Published: Vol. 2 Issue 1 Special Focus Issue

The South Asianist Blog is excited to announce that Vol. 2 Issue 1 of The South Asianist has been published. Vol 2 Issue 1 photo FINAL

This Special Focus Issue (Vol 2., Issue 1) of The South Asianist is guest edited by Kenta Funahashi (Kyoto University) and Shinya Ishizaka (Kyoto University/National Institutes for the Humanities, Japan) and draws on research presented at the Japan-Edinburgh Workshop “Social Movements and the Subaltern in Postcolonial South Asia” held jointly by the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh and the scheme of programs, “Young Researcher Overseas Visits Program for Vitalizing Brain Circulation” (JSPS, Japan) and “Contemporary India Area Studies (INDAS)” (NIHU, Japan) on the 17th, October 2012 at the Reception Room in the McEwan Hall, the University of Edinburgh.

*Cover image: Young boys out and about celebrating their leader on Ambedkar’s birthday. Photo by Hugo Gorringe, April 2012. To view our latest issue please click on The South Asianist.

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Turmoil of asking for Justice

By Saad Quasem

Once again, Bangladesh is bombed by a political crisis. Have I experienced it before? The crisis bit is (unfortunately) weaved into our fabric of existence. In the sense that this familiarity arises from being in the comfort zone of many a political quake, which makes these tremors feel as normal as a heartbeat. At the fag end of every government, comes a time when the opposition gets fed up of not being in power and prototypes of “absolutely corrupting” propagated by the use of “absolute power” is seen. Hartals (strikes) where the opposition calls for a halt the country as they protest in the streets, which is often violent to many degrees is a common phenomenon. We remain ensconced by the fear of getting caught amidst any of the confrontations. Business is difficult to conduct, supporters of the hartals are on the streets, booted policemen stomp the grounds  trying to provide security while the corridors of power thinks confrontation, thus mixing the pre-Boishakh mugginess with  the hot political stew. This is where the comfort zone arrives at the period.

The discomfort begins at the fact that the new age battles that we see brewing are more or less ideological. Previously, politics was just a two party skirmish. It has been suggested that the genesis of this crisis being ideological is equivalent to the core of the liberation war. This problem is divided amongst the activists in Shahbagh (see earlier article) who see justice through the hanging of war criminals and the Jamaat E Islami Party which has been threatening mayhem if the trials are not halted. In the last month minority Hindus have been attacked, in bouts not experienced since 1971. Other notions of violence in the form of arson, looting, hand and cocktail bombing has also taken place in the recent past. The Jamaat E Islami is in alliance with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party which is blamed by many to have restored war criminals into the state apparatus, let alone bringing to trials those who have committed atrocities.  Amongst these forces is the government of Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League and daughter of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the political upholder of the Bengali values of the 1971 War. As these forces cause coalitions, the collusions seem to propel the projectile. Many have noted that the country is so divided it is at the brink of civil war.

Opinions and speculations are rampant across the country. The notion of Bengali Adda has in recent decades a new venue has been found within the television studios, where anyone from any profession (even students) are invited in to partake on casual, non-Lincolnic debates on matters relevant for the day, often sipping hot beverages. In a country that loves to talk politics, the talk shows are a big hit for everyone for lateral discussions. Of course the newspapers flash similar news and opinions pages are filled to the brim presenting wonderfully written articles in both English and Bangla.

The initial demand in Shahbagh took place calling for justice of the war crimes. As any other Bengali National, I too would like to see justice and talk about my grasp. The key demand of Shabagh movement is “Fashi” or hanging of all war criminals. The other demand is to ban the Jamaat. I understand that capital punishment might be required in Bangladesh, but the idea of it bothers my soul. On the other hand, why is hanging of a few perpetrators of genocide justice alone? The discussions and debates could take volumes and if you are interested I suggest visiting this page which links commendable articles which spawn discourses across the spectrum.

