Shahbag movement - Rebuilding Bengali Identity (by Asif Mohiuddin)

Published on Monday, May 20, 2013

[Moderator's Note: Asif Mohiuddin who is currently in prison,  considered as one of the most outspoken atheist and humanist bloggers of Bangladesh. His writing—which was heavily critical of religious dogma, bigotry and superstition—and his political activism including the Jagannath University protests angered the government, as well as marked the beginning of the threats he received from fundamentalists. These threats eventually led to action in mid-January this year. Mohiuddin was brutally stabbed and severely injured by three suspected but unidentified Islamist fundamentalists. When Asif returned from hospital and started writing again, the BTRC (The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) allegedly told the blog communities to stop spreading his messages. Complying with the threat, Somewherein, Bangladesh's first Bangla language community blog site, ultimately banned Mohiuddin, who used to write there regularly (and was even 2012's User Winner for "Best Social Activism Campaign" at the Deutsche Welle's International Blog Awards). Now he has been  arrested and still in jail. While Asif has been an object of criticism for a number of groups for various reasons, many young freethinkers in Bangladesh look to him as a nonconformist idol who has fought against the tyrannical state machinery until the very end. Asif's last status and a forceful writeup (published in just before he got arrested) about the arrested bloggers reads:

There was a time in the 17-18th century in Europe when women who excelled in knowledge, science and philosophy more than men were blamed for witchcraft and were burned alive by the churches and their theocratic government. Education and thus advancement for women has always been a threat for radicalism so this is why the church and the government indulged in burning the progressive women by branding them as witches. The exact same situation is in Bangladesh right now. The whole new generation who brought in a revolution in Bangla blog community with their advancement in science, philosophy and critical mind, who wrote against the religious fundamentalism and in favor of our great liberation war, freedom of speech, secularism and democracy will be burned alive just like witch-hunt in the late middle ages. I was threatened a lot when I spoke against government's autocracy from so many other bloggers, but where are they now? Are they supporting the two headed snake government who acts secular but shelters the fundamentalists?"
Police arrested him as part of a crackdown on bloggers in the face of pressure from radical Islamist groups. The arrest of Asif Mohiuddin, came a day after the detention of three other bloggers (Subrata Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Rasel Pervez) and ahead of an Islamist march this weekend towards the capital Dhaka to demand the death penalty for online atheist writers. While two bloggers recently were released on bail, other two including Mohiuddin are still in jail. Few day's ago we were honored to publish a translated piece by Subrata Shuvo; today we are proud to present an article of Asif Mohiuddin which he posted in Mukto-Mona Bangla blog on February 14, 2013 under the title 'শাহবাগের আন্দোলন এবং বাঙালির চেতনার পুনর্নির্মাণ'. We thank Shuborna Senjuti for translating this piece.]


Shahbag movement - Rebuilding Bengali Identity

By Asif Mohiuddin Translation: Shuborna Senjuti

The uprising that has started demanding execution of 1971 war criminal, killer and rapist Kader Mullah is no more a mundane protest of Paltan premises. This movement has gone to such height, it can no longer be seen at par with opportunist characterless protests by common political parties. We all more or less know how political parties in Bangladesh arrange gatherings, how they hire truckload of indigent mass in exchange of a minuscule amount. On the contrary, people are coming on their own to join this protest, sometimes with family, making posters by themselves sitting in the street, sacrificing a portion of their salary to buy rice flakes, rice crisps and jackary and handing it over to Lucky Akhtar - who has been named the Fire Woman(Agni Konnya). Spontaneous mass uprising like this has been rare in Bengali life. Before it was seen in 52, 71, 90s anti- autocracy movement and now in Shahbag condemning the war criminals trial and demanding their execution. A festive vibe is all around, Bengali cultural and spiritual unity are unmasking. It cannot be oversighted. This is widespread and it has enormous depth. If we fail to recognize this, history shall not forgive us.

The innate "Bengali" value set and moral stance, suppressed by myriad of territorial and colonial propaganda, obsoleted by cultural and economic aggression, has been put back in limelight once again through this movement. We are rediscovering the part of our lost selves, our conscious in Shahbag. Different festivals and democratic movements reaffirm our secular mindset and the long nurtured value enriched by Lalan Fakir, Rabindranath, Nazrul and BangaBandhu(Sheikh Mujibur Rahman). In this movement, there is not even a tinge of concern for anyone's belief set, a Hindu and a Muslim are sharing food from the same plate here. Even a staunch atheist and a bearded Islam loving Imam with toupee are chatting over a cup of tea. Whereas we often see religious political parties and fundamentalist organizations threatening to kill and indulging followers to attack oppositions with chapatis(long knives). A divide that had been created between us was kept purposefully alive to reap benefit for many years.

