Why should we celebrate this verdict?
There are millions of reasons why we should celebrate last Monday's verdict, the first against the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in 1971. There are as many reasons to rejoice today as there are martyrs of the period, and as there were instances of rape, torture, burning of villages, looting, arson, arrests, etc. For every freedom fighter killed, maimed, tortured, and women raped there were several members of their families who suffered silently in anger and grief over the last 42 years. For all of them, and for the whole nation that waited for law to catch up with the perpetrators of genocide in 1971, there is an indescribable joy in our heart today and an inexpressible reason to celebrate, the thanks for which must go to the prime minister personally, and to the Awami League government. We have said it before, and have no hesitation in repeating, that no other government would have done it. We commend both Sheikh Hasina and all those who have worked hard to make it happen.
Each of the crimes that Abul Kalam Azad (Bachchu) is accused, and has been found guilty of, are considered most serious crimes even under ordinary laws, applied in peacetime. All of them are punishable with the harshest of sentences. Murder, rape, torture and abduction are of the highest categories of criminal acts and punishment ranging from death sentences to long prison terms are handed out regularly in such cases.
A death sentence is only but natural for the crimes committed. As long as due process of law was followed, and the evidence as presented to the tribunal, which was widely reported in the free and independent media, constituted sufficient evidence the sentence is but a natural culmination. There is of course the appeal process but it can be only availed if the convict surrenders before the law and seeks redress. But such relief is not available to an absconder.
As freedom fighters, and there are hundreds and thousands of us, there is a very special reason to celebrate. There is an irrepressible sense of getting even, for many of our comrades in arms were mercilessly slaughtered by them -- personally. Many of us are witnesses to seeing innumerable bodies floating down a river, not all the handy work of Pakistani soldiers but of people like Bachchu. There are endless stories of their murder, torture and betrayal. The cruellest ones were those where they pretended to help the women and then led them to the Pakistani soldiers quarters to be physically assaulted at will and for as long as they wished, which in many cases turned out to be till the end of the war.
What can be a greater example of their brutality than the killings of intellectuals, many from Dhaka University, just two days before their defeat? They knew that their game was up, yet they killed. This was the work of only collaborators and razakars symbolised by Bachchu, and their like.
Then there were the instigations to kill. I can recall hearing the voices of razakars and prominent collaborators, broadcasting over radio Pakistan, that all freedom fighters were Indian agents and as such traitors, deserving nothing better than death. We were supposed to have strayed away from the path of Islam, and â€œHinduisedâ€, and like a bad â€œinfectionâ€ should be eliminated before we â€œspoiltâ€ the rest. They were the early â€œethnic cleansersâ€ the fore-runners of those in Serbia and Herzegovina.
Everything about Bengali culture was supposed to be of Hindu origin and as such needed to be â€œpurifiedâ€ to bring us back to the right path. Exhortations resounded from their continuous haranguing over the radio to eliminate us the moment we could be seen. They even quoted from religious texts as to what an act of â€œtrue Muslimâ€ it would be if they either handed us to the Pakistani butchers or killed us themselves. Bachchu did just that.
We celebrate the verdict because it starts a process of accountability that will eventually lead to a greater understanding what our Liberation War stood for and the various types of forces we had to defeat to win our independence.
We celebrate the verdict because it helps to restore our ownership of history. (Though many of us have serious problems with Awami League's present version of it, which is over personalised, pays lip service to the role of ordinary freedom fighters, eliminates the contribution of local leaders, and all but ignores contribution of those who played seminal roles like Tajuddin Ahmed and other leaders of our government in exile. But still it is a far closer version to truth than that propagated by BNP).
We recall with shame, and it is our collective shame (that we allowed it to happen and also tolerated it for many years), that after the murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a well planned state level effort was set afoot to distort our history. Just so that the contribution of the political leadership of the day, and that of Sheikh Mujib could be gradually eliminated from people's mind, the true significance and extent of our free struggle was systematically played down. We had the absurd period when we couldn't name the country and the army that perpetrated the genocide and had to refer to them as â€œHanadar Bahiniâ€ (the marauding force).
The whole struggle from 1947 to 1971 was reduced to a few paragraphs of deprivation, never mentioning by whom, with the sudden crescendo of everybody joining the war after hearing Maj Zia's call to fight for independence. The cultural aspect of our struggle never occupied any thinking of the post-Bangabandhu regimes.
This all too brief narrative is relevant because BNP's distortion of our history provided the opening for the re-entry of opponents of our freedom struggle into our political space, with the â€œsaltâ€ in our wound being provided by Khaleda Zia's last government awarding ministerial posts to those well known for their genocidal role during 1971. The BNP chief just didn't seem to care that there is a tremendous pent up resentment among the public against those who were well known for their role against our independence. It was truly â€œrubbing the nose on the groundâ€ of those who took pride in their being freedom fighters.
We know politics makes strange bedfellows. However, to be so oblivious to the history of independence and to be so accommodative about those who opposed it required an arrogant dismissal of what our struggle stood for or meant to the rest of us. Khaleda Zia never seems to have truly internalised the sufferings, the sacrifice, the pain, the joy and most importantly the pride that the events of 1971 symbolised to the nation, though her husband was an integral part of it. The truth, however ironic, is that her husband himself started the process.
We celebrate the verdict because we love our freedom. We celebrate the verdict because we are proud to have an independent country. We celebrate the verdict because it correctly, irrevocably, legally and historically sets out the role of those who opposed our war, committed genocide against our people and crimes against humanity that not only we, the Bangladeshis, but the freedom loving and justice seeking world needs to recognise and applaud us for.