Rather on this page, I will take you through a guided photo tour of what I saw of Shahbagh. Let me guide you through the larger questions which were sparked and why some pictorial memories are even more pertinent. I am largely taken aback by the immense amount of symbolism which is clear from these pictures.  One note of caution, I loathe taking photographs, simple because even calling my camera skills terrible would be an understatement; hence please excuse the quality of the pictures.

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Picture 1: Passing the road of the National Museum, I walk through a well-cordoned, metal detected Shahabgh Square. As the movement is now timed, I see a crowd gathering but not too strong. I see students decorating flower arrangements on the streets as such. This particular one reads 71- the stimulus behind the Shahbagh movement. I was not able to spot some of the slogans which read something along the lines of 52 is our inspiration, 71 is our conscience and 2013 is our dream. I can only think of Micheal Billaig’s theory of banal nationalism and Anderson’s take on the buildup of imagined communities. Is this banal or is it much necessary to retain the buildup of sovereignty?
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Picture 2: The banner below reads “21st or Ekushey Feburary beckons a call to execute Razakars. Hang them, Hang them, Hang All Razakars! Courtesy of Abdur Razzak Memorial Association.” I must acknowledge the symbolism of this rather gloomy banner. 21st February is International Mother Language Day. The East Pakistani students lead a movement to restore Bangla as a state language, as the Pakistani government apparatus tried to impose Urdu upon this region. The state junta then fired on the students creating havoc and reinstating Bangla as a state language. This was the beginning of the struggle for Bangladesh and is widely celebrated both at home and abroad. The trajectory of Shahbagh and Ekushey February are set on such different paradigms. The banner is posted courtesy of Abdur Razzak, a name which is equivalent to Tom Taylor in Bangladesh, nevertheless I am guessing it is the veteran freedom fighter and politician Abdur Razzak who passed away a year ago. Razzak was known for his gallantry, coordination, oration, ideal politics, etc. but he had little, if anything, to do with Ekushey February or Shahbagh. Using history to further one’s own agenda, inventing traditions to build upon the existing nations and nationalisms, one cannot help but think of the recently passed away Eric Hobsbawm.

The following 4 pictures were taken in front of Charukala Instituteof Fine Arts also in Shahbagh Square. The road outside is blocked.  Charukala is the symbol of art in the country as art students from there create depictions for every event.  Shabagh square, even without the movement is the hang out spot of Charukala students who are always upto playing with colors and displaying it for the public and passersby; additionally any of the cultural events the Bengali New Years, Bengali Spring, etc are celebrated from that point which is also adjacent to Surhrwardhy Udyan. This time a different spring dawned and ingenuity of the feeling of this artsy strata (at the very least) towards Razakars is clear. This reasons for the awareness which was created.

