By Leesa Gazi
Writer, Actor & Founder Member of Komola Collective
It is claimed that nearly 200,000 — 400,000 women and girls were systematically raped and tortured by the Pakistani Army as a war strategy in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
In 2010, I filmed 21 of these Birangona women’s first-hand accounts at a centre near Dhaka. Birangona means ‘Brave Woman’.
After the interview one woman said, ” what’s the point of telling these stories? Nothing happens.’ And it is true nothing has happened because no one wants to tell their stories.
Post-war Bangladeshi society and successive governments haven’t been able to figure out what to do with them. Although the first leader of Bangladesh tried to rehabilitate these women by giving them the name ‘Birangona’ as a mark of respect and recognition, society rejected them anyway and denied their existence. They were forgotten and so were their stories.
The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict which took place at ExCel London has just ended this afternoon. A silent protest at the Summit, jointly organised by Komola Collective and the ICSF, highlighted the plight of the silenced birangona women, whose stories could not be shared in the official programme of the “Summit” on sexual violence in London. They posed this single question as the fulcrum of their silent protest:
Where Are Bangladesh’s Rape Survivors At This Summit?
Silent demand for an answer to an obvious question
In the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, more than 200,000 women and girls were systematically raped and tortured by the Pakistani Army and their local collaborators as part of the Pakistani Army’s war strategy. They are the Birangona Women. These women were then ignored by a society where rape is considered to be a source of shame for the victims. So the plight of these women goes untold.
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The BBC report on the “UK Muslim community leader” namely Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin has been indicted in Bangladesh has a statement by his lawyer Toby Cadman.
Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin strongly denies any role in the murder of 18 intellectuals in December of that year.
He is alleged to have been a member of the Al-Badr group, which identified and killed pro-independence activists.
He is accused with another alleged Al-Badr member, Ashrafuzzaman Khan, a United States citizen.
His lawyers have rejected all the allegations against him. They say that none of the accusations have ever been formally put to him and there has been no attempt to question him.
“The statements made by members of the government of Bangladesh are grossly defamatory to my client, wholly untrue and are refuted in their entirety,” his lawyer Toby Cadman told the BBC.
Cadman’s statement is covered more extensively in the Telegraph:
The novelist Philip Hensher, writing in the Independent, frames the history of the birth of Bangladesh against the pain and fury of the hundreds of thousands of protesters of Shahbag Square, now demanding justice for the war criminals of Jamaat-e-Islam. Along the way he remarks on the genocide denial of Pakistan and the efforts a certain “historian” now based in Oxford. This is as comprehensive as it gets.
Since 5 February, Bangladesh has been transfixed by this ongoing, immense protest. Hundreds of thousands have occupied Shahbagh Square in protest at a verdict passed by the International Crimes Tribunal on war crimes committed during the genocide which preceded the founding of the country in 1971. One of those found guilty, Abdul Kalam Azad, was sentenced to death. Another, however, Abdul Quader Mollah, the assistant secretary general of a Muslim party which collaborated with the genocidaires, the Jamaat–e-Islami, was given life imprisonment. The protests which followed, and are still continuing, are led by intelligent and liberal people; they are, however, calling with great urgency for the death penalty to be passed on Mollah and other convicted war criminals.
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Tarek Fatah writes on facebook:
A Day before the Pakistan Army surrendered to the Bangladesh Mukti Bahini and the Indian Armed Forces, they and their Jamaat-e-Islami collaborators carried out a slaughter of the most prominent Bangladeshi academics and intellectuals. Today’s protests in Dhaka are the cries for justice by the sons and daughters of those who were killed in the name of Islam and Pakistan that day and the three million who died in the genocide carried out by the Pakistan Army and its jihadi militiamen in the previous nine months.
Here is the New York Times report from the war zone, dated December 19, 1971. Every Pakistani must read this and hang their head in shame.
NY Times Report, December 19 1971
Nick Cohen with an excellent piece on how the Shahbag demonstrations formed the space for a battle between secular Bangladeshis and Jamaat-e-Islami supporters in a park in Whitechapel. And the ongoing story of how the establishment and Britain’s liberal Left continues to enable fascist streams in political Islam, in particular, Jamaat-e-Islam.
Do I hear you say that Bangladesh is far away and the genocide was long ago?
Not so far away. Not so long ago. And the agonies of Bangladeshi liberals are nothing in comparison to the contradictions of their British counterparts.
The conflict between the Shahbag and Jamaat has already reachedLondon. On 9 February, local supporters of the uprising demonstrated in Altab Ali Park, a rare patch of green space off the Whitechapel Road in London’s East End. They were met by Jamaatis. “They attacked our men with stones,” one of the protest’s organisers told me. “There were old people and women and children there, but they still attacked us.”
Pervez Hoodbhoy is one of the most thoughtful of dissenting voices speaking in Pakistan today. His latest piece is a comment on the reasons behind Pakistan’s wilful disinterest of the events of the Shahbag Uprising.
On February 5, the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) found Mullah guilty in five out of the six charges against him. Known as Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur) because of his atrocities against citizens in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, he was charged with beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and murdering 344 people. The ICT sentenced Mullah, presently assistant secretary general of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, to life in prison. For the protesters in Shahbag Square, this isn’t enough — they want Mullah hanged. On the other side, the Jamaat-e-Islami protested violently and also took out demonstrations. But its efforts to influence global opinion foundered in spite of a well-funded effort.
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Saad Z Hossain writes a piece which perfectly encapsulates the public sentiments regarding the fascist culture of Jamaat encroaching into public life and what the Youth Uprising at Shahbag think about it:
What do you expect the government to do? Shoot at unarmed women and children? Slaughter college kids and shopkeepers? The demands of Shahbagh and the AL overlap to some extent. That is not surprising given the universal hatred for Razakars this country once felt in ‘71. The fact that politicians have since seen fit to worm these men back into power does not mean they were ever rehabilitated in the eyes of the common people. The fact that most people in the country hate Razakars, including the sitting government, should not really detract from the legitimacy of the cause.
The anti-Jamaat Mass Rally in Shahbag Square
We are now in day 5 of the ongoing anti-Jamaat rallies that have swept Bangladesh, with the largest one attracting more than 200,000 protesters in Dhaka.
Hundreds of thousands of people rallied Friday in Bangladesh’s capital to demand executions for people convicted of war crimes involving the nation’s independence war in 1971.
The protesters in Dhaka urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to review a verdict sentencing a senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami to life in prison for killings and other crimes.
The protesters said the life term was not enough as Abdul Quader Mollah was found by a tribunal guilty of five charges, including playing a role in the killing of 381 unarmed civilians.
This is a cross post by Bina D’Costa first published in BDNews24
Ever since the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) began its work, opponents of the mechanism have emphasised that the first government of the state pardoned the alleged war criminals, that this was a project of political witch-hunt against Jamaat and BNP senior leaders and that there was no demand for justice from the majority of Bangladeshis who were more interested to move forward and have economic security rather than revisit the past. This write-up explores the political history until the ICT started its proceedings to respond to some of these claims.
We know how it began. That the Pakistani forces were perceived by the overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis who supported liberation as occupation forces; and that India’s armed intervention to end the conflict was welcomed. Pakistan also attracted global condemnation due to its brutal military crackdown in 1971, which resulted in mass atrocities and genocide. But what happened after the war was over?
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