Bengal intellectuals support Shahbag protests

Indo Asian News Service

Kolkata, Mar 2 (IANS) Describing the Shahbag protests in Dhaka demanding death penalty for war criminals as a new dawn, writers, singers and artists from West Bengal Saturday hailed the movement.

Thousands of protesters, mostly youths, have been staging protests in Shahbag area of the Bangladesh capital demanding capital punishment for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah and all others charged by the International Crimes Tribunal of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.

"The Shahbag movement surely is a proof that it is the youth which shape the future of country. It is a lesson for the world, and the world indeed is taking notice. It's time we told our brothers and sisters on the other part of the border that we are with them," writer Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay told IANS.

Mukherjee, born in Bangladesh's Mymensingh and equally popular as an author in the neighbouring country, hoped people from this isde of the border would come out openly in support of the movement.

It all began Feb 4 when Mollah flashed a victory sign after being sentenced to life imprisonment.

Calling the punishment "mild", people from all walks of life, including youth, children, musicians, artists and writers, joined in the movement demanding death penalty for Mollah as well as other alleged war criminals.

The Shahbag area -- the epicentre of the protests -- has been now christened as "Projonmo Chottor" (Generation Circle).

"The youth of Bangladesh have shown the world the way towards building a nation devoid of any fundamentalism. The movement is no more confined to Shahbag but has reached and awakened the whole world," artist Suvaprasanna told IANS.

"India, and particularly West Bengal, has always been beside Bangladesh in all its thick and thin and this time too, we are all with them morally, if not physically," said the painter but added that it was "not desirable" either for West Bengal or India to openly support the movement.

As the movement heightened, the International Crimes Tribunal awarded death penalty to Delawar Hossain Sayedee, vice president of Jamaat-e-Islami -- the largest Islamist political party in Bangladesh.

"The movement has found support from our side especially the youth who have been actively lending their voice. Of course there is a need for all of us to come out in support for them," said author Hosseinur Rahman.

"Though I cannot be happy at a man getting death penalty but considering his crimes it was the least he deserved," said Rahaman who has penned two books on Bangladesh.

While Sayedee's death penalty sent ripples of joy among the protesters, it also triggered violent clashes across Bangladesh as angry Jamat-e-Islami activists took to the streets and met with resistance from the police.

Noted author and Ananda Purashkar awardee Abul Bashar, however, is disappointed at India's cautious approach to the movement.

"Bangladesh is once again engaged in its liberation war and like then (1971), this time too our neighbour needs India. Hopefully, we from this side of the border will not only lend solidarity but come out in full support," said Bashar.

Singer-politician Kabir Suman has been whole-heartedly supporting the movement composing songs saluting the "great movement".

"My song 'Teen Minute' (Three Minutes) salutes the great movement that's going on in Bangladesh. I, a 64-year-old songwriter-musician-singer, am learning from the young people of Bangladesh," Suman said in his blog.

The song is dedicated to the three-minute silence from 4 p.m. to 4.03 p.m. observed in Shahbag and all across Bangladesh Feb 12, during which traffic was stopped, and thousands of people poured into the streets, formed human chains and stood in silence.

Suman has also composed a song in the memory of Ahmed Rajib Haider -- a blogger and a prominent organiser of the movement, who was stabbed to death Feb 15 while he was returning home from the protest site.

"This is my only means for expressing my great sorrow and anger. I'm old enough to be his father. This song stands for my grief, anger as well as solidarity with the cause for which one of my sons had to die. Long live the dream for a truly free and secular Bangladesh. Long live the young people's struggle for a better future," says the parliament member.

However, there was also a section of celebrities such as thespian Soumitra Chatterjee, who refused to comment on the issue.