Justice: Is it only to close wounds or more?
In November 3, when the apex court of the country upheld the death penalty of war criminal Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, his son Hasan Iqbal told reporters that his father was 'deprived of justice'. The comment came after Kamaruzzaman, one of the key organisers of the notorious Al-Badr force, through his lawyers got the opportunity to defend himself at the International War Crimes Tribunal (ICT)-2 for almost three years and at the Supreme Court for about a year. And now he would get even a chance to seek review of the verdict of the Supreme Court appeal.
But Shumon Zahid's mother poet and journalist Selina Parveen did not even get three days to make her plea to the Al-Badr men who took her away right in front of Shumon on December 13, 1971 and killed her by charging bayonets on December 15, 1971 at the killing field of Dhaka's Rayerbazar.
The judgment of absconding war criminals Chowdhury Mueen Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, two other Al-Badr men, found guilty by the ICT for intellectual killing, described the brutality of the moment, as below:
"Selina Parveen begged for her life, appealed to spare her as she had a young boy with no one to take care of him (Shumon Zahid) except her. But the brutal killers did not spare her. She was instantly killed by charging bayonet…… What an impious butchery! What a Sacrilegious butchery! What a shame for human civilization! Selina Parveen was a mother. The appalling attack was done not only to Selina Parveen but to the mother's line. The killing was rather a 'matricide'. This indescribable brutality shocks the human conscience indeed."
Shumon never knew why his mother, who promoted a pro-liberation weekly magazine 'Shilalipi' and used the proceeds for treatment of wounded freedom-fighters, was killed brutally by Al-Badr men.
On the other hand the criminal charges against Al-Badr leader such as Kamaruzzaman, Mueen Uddin, Ashrafuzzaman, Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujaheed, Mir Kashem Ali, Motiur Rahman Nizami as well as their guru war criminal Ghulam Azam were clear, specific and a part of history. They planned and executed the killing of millions of Bangalees, not just to carry out the orders of their Pakistani army bosses, but in the hope that their party Jamaat-e-Islami could reap the benefits of power if West Pakistani military rule continued in the land.
Like Shumon, Nuzhat Chowdhury, Tawheed Reza Noor, Shomi Kaiser, Meghna Guhathakurta and hundreds of other children of intellectual martyrs never knew why their parents were killed with bullets and sharp metal bayonets. To the Pakistani military rulers, the crime of the martyred intellectuals was that they wanted freedom of their motherland; they wanted to build a nation which would be based on socialism, nationalism, secularism and democracy.
Those values were far from Jamaat's ideology founded by Syed Abul A'la Maududi, preacher of his own interpretation of Sharia-based state in the subcontinent against secular democracy. Thus it was not a surprise that while tasked with listing of the intellectuals, Jamaat-leader heading para-military forces such as the Al-Badr and Al-Shams, picked not just Awami League men but people who would stand as barriers to Jamaat's philosophy.
Thus even on the eve of Bangladesh's victory, when the Pakistani military knew they were losing the war, they did not stop killing the intellectuals with the help of Al-Badr and Al-Shams. From December 10 - 15, it is estimated that more than 100 doctors, engineers, journalists, teachers and artistes were killed alone in Dhaka.
"…It is now known that on Sunday December 12, as the Indian columns were closing on Dacca….a group of senior Pak army officers and their civilian counterparts met in the city's Presidential residence. They put together the names of 250 peoples to be arrested and killed, including the cream of Dacca's professional circles not already liquidated during the civil war. Their arrests were made on Monday and Tuesday by marked bands of extreme right-wing Muslims belonging to an organization called the Al-Badar Razakar…Only hours before the official surrender was signed (on 16th), the victims were taken in groups to the outskirts of the city……where they were summarily executed…….." The Times, December 23, 1971 (source: Bangladesh Genocide Archive)
Al-Badr, a para-military force created in the likes of Hitler's Gestapo, traced houses of pro-liberation people, especially intellectuals of different professions, took them to torture camps, where they were detained, brutally tortured and murdered.
This special force was formed with members of Islami Chhatra Sangha, student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, on April 22, 1971.
Journalist Azadur Rahman Chandan, in his book, 'Al-Badr Chhilo Gopon Commando Bahini', referred to an interview of Pakistani Major Riaj Hussain Malik of Baluch regiment taken by Salim Manur Khalid, "We needed a group of patriotic Bengalese for defending who will be able to help us in protecting Pakistan. In first one and half month our experience with Razakar force became a failure. But in my sector I was observing that the Bengali students of Islami Chhatra Shongho were doing their duty of defense, leadership and maintaining secrecy very constructively. Therefore I made the students united separately with a hesitating mind as I had no permission from high command. They were 47 in number and they all were the workers of Islami Chhatro Shongho. On 16th May, 1971 at Sherpur (Mymensingh district) they were a given a short term military training. After being introduced with their devotion and their merit to acquire the war strategies I delivered a speech to them. In midst of my speech I told them spontaneously that children of Islam like you who have such character such merit and such strength should be entitled as Al Badr. Just like lightning I got the idea that I could name the organization as Al Badr. This name and separate training for the students were so effective that within a few months the work of organizing the all students of Islami Chhatro Shongho became accomplished. " (source: Wikipedia)
About Al-Shams, the book titled 'Genocide '71' an account of the killers and collaborators by MuktiJuddha Chetana Bikash Kendra, reads:
"…. after the Islami Chhatra Sangha Union- the student front of the Jamaat-e-Islami was transformed into the AI-Badr force, student bodies of other parties combined to form the AI-Shams force. Apart from the student fronts of the Muslim League, there was predominance in this force of the Jamiyat-e-Talabaye Arabiya, tbe organization of madrassah students. The work of the AI-Shams force was similar to that of the AI-Badr; its members were used in large numbers to kill the Bengali intellectuals."
