Bangladesh: Another Square Building Up

The second decade of the 21st century seems to be one of protests and demonstrations. The centers of these historic protests have been Tehrir Square in Egypt and Jantar Mantar in India and now the centre has shifted to Shahbag in Bangladesh. The protests in Shahbag, Dhaka are directed at demanding capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and other war criminals for committing heinous war crimes in the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.

 

The protests began on February 5 following the judgment of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh awarding the life imprisonment to Abdul Quader Mollah which the people found ‘undeserving’ for the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’. Also, they are demanding capital punishment for other war criminals. Thousands of protesters are on vigil day and night and have refused to move away from the Shahbag Square (as they call it) until their demands are met.

 

In 1971, Jamat-e-Islami, its student wing Islami Chatra Sangh of Bangladesh collaborated with the Pakistani army in the war atrocities. More than 3 million people were murdered and about 2.5 million women were raped. Over 10 million Bangladeshis were forced to become refugees in India. The incident is considered one of the most brutal war genocides of the 20th century. The proceedings of the ICT trials began in 2010 and the judgment against Abdul Quader Mollah came on February 5, 2013. The ICT found him guilty of 5 out of 6 charges against him, mostly of mass murders, rapes and violence.

 

Expecting capital punishment for him, the majority of the population of Bangladesh was disappointed with the verdict. Just after the announcement, popular activist blogs Blogger and Online Activists Network appealed to the population through the social networks to protest the verdict. Just after a few hours, the protests began at the Shahbag Square. On February 8, a mass rally was organized at the Shahbag Square. On February 12, a 3-minute long silence was observed throughout Bangladesh. Parliamentarians, celebrities, players and police honored the protest by joining in the silence. The demands of the protesters are capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and all war criminals, ban on Jamat-e-Islami from politics and boycott of all of its cultural, educational and enterprises.

 

On February 15, the activist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider associated with the movement was brutally murdered near his Dhaka home. He too was demanding the execution of all the war criminals. His brother has said that a website supportive of Jamat-e-Islami had named Rajib as its target. However, Jamat-e-Islami has denied its role in his murder and condemned it. Thousands of people attended his funeral and vowed that they will now leave the Shahbag Square until his killers are found and their demands are met.

 

However, the morale and spirit of the Shahbag protesters is still not down. Patriotic songs and poems are being recited at the Shahbag protests. The screening of the film about the Liberation War of Bangladesh was arranged there. A documentary ‘Join the Fight’ was also filmed meanwhile showcasing the Shahbag protest activities. Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms have been the most instrumental devices to help the large number of crowd to gather up. The recurrent posts on blogs and pages prompted the netizens of Bangladesh to take to the streets and demand the capital punishment of Abdul Quader Mollah and other war criminals. The Twitter hashtag #shahbag fed the world of all the updates about the protests. Shahbag.org is a website dedicated to the Shahbag protests where one can get all the details and updates about it. The online protests have been instrumental in bringing in the solidarity for the Shahbag protests from Bangladeshis living abroad as well.

 

We are now to see how the events turn up for the ‘awaam’ of Bangladesh and what their protests lead up to. Amen. 