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Pic 3: Razakars are depicted as Islamists, bearded and wearing hats. Per allegations they are blood sucking, hence the red beard. The term Razakar was coined by Qasim Rizvi of Hyderbad, who formed a militia group to counter the integration of Hyderabad into the Union of India. During the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, the Governor of East Pakistan, Tikka Khan otherwise known as the “Butcher of Bengal” passed the Razakar ordnance which officiated Razakars as state volunteers to maintain Muslim identity and the integrity of the Muslim homeland of Pakistan.
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Pic 4: This picture shows the end of a Razakar identified by the beard and the green flag of the Jamaat E Islami. I wish this picture was better. The arrow pointing below shows the figurative fire of Shahbagh, while the arrow pointing right writes “adalot” or court. It depicts mass power versus the judiciary. Another interesting aspect is the stick stuck to the chin. A walking stick is needed by the elderly and naturally the war crimes which took place in 1971 were not practiced by younglings of today!
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Pic 5: This Razakar tops an Islamic cap encrypted by a star and a half crescent which are symbols from the Pakistani flag. Blood drools out of his heinous mouth and eyes are blood let. Cartoonists since 71 have been drawing these cartoon like images of Ghulam Azam, one of the stalwarts accused of war crimes, during the liberation war he lead the role as the East Pakistan head of Jamaat and he owns up to openly campaigning against the cause of Bangladesh. I hear when the Shahbagh movement started he was in Shahbagh, no silly not at the square but right opposite the street in the jail ward of the Bangabandhu Hospital (one of the major hospitals of Bangladesh). At 90, I guess he suffers a lot from physical complications, hence why he was kept at the ward, but I am not sure if he suffers from guilt as the jail ward reported that he had heard the uproar of the slogan “Fashi for Ghulam Azam””Hang Ghulam Azam.” Yet he remained unmoved. 42 years of accusation including public demand and trials, and yet unmoved, guilty or not guilty, stone cold for sure.
During the War, young Razakars including Ghulam Azam went around West Pakistan talking about Indian accession and the East Pakistani secession. Perhaps that is why Tikka, the Butcher drew the name Razakar, from Qasim Rizvi’s force as volunteers fighting against Indian accession. The Razakars ended up in the wrong side of history, thereby this display of public hatred.
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Pic 6: The above pictures and many more illustrate the widespread feelings moved, exacerbated and implemented by Shahbagh. The upside down Razakars are placed on the grilled fences of the Charukala institute, which is usually adorned by murals displaying everyday life or at least non-pictorial paintings.
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Picture 7: The writing translates to
“Sun has risen in Bangla
No scope for war criminals
Must give a verdict
Hang them Razakars.”
Reviving the awareness of Muktijoddha or liberation war is our mandate. We are the children of freedom fighters.
Readers, I apologise for such a bad image. I took this as traffic from both sides were plunging. This billboard stands at Shahbagh Square and it is one of quite a few reiteratignt he slogan. It is central to the audience making it the backdrop of activitst who gather there. The spirit is unprecedented. It must be expensive to rent these billboards in this manner. I like the color red, but I cannot help but wonder if it represents socialism, the new sun or blood.
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Pic 8: Again at Shahbagh. This billboard is also visible in other places across the city. The blown up proportion of this certain demand, though necessary is a bit disturbing. Advertising “hanging” is not quite palatable.
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Pic 9: At the same place. Same message in in different words.
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Pic 10: ‘“Oh mother, why worry
We are your peaceful, peace-loving boys
Yet, if the enemy strikes we know how to pick up weapons
Don’t fear mother, to protest, thy knows”
The young healthcare professionals of this generation demands “fashi” of the all war criminals.’

The lyrics of this popular patriotic song is printed in the banner by young healthcare professionals and placed outside of the Bangabandhu hospital right at Shahbagh. The faceless effigies represent the demand once again. After looking at this last banner, I could remember another song wich comprises of this popular line “Koti pran ek shathe jegeche ondho raatre, notun shurjo uthar ei to shomoi” or “Ten million souls have risen together in the middle of the dark night, the new sun rises then.”  I remember this due to the mass demand, but also the division in demand which causes the tension. Whichever sun rises, the Shahbagh demands will not go unnoticed.

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Pic 11: I have become a hand modelJ As I walked out of Shahbagh an artist about my age leaped onto me saying let me write “Joy Bangla on your hand. I said sure and then he asked for Tk. 200 (USD 3), quite a sum in this perspective I escaped with Tk. 50. The colors green and red are of course the flag colors. We end up with artistic nationalism in so many forms that might as well be part of it and flog it on the blog for the world to see!

In conclusion:

Hats off to the activists for being so proactive in voicing their opinion. It is great to be part of this era. I regret not being in Dhaka at the time of the hype of the movement. I still have questions on this wave of nationalism and how it has grown to reinforce the strength of the country. One cannot help but remain ponder over how Bangladesh will fare from this point onwards.

As said at the beginning Bangladesh is in the middle of a crisis. How sad is it that the impunities have not been tried in the last 42 years? When one does cry for justice, the country falls into crisis. Justice is through advertisement of Fashi. I wonder if the paradoxes are part of the comfort zone.

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