Not only that, a rickshaw puller brought a few young men to Shahbag without any fare. This rickshaw puller is not a rich person to do such deed. His sweat is the core of Bengali conscious, his labour is the moral stand of Bengalis. This conscious is not in vain, this is our main chord of united being, belongingness from thousand years of history. People who are thinking this movement to be an idle picnic or drama by the lazy middle class, will also have to answer to history.

Not only Bengalis, Chakma, Marma and other indigenous communities have joined this movement. They were also tortured, they also shed blood in Seventy one. Our beloved Kabir Suman has written songs from West Bengal. Not only in Shahbag, the movement has spread in every nook and corner, Bengalis around the world has shown solidarity with the movement. Therefore, this movement is not insignificant anymore, it's spreading, gradually branching out. Among other things the slogan "Joy Bangla" is one that we recouped through this movement, we rescued it from a party, in Seventy one this slogan belonged to all of us. Not only the slogan, we are wanting to recover our stake in the state which, just like the slogan, were snatched by political looters and imperialists. We the youth, are wanting to recover whole Bangladesh, our lost conscious. We lost the Joy Bangla slogan to a political party, it was stolen; the slogan that gave a near heart attack feeling to Razakars and Pakistani force. Joy Bangla, the slogan abundantly used in liberation war was lost from mass peoples' vocabulary. We somehow felt embarrassed to shout this slogan out post liberation for several years now. But as a result of this movement we have once again internalized Joy Bangla. We will again raise our voice and shout out Joy Bangla from now on. Now this stream of people are flocking together to rescue Bangladesh.

Hundreds of women are staying overnight in Shahbag now. Each night, a girl is walking around with a stick, watching over. Not a single case of violation against women happened, not a single woman was verbally abused. But this is not the common picture of Bangladesh. In our middle class families girls are not easily allowed by parents to remain outside home even during the day. That very girl is staying at Shahbag overnight with hundreds of fellow boys without being abused by any mates. A scene like this is hard to imagine in a land of numerous rapes. This cannot be seen lightly. There is strong morale and conscious Bengali stance behind this act.

Fundamentalism and communal politics were never pro women, neither were fundamentalist parties seen engaging in anti rape protest. While in 1971 they were busy raping million of women, today they are busy covering women in gunny sack burkas. These fanatics are even moral policing over women by blaming them for rape and eve teasing and suggesting to cover themselves properly. This is not Bengali ideal rather a fundamentalist one, the core Bengali ideal has returned to its own form through this movement. A Bengali woman is as safe in Shahbag streets as she is in her own home. This is the ideal that Bengalis hold. The position given to women by fundamentalist and religious politics is not in line with core Bengali values, it is an imposed one. We wanted a Bangladesh where there will be no discrimination in the name of religion, no communalism, no torture on minorities, indigenous people will not be suppressed, no disparity between the rich and the poor; where a woman can wander around in the streets in the middle of the night if she wishes to- no one will say anything to her. But the Bangladesh we see so far is not like this. Through this protest we in fact recouped our Bangladesh, recognized our core values, rescued ourselves, our morals- the moral we don't want to lose again.

Every movement faces some struggle, controlling youth and leading them from a moral and ideal stand is often impossible. That is why slogans like "Catch one (Shibir), slaughter one (Shibir)" are being uttered which clearly demonstrate Razakar ideals, not in tune with Bengali morals. Bengalis are legitimately asking for a fair trial through this movement, their stand is one of ideal. Catching and slaughtering does not represent the true essence of that ideal. At the same time Shahbag is shouting out "Golam Azam, Saydee-nasty Jews of Bengal," an anti Semitic, racist slogan that could not be stopped. It is highly objectionable and if portrayed by international media as fascist and racist, the credibility of the movement will be heavily undermined. This is not an insignificant protest anymore, whole world is looking at it. So if these issues are not handled properly they might bring harm instead of good.

joy amader hobei

How did this movement come about? Who are the main forces behind this? The answers involve personal and political favour issues. This did not start suddenly by a few young guys, neither did it get the momentum due to call from a particular political party. This movement involves a long struggle, a promise of a generation built over many years. This movement belongs to pro-liberation anti fundamentalist people who, without compensation, relentlessly fought for freethinking and free speech online for years. Each and every writer, each and every reader has contributed to this movement.

It is the contribution of those young activists who worked hard for days and took this movement from online activities to Shahbag ground. We don't want to hear a similar debate like the announcer of independence, we also will not appreciate seeing a few aspiring parliament members in making through this movement. Because these debates and personal gain motives lead to divide, more filth. Who is the leader of this movement? Who called for this amazing movement? Who played the main part? The leader is of this movement is Jahanara Imam, the mother of martyrs, our beloved "Amma". We are all her children and workers of this great movement. There is no scope for debate after this, I guess.