Self-immolation: A Tool for Political Protest

On March 16 2013, another Tibetan monk Lobsang Thokmey self-immolated protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He did it specifically to protest March 16 2008 killing of 13 protesters in Ngaba. There have been more than 100 cases of self-immolation in China, Tibet, India and Nepal by the Tibetans to protest Chinese occupation as of today. During this event, Thokmey became a role model for the Tibetan protesters but lost his life in the process.
The demand of Tibetan protesters has been a free Tibet and return of His Holiness Dalai Lama there. Dalai Lama said that he does not encourage this form of protest but he saluted the courage of these protesters. He has blamed the genocide by the Chinese regime for such unfortunate events of self-immolation. On the other hand, China has blamed Dalai Lama for encouraging the acts of self-immolation among the population of Tibet. However, it has affirmed that Tibet is an integral part of China.
Among these events, it is worth to be noted why self-immolation has been gaining more popular support than other acts like writing, rallies, debates etc. as a form of protest. Self-immolation has been used as a form of protest by the oppressed against the oppressor since ages all over the world. Whether it was self-immolation by five monks against the Emperor Wu or it was Thich Dug self-immolating as a protest against Ngo Dinh Diem’s religiously prejudiced regime or self-immolation by an entire village of Old Believers in faith-concerned protest, this act of self-immolation has been there and has been popular.
In the context of self-immolation by Tibetan monks protesting against the Chinese regime occupation of Tibet, its popularity and or rather the heroism following it can be attributed to the fact that it has brought the issue openly and concretely in the front of the world. The act signifies the grief and anger of the Tibetan population who are fighting for the freedom of their country, their faith.
It is not that there has not been any loss of life of Tibetans in protests. They have been shot in the protest rallies and they have been shot in their gatherings. But such events had been covered up by the regime of China and did not recieve much international attention. On the other hand, the act of self-immolation has always garnered worldwide attention.
The literal fire surrounding the protester has ignited another kind of fire around the world which has garnered large support for their cause. Such acts are easily transmitted through videos and pictures all over the internet and them into newspapers and portals worldwide. The videos and pictures of self-immolation have been most instrumental in the spread of the Free Tibet movement all over the world, specifically around the Tibetan territory. The notion that a person can burn himself or herself for a cause makes the cause much prominent and urgent in the eyes of the people who would otherwise have ignored the killing of protesters or the cause itself. But self-immolation as a form of protest has been responsible for this shift in attention to the Free Tibet cause.
Nobody perhaps likes a ‘suicide’ but surely they appreciate the self-immolation act as a form of protest. But not going blind, we must also look at the matter form the other point of view. Is the young population of Tibet being psychologically manipulated by the prominent people of the movement to indulge in these activities, as China suspects? Is self-immolation as useful for the cause as it is ‘popular’?
These questions are not to point fingers at one party or the other. These questions must be considered with an open mind so that we can have rational results. These questions must be answered so that young lives are not lost.

2013-14 Railway Budget: A Lollipop before the 2014 Elections

“My intention is not to create a ‘hungamma’. I intend to focus on the health of the Railways.”

In a railway budget which could be the last one before the 2014 centre elections, the Union Railway Minster of India Mr. Pawan Kumar Bansal has put out all his best efforts not only in his promises but also in his words. However, these efforts are just to please the voters or he is genuinely concerned for the betterment of the railways and its services, only time can tell.

 

The commuters who are the regular users of the railway services have their concerns which are always promised but most often never fulfilled. Security at the stations and trains is a major concern amidst the rising atrocities now-a-days. The safety of the women commuters traveling alone is a major issue this year after the gang-rape case of Delhi. There are requests to deploy sincere security personals, especially the women security personals. The cleanliness and hygiene of the railway stations and the toilets in trains is also a major problem which needs to be addressed. The catering service of the railways is one of the biggest quality related issues getting over-flowing complaints from the customers over the years.

 

However, Mr. Bansal seemed to be still in the awe of previous railway ministers who only addressed the ‘popular demands’. Well, he had to be and he was right. Nobody wants to fall into the league of Mr. Dinesh Trivedi just for the sake of uplifting the railway status. He has however pointed to the hike in passenger prices every 6 months for the next 10 years. Though the economy class travelers have been spared, the travelers in reserved bogies and those in superfast trains will have to burn their pockets a little more.  A 5% increase in freight fare has also been announced.

 

For the security, he has announced that a Corporate Security Plan will be prepared for 10 years (2014-24). 10700 unmanned crossings are to be reworked for safety considerations and no new such crossings will be made.

 

Mr. Bansal announced 107 new trains and construction of 500 km new railway lines. He has also announced wi-fi facility in some trains and a better railway website. He has also announced appointment of 1.52 lacks of people of who 47000 will be filled up by financially weaker section and the physically disabled section of the society. At Secunderabad, an Indian Railway Institute for Financial Management would be set up for training of the railway officers. A wonderful announcement by him was the establishment of Railway Energy Management Company for the benefit of solar and wind energy.

 

The Railway Budget of 2013-14 is exactly what a budget before the election was expected to be like. It has its certain elements of lure and tempt but the smart public which has become used to this routine knows the ‘reality of implementations’ where only their pockets will be dug deep but the quality of the railway services, especially the cleanliness of toilets and the hygienic value of food, is not going to improve most likely. 

 

 

A Different Reality of mine

I

 

The library was in darkness, though not stark. One could see the dust coming through the ventilators from which the sunlight was also coming through.

