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Published:February 18th, 2013 22:05 EST
What's Happening in Bangladesh?  'Living in a Dark Age in 21st Century

What's Happening in Bangladesh? 'Living in a Dark Age in 21st Century

By Farjana Mahbuba

In one of our regular casual chatting with a female relative over the phone, while I asked her how is she going, she says, "I`ve not seen the dark age, read about it in the school text, a time when people were barbaric, didn`t know civilization. But now I feel like living in a dark age in this twenty first century."

Before I get into her comment of Bangladesh going through a `dark-age, I need to say  this- if  I were in Bangladesh right now, I would have never dared to write this, never ever. You can take risk on your own life, but no one wants to put their family members in harm`s way. In Bangladesh, now, if you say something and it goes against the interest of the government and/or its allies, you must pay the price. RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) or DB (Detective Branch) police will be haunting you. If you are lucky enough to escape, well, there is always someone in your family to pay off.

On 5th February, this year, a group of online activists, bloggers, called for a protest in Shahbag intersection in Dhaka to protest against 1971-war-crime-tribunal`s verdict against Mr. Abdul Kader Molla to be imprisoned for life for his `crimes against humanity` in 1971 Independence War of Bangladesh. The protesters demanded altering his verdict from life imprisonment to capital punishment--death by hanging. The protest continues till today with police protection provided by the government, and has a huge support from mostly secularists, leftists and government supporters.   

Long story short, each and every Bangladeshi, young and old, demand and want proper punishment of war-criminals who committed horrific-crimes in the 1971 war. But the Pakistani army, the principle culprit, was never held responsible for their crimes in an international court. The present war-crime tribunal is all about penalizing local collaborators who assisted the Pakistani army in the war. 

In this process, many legitimate questions arose regarding the partiality and biasness of the tribunal, as well as government influences on the tribunal verdicts. All the copies of UK based, The Economist` 15th December 2012 publication were banned in Bangladesh and seized by government force at the airport because of writing a piece of article asking some difficult questions. Economist expressed concerns over some leaked phone and Skype conversations between the judges of the tribunals that clearly indicates that a guilty verdict was already decided and written even before the court had finished hearing testimony from the defense witness.

The biasness, hypocrisy and double-standard of not only the government or the tribunal but also the shahbag-protest is so vivid and evident that no one with common-sense can fathom  how is it possible in this civilized twenty first century?    

Hypocrisy of the tribunal-

In addition to the more obvious fallacies of the tribunal, an independent observer cannot help but ask more telling questions. Why are every single one of the `collaborators`, arrested and receiving verdict by this tribunal, are leaders of the second largest opposition party (Jamaat-e-islami-Bangladesh) of the country, who was in power in previous term along with the largest opposition party?

Why are the clearly identified and proven collaborators, serving the ruling party, not brought to justice by this tribunal? Instead they are even serving several ministries under this government.

Hypocrisy of the government and prime-minister-

A cloth-tailor, who has nothing to do with the ongoing politics, was hacked to death in broad day-light in front of numerous pedestrians, journalists as well as TV cameras on 9th December 2012 by several BCL members (Bangladesh Chatra League, student wing of the ruling party, Bangladesh Awami League), suspecting he was one of the oppositions. Not only the faces of the attackers are very clear on many media photos and video footages but also their names and identity are out as well. The day shahbag-protest started in Dhaka, same day, a very young college student named Abid bin Islam was brutally killed gouging out his eyes while in police custody after he was arrested from an anti-government protest in Chittagong. At least seven members of the opposition party have been shot dead by police and many more are murdered around the country during the anti-Shahbag protest over the last few weeks. Even a child and a female bystander were also killed in police random shooting! 

But, I repeat, but, none of them got a bit of sympathy from the government, let along being arrested, even though they were clearly identified in various sources. The Prime Minister has not even mentioned them in any of her speeches. In most main stream, government backed newspapers, these deaths appeared in small print.  

Since then, there was another murder. This time of a blogger, who was allegedly writing hateful and provocative blogs on Islam, and a participant in the shahbag-protest, named, Rajib on 15th of February, 2012. He went out of his house with one of his blogger-friends at evening and his dead body was found in front of his house at night. The prime-minister immediately visited Rajib`s family and said that she would do her very best to ban Jamaat-shibir (the leading Islamist party) who `killed` Rajib! No inquest, no evidence, but the prime-minister immediately `knew` who killed Rajib! Even though various sources were indicating that Rajib`s murder could have happened because of her extra-marital relationships, or because of an internal conflict with Shorbohara-communist party.        

My question is, if the honourable Prime-Minister has real integrity to bring those collaborators into justice, then how come there are at least 23 clearly identified collaborators are serving in her various ministries?

