Playing ball with the Jamaat

The Jamaat?s worldview is antithetical to the kind of nation Bangladeshis have repeatedly wanted to build

By?Salil Tripathi?First Published in Live Mint:?Wed, Mar 13 2013

Bangladeshi police detain a supporter of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party during a protest in Dhaka. Photo: AFP
Bangladeshi police detain a supporter of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party during a protest in Dhaka. Photo: AFP
I write this column with some regret. As a college student, among the bylines I grew up admiring was that of S.N.M. Abdi, who was a young reporter in the late 1970s, and exposed one of the most horrendous examples of police brutality in post-independence India?the blinding of undertrial prisoners in Bhagalpur in Bihar. Some politicians defended that barbarism, saying the practice had ?social sanction?. But Abdi rightly focused on the atrocity, stirring the nation?s conscience, which was at that time still reeling from the effects of the emergency. Continue reading “Playing ball with the Jamaat”

Fire in Sonar Bangla

Khaleda Zia?s snub to Pranab Mukherjee does not matter in the long run. But she is making a strategic blunder by staying aligned with Jamaat

By?Salil Tripathi First Published in Live Mint:?Fri, Mar 08 2013

When President Pranab Mukherjee visited Bangladesh earlier this week, its opposition leader Khaleda Zia (above) of the BNP did not meet him, because of public strikes that her ally, Jamaat-i-Islami, has been calling to protest the verdicts of the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal. Photo: AFP
When President Pranab Mukherjee visited Bangladesh earlier this week, its opposition leader Khaleda Zia (above) of the BNP did not meet him, because of public strikes that her ally, Jamaat-i-Islami, has been calling to protest the verdicts of the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal. Photo: AFP
Earlier this week, when President?Pranab Mukherjee?visited Bangladesh, its opposition leader?Khaleda Zia?of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) did not meet him, because of public strikes that her ally, Jamaat-i-Islami, has been calling to protest the verdicts of the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal. The BNP called another strike this week in sympathy with the Jamaat, whose leaders are, one by one, being convicted of war crimes by the Tribunal. Continue reading “Fire in Sonar Bangla”

Crowds and justice at Shahbag

A dominant Jamaat will make Bangladesh look more like Pakistan, a joyless prospect citizens are rejecting loudly

By?Salil Tripathi?in Live Mint?First Published:?Wed, Feb 27 2013

Bangladesh?s quest for closure threatens to morph into the paralysing dysfunctionality that has characterized its politics. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Bangladesh?s quest for closure threatens to morph into the paralysing dysfunctionality that has characterized its politics. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
One of the truly significant aspects about the emotional upsurge at Shahbag in Dhaka?the hundreds of thousands of candles, the portrait of Jahanara Imam who lost her son in the liberation war in 1971 and fought for the rest of her life seeking justice?is that an overwhelmingly large number of the demonstrators are under the age of 40. Most were not born when Bangladesh emerged from its blood-soaked birth. Their fight is outwardly for an even harsher punishment (meaning death) for Abdul Kader Mullah, the Jamaat-i-Islami leader who foolishly flashed a victory sign when he was sentenced to life in prison for complicity in war crimes, and others against whom verdicts are awaited. But more fundamentally, they are trying to regain history, to assert their identity. Too often has the promise of Bangla nationalism been stolen, its national aspiration challenged, its spirit of unity based on language?irrespective of faith?reviled, its past rewritten, and the generation that fought for independence betrayed. Now it is time to reclaim the past. Continue reading “Crowds and justice at Shahbag”

Bangladesh: Past Present Future

Archiving 1971


Photo: Don Mccullin

Archiving?1971

By Sharmin Ahmed

Star Weekend

Winston Churchill said, ?History is written by the victors.? And when history is one-sided, it becomes a propaganda instrument. Archiving is a form of respecting not only history but the truth, and it is with the motive of promoting the truth that documentation of history must be done. ?Archiving 1971?, a programme by Drik to collect oral, textual and visual resources to establish a one stop repository of the historical 1971 War of Liberation for Bangladesh began on that promise

The aim is to bring together a team of researchers, social scientists, historians, archivists and other professionals to assemble definitive archives of this important chapter in the country’s history. The 10-year plan includes not only collating materials from across the world but also generate the economic resources necessary to build permanent physical archives. It will help academics, researchers and others to make rigorous analysis and draw inspiration from the repository.

