The Shabagh sit-in has robustly survived for a month and its strength and resolve seem to be growing. Veteran Mukti Joddhas, enthused by the response of youth, see in this a second struggle for liberation from shackles of fundamentalist Rezakars and their Pakistani mentors who have always worked to throttle the full emergence and consolidation of a Bengali identity. The protestors have resolved to continue with the signature campaign for another month till the April 7.
Among the major demands of the campaign is the completion of the war crimes trial, the hanging of the Jamaat leaders who collaborated with the Pakistani Army in its pogrom against the people of East Pakistan during 1971 and the banning of the party altogether. It is the first time since 1971 that the Bangladeshis have witnessed such a massive and sustained outpouring in support of the ideals of the Liberation War. The Jamaat’s countrywide mayhem, its targetted attacks and killings of law enforcers, its destructions of Hindus’ home and hearth, their temples and business establishments have not been able to cow down the protestors at Shabag.
But Bangladesh is in the grips of a death fight between progressive forces of democracy and stability and those who wish to push it to the brink and Wahabise it. They are working overtime at the behest of their external mentors. ‘Basher Kella’, the Facebook page run by Jamaat-Shibir activists, for example, called for a ‘Bangladesh-Pakistan-Islamic Republic of Banglastan’ where only Muslims will live after exterminating Hindus and other minorities. The Jamaat has never fully severed its umbilical ties with the Pakistani military establishment and the Pakistanis have never abandoned them. How can they dump those who have been their comrades in arms in perpetrating one of largest genocides in human history. The US establishment too has never raised the Jamaat issue publicly nor called for their trials. It is easier for it to deal with banana dictators and warlords than with those who are under the protection of their so-called principal collaborator in the ‘war on terror’ in South Asia. The main opposition BNP is fully in tune with the Jamaat’s objectives and is also orchestrating the countrywide shutdowns and unrests. Khaleda’s cancellation of her meeting with the Indian President through an email communication and then calling a separate spate of hartals is actually the carrying out of the Jamaat and the Islamic Oikya Jote agenda. Each one is riding on the other in order to strengthen its fundamentalist credentials.
The Indian Prime Minister, gullible as he is in handling foreign affairs, had feted Khaleda on her visit last November. He met her for an hour and even hosted a lunch, perhaps the first ever in honour of a leader of Opposition. The naïve Salman Khurshid was ecstatic when Khaleda assured him then” ‘this marks a new beginning. Let’s look forward and not look back in the rear-view mirror.’ Little did they know that the lady was a past master at changing colours and was an inveterate foe when it came to India and Hindus. During Khaleda’s visit, the Indian establishment had even prematurely indicated that it was ready to do business with Khaleda, implying that it was already considering a BNP dispensation in the next elections. The blinkered Indian PM and his even more isolated five star advisors must have failed to see that it is in the character of the BNP to go the extra mile to accommodate the Jamaat, and the extra mile has always seen an increase in anti-India rhetoric, providing sanctuaries to insurgents and militants from the North-East and the ethnic cleansing of the Bangladeshi Hindus. Let us not forget that Khaleda’s coming to power in 2001 saw one of the largest anti-Hindu pogroms in Bangladesh in recent times and the Awami League-appointed Shahabuddin Commission report which investigated the attacks has indicated at organised violence with BNP-Jamaat imprints. What compels UPA to look the other way when it knows that AL and Hasina remain the best bet for India, for the region, and for the Bangladeshi Hindus, is hard to comprehend. Mortgaging India’s foreign interests has become a habit with it.
The recent spate of anti-Hindu violence, especially in the last one week since the ardent and fawning Pakistani collaborator and Jamaat vice president Delawar Hossein Sayeedi was sentenced by the International Crimes Tribunal to be ‘hanged by the neck till he is dead’, has been particularly unsettling. Within a day of the announcement the old pattern fell into place and the Jamaat’s ire was directed at the Hindus. It has demonstrated that the Jamaat’s core agenda – obliterating Hindus from Bangladesh – remains undiluted and its organisational capacity to wreak havoc remains intact. Incidents of violence against Hindus were reported from all over the country including Noakhali, Bogra, Chapainawabganj, Chittagong, Barisal, Dinajpur, by March 4 more than 100 temples were vandalised and 1000 homes, at conservative estimates, attacked and burnt. The Hindus’ business establishments were ransacked and their women terrorised. Leading Bangladeshi dailies calling for a halt had termed the pogroms a fallback to 1971. But we did not even hear muted protests from the international community. The US State Department merely said that it has taken note of ‘reports of attacks on a Hindu temple’ and our own homegrown secularists have not let out as much as a grunt in protest. I had hoped to hear at least a whimper from the faithful Mani Shankar Aiyar, that perpetual honorary Pakistani Consul-at-Large in India!
The Jamaat leaders facing the war crimes trial is the worst of the lot – in fact with the Pakistani army in 1971 it was they who formed the real ‘axis of evil’ aiding and abetting the murder and rape of thousands of their fellow citizens. Sayeedi, then a lowly Urdu- knowing ‘grocery shopkeeper’ in his thirties had earned distinction from the Pakistani establishment for his atrocities on Hindus. As the local commander of the Al Badr and Al Shams in his area Sayeedi had particularly targeted Hindus, arranging for their women to be raped by Pakistani Army personnel, himself confining and molesting them, forcibly converting them to Islam and of killing some of them in cold blood. Politically, in later years, his anti-India stance and his anti-Hindu rhetoric had earned him a special place in the Jamaat pantheon. Till a few years back, CDs of his anti-India discourses were publicly distributed along the Assam-Bangladesh border with the aim of inciting communal passion. Hasina has indeed shown mettle in hauling the entire top Jamaat leadership in prison and by putting them on trial.
The majority of Bangladeshis have supported the war crimes trial and there is a growing demand for banning the Jamaat, it is in the interest of Bangladesh and the growth of the region that both the trial and the ban attain their logical conclusion, only then will Bangladesh truly liberate itself.
As for the Hindus in Bangladesh, they ought to recall what Sayeedi once said in one of his vitriolic public discourses at the Chittagong Parade Ground, “Why should we feel sad when the Hindu brothers choose to leave our country? Do we mourn when we have indigestion and materials leave our bodies?” The Hindus thus should not mourn Sayeedi’s conviction and his impending departure. Let them rejoice the final purgation from their body-politic of this highly inedible fundamentalist chunk.