12:00 AM, February 14, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 14, 2013

Shahbagh Protests

Spring adds colour, zeal

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Helemul Alam and Sushmita S Preetha


She may have a garland of flowers wrapped around her arm on the first day of Falgun, the Bangla month marking the beginning of spring, but her bandana and vigorous slogans made it very clear what she wanted and that she should not be taken lightly. The photo was taken at Shahbagh yesterday where thousands have been demanding death penalty for all war criminals. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq

One can argue that spring came to Shahbagh nine days ahead of its official start. That it came on the day the nation took to the streets, seeking to finally get justice for the crimes committed against humanity four decades ago.
It came on February 5 when the so-called “apathetic” and “apolitical” men and women used Facebook and blogs not to start a new fad, but a revolution.
That it came on the day when the housewife in Moghbazar, the businesswoman in Gulshan and the garment worker in Mirpur felt an urge so strong that they left their homes and offices for Shahbagh to chant slogans together with the demonstrators.
And that it arrived on the day when the rickshaw puller from Chittagong came to Dhaka with his meagre savings, having heard of the mass movement, to be a part of history.
And they may all be right. But yesterday, on Pahela Falgun, the people's movement at Shahbagh celebrated spring officially in all its revolutionary glory, chanting slogans such as, "Boshonter kalo daag, ei Boshonte muchhe jak" (let the black spot of the spring be wiped out this spring).
According to the demonstrators, the "black spot" is Jamaat-e-Islami, the party that actively opposed the country's Liberation War and six of whose top leaders are now being tried for war crimes.
Men and women flocked to the protest venue, vowing to make it the season of reawakening and renewal. Songs turned into slogans, slogans songs -- all tuned to the demand for a just trial of the war criminals.
Garlands and crowns made with spring flowers lent the sombre air of Shahbagh a festive look, without compromising the seriousness of the cause. Marigolds, roses and green leaves were used to transform the streets into colourful canvases to express the sentiments of the protestors.
"Even the cuckoo sang songs of resistance this year," said a university student, dressed in a yellow sari. The words “We want death sentence” were inscribed on one of her cheeks and “Pahela Boshonto” on the other.
Instrumental music played at Fine Arts' Bakultola, only a few yards away from the Shahbagh intersection, heralded the beginning of spring at 7:00 in the morning. As usual, the day's programme began with the rendering of the national anthem.
A cultural programme began at 3:00pm with protest songs and poetry recitations and continued through the evening, as thousands of people gathered. Some stopped by the demonstration to and from Bokultola and TSC where they went for the spring celebrations. Others remained at Shahbagh all day, refusing to take a break even to enjoy the events of the new season.
Fakir Alamgir, Subir Nandi and singers from Chhayanaut, among others, engaged the crowd with renditions of patriotic and inspirational songs.
A one-minute silence was observed from 7:00pm to commemorate the sacrifices of those who lost their lives during the Liberation War, the women who were raped, and those killed by Jamaat-Shibir since the independence. The silence was broken by the emotive renditions of violin, during which the whole crowd stood still.
Following the one-minute silence, a large portrait of Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam was unveiled near the main stage of the protest venue.
Later in the evening, Selina Hayat Ivy, mayor of Narayanganj City Corporation, joined the movement to express her solidarity.
In the morning, representatives of the Shahbagh protest and different student groups placed wreaths at Shaheed Minar in remembrance of Debashis Bhattacharya Rupam, a Chhatra Moitree member who was killed by Shibir on Pahela Falgun in 1995.
The movement began on February 5, soon after a war crimes tribunal sentenced Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah to life term in prison for crimes against humanity during the 1971 war. The protest was initiated by Bloggers and Online Activist Network, but it soon turned into a mass movement. Within days, it spread to other parts of the country, with the call for capital punishment to all war criminals getting louder and louder.
Yesterday, the organisers urged all to participate in a candlelight vigil from wherever they are at 7:00pm today to eradicate darkness from people's minds and from the country.
They also thanked the Jatiya Press Club for cancelling the membership of Jamaat leaders Quader Mollah and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman.
Belal Mohammad, one of the founders and organisers of the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, expressed solidarity with the protesters.
Actor Bonya Mirza, media personality Nasiruddin Yousuff Bachchu, singer Krishnokoli, among others, came to Shahbagh to lend their support.

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