Continue reading “Archiving 1971”

India's secret war in Bangladesh

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By Praveen Swami

The Hindu

As a grand finale to the victorious role played in the liberation of Bangladesh and to make their final withdrawal, the Indian Army held a farewell parade at the Dacca Stadium on March 12, 1972 where the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, took the salute. Photo shows Sheikh Mujibur Rehman reviewing the parade. Photo: The Hindu Archives
As a grand finale to the victorious role played in the liberation of Bangladesh and to make their final withdrawal, the Indian Army held a farewell parade at the Dacca Stadium on March 12, 1972 where the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, took the salute. Photo shows Sheikh Mujibur Rehman reviewing the parade. Photo: The Hindu Archives
Even as the role of the Indian military in giving birth to the new nation is celebrated, the role of its intelligence services remains largely unknown.

Forty-five minutes before 12.00 pm on December 14, 1971, Indian Air Force pilots at Hashimpara and Gauhati received instructions to attack an unusual target: a sprawling colonial-era building in the middle of Dacca that had no apparent military value whatsoever.
There were nothing but tourist maps available to guide the pilots to their target ? but the results were still lethal. The first wave of combat jets, four MiG21 jets armed with rockets, destroyed a conference hall; two more MiGs and two Hunter bombers levelled a third of the main building.
Inside the building ? the Government House ? East Pakistan’s Cabinet had begun an emergency meeting to discuss the political measures to avoid the looming surrender of their army at Dacca 55 minutes before the bombs hit. It turned out to be the last-ever meeting of the Cabinet. A.M. Malik, head of the East Pakistan government, survived the bombing along with his Cabinet ? but resigned on the spot, among the burning ruins; the nervous system, as it were, of decision-making had been destroyed.
For years now, military historians have wondered precisely how the Government House was targeted with such precision; rumours that a spy was present have proliferated. From the still-classified official history of the 1971 war, we now know the answer. Indian cryptanalysts, or code-breakers, had succeeded in breaking Pakistan’s military cipher ? giving the country’s intelligence services real-time information on the enemy’s strategic decision-making.
India’s Army, Navy and Air Force were lauded, during the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence, for their role in ending a genocide and giving birth to a new nation. The enormous strategic contribution of India’s intelligence services, however, has gone largely unacknowledged.
Seven months before the December 3 Pakistan Air Force raid that marked the beginning of the war, India’s Chief of Army Staff issued a secret order to the General Officer Commanding, Eastern Command, initiating the campaign that would end with the dismemberment of Pakistan.
Operation Instruction 52 formally committed the Indian forces to ?assist the Provisional Government of Bangladesh to rally the people of East Bengal in support of the liberation movement,? and ?to raise, equip and train East Bengal cadres for guerrilla operations for employment in their own native land.?
The Eastern Command was to ensure that the guerrilla forces were to work towards ?tying down the Pak [Pakistan] Military forces in protective tasks in East Bengal,? ?sap and corrode the morale of the Pak forces in the Eastern theatre and simultaneously to impair their logistic capability for undertaking any offensive against Assam and West Bengal,? and, finally, be used along with the regular Indian troops ?in the event of Pakistan initiating hostilities against us.? Continue reading “India's secret war in Bangladesh”

Bangladesh war: The article that changed history


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By Mark Dummett BBC News

On 13 June 1971, an article in the UK’s Sunday Times exposed the brutality of Pakistan’s suppression of the Bangladeshi uprising. It forced the reporter’s family into hiding and changed history.

