Revolutionary Fire at Shahbagh

Shahbagh-strike_The following article is written by Protap Debnath, a student activist and member of the New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) on the recent mass mobilization of youth in Bangladesh at Shahbagh.

These protests could very well mark the beginning of a revolutionary wave in the region and has left the Bangladesh ruling class terrified at facing such a prospect. Though the initial trigger for the movement was the verdict of the war crimes tribunal against the perpetrators of the genocide in the national liberation struggle in 1971, the movement is definitely linked to the frustrations of the youth and the working people of Bangladesh in present day Bangladesh.

The protests of the garment/ textile workers in recent times to the prospects of very dim future for the Bangladeshi youth under capitalism are all recipes for a revolutionary upheaval in Bangladesh with implications beyond its borders. Shahbagh protests, despite its contradictory nature, is part of the global protest wave that began with the Tunisian uprising leading to the ‘Arab spring’ to the workers protests across many countries of Europe against austerity measures and the anti-rape protests that rocked India in the last two months.

While it is perfectly understandable on the reasons for the call for death penalty on the perpetrators of some of the most barbaric and inhuman crimes against humanity in the 20th century, however this will not erase nor cleanse the deep wounds that still linger amongst the millions of ordinary Bangladeshis. The real perpetrators responsible for this crime is not merely the Jamaat-e-Islami leadership, the crime trail extends to the current ruling elite and also the army of Bangladesh, the Pakistani military/ ruling class, the Chinese Maoist/ Stalinist regime and last but not the least – US Imperialism.

The ruling classes of – Pakistan, India, China, the Soviet Union and USA – were terrified at the prospects of the Bangladesh liberation struggle, starting from the late 60’s leading up to 1971, going beyond the confines of capitalism and spreading as a revolutionary wave that could have engulfed the entire region of South Asia.

It was not just the Pakistani ruling class/ military that tried to brutally suppress the liberation struggle, the role of the Indian ruling class is equally questionable. The real intention of the Indian army was not to liberate Bangladesh or defeat Pakistan, but disarm the Mukti Bahini and disband the soviet like organizations that was beginning to emerge all over Bangladesh.

The New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) and all its sister organizations that form the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) while we welcome the Shahbagh protest movement in general. At the same time, the movement cannot rely on the current government led by Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL){{1}} to deliver justice, which will use this movement to score its own political goals against its rivals like the right wing BNP{{2}} (given that elections are just about a year away) and some of their demands could end up strengthening the hands of the Bangladesh state (which will be used against the protesters/ activists/ left wing organizations in the future).

The movement clearly has to go beyond the confines of capitalism and landlordism that is really responsible for the backwardness and extreme poverty that is prevalent in Bangladesh today. These are the breeding grounds for reactionary tendencies like the Jamaat-e-Islami and hence it is system based on capitalism that needs to eliminated, not the few individuals who were acting on the direct orders of imperialism.


The protests in the capital Dhaka against the war crimes committed by the Islamic fundamentalists during the Bangladeshi war for Independence{{3}} has suddenly awakened an entirely new younger generation on to the streets, turning out to be the single largest mobilization in the last 40 years.

Time_coverJamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Liberation Struggle

During 1947 the time of Indian independence, the then undivided British India was partitioned along communal lines into India and Pakistan. Pakistan included East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (of what is now Pakistan). During the struggle for independence from Pakistani rule many, many people were brutally killed, women raped and 10 million people forced to flee across the border to India by the Pakistani military dictatorship.

Jamaat-e-Islami was one of the major Bangladeshi political parties which directly helped the Pakistani army and its puppet government (along with US imperialism) to stop the liberation struggle. Jamaat members were also part of the reactionary paramilitary force the Razakars, Al-badr and Al- shams which was party to the massacre of anywhere between 200,000 to 3 million (the figures on the number of people killed is still debated) and up-to 400,000 women raped (exact figures not known). The Jamaat-e-Islami was also in the forefront in propping up the Pakistani regime in the period between 1950-71, such as supporting the highly unpopular anti-Bengali language law.

Despite its virulently communal and genocidal past, it is still a legal political party and this has been a festering wound on the Bangladeshi national psyche leading to many ordinary Bangladeshi youth and the working people to openly question the government inaction even after 40 years! The party is also known to have ties with Islamic terrorist groups and has itself been involved in many extremist linked activities such the violent terror attacks on ordinary working people.

Implication of Shahbagh Protests

Throughout Bangladeshi history, youth/ students have played a key role in major events in the country’s fractured history such as the Bengali language movement in 1952, the mass uprising in 1969 and the armed struggle for national Independence in 1971.

