Martyrs of 71

Dec 29, 2015
The political scenario in Bangladesh becomes still more volatile with Begum Khaleda Zia’s decidedly reckless remark on the number of martyrs during the liberation struggle in 1971. Having served as Prime Minister, not to forget her stint as First Lady in the early 1980s, it did not behove the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party to rake up the emotive issue on 21 December - five days after the 44th anniversary of Victory Day. More specifically, her contention that “there are controversies over how many were martyred in the Liberation War.” She has distinctly played to the Jamaat gallery and the pro-Pakistan segment within the country, and in the event has antagonised the judiciary and the post-71 generation that spearheaded the Shabaug upheaval in 2013, shrilling for justice against the “collaborators and war criminals”. Prompt and swift has been the response of the judiciary, with a court in Dhaka ordering an investigation into a sedition charge filed against Khaleda by Moshiur Malik, founding president of Bangabandhu Foundation.
A fact of history cannot be disputed without empirical evidence, let alone a flippant wave of hand.  Small wonder that her comments have ignited stout condemnation among the country’s pro-liberation forces. Less easily explained is her perception that Pakistani forces were present in 1971 as what she calls hanadar bahini. Hence the popular demand for an explanation of the appellation by both the Jamaat and the BNP. Did Khaleda simply echo the sentiments of the Jamaat?
Unwittingly or otherwise, the BNP leader, whose political prospects have dimmed over the years, has created a grim situation. Her provocation has been greeted with condemnation that she is acting as an “agent of Pakistan”, one who ought to “leave Bangladesh”. Markedly, she has commented on the issue in the wake of Pakistan’s denial of committing any war crimes or atrocities in Bangladesh during the nine-month liberation struggle. She has in the main iterated the Pakistani perception about the number of martyrs. Indeed, there is little or no difference in the stance of the BNP, the Jamaat, and Pakistan on the genocide and the ongoing war crimes trial. It shall not be easy for the BNP or the Jamaat or for that matter the violent fundamentalists to contend with the flutter in the roost, most importantly the charge of sedition. Section 123 (A) of the penal code says that one can be punished “with rigorous imprisonment of up to ten years for condemnation of the creation of Bangladesh”. The plot thickens with the lawyers’ fraternity in Dhaka serving notice to Khaleda, asking her to apologise to the nation within seven days. The renewed opposition to Khaleda, embedded in nationalist sentiment, may just suit the Awami League agenda, though it is open to question whether the government will give its go-ahead to the sedition trial.
Statesman, December 29, 2015

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