So was the International Crimes Tribunal created only to give justice to the martyrs' children? Was it formed to avenge the death of the three million who were killed; the more than 200,000 women who were raped and millions of others who were forced to leave their home?
The trial process which started after 40 years is more of a symbol of justice to prevent repetition of crimes against humanity rather than a venture to avenge death to the families of martyr, according to Tawheed Reza Noor, son of eminent martyred journalist Serajuddin Hossain, who was abducted on the night of December 10, 1971 by Al-Badr men. He reminded that the movement started by Jahanara Imam, mother of Shaheed Rumi in the early 1990s for trial of war criminals was not for taking revenge. It was to ensure that people who commit heinous crimes such as genocide and mass rape never get away with it. In fact, Bangladesh is not unique in trying perpetrators of these crimes. War crimes was and is being held in different countries of the world, he said.
Even when expressing their reaction to the verdicts of the war crimes, families of martyrs and victims welcome capital punishment not out of revenge but because they feel that the extent of these crimes deserves the maximum punishment that exists under the law of the land, Noor explained.
Would the truth and reconciliation process, in line with what was set up in South Africa worked in Bangladesh's case as suggested by many westerners? Would it work for someone like Ghulam Azam who even in an interview with a weekly Bengali magazine Bichitra in April 17, 1981 said brazenly, 'I made no mistake in 1971'?
'Genocide 71' in page 70-71 presents translation of the Bichitra article which depicts the role of Ghulam Azam:
"In early September 1971, at a meeting with Rao Farman Ali, Professor Azam presented a blueprint on the killings of the intellectuals. It was in accordance with this blueprint that later in December, the intellectuals were cruelly murdered…. The plan was as follows: "It might not be possible to preserve Pakistan. However, intellectuals, engineers, scientists, doctors, must be eliminated forever, so that even if we lose Pakistan this country cannot function. Professor Azam gave directions to his cadres, the Al-Badr and Al-Shams to carry out the plans of the blueprint. Areas were also demarcated. In 1972, quite a few of these blueprints were recovered from captured Al-Badr leaders. … At a meeting of the All-Badr, some Jamaat leaders exhorted those present, "In order to rescue our motherland from the hands of these Nimruds, follow the directives of our Ameer (Gholam Azam)."
Neither Ghulam Azam nor Jamaat-e-Islami ever refuted this Bichitra article about the role of Jamaat, the Al-Badr and the ICS in the killing of intellectuals under the guidance of Ghulam Azam, mentioned the book.
Yet, the country's failure to hold people like Ghulam Azam accountable for their crimes for about 40 years, created unknowing fans who see him as saint and we see London-based journalists like Yasmin Khatun empathising with Ghulam Azam's son upon the death of the war criminal while serving imprisonment. Could she have done the same for Shumon?
When Jamaat's leaders live in a state of denial about the atrocious crimes they committed in 1971, how far could the truth and reconciliation process work? Noor points out that instead of admitting their mistakes, war criminals received political rehabilitation in independent Bangladesh and continued to preach and promote their fundamentalist ideology so much so that even the young generation considers these war criminals as their leader despite the monstrosity they committed and assisted in 1971.
It was this very terrorist ideology of Jamaat that is still being practiced by its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir, the successor of Islamic Chhatra Shangha, the student of Jamaat whose leaders and activists were part of the notorious Al-Badr force.
It is unfortunate the benefit that Jamaat could not gain in a united Pakistan run by West Pakistanis, they received much of it in independent Bangladesh. Two of Jamaat leaders and also Al-Badr key men Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujaheed and Motiur Rahman Nizami even made it to the cabinet during the BNP regime of 2001-2005 led by Begum Khaleda Zia. While Mujaheed became social welfare minister and death designer Nizami was awarded with the responsibility of the agriculture ministry first and later the commerce ministry.
Just as the saying in our country goes you can never trust a fox with hens, Mujaheed and Nizami showed their true colours while occupying the highest echelons of the country. While Nizami helped bring in 10 trucks of illegal firearms in April 2004, Mujaheed allegedly conspired in the killing of the then opposition political party activist of Awami League through the 21 grenade attack of 2005.
Thus the claim by war criminals, their families, Jamaat leaders, their supporters and sympathisers that they have been deprived of justice, pose a big question. What is the definition of justice? Instead of trying the war criminals in the court of law, had the nation followed Jamaat's footstep and hacked or burnt the war criminals to death, in the same manner the party activists flared passenger-filled buses even last year, would that have been fair?
The writer is Staff Reporter of The Daily Star.