What is it that the government and the Prime-Minister are so afraid to be published and come out, which led them to siege those copies of The Economist that published an article on the tribunal`s biases? And what is it that they are so afraid of that they ban and shut down pro-Islamic blog `Sonar Bangladesh` and arrest the blog`s Editor from his own house, except now the police denies knowledge of his existence.

For arguments sake, if I suppose `all` Jamaat-shibir were collaborators of the Pakistani Army in 1971 (!) and the party thus should be banned, and all of the members of this party should be punished in tribunal, then how come, I just don`t understand, how come this same ruling party and the same Prime Minister not only allied with Jamaat-shibir in many elections but also shared various ministry with them?!    

Hypocrisy of the shahbag-protest-

I was real delighted to see the protest  in its starting. Thousands of young, school, college and university students, online activists, bloggers all got together to demand justice. A justice that is long-due. A justice that is a dream of every single Bangladeshi. A justice, that needs to be brought forward. I was hopeful that this time it will happen. This time, this protest of young facebook generation will come forward against all hypocrisies surrounding the big war-crime political drama. They will raise their voice against each and every single collaborators regardless of their political background and involvement. They will not be afraid of the government or any other force. They will demand `pure` justice that the country deserves.

But, nah, that dream didn`t come true. Rather it became a horrible dream that has been polarisingthe young generation into two opposite extremes and let them brutally fighting against each other, online or on field. They chant "catch a Jamaati and slaughter"! They demand for hanging of Jamaat leader, no matter if the `tribunal` gets enough evidence against them or not. The entire gathering gets the shape of a blood-thirsty mob.

If the protesters are really concerned about `proper` justice, how come not a single one of them demand trial against the collaborators who are serving in the government and the ruling party?!

If the protesters are serious and honest in their demand for fair-trial, how come they are not uttering a single line against the tribunal`s plots that are clear and vivid in judges` emails, phone and Skype leakage? 

If the protesters have now suddenly lost their confidence on the tribunal, not after Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Economist, Turkey, American, UN has cautioned about its biasness, not after the whole world cautioning against the cycle of violence it may bring, rather only after a life-imprisonment sentence has been dictated instead of death by hanging, then I wonder, were they not listening when the whole world was screaming?

What? Is it they only want the Jamaat-leaders to be hanged as they are demanding in their slogans and placards? Is it that they only want Jamaat-shibir to be banned as they are chanting? Then why the hell are they calling this protest `a demand for collaborator`s trial`?! Shouldn`t it be called a protest to demand Jamaat-shibir to be banned and their leaders to be hanged no matter whether they are real criminals or not?

This gathering in Shahbag also called for a `cyber war`, constantly reporting `spam` against accounts in Tweeter and Facebook of those who they consider their `opposition`; hacking the sites not supporting them. Whenever they get success in closing down any accounts from their hit-list the call `Tweeter & FB warriors` to celebrate their `killing`!  

On the other hand, a part of this same generation who are against this `protest`, not far behind in their `war` against shahbag! Spreading rumors of rapes of girls at shahbag, calling female protesters `prostitutes`, and so on, making the whole political culture more dirty and messy. The young generation, clearly divided into two extreme, being dirtily used for the political purpose. The honourable Prime -Minister already ordered the tribunal to consider `people`s emotion in any of their future verdicts!     

I know, even by raising these legitimate questions, I put myself in risk of being tagged as a `collaborator` (!) myself, although I was born more than one decade later of the Independence War! Observing all these things happening in Bangladesh, I can`t but agree with this- "Two recent incidents in the Indian sub-continent [indicating to the Shahbag-protest in Dhaka and the execution of Afzal Guru in India] proved beyond doubt that no matter how much we claim ourselves as democracies, at the end of the day we are nothing but a poor people who vent their frustration through sadistic instincts. Democracy in this part of the world, is turning out into a festival of the mob where the freedom to execute is justified in the name of "collective conscience" and used abundantly and unregretfully." (OneIndiaNews, February 15,2013)

Many times in my life I thanked Allah (God) that I`m not born in one of those countries where, in civil wars, people kill each other so brutally, so blatantly, and they so much enjoy their mob-lynching! So many times in my life I thanked Allah for being born in a country that is so colorful, so vibrant, so brave and so beautiful.

And now, I don`t know what to feel anymore for my country, seeing that it is the same country, where there is no difference with those unfortunate nations. Where people get killed, hacked to death, slaughtered, tortured, murdered, shot dead, and no one gets justice! Where the protectors of the state, the police kill people! Where one party cherishes and enjoys when someone is murdered from their opposition!

I just don`t know what to think about it anymore.