Paper-Flower Monument at Shahbagh

The Arab Spring sought democracy, but in Bangladesh, the advent of spring is replete with cries for justice.

Published : 7 Feb 2013, 00:12 AM
Updated : 7 Feb 2013, 00:18 AM

Justice for the millions who paid the price of freedom through their blood or honour.

Dhaka’s Shahbagh intersection now seems to be emerging as the needle of the storm that may sweep across Bangladesh to seek justice that judges and courts may fail to ensure.

Since Tuesday when a war crimes tribunal announced life imprisonment for Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, thousands have gathered at the busy Dhaka intersection demanding death for the man who was called “Butcher of Bengalis” for his role in mass murders and other crimes during the 1971 Liberation War.

On Thursday, Shahbagh looked different with a martyrs monument built almost at the heart of the roundabout, made out of flower and paper, by a group of protestors.

They were part of the hundreds who have refused to leave Shahbagh and spend the nights singing, watching war films, debating over war crimes and the nation’s destiny and frequently raising slogans.

Most of them are young, men and women who were possibly not around during the Liberation War but who share the revolutionary fervour that made it possible.

Their slogan: Quader Molla be hanged

Students played guitars as some sang, teachers joined in, all leaving the comfort of their homes for a cause that made possible the dream of Bangladesh four decades ago.

The message coming out of Shahbagh was straight and simple – the nation which got its freedom through an ‘ocean of blood’ was not ready to forgive the men who opposed independence with blood and iron.

For them, the life sentence for Quader Molla was ‘too late, too light, too little.”

It was the third consecutive day protestors have been on the streets since the International Crimes Tribunal-2 handed down ‘life in jail’ verdict for Jamaat-e-Islami’s Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Molla life term on Tuesday.

Adnan Sakib, a final year Finance department student at Dhaka University, joined a ‘human chain’ to protest the verdict on Tuesday but stayed behind at Shahbagh for the demonstration that was building up. He stayed on until 11 am on Wednesday, went back to the university for a quick lunch and was walking back to Shahbagh again in the evening.

Standing at the heart of the roundabout, it saw the sun rising on Thursday.

“We have rallies to attend today, and a grand rally has been announced for tomorrow,” said Adnan, as his friends circled a burning tyre shouting slogans to welcome another day of protest.

“But we like to stay here all the time -before the rally formally starts and after it ends. We will be on the streets for the grand rally.”

“We are not leaving Shahbagh until our demand is fulfilled.”

Mohammad Masud from Keraniganj picked up the Shahbagh protests against the war crimes from television. He rushed to join.

The 21-year old mason does not care if he looses his daily income for joining the protest.

“It was my conscience that dragged me here.”

“It is not expected we would live the same way every day. Many my age took up arms to join the war (1971 Liberation War). I was not lucky because I was not born,” said Masud.“ But I came hear to demand punishment for those who had opposed our struggle for freedom.”

Dhaka City Corporation mechanic Emon came with his boss.

“I was not feeling well, but had to come as sir called. I now feel I would have missed it, if I did not come. I also want death for the war criminals death. Why shouldn’t I join?” said Emon.

The agitators have been demonstrating at the Shahbagh intersection since Tuesday evening, after the war crimes tribunal ordered life imprisonment for Molla for 'crimes against humanity' during the 1971 Liberation War.

Thousands of people burst into the streets to protest the verdict of Molla because they felt the punishment was too light. Hours after the verdict was read out at the tribunal, people from all walks of life assembled at the spot.

They promised not to budge until their demand for hanging Molla for the crimes in 1971 was met.

Leaders from several political parties and a group of Dhaka University teachers have also joined the demonstrations.

The freedom fighters have also expressed solidarity with the protests.

Although the spirited protesters had besieged only Shahbagh intersection in the morning, their sit-in protests on Wednesday spread up to the Fine Arts faculty of Dhaka University in the south, Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in the north, Aziz Super Market in the west and Childrens Park in the east by the evening.

Blogger and Online Activist Network’s call for the protest went viral on the social networking sites.

Thursday morning has just begun with people joining from all around the capital.

People ferrying tea were the happiest of all.

“I decided to stay here all the time. I chant slogan, the demand is mine too. The business is not bad either,” said a tea-seller rushing around.

Rickshawpuller Mukhlesur Rahman from Nilphamari in the north of the country , has worked in and around the Shahbagh intersection for the last three days.

“If I carry passengers from and to Shahbagh, it allows me to spend sometime with the protestors.”

“Quader Molla should be on the gallows for all he has done,” said Mahmudur Rahman Birol, a teacher from Keraniganj.

Molla stands accused of engineering a massacre at Keraniganj during 1971 but those charges against him could not be proved. And that perhaps helped him get away with a life sentence instead of a death penalty.