Religion is a highly sensitive issue for people, a spiritual philosophy of life. Common people practice religion, believe in it without logic, depends on it and keep it very close to heart. Our countrymen have observed their religious belief and local culture simultaneously. There is little association between common mass and the group who takes religious books strictly word for word, lives by the rituals ignoring the spirit. But during British period and post-creation of Pakistan the fundamental religious system has been encouraged, ignoring the main spiritual essence ritualistic practices were promoted. Religion has been brought to political field from personal space, politics of ballot and oppression was established exploiting religious sentiment.

shahbagh_light Fanaticism, Fundamentalism and communalism have been infiltrated in our country and have been exploited in need basis. US Ambassador Mr. Harry K Thomas came in our country and said, our lower class pupils will study in the madrasa, middle class in Bengali medium and upper class students will go to English medium. The seed of sectarianism sowed by the British in our part of the world is being nurtured by the American imperialism throughout the world. Harry K Thomas made us realize how by introducing madrasa education, fanaticism and fundamentalism are nurtured using illiteracy and superstition as vehicles. Also, how to exploit it if opportunity arises. He prescribed the formula of converting necessitous people of the society into religious fanatics. The reason is: religious fanatics are used by US imperialists at the same time they are employed to drag the country to medieval stage through ill-mannered education. USA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan- these states have similar character, and while our country was still in womb, as recognized enemies they tried to kill it, carrying out genocide.

In 1971 the Pakistani armed force backed by fanatic Jamat-Shibir carried out one of the most brutal genocides in history. They killed millions of people, conspired to turn this country into a meritless one by killing our prominent intellectuals. Not only that, they violated millions of women, a memory impossible to wipe out. Day after day, one by one, they raped, starting from our little daughters to our beloved mothers in different ways. Our precious women were kept naked inside a room preventing them from committing suicide by strangling using their own attire. 24/7 torture led our mothers and sisters to suicidal mode, but the Pakistani force did not allow them to die, for the simple fact that dead women are no good for rape. Our streets were teamed with corpses, with wounded raped female cadavers. The pictures of those brutalities make one shiver. One trembles with loathe to even imagine how a human being could go to this extent of torture. For those who had their near ones drowned in ponds, floated in billabongs or rivers withstood many more years of terrible reminiscence when they woke up following a nightmare. We may not have remembered those days. But the man whose father was murdered, mother was butchered by a few filthy lowlife animals, how can he forget the bestiality? Those raped faces and numerous corpses have become a mere statistic in books, they have no more tears, no more screams and no more bloods. It is impossible to comprehend their tax paying money feeding assassins like Kader Mullah in jail.


We, the common people got busy with our own lives, some not even remembering it past routine mourning during March or December(the month of independence and victory). With many years passed, it was passed to the abyss of oblivion. We started dreaming a new Pakistan. The Pakistani ghost once we bade farewell to, was not haunting us, however, the ghost haunted us in other forms - in our thought, in our blood cells, in our state machinery, in our constitution, in our belief, it became a part of our self. We listen to razakars Islamic sermon on TV, they entered our bedroom with Islamic banners. They give us guidance, suggestions and we comply. We deposit in Islamic Bank, our leading newspapers advertise their commercials. We here, mesmerized- how to drive malauns(slang for Hindus) out of Bangladesh, how to impregnate malaun women with Muslim babies, how to establish Islam in the country. Hearing this, the jihadist rebel inside us got aroused. Our blood started losing the freedom fighter cells and was replaced by the rajakar cells. The blood boiled with reactionary addiction, dream of jihad. The red circle in Bangladeshi flag signifies the Sun that we earned with blood of our freedom fighters. Just the other day they held that blood soaked flag in their car arrogantly, and we turned a blind eye as if it meant nothing! Our major political parties sold themselves to these lumpens. One party took them to power, another strengthened them. It seemed we had nothing to do, we only learnt to ignore, to bypass, to forget.

Nothing can be worse than mixing politics with religious inspiration then adding worldly pleasures as a bonus. While in protest, an Awami league supporter or leftist might think about his old mother or her school teacher father, but for a Jamat activist that's least of his worries. He has Allah above him, he has heaven to allure him. Death cannot suppress him, Fear does not scare him. Considering the scale of danger he is a threat to the whole world. Around the globe, politics fuelled by religious exploitation is ferocious. In other words, the very character of religious politics is ludicrous, full of filth. Who joins Jamat-Shibir? What is the reason behind such massive influence of the fundamentalist group defeated in Seventy one in today's free and sovereign Bangladesh? How did they become so powerful? How did they manage to gather such strength?

