Bangladesh is currently undergoing a churning unprecedented in its recent modern history, in terms of the ideological struggle for identity at stake. The Shahbhag Square phenomenon has catalyzed the youth untouched by the politics of the ‘Mukti Juddho’ or the Liberation War of 1971, to carve a new discourse concerning where can Bangladesh head in the forthcoming time. An independent movement fermented by bloggers by channelizing popular unrest regarding the lack of punishment for the ‘razakars’ or the war criminals of the independence era has been kidnapped by the very divisive forces that it is trying to counter. A clean ‘snatch and jerk’ break with the past does have to overcome the historical inertia of the prevalent status quo of the decadent political system.
Initially, the youthful exuberance of the Shahbhag movement was appropriated by the governing regime of the Awami League to impose its will as far as the sentences to the convicted Jamaat leader’s matters. The loud cries of ‘Phashi Chai’ or we want hanging from the youth of the Dhaka Art College at Shahbhag added to the feel of the revolution. With leading Bangladeshi music bands and poets entertaining the protestors with tracks; it seemed that it was the epitome of cultural ethos which Bangladesh stood for. Even Kolkata artists such as MP Kabir Suman joined in the festival atmosphere of the protests.
Most Bangladeshis adhere to a secular, inclusive version of Cultural Islam which is tolerant of other faiths. I grew up in Muscat where my household cook was from Dhaka and we had friends from both sides of the Padma River, with whom we discussed Nazrul Geeti and other forms of culture. Sadly in Bangladesh currently the Shahbhag agitation has been tainted with a ‘clash of civilizations’ color; a western secular school of thought versus an orientalist Islamic vision of the nation. The Jamaat, being pushed in to a corner has racked up the perennial issue of the religion being under threat, is in sighting violence against minorities and others whom it feels is not Islamic enough.
The entire agitation has been diverted from a secular movement asking for punishment for the war criminals to a violent political project with various parties seeking to extract its pound of flesh from it. Whichever way this agitation is heading, is immaterial as it has sowed the seeds for a more egalitarian Bangladesh.