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Righting Bangladesh's historical atrocities
Publication Date : 13-02-2013
2013 will go down in Bangladesh history as a special year.
The year witnessed the reincarnation of the spirit of 1971 through a mass mobilisation process at Shahbagh, demanding death penalty for the perpetrators of the 1971 genocide.
Instead of exploring creative titles and painting the emotional state of Shahbagh, this article hopes to remind readers of the 1971 Liberation War and its aftermath. This has been done with the optimistic hope that it will help the Shahbagh movement gain momentum and solidarity to withstand the anti-liberation forces in Bangladesh.
The entire March 26 to December 15 period is significant because it was a time when, in the quest for a national identity, we lost many of our bravest and brightest citizens, when hundreds of thousands of women lost their dignity, when children became orphans and mothers wept themselves to sleep unaware of the fate of their sons and daughters.
Professor Rounaq Jahan, a distinguished political scientist, divides the Liberation War into three phases. In the first phase (April to mid-May 1971), the Pakistani army engaged in killing civilians, particularly young males, and burning in order to terrorise the population.
During the second phase (mid-May to September), systematic and organised rape was the weapon of war used by the Pakistani army. Professor Jahan observes: "Girls and women were raped in front of close family members in order to terrorise and inflict racial slander."
The second phase remains one of the key turning points in the history of Bangladesh because it was during this period that the Pakistani government deliberately recruited Bengali collaborators from the Islamist political parties such as the Muslim League and the Jamaat-e-Islami, who were opposed to the Awami League's call for an independent Bangladesh.
In the third and final phase (October to mid-December), with the objective of depriving the new nation of its most talented leadership, the Pakistani military killed the most respected and influential intellectuals in the country. The impact of this phase can still be felt today in our society where one can only conjecture the contribution that such talents could have made to the socio-economic advancement of Bangladesh.
The aftermath of the genocide committed by Bangali collaborators created mistrust in society, which continues to divide our ideas and perceptions about our motherland. Professor Jahan writes: "The sheltered and protected life of women, provided by the Bengali Muslim cultural norm, was virtually shattered in 1971. Thousands of women were suddenly left defenseless and forced to fend for themselves as widows and rape victims."
The Bangladesh Nationlist Party's stance on the war crimes is an ideal example to help comprehend the consequences of the Liberation War. On the one hand, in late 2012, they invited freedom fighters for a party excluding their major ally Jamaat, and on the other hand, they are refusing to play their role as the 'opposition' that they are expected to do in a parliamentary democracy.
Awami League won a landslide victory in the 2008 election promising to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes committed in1971. The AL government set up an International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) with the mandate to prosecute Bangali collaborators involved in those crimes.
Organisations such as the Sector Commanders' Forum, which is committed to releasing Bangladesh from its blood-stained shackles, need to join hands with those in Shahbagh in order to obtain the desired verdict.Much more can be done by our media and civil society groups to fulfill their duty to their motherland by reminding us of our struggle for independence, the Liberation War and all the factors that enabled us to claim our national identity.
The perpetrators of the 1971 genocide should, at the least, be tried for their attempt at dwarfing a nation's development by depriving Bangladesh of its most talented and intelligent citizens, and shattering social norms. We can only hope that maybe one day Pakistani representatives will confess to its war-crimes. We can only hope that one day we will be able to bring the Bangali perpetrators to justice in order to set right our historical records. Finally, it can be hoped that the present government can bring about qualitative changes in the way we conceive and identify ourselves as Bangladeshis. We must continue to demand the trial of the 1971 criminals until we are able to see the dawn of justice, and let the ghosts of the past rest in peace.
The writer is a Senior Research Associate, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)