Exactly 10 years back, I wrote a piece for this same newspaper dedicated to write ups by the family members of the martyred intellectuals of the liberation war of Bangladesh. I ended it with an emotional call, which also became the title of that piece – ‘Show us that you care’. At that point in time, I felt the ideologies and the memories of the martyred intellectuals were being slowly eroded in society and at the state level.
But soon after the article was published and I shared it online among friends and acquaintances, many responded to me that yes, they do care. They too want justice for the war crimes including killings of the intellectuals in 1971. They also value the spirit and ideals of the liberation war all year-round and not just on some special days. They assured me that they do make their personal efforts in line with their commitment. It was of course some comforting reassurance in response to my piece.
Much has happened since then and still is continuing to happen, on the issue of seeking justice for the killings of my father and other intellectuals as well as for all forms of crimes against humanity during the liberation war. Some of it is quite inspiring. Campaigners like us, Projonmo ’71, the children of the martyrs of the liberation war, and others involved in the movement for the trial of war criminals since the ’90s, reminded people not to vote for known collaborators in the last parliamentary elections. Most of these collaborators are linked to fundamentalist Islamic political organisaion Jamaat-e-Islami. They have tried to change their colours and enjoyed impunity from their political allies since 1975, even enjoyed the status of ministers. But the new, mostly youth voters rejected them out of power in the 2008 elections.
Then in 2010 we saw the much awaited International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) being formed, along with a revision of the related special law from 1973 in line with international legal and human rights standards. We read about the tireless investigation by the ICT in collecting evidence from all over the country and even abroad as a preparation for the trials. Then in the next two years we began to see cases being filed against some well known local collaborators that are popularly known as Razakars, including their ring leader Golam Azam. In 2013 we began to hear the convictions one by one, with mixed reactions of course. A personal cathartic and positive experience was being a witness for the case on intellectual killings, culminating into a verdict of death sentence for the two main collaborators – even though in absentia.
And then we had Projonmo Chottor at Shahbagh earlier in 2103. There we saw the outpouring of love and dedication to the motherland, to the spirit of the liberation war, to the voice of reason and humanity, and respect to all the martyrs. Never have I felt so proud to be a citizen of Bangladesh, of being a Bangalee, of being a martyr’s son, until I was there at Shahbagh with millions of youth-old-children, chanting ‘Joy Bangla’ or singing the national anthem, or lighting one of the million candles. Not just for a moment or a day but for many days. Along with all that, we saw the revival of the spirit of the liberation war in different aspects of arts and culture – music, fine arts, folk art, theatre, literature, fashion – and so on. So 2013 does promise a better future than 2003.
But of course there are many minuses. We have seen shameful targeted fundamentalist attacks on minorities, secular forces and activists of movement of the war crimes trials. We have seen the systematic propaganda and sometimes misguided fault finding about the tribunal, mostly by lobbyists paid by Jamaat sympathisers. The tribunal itself was riddled with its challenges, with the controversy over the leaked conversation and the subsequent resignation of the head of the tribunal. We have seen the disappointing outcome of not awarding the highest punishment of the land to the chief mastermind of the collaborators only because of his old age. We are still uncertain if the absconding and convicted war criminals can ever be brought back to justice, if the verdicts of the other war criminals will be carried out, if other war criminals will be tried, if Pakistani war criminals could ever be brought to justice and above all – if the tribunal could continue to function at all in the near or far future.
In the face of so many ifs, the present and the future may seem rather bleak, but I am always an optimist who sees the glass half full and nothing else. I am hopeful that most, if not all, the ‘ifs’ will become a reality. But to do so, Bangladeshis at home and abroad who love their motherland, must continue to be vigilant about the opposing forces of the spirit and ideals of the liberation war. We must continue to be united beyond petty personal interests. Before the upcoming national parliamentary elections, we must again raise voices against the collaborators who would be seeking our votes, even within the guise of other political parties than Jamaat-e-Islami.
Then, whichever major political party comes in power, we have to continue to demand for the trials and the execution of the verdicts to continue, correcting any procedural flaw of the tribunal that is legitimate to be corrected. We must continue to support the process of respecting all the families of martyrs, freedom fighters and birangonas, help identify and preserve many of the war-time killing fields across the country, preserve and promote the factual history of the liberation war in every sphere of personal and professional life.
Readers, you do not really have to listen to me. But don’t you think you (and me) really need to do all this? After all, without the supreme sacrifice of the martyrs, who knows what would have happened to the country. You owe it to them for your own sake, not for me. If you don’t, I am sure your conscience will come back to bite you one day.
The writer is a Development Worker, Theater Activist and Son of Martyred Munier Chowdhury.