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“Life stopped in its tracks as millions show support”
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“Life stopped in its tracks as millions show support”

Mehzabin Ahmed profile picProtests in Bangladesh continue as hundreds of thousands demand justice for four-decade-old war crimes, writes Mehzabin Ahmed, 29, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Dhaka in Bangladesh, who says the spirit of participation could signal a new era.

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 demanding the death penalty for all war criminals from the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971. 

Protests in Shahbagh Projonmo Chottor (New Generation Circle Square) continue for the eleventh day, where each day hundreds of thousands from all walks of life have been gathering with deep wounded sorrow against our war criminals.

While the non-stop protest slogans chant on here 24 hours, day and night, our red and green flags fly high in the air with a fiery spirit of revolution. People walk on, enchanted by the songs of our nation, the songs of freedom, and the heartbeats of our once-envisioned secular Bangladesh, free from all forms of oppression and exploitation. Art, songs, and drama are enacted to express discontent with injustice, and love for the nation.

The peaceful and yet aggrieved protests across the nation erupted last week when war criminal Quader Molla, a well known Rajakar, feared as the Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur), was convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal and handed life imprisonment for more than 300 murders and rape of civilians during the Bangladesh War of Independence.

While international critics argue capital punishment may not be the answer, our nation’s people’s emotions are angered by this sentence because after more than four decades of independence, they haven’t received justice. They fear that he along with the other hated war criminals, namely Jamaat-e-Islami leaders Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid, Nayeb-e-Ameer Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Kamaruzzaman, and BNP leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, will get political amnesty as soon the power revolves. Mass protests by the general people also erupt to ban religion based politics, especially on Jamaat-e-Islami and Shibir.

During the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971, it is estimated that more than three million people were killed and between 200,000 and 400,000 women were raped by Pakistani military and paramilitary forces. An estimated ten million refugees fled to India from Bangladesh, and a further 30 million were displaced. However, it has taken more than four decades of independence to bring the war criminals of this atrocious conflict to trial.

The protests were started by a group of online youth activists on 5th February, 2013, in Shahbagh Projonmo Chottor, but have now been joined in by millions of people from all walks and age across the nation. They’re seeking justice against all our war criminals and may be the rise of hope for a new dawn in Bangladesh, with a fiery rekindled spirit of independence, national love and patriotism in the air. It has also been referred to as the Shahbagh Square, as a nod to the historic and revolutionary events which unfolded in Tahrir Square in Egypt.

They say that in a functional democracy participation, accountability, and rule of law come hand in hand. I do hope that the recent spirit of people’s participation to seek justice would reinforce the others, and once again reinforce our belief in the power of the people and the power of voices that deserve to be heard. Let the love of our nation never deter us from that path.

And now it’s time again for me to embark back to Shahbagh… In solidarity.

Happy Valentines Day Bangladesh…

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” – Che Guevara

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About me:

“I come from Bangladesh, home to the Royal Bengal tigers and the longest natural beach in the world. I am passionate about working for sustainable solutions to development. I currently work as a development practitioner in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am also a freelance journalist and a novice debater.

“I am bilingual in Bangla and English. I love learning new languages, and am a keen but elementary student of French. What I have learnt from wise words and life experiences is that, “If you want others to change, you have to be willing to change yourself as well”. Feel free to call me Simi.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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