Abdul Bari had run out of luck. Like thousands of other people in East Bengal, he had made the mistake – the fatal mistake – of running within sight of a Pakistani patrol. He was 24 years old, a slight man surrounded by soldiers. He was trembling because he was about to be shot.
So starts one of the most influential pieces of South Asian journalism of the past half century.
Written by Anthony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani reporter, and printed in the UK’s Sunday Times, it exposed for the first time the scale of the Pakistan army’s brutal campaign to suppress its breakaway eastern province in 1971.
Nobody knows exactly how many people were killed, but certainly a huge number of people lost their lives. Independent researchers think that between 300,000 and 500,000 died. The Bangladesh government puts the figure at three million. Continue reading “Bangladesh war: The article that changed history”

London Launch

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London launch of “My journey as a witness” by Shahidul Alam. 10th October 2011. Film by?Frode Hegland and?Enamul Hoque

Book launched at Grand Hyatt Churchill in London by Rt. Hon. MP Keith Vaz

Rt. Hon. MP Keith Vaz (left), Runi Khan (centre) and Shahidul Alam (right) at book launch of "My journey as a witness" at Grand Hyatt Churchill on 10th October 2011. Photo: Enamul Hoque.

Guests at launch of "My journey as a witness" by Shahidul Alam at Grand Hyatt Churchill in London. 10th Oct 2011. Photo: Enamul Hoque

BBC World Service interview
Public Talk at National Geographic
Pictures of exhibition at Wilmotte Gallery in Oxford Gardens continues till 18th November 2011. Pictures of launch at Delhi Festival to follow.

London launch: My journey as a witness

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Book Launch: Organised by Candlestar

We invite you to the official UK book launch of ‘My Journey as a Witness’,?a book of images by celebrated photographer?Shahidul Alam.
An extraordinary artist, Shahidul Alam is a photographer, writer, activist, and social entrepreneur who uses his art to chronicle the social and artistic struggles.
Lucid and personal, this much-awaited book includes over 100 photographs tracing Alam?s artistic career, activism, and the founding of photography organisations. From early images shot in England to photographs of the last two decades in his native Bangladesh, this is a journey from photojournalism into social justice. Alam?s superb imagery is matched by his perceptive accounts that are at once deeply intimate and bitingly satirical.
Supported by the Bengal Foundation and published by Skira Editore there will be a short film and brief talks by the author, editor and sponsor accompanied by a book signing.
Date and Venue:
5.30 – 7.30pm Monday 10th October 2011
Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
Library Room
30 Portman Square,
London, W1H 7BH
Due to limited numbers please RSVP by Thursday 6th October RSVP to?[email protected]

Subcontinental drift

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By Salil Tripathi

Does the controversial book about Bangladesh?s war of liberation uncover new truths, or simply reverse old biases?

It is an article of faith in Bangladesh that three million people died in its war of independence in 1971. At that time, the population of the former East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh) was about 70 million people, which means nearly 4% of the population died in the war. The killings took place between 25 March, when Pakistani forces launched?Operation Searchlight, and mid-December, when Dhaka fell to the invading Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini forces (who was aiding whom depends on which narrative you read? India?s or Bangladesh?s). As per Bangladesh?s understanding of its history, the nation was a victim of genocide. Killing three million people over 267 days amounts to nearly 11,000 deaths a day. That would make it one of the most lethal conflicts of all time.
One of the most brutal conflicts in recent years has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the International Rescue Committee reported that 5.4 million people died between 1998 and 2008. A more thorough Canadian analysis now concludes that the actual figure is about half. At 5.4 million deaths, the daily death toll would be around 1,500; at 2.7 million, around 750. Was the 1971 war up to 15 times more lethal than the Congolese conflict?
A history of violence: A scene from the bloody conflicts of the 1971 Bangladesh war. Photo: Getty Images
A history of violence: A scene from the bloody conflicts of the 1971 Bangladesh war. Photo: Getty Images
It is an uncomfortable question. Many Bangladeshis feel that raising such a doubt undermines their suffering and belittles their identity. But a thorough, unbiased study, going as far as facts can take the analysis, would be an important contribution to our understanding of the subcontinent?s recent history.
Continue reading “Subcontinental drift”