 

A young man was sitting in a chair with his face in the Ulysses. Other than him, only two young lovers were in the library, seeming to be reading less and caressing more. It had been five hours since the young man had been in there but for the last four of them, neither was he looking at the book nor at the two young lovers. He had been imagining himself to be a neighbor of the first two characters whosoever they were but surely white, not acknowledging the fact of his blackness in a white place.

 

The young man did not feel like reading it anymore, though he wasn’t reading it even then. But now, he wanted to wander. He looked behind and saw the two young lovers giggling and caressing their thighs. He instantly moved away his eyes from them. The very sight irritated him.

 

II

 

The young man rushed out of the library and felt like smoking, though he hadn’t ever smoked. But it always occurred to him that a puff might rub off such an irritation.

The sight of the two young lovers again came in front of his eyes. Such people irritated him- always something of hollowness and hypocrisy in them. He had yet not understood love; hence, he had never caressed a thigh.

 

III

 

The next day, the young man went to his history class. The bald, old man was smiling and the students were all so uttering one thing or other, making it pure gibberish.

Then, a boy and a girl entered the class together. They went and sat at the back of the classroom. He could see the strap of the girl’s spaghetti crossed round here neck, clearly out of its place. The young man thought that whether they are the same folk he had seen at the library. He turned back to see their faces. They were giggling. But he could not be sure. But again, he didn’t notice faces very much. The giggle had irritated the young man.

 

IV

 

The man rushed back to the library, after the class to grab his bite of Ulysses. He opened up the last chapter of the book. He put his hands on his thigh. He had his own thighs with himself.

Punditji was right

Mohan was now a settled boy. He was earning dearly in an office in Chennai. His amma was very eager to get her son married. She wanted a perfect girl for her boy who would take care of her husband and his family.

Mahan’s amma went to the pundit and gave her specifications to him. He made a horoscope exactly which she had to look for her daughter-in-law. The pundit told her, “Do look for a girl with exactly the same horoscope. Nothing else. She will be a moon face and will bring happiness and prosperity to your house.”

But it soon turned out that such a horoscope was rare to find. Mohan’s amma had seen twenty-three girls. Five of them had horoscopes very similar to the one she had. But sometimes, the ‘shani’ would be two rows ahead and sometimes, the ‘rahu’ would crash at the wrong place. But patience has its reward and after three months, she finally found ‘a beautiful girl in make-up’ with exactly the same horoscope. Madhu was a decent girl. She smiled with her lips closed as of propriety when she brought tea and snacks at the table. Mohan’s mother liked Madhu instantly. The date for marriage was fixed, it was after a month that it had to take place.

The date finally came up and the marriage ceremony was performed in a traditional manner. Both Mohan and Madhu were looking a nice pair. The bride make-up today had made Madhu glow like a moon. The next night was the wedding night. The most excited was Mohan’s amma. Will happiness come to her house? Will the pundit’s words be true about happiness as they were true about her moon-face?

Both Mohan and Madhu were now together in the closed room. He smiled and kissed her forehead. He kissed her on her lips. He felt something was ‘empty’ in that feel. But he didn’t care. Then, he caressed her on her shoulders. Out of amazement, she laughed. Mohan saw that it was literally ‘empty’ in her mouth. There was a tooth missing in her canines.
Mohan couldn’t bear it. He was taken aback. He asked her, “Why didn’t you tell my amma that you don’t have this front tooth? Your family deceived us. Amma would be very sad when she knows it.” Madhu rose up and sobbingly said, “We won’t let her know about it. I am sorry about it but I was not getting married due to my missing tooth. My appa and amma were very worried due to this. They were ready to give as much money as they could but even one boy didn’t get ready to marry me. So, I hid it this time. I am sorry but don’t hate me.” “But amma will soon find this out. Your parents must somehow please her. Hmm… yes… would your parents be willing to give one kilograms of gold once more? Mother loves gold and I believe only gold can cool down her anger. Her blessings are most important for our marriage.” said Mohan.

Madhu fell silent for a while. Unni had to still complete her medical studies and appa had a knee operation scheduled after six months. Then she said, “I will ask them. They will arrange it for our happiness and love.” Mohan hugged her and again kissed her.
Next week, Madhu’s appa came and blessed the couple with the gift which was asked. Mohan and amma were very happy. The moon face in fade make-up had brought happiness and prosperity to the house. The pundit was right about that horoscope.