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What Shahbagh movement means to Bangladeshi students?
The handing down of life sentence to octogenarian Abdul Qader Mullah by the Bangladesh's domestic war tribunal for war crimes committed in the country's war of independence in 1971 is generally believed to be the reason behind the eruption of Shahbagh movement. Besides their primary demand of death sentence to Mullah, the demonstrators, who have been camping at Shahbagh square since February 5, are asking for a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami (JI).

Citizen journalist Wahid Bukhari asked Mehr-un-Nisa (name changed on request) and Asif Iftikhari, both students of Ibrahim Medical College, located just a stone’s throw from the Shahbagh Square, how they viewed the Shahbagh movement.  Read below what they had to say.

Mehr-un-Nisa, 22

I think the people were misled into believing that it was a peoples’ movement. It has now become as obvious political play on behalf of the government. As far as we know, so-called atheists started it and now that the government is benefiting from it, so they are supporting it.

To me these protests symbolize why this country will never make it into the big leagues. People have been wasting a whole month fighting over something that happened years ago, something that has no effect on our present and future.

I did take part in the movement for the first two days, because I was misled and told that it was a social cause. I stopped going there as I realized that people were going there for completely different reasons.

They apparently want death sentence for all the war criminals, but that’s only what they are saying to others. It is completely ridiculous that the government is not only allowing this, but also supporting and sympathizing with them. In a country with almost 80% Muslim population any type of anti-Islamic remark should not be tolerated!

I honestly could care less what happens to Abdul Qader Mullah. I mean he is old and going to die soon, anyway. And it’s illogical from a social point of view, but this has been a brilliant political play by the current government. The tribunal sentenced him to life but the government (which is biased) couldn’t feel happy about it, so it set out supporting these protestors. As a result, the next man who went on trial could not escape the gallows, and that is just what happened.

There are corrupt people in every political party and they are bound to make mistakes, especially during war or extreme situations. Why should we target just one group? As the saying goes ‘you should watch your own backyard before blaming others’, so it is high time that we stop punishing people who made mistakes not years, but decades ago. What about the ones who killed, sorry butchered would be the correct term, an innocent man? Television networks broadcast this across the world yet no punishment has been served. What about the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) atrocities that happened a few years ago?

JI should not be banned. In a democracy, everyone has the right to voice their opinions, we may not agree with them all, but to stop them would be to take away their God-given right to be free speech. If you don’t agree with their philosophy, then simply don’t vote for them. If u ban JI now, then who is to guarantee that the next government will not ban the party that bans JI, and the process of retribution will continue. Where do you draw the line?

This is a crucial time for the current government, as elections are round the corner, and they want to ban JI now because it has strong ties with major opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who are the front runners in the elections. The incumbent government hardly did what they had promised; not only have they increased the economical deficit of the country thanks to these riots… but of course, they will try to pass the blame buck on to the other party.

There are some obvious similarities of the Shahbagh movement with Arab Spring: Local people fighting with authorities, mass protests, the huge youth influence, the use of media that has made this movement seem like some huge social cause, as if they are doing something great for the nation. Besides people trying to overthrow governments, media only reporting what the government wants people to know.

More than 70 people died on Thursday last (official figures put the death toll at 34) and government figures are just a joke; were the lives other 36 people not important enough to be reported?  People have already started to fear that this violence may lead to a civil war.

We are afraid to leave the house, and my college is in Shahbag, so it’s scarier. Why should the normal public suffer because some fat old men in air-conditioned offices need their egos stroked?

While some people have been calling that the movement is calling for an end to fundamentalism, I see it as an opposition to human rights, rights that have been given by God. And humans should not tamper with them.

I fear that the current government, Awami League, known for bootlicking India will sell this country to India. Does that make me right, we don’t know yet. But there are strong facts to support my fear.