The problems are so ingrained in our education system that we cannot escape from this poison. In the name of madrasa education a mediaeval practice is continuing, American imperialism has been allowed to infiltrate to grass root level, trapping people in a dark sphere of territorial and communal power politics. They assumed positions in every sector starting from the economy, politics, education and so on. Religious fanatic Jamat-Shibir and US imperialism is nothing but two sides of the same coin- made clear by the apology issued involving a stone throw in US embassy's car during Jamat's hartal(strike). Jamat- Shibir never apologized for carrying out genocide in this country, never apologized for raping innumerous women, never apologized for opposing the sovereignty of this country. One stone thrown at American embassy's car seems to be much more grave than blood of million martyrs and lost respect of million women. If not, how can an apology be issued for a mere stone throw but not for grave misconduct done to fellow countrymen?

Bengali history does not pride itself with many achievements but 1952 (Language Movement) and 1971(Liberation War). In Nineteen Fifty two, we suddenly realized our identity was at stake, losing our mothertongue will ultimately demolish our ethnic identity. So we fought back with full force. Again in Seventy one, we felt there is no scope to flinch, so we gambled with our lives and started the war. We made this country free. In this war we had to withstand similar torture dreaming a new day, aspiring a new country. We could not bring the Pakistani force to trial, their armed force carried out a massacre and genocide in our country and retreated to India; their left behind cronies Razakars and Al- Badars carried out limitless brutal and heinous crimes against humanity, still today we are at the mercy of their politics and power. They threaten us in public, the show their blood red eye in public, they wander around with our flag in their car, the flag that we earned with blood, looks like they are standing on our raped mothers and sisters sarees, they are stomping arrogantly on our freedom fighters' graves. We are also pushed against the wall today, if today the trial of war criminals becomes an issue of petty politics to gain vote, if the trial is negotiated or softened, then as a nation we will not have any more achievements, we will have no future at all. It is time to bid farewell to ill-intentioned politics. The culture of nurturing fanatic religious politics has to be abolished.

The failure to punish the Pakistanis is fairly attributed to us. The failure amplifies with the fact that we were even unable to punish the low life Razakars and Al-Badars. They have kept us hostage today, when the trial is on the run. They are stomping in the highways, showing us they are strong - they have power. We were looking at their massacre like meek. Now we have been able to untie, like Seventy one. The trial of Nazis for World War II genocide did not only punish their war crime, it also included abolishment of Nazi party and their aggressive nationalism propaganda, banning of their music, books even their symbol. They were forbidden to join politics or to carry on any activity ever again. Then why can't we abolish Islamic parties including Jamat who carried out mass execution in Seventy one forming Al-Badar and Al-Shams party for good?

Fanaticism, fundamentalism, communalism and religious politics gain strength when they are backed by armed force and pro military force. In Bangladesh there is no other way for religious political parties other than bomb blast and spreading terror. They bomb cars, cut veins of people and scare people. They try to gain sympathy from USA and the armed force. The backbone of any religious political party is to defend an ideal imposed from above with rifle barrel. Even though Bengalis fear these forces, they will fight back sometime. They will raise their secular voice to strengthen their position. This voice is being heard now, this voice must not be muted. The fanatics must be demolished by the roots.

They should be boycotted nationally and socially. We have to boycott Diganta TV and Islamic TV, We have to boycott Daily Sangram, Naya Diganta, Daily Inqilab, Weekly Sonar Bangla; We have to boycott Islami Bank Ltd., Islamic Finance and Investment Ltd., Fareast Islami Life Insurance, Islami Insurance, Islami Bank Hospital and Ibne Sina Hospital. If their financial pipeline is not cut , our next generation will be intellectually retarded. For that, we need to be more united, more organized. This movement needs to be spreaded countrywide. Village and district level activities need to be organized to corner communal forces, to abolish them. Because they bring in demeaning attitude towards women, abuse against minority, military rule, territorial power spread, superstitious education and above all nasty politics.

This movement is not limited to the demand of Kader Mullah's (Quader Molla) execution. This has become a strong standing protest of Bengalis against religion based politics and commercialization of religion, protest to ensure rule of law, protest against our political bankruptcy, protest against using Jamat- Shibir to gain votes, protest against keeping Jamat-Shibir alive and exploiting their names to fill in the ballot boxes. This has become an anti rape movement, protesting discrimination against women- a strict stand of Bengalis. Most importantly, this movement, this flow of mass is not only for Kader Mullah, it includes all war criminals, religious parties including Jamat, all financial and business concerns of religious parties, against religion based education and for democratic secular Bangladesh, a place where rule of law and fair trial prevails. This must not be destroyed for political allegiance and mediation. Because if we let this be destroyed, we will not have anything left.

Joy Bangla.

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