Life stopped in its tracks as millions of people across Bangladesh held a candlelight vigil from wherever they could on Thursday in an extraordinary show of support for the Shahbagh movement.
The protesters converged on the heart of the capital announced a ‘Jagaran Samabesh’, or Uprising Rally, for Friday, to roll out the next agitation programmes to press for execution of all war criminals, including Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Molla.
People – irrespective of age, sex and class – poured out of their offices and homes in droves with candles in hand as the time for the vigil at 7pm approached.
The solidarity gesture – in an echo of the three-minute silence of Tuesday – reinforced the massive public support to the Shabagh protest that continued for the 10th consecutive day, in an unmistakeable sign of renewed Bengali nationalism.
At the Shahbagh intersection, the heart of the protest now christened ‘Prajanma Chattar’, tens of thousands of people sang: ‘Muktiro Mandiro Sopano Tole, Koto Pran Holo Bolidan, Lekha Aachhe Oshru Jole.”
The Members of Parliament led by Deputy Speaker Shawkat Ali joined the vigil in the parliament complex. Parliament employees and journalists on duty there also observed the programme.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her granddaughter lit a candle inside the Ganabhaban, her official residence.
মোমবাতি হাতে সংহতিতে প্রধানমন্ত্রী শেখ হাসিনা।
Thousands of people took to the footpaths in different places in the capital, including Mohakhali, Mirpur, Motijheel, Malibagh and Elephant Road and waited as their candles burned in the copycat protests. Bangladesh Premier League was paused as the cricketers and the crowd lit candles in support of the demonstration at the same time.
After the candle-light vigil, one of the organisers, Imran H Chowdhury of Blogger and Online Activist Network, announced the Friday programme.
“We urge students, teachers, cultural activists and factory workers to join Jagaran Samabesh at 3pm tomorrow.”
“One of our demands, amendment to the (international Crimes) Tribunal law is set to be passed. We hope it will be passed on Sunday. This is a primary victory for us.”
He pledged to press on with the movement until their all demands were met, including the one calling for a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami’s politics.
On Wednesday, the protesters from the centre stage at Shahbagh, dubbed ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’, called upon the people to participate in a candlelight vigil.
bdnews24.com district correspondents reported that the similar silence was also observed across the country.
The Blogger and Online Activist Network initiated the nonstop protest at Shahbagh intersection hours after the International Crimes Tribunal-2 on Feb 5 sentenced Jamaat-e-Islami leader Molla to life in prison for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971.
Hundreds of thousands of people from all social classes expressed unity with the young men and women by joining a massive rally last Friday. They also took an oath to continue their movement until Molla is awarded death sentence and vowed to fight anti-liberation forces like Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir.
They also pledged to boycott all business and social
organisations, including media outlets, controlled or funded by the party.
Bangladesh cricket team players Shakib Al Hasan, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza and Mohamamd Ashraful light candles in a show of support for the Shahbagh movement demanding death sentences for all 'war criminals'
The movement has struck a popular chord with almost everyone in the country and with the Bangladesh diaspora.
Meanwhile, the International Crimes (Tribunals) (Amendment) Bill, 2013, was placed in Parliament on Wednesday with a provision to allow both prosecution and defence to appeal against inadequate sentences and orders of acquittal against 1971 war criminals to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Parliament is expected to pass the bill on Sunday.
The Jamaat had opposed Bangladesh's independence and sided with Pakistani troops during the 1971 Liberation War, in which three million died and more than quarter of a million women were dishonoured. The Jamaat activists staffed the auxiliary support forces of the Pakistani army like the Razakars, Al Badr and Al Shams who masterminded the mass murders.
Exterminating the Bengali intelligentsia was their main target.
Awami League Presidium Member Abul Latif Siddiqui said a bill was being placed before Parliament to outlaw Jamaat-e-Islami as demanded by the protesters at Shahbagh.