There was an impression in the last period that the younger generation had forgotten about the horrific crimes committed by these fundamentalist/ fascistic forces. Since February 5th, the national capital Dhaka’s Shahbagh Square has been the site of a mass protest calling for the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami, confiscation of Jamaat businesses and the frustration of having to wait for 40 years to get justice has led to calls for death penalty for Abdul Kader Mullah and 11 others for committing crimes against the Bangladeshi people.

Bangladeshi women demanding justice
Bangladeshi women demanding justice

Abdul Kader Mullah, a senior leader of the Jamaat-E-Islami, is also known as the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’ and his role in the genocide during the liberation struggle is very well known. However, it is shame that the Bangladeshi ruling class never took any action against him or others and went to the extent of collaborating with the Jamaat-e-Islami in the years following independence, who in the process have grown in their wealth status, owning businesses and once again re-establishing their fundamentalists networks across the length and breadth of the country.

The current movement of the Bangladeshi youth started just after the verdict of the International Crimes Tribunal – ICT (Bangladesh){{4}} in Dhaka on February 5th that awarded life sentence to Abdul Kader Mullah for his barbaric crimes before independence. What triggered the movement was probably in response to the violent demonstrations carried out by the Jamaat cadre across the country in the run up to the verdict demanding that its leaders be freed.

Between November 2012 and January 2013, with the support from main opposition party – the right wing Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), Jaamat and its youth wing organised violent demonstration against the war crimes tribunals, and send hundreds of its party cadres on a terror campaign against other party activists, police, damaging vehicles/ property, throwing country-made bombs etc.

The Gano Jagaran Mancha (Mass awakening platform) formed by the youth in the wake of the Shahbagh protest could well turn out to be the ignition stage for a revolutionary upheaval in Bangladesh. Tens of thousands of youth/ students (some estimating the crowd at more than a million on some of the days) have camped on days at the Shabagh square till 21st February demanding action against Jamaat-e-Islami and the perpetrators of massacre in the national liberation struggle.

On 15th Feb, a protester/ blogger – Ahmed Rajib Haider was brutally slaughtered outside his home in Dhaka allegedly by the Jamaat activists. His body was taken out at the Shahbagh square were tens of thousands gathered to pay their last respects to him and further increased their resolve to take on the Islamic fundamentalists. The youth ‘Mancha’ also announced boycotting business, educational instruction, banks etc., run by the ‘war criminals’.

After the protests at Shahbagh ended on 21st February, the protesters once again returned to the Shahbagh square on the next day itself after the Jamaat cadres went on a rampage in Dhaka attacking the police and public with bombs, stones and destroying Sylhet Central Shaheed Minar (set up up as a memorial by the Shahbagh activists). Angered by these unprovoked attacks, thousands of youth gathered on a demonstration on 22nd Feb and attacked business, educations institutions etc., run by the Jamaat.

Jamaat-e-Islami on the rampage
Jamaat-e-Islami on the rampage

With the tide clearly against Jamaat, the Parliament on 17th February amended the ICT Act to allow the prosecution to appeal against any verdict in a war crimes case that it deems inadequate and allows for overturning a life sentence by substituting it to a death penalty. On 27th February, the tribunal sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the Vice President of Jamaat-e-Islami and one of the accused, to death. The decision immediately sparked violence, unleashed by the Jamaat cadre, with the death toll at over 80 people as of now, with looting, arson and the deliberate targeting of the minority Hindu community around many parts of the country.

However, the Shahbagh movement has defied all these threats against the movement, especially during the recent 48 hour strike (3rd and 4th March) called by the Jamaat-e-Islami (with the support of the BNP) and have been steadfast in their demands, with the movement to continue to stage demonstrations till the run-up to the March 26 deadline for banning of the Jamaat. As Bangladesh continues to be tense, the Shahbagh protests could very well mark the beginning for the youth and working people of Bangladesh to question the very foundational basis of Bangladesh, which is today in the throes of the most barbaric exploitation under capitalism and landlordism.

Protap Debnath

New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India)

(The writer is originally from Bangladesh)

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[[1]] Awami League (AL) is the main bourgeoisie party in Bangladesh. While it carries the tag of having been the leading force during the national liberation struggle, however once in power it has betrayed the working people of Bangladesh time and again [[1]]

[[2]] Bangladesh National Party(BNP) is the main opposition party in Bangladesh. It is known to be pro- Islamic and neo-liberal in its policies. It was known for its campaign against independence from Pakistan, with some of its members involved in committing war crimes during the liberation struggle. Two of its members are currently facing the Tribunal for atrocities committed during the liberation struggle [[2]]

[[3]] See: The birth of Bangladesh [[3]]

[[4]] Though it is named as an International Crimes Tribunal, it is in fact a local tribunal which was one of the election promises of the Awami League when it wept to power in 2008. Many of the human rights organizations have criticized the functioning of the Tribunal as being orchestrated for the benefit of the ruling party [[4]]


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