, and the international community— conveying a strong message that the whole country is now united on the question of capital punishment of war-criminals who did heinous crimes against humanity during the nine-month liberation war in 1971. The whole country observed this ‘three-minute stand-up and silence programme’ following a call given by the young generation who gathered at Shahbag, now christened Ganajagaran Mancha (mass-uprising stage) or named after Prajanma Chattar (gerenration roundabout). On the seven day of this mass uprising, the protestors called upon the country-people to stand three minutes in silence to express their solidarity with the spirit of the movement that demands death penalty for all war criminals. In response to this call, people across the country expressed their fullest solidarity with the spirit of Shahbag movement that has been continuing its demonstration since February 05. Though a few ‘bloggers and network activists’ gathered at Shahbag in protest against the verdict on Quader Mollah who was awarded life-imprisonment instead of mass-expected death sentence, later tens of thousands of people imbued with the spirit of the liberation war started to converge at the protest venue, and gradually it turned into a mass-movement. Not only at Shahbag, the flame of movement did spread up to every corner of the country including Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal, Sylhet, Rangpur and many other places. People irrespective of ages, sex, religions, and ethnicity in groups, parents with their children, students from schools, colleges and universities in groups with their teachers, artists, writers, activists, intellectuals, professionals, doctors, engineers, journalists, cricketers, and freedom fighters are joining the movement and expressing their solidarity with the demands of death sentence of war-criminals. What, forty years since the independence was not met due to the political opportunists who were in power in different phases, has now become public-desire; and the entire episode was initiated by the young generation of the country.
Already too much have been talked and written about the cultural and political nature of the Shahbag uprising, emotion of youths and far-reaching implications of this movement. This piece delimits its focus on ‘three-minute silence’ programme that took place on February 12. There are three lessons we can learn from this three minutes ‘stand up in silence’ programme. Firstly; why mass people spontaneously supported and expressed their solidarity lies in the nature of call and people’s last hope in youths. The generations, who initiated this movement, were born after liberation and hence they didn’t have the fortunate chance to experience the liberation war practically. They grew up reading the manipulated and distorted history depicted in their textbooks and represented in media. So far the history they have learned from their parental generations, they observed that the notorious war criminals became the part of state-management and hoisted national flag in their cars. This generation saw that war criminals have been patronized, supported and feed-backed by the politicians of the country as part of their mad-struggle for state-power. This generation gradually became frustrated with the politicians who quite often lied to the nation on the questions of the trial of war criminals. Therefore, even after four decades of independence, war criminals are still not brought to trial for their crimes committed against humanity. So, the Shahbag movement was generated not because of a sudden emotion but because of stored grievances of young generations, people’s disgruntlement in politicians’ roles, and solid sense of patriotism the young generation uphold for the country in their hearts and heads. Therefore, mass people stood up, held each other’s hands to form human chain and expressed solidarity with the genuine patriotic spirit of young generation of the country who can really bring about changes for the society.
Second lesson is for the politicians of Bangladesh who need to refigure their political future and reset their political agendas. From the commencement of this protest, the Shahabag uprising is very deliberately represented as a non-political movement to make it accessible to wider public sentiments. However, this is indeed a very much political movement but it is absolutely a non-partisan one in its form, nature and content. Therefore, many front liners Awami League leaders were not greeted there very warmly. Even protestors often chant slogan saying ‘joy Bangla’ but not uttering ‘joy Bangabandhu’ to keep their movement away from branding awami-demonstration. This sense of inclusion and exclusion of political and non-political agendas and slogan make mass people comprehend that this movement is a real patriotic movement led by the young generation of the country and charged by the spirit of liberation war. This sense of understanding among the masses has created a comfortable political space for them to join the Shahbag movement in the one hand. This movement, on the other hand, alarms and warns political parties and politicians of their fewer acceptances among the mass people. Though partisan politicians historically led all sorts of mass movements, the Shahbag movement is led by non-partisan people and hence masses joined the ‘three-minute demonstration of silence’ spontaneously. It otherwise unveils the reality that country-people have disregarded the political party and politicians for their stand that is taken only for power. And such stand most often goes against the interest of mass people.
Thirdly, this ‘three-minute solidarity stand-off’ programme shows strong voice of the people that there is no space for war-criminals in Bangladesh. This silence reflects the desires of the ordinary people who constitute the majority, their hatred towards war criminals and strong demand for death-penalty of the same. Incalculable voices through silent-programme and innumerable hands across country and all over the world have joined together in solidarity with this movement are the manifestations of people’s rightful demand of dreadful punishment of war criminals. So, those who are trying to do politics with Jamaat will run the risk of their own political future. And those who would even try to think of compromising with the question of the trials of war criminals will have to face dire consequences. This is the message conveyed through this mass participation in ‘three-minute silence.’ Fulfilling the people’s demand of capital punishment awarding death penalty to the war-criminals through fair and transparent trial is the only way out left for the incumbent now to express real respect towards the public emotion, affection and devotion to the Shahbag movement. The sooner the incumbent listens to the voice of silence, the better for the country.
By Dr. Rahman Nasir Uddin