Tuesday, 29 November, 2022
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Sheikh Hasina must not repeat her father’s mistakes & allow armed party goons in Bangladesh

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The self-confidence of the Bangladesh govt has obviously fallen, which is why they are now fearing students and a photographer’s camera.

I could never have dreamt that protesting students in Bangladesh would force a government to bar unlicensed drivers from getting behind the wheel, or motorcyclists to ride without helmets. What they have managed to do on the streets of Dhaka within just a couple of days is impressive.

Perhaps the protesting students should have gone back home sooner and cleared the roads. But did that justify brutalising unarmed students using the police and armed units of party cadres?

Nothing can be hidden these days. Incidents like these are recorded and culprits identified. How photo-journalist Rahat Karim was attacked with sticks and machetes as well as the faces of the perpetrators are now on the internet, just a click away.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has banned my books and prohibited my entry into my own country. In fact, she did not even allow me the courtesy of being able to visit my father on his deathbed. Upon her instructions, the embassies do not renew my passport or attest any of my documents.

Also read: Fighting her own students, Bangladesh PM Hasina shouldn’t take Modi’s support for granted

And yet she has my undying support. I support her because she has been good for Bangladesh. But this assessment is not based on her strengths as a leader, her humanity or her experience; it’s based solely on how bad her opponents are. Even today, given a choice between Hasina’s Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – Jamaat-e-Islami coalition, I will favour the former. It is unfortunate for Bangladesh that they do not have a better political option than the League; nor have they managed to foster leaders better than Hasina. But the opposition is so corrupt, treacherous and invested in ideas of Jihad that there is no choice but to support Hasina.

She has made many mistakes and her behaviour frequently appears to mirror that of a dictator. She no longer wishes to adhere to the tenets of democracy, human rights and the freedom of speech and expression. I feel pained, I scream out in anger; not that there is anyone to witness my outbursts. I am not a politician, a philosopher or anyone influential. I am in the shadows, at the end of the queue, an orphaned writer among the many other disenfranchised of the land.

The faith and respect many progressive individuals across the globe had for Hasina is dwindling. She must demonstrate visibly that she is not just the leader of a party but also the leader of the people; that she does not condone extrajudicial murders; that she does not want to suppress the free press; that she is not vengeful. She must convince the world that she does not maintain an army of thugs and that she will not use armed cadres to crush protesters. She must repeal Section 57 of the Information and Technology (ICT) Act and promote the freedom of expression.

Also read: Bangladeshis can teach Narendra Modi’s India a thing or two about using toilets

Hasina’s well-wishers surely do not want her behaviour to resemble the very opponents she defeated to come to power. Already Reporters Sans Frontières, the non-profit that advocates on behalf of the freedom of the press across the globe, has issued a statement detailing how nearly 23 journalists have been attacked while reporting on the mass movement for road traffic safety.

Human Rights Watch too has sternly criticised Section 57 saying it aided in persecuting critics of the ruling party and the government.

The entire world knows by now that the case filed against photo-journalist Shahidul Alam was based on Section 57 of the ICT Act, resulting in his arrest and 10 days of remand during which time he has been physically and mentally tortured. His only offence was that he gave an interview to Al-Jazeera regarding his experience of photographing the student’s movement for road safety where he spoke in favour of the students and made a number of critical observations against the government.

He did not murder anyone or hack anyone with a machete or break people’s bones with sticks and hammers. The only thing he did was to sit in his own home and express his personal views in an interview to the media. How can viewpoints that are perceivably critical of the government be sufficient grounds for harassment?

Let me assume Shahidul Alam did not speak the truth. Let the government prove him wrong. The self-confidence of the government has obviously fallen which is why they are now fearing school students and a photographer’s camera. It is a thing of terrible irony that the Sheikh Mujibur’s daughter Sheikh Hasina is afraid of the same things that her silly opponents are.

Many civilised countries’ leaders resign even in the case of minor mistakes or errors of judgement. Democracy enables even the vilest, bigoted, self-serving and stupid barbarian to come to power and rule a country. The rest is achieved because of the presence of sycophants. But totalitarianism cannot be the solution to any problem. If we oppose those who wish to establish a communal and fundamentalist regime, we must also question those who wish to run a totalitarian regime in the guise of a democracy.

The day the people go silent will be a catastrophic day. All forms of injustice must be opposed. In order to heal, one must first identify the wound. Allowing the BNP to come to power would mean turning the country over to stupid and corrupt people like Tareq Zia and Khaleda Zia. The Jamaat-e-Islami will invariably turn the country into another Afghanistan. And I am not sure if one can place too much faith on those who are plotting to come to power by ‘offing’ both Hasina and Zia.

Also read: Shahidul Alam- The photographer whose arrest in Bangladesh has sparked global outrage

Hasina may win the election again. But that victory will be hollow if religious bigotry manages to spread its roots into the heart of the country, if stupidity is encouraged simply because it is more popular, if those who believe in free thought are assumed to be enemies, and if dissent is silenced. Perhaps these currents will benefit Hasina’s party, but it will most definitely not be beneficial for the country.

One would prefer the democracy of someone unsuitable than the tyranny of someone suitable. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had made a grave error when he had decreed that there was going to be no other party than BaKSAL (the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League or the Bangladesh Worker-Peasants’ People’s League); I hope Sheikh Hasina will not repeat the same mistake. I also hope that she will not repeat the error Sheikh Mujibur had made in forming the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini (National Security Force), by allowing the supporters of the Awami League or the goons of the Student League to continue to commit acts of terror with impunity.

Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator.

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  1. The columnist sets the bar too low for the incumbent’s re-election. At some stage, voters tell their government, as happened in India in 1977, Aap ghar jaiye. Aap ki jagah kaun aayega, hum waqt aane par unhein bhi dekh lenge.

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