Lastly, if people cared about important stuff like the country’s future they couldn’t possibly get wrapped up in the past. Like a zebra can’t change its stripes; fools don’t become smart overnight.

Asif Iftikhar, 21

Shahbag means a lot to me from different angles. Firstly, it was a spontaneous movement (I used WAS as there are rumors now that different political parties are trying to manipulate it). To me, Shahbag is an outburst of the rage of the younger generation deposited for years.

There is no end to problems in a third world country - lack of educational opportunities and job opportunities, lack of accommodation, basic needs and justice in every aspect of the life. There is no scope for protesting against these odds. The young generation felt the life sentence handed down to Qader Mulla was violation of their basic rights, and therefore, came out on the streets. Of course it is a peoples’ movement.

I took part in the movement. It felt like a duty to my nation, to protest against the razakars, the traitors and the people behind the worst genocide in my country. Initially the demands of the protesters in Shahbag were the death penalty to all the war criminals of 1971.

You have to understand the political and socioeconomic structure of a third world country. You can’t find a single government that is not corrupt. Though judiciary is independent theoretically, but most of the people in our country don't have faith in these theories. It has been 42 years but still the war criminals haven't faced trials until now. Moreover, there is a chance that sentences would be commuted as the government changes.

People, who suffered because of these war criminals, witnessed their near and dear ones being brutally killed and raped in front of their eyes. If it were possible we would have demanded death by hanging for all these murderers.

JI should have been banned 42 years ago. It is just simple. How can a political party exist, which doesn’t virtually admit the very sovereignty of our country, which didn’t support the fight for freedom of this country, which brutally killed the freedom loving people of this country, which killed the intellectuals of the country?

If you watch the news coverage of last few days, you will see what is happening in the name of protests by the JI supporters. They broke the SHAHEED MINAR, monument for the language movement martyrs; Pakistani rulers did the same in the then East Pakistan, they set the national flag of Bangladesh on fire.

They are creating chaos every now and then, even in the capital Dhaka. They are using the National Mosque, Baitul Mukarram as their fortress! Even they set on fire the prayer mats of the mosque. They even beat up the media-persons.

They are setting fire to public property; they are allegedly robbing houses of Hindus, Mandirs, exploding cocktails, seizing fire arms from police and so on. All these things remind us of their crimes in 1971. They claim to be a democratic party. I don’t get the point. If this is democracy then definition of democracy should be changed. 

I too demand ban of JI. To me, it’s a duty to my motherland and the martyrs. Its already too late, this party should have been banned just after freedom, but previous governments failed or didn’t do it for their own good. Even this government is going to have some benefits if this party is banned, but still they should b banned, as it is a public demand.

Yes, there are political games going on about this Shahbagh issue. This government has failed to meet up some serious public demands and failed in some serious issues, like the share market scandal, Padma bridge scandal, Sagor Runi murder, Hallmark scandal and so on. So there might be a chance that the present government tries to use the Shahbagh issue for their benefit in the upcoming election.

But that doesn't mean that this movement is not important or is fully set up by the government. You can’t solve all the problems at once. There are some national issues, which are related to the existence of the nation, the people. These problems should be solved on priority basis. The war criminals issue is one like it. But the civil society should also be very conscious about any misuse of their precious feelings for the country, their patriotism and their emotions etc.

Shahbagh and Egypt’s Tahrir Square meet at one point. That is, both of them are created by the protesting power of the general people, the youths. Both came to reality, as people had no way to move back, their backs were to the walls.

Lastly, I have some points to clear. Shahbag protest wasn’t, isn’t and will never be a protest against Islam. Most of the people in Bangladesh are pious Muslims. So they wouldn’t allow an anti-Islam protest to go on for months. We, the Bangladeshis are mostly peace loving people, who honour all religions, love to live in peace and harmony with each other.

And last but not the least, each and every one of these war criminals is going to face trial. Those who are using religion as their shield, now and then, none will be spared. The nation has risen again.

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