All of a sudden going to Shahbagh became the thing to do, everyone was there, checking-in, posting pictures and calling for death of a criminal a lot of them did not know or care about till a day ago. We have always been a frantic generation, our patriotism during February and December is always forceful and short-lived. I laughed the first time I heard people call Shahbagh a square, it was clearly meant to imitate Tahrir or Tiananmen. I was annoyed at the streams of people I personally knew, who were going to Shahbagh because it was just the "in-thing" to do, not because they had strong feelings about the ongoing trial and the controversial verdict.
But I also realised how big this was for us, a generation whose apathy towards politics is phenomenal, and the marginal few who are involved in extremist student-politics the rest scorn and fear. We have been constantly taught not to get involved in it; the dirt that has accumulated was reason enough. And now the online world, where the whole thing supposedly began, is divided between the staunch supporters, the cynics, the complainers and the peanut munching crowd.
The war ended ages ago, why make a big deal of it now?
We have become a comfortably-ignorant and complacent generation who were force-fed either of the two versions of history. But everyone knows, more or less, of the atrocities, which have been called the most calculated extermination of a people since Nazi Germany, that the Pakistani army and the Razakar collaborators committed. The perpetrators of the crimes against humanity in Nazi Germany were tried within a year of the end of the war.
The Nuremberg Trials, the trials against the Khmer Rouge and the war crimes trials in Uganda all reflect the importance of justice when it comes to war crimes. This was not a single murder, the magnitude of these crimes is enormous and letting the criminals go free would be a blatant failure of the justice system. It is shameful that it took us this long to finally try these people, something Ghatak-Dalal Nirmul Committee has been fighting for, for years.
There are more pressing concerns at the moment
The Facebook rants and counter rants about the importance of this, relative to other national matters, all follow the same route. The answer has always been that it has to start somewhere. What most people are forgetting is that this is the first time a student body has taken to the streets not because of a particular political ideology. If what Bangladesh lacks is an informed youth then this could very well be the start of a process to inform and involve them. The faces of the youth when they give the slogans, amidst the burning candles and displays by people from all walks of life to be part of this, show that solidarity is possible.
It's all political/planned/anti-Islamic
Jamaat gathered in Paltan arguing that the Shahbagh protests were politically motivated; cynics online argue how it's all planned out and futile; and some just reject the movement because it is anti-Islamic. Well, as first-hand accounts go, Shahbagh is filled with masses of students and the general people from the most common professions. This is a group of people who do not get involved in politics. Shahbagh is grouped into schools and colleges chanting for a death sentence in the midst of the glow of hundreds of candles. It is not political parties or exalting of any political figure that Shahbagh highlights, neither are the protests against any religion. The spontaneous participation, whether out of anger, necessity or even conformity, has been only the verdict against Quader Mollah and a stand against Razakars and Jamaat.
It is all a farce
It was disheartening to read the Economist article about the discrepancies in the procedures. There have been allegations of fast-tracking, abduction and coercion of defence witnesses. It's depressing that proper standards were not maintained and the trials may be questioned about their transparency. The crimes that the defendants stand accused of are heinous, and there would be an uncertainty about the trials if they were not completed during this government's tenure. But bending the law can never be justified. There should have been more talk of the standard of the tribunal, which only a few point out now. A protester from Shahbagh said: "If this is the best we get, I'll take it. I know these people are guilty, and even in an independent tribunal they would be."
Why the bloodlust?
Maybe emotions get the better of me, but even as someone who is against capital punishment, I am disappointed with the verdict. Maybe because the crimes were gruesome and there has never been any sign of redemption, the accused have the guts to raise two fingers in a sign of victory in a country they turned into a wasteland both intellectually and politically. When these people still dare to post videos online where they belittle the country and declare with pride that they are Razakars and Bangalis are slaves, when they come out to the streets threatening the country again, it is time for us to take a stand.
Religion based politics fosters dogma and communal hatred. The recent incidents of Jamaat beating up the police are a small demonstration of how big and nasty all this might get. The success of Shahbagh square does not depend on whether the verdict is changed or not, it will hopefully be about the fostering of a collective conscience, a public opinion against Jamaat and religion based politics. Maybe that is dreaming big, but then it just might be the start of something.