Shahbagh slides into old identity dichotomy

Seema Amin

When a demand is de-contextualised from the power forces at play, it risks this occupation by those forces. Now the ultimate effect of Shahbagh has been dividing the nation even more dangerously, rather than uniting us or showing us a path forward — for at the end of the day they did not risk enough to go against the state as well as Shibir, and thus, fell into an old identity dichotomy rather than creating a new synthesis for a new identity.

Seema Amin analyzes the fallout of the Shahbag movement and brilliantly points out the reincarnation of the identity dichotomy that grips Bangladesh since inception.
GENERATION 13 claims that a structural shift in the mindset of the general populace may well be the most positive outcome of the Shahbagh movement.

The long-term impact of the Shahbagh movement can only be predicted by the political position in which it ultimately found itself. When the ‘spontaneous’ movement began, the present government’s popularity seemed to be drowning in corruption scandals, mysterious murders, fanatical overuse of the police on everyone from teachers to the left. Until Shahbagh, almost every serious protest in the country was contained or violently attacked, except for a few Jamaat protests that occurred just weeks before the sentencing of the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’.

As the Shahbagh movement gained steam, the protestors spoke with the national rhetoric of liberation, recycling old slogans and creating a few new ones, which the Awami League had until then almost claimed as their own property. Shahbagh claims they have allowed everyone to claim liberation, not just the Awami League. Strangely, within a few weeks, Lucky Akter was hit by an AL strongman and silenced soon after. Today she stands with her arms closed while pro-government civil society and cadres alternate slogans and the stage. Why is she not the leader of Shahbagh, instead of Imran H Sarkar?
Those who were critical of the government’s four years of rule have moved into the background, willingly, and the movement can barely be distinguished from what is being said in parliament. What seemed like a great mirroring act by Shahbagh (showing that the emperor is naked) turned out to be an even greater imitation act by the government. But beyond all this, the movement shows the lack of political acumen, courage and historical knowledge on the part of protesters. They seemed unable to understand with what language a country of so many Muslim believers, living in a global moment of political Islam and oppression of that phenomenon could be identified.
Seeming to lack any understanding of dealing with Shibir, they moved into a full-scale attack, mirroring their violence in words. Seeming to lack any understanding of the class and pulse of this largely rural country that had also watched four years of misrule camouflaged in this same rhetoric, they began an onslaught that will have fatal consequences for this poor, tragic country. The question is: could the movement have gone another way?

Knowing the narrow cultural identity and limited political generosity (I make this statement knowing that they would not have come out in these numbers to protest eviction of the poor, the killing of hundreds in garments fires or border killings and bilateral treaties that negotiate away our ecological rights) of the middle classes who ran to Shahbagh, I can say that without any leader in sight — young or old — who would push this movement that way, it was inevitable that this movement would hand over the energy of youth to the contenders of state domination and possibly, enough violence for a ‘third force’ to come in with the excuse of keeping order.
One can ask the question: what else could they have done as a response to such a sentence and compromise that was a negation of the government’s electoral pledge? They could have spoken in a different language, danced in a different form, reminded us of a longer history of collective consciousness stretching to class consciousness and reaching toward every political crime committed by successive governments and their choice of domination and greed. Would this have diluted the demand? It would have prevented the movement from denigrating into a demand for a hanging — something that at best would assuage the ghosts of victims of crimes against humanity.

When a demand is de-contextualised from the power forces at play, it risks this occupation by those forces. Now the ultimate effect of Shahbagh has been dividing the nation even more dangerously, rather than uniting us or showing us a path forward — for at the end of the day they did not risk enough to go against the state as well as Shibir, and thus, fell into an old identity dichotomy rather than creating a new synthesis for a new identity.

Source: Alal O Dulal

2 Responses to Shahbagh slides into old identity dichotomy

  1. The present position and standing of the ‘projanmo chattar’ youth has been very very controversial and the writer has rightly explained it. At the same time it reveals the political cunning of the power party and the myopic imprudence of the opposition. It is very true that division in post-liberation Bangladesh was not simply between the few thousand of pro-Pakistan and 98% pro-liberation people. It soon snarled with even more vicious feature among the pro-liberation people in the formation ‘Scientific Socialist Party’ (JSD), a few existing communist parties of both Chinese and USSR lines, some of who were operating underground. All these happened owing to the failure of real good governance by the ‘supreme leader’ who in no time fell in the temptation of becoming equivalent to the country itself. The slogan ‘ek neta ek desh (one leader one country), Bangabandhur Bangladesh’ very enthusiastically tried to establish a kind of dictatorship which was absolutely contradictory to the chronological struggle for autonomy and ultimately, independence. The situation got so complex and critical that Bangabandhu formed BAKSAL, abolishing all parties and taking fullest control on the print media. Strangely enough, the 15th amendment nullified all the amendments made after August, 1975 but said nothing about the 4th which, if taken as an integral part of the constitution, illegitimizes all the political parties present in the field today. But you see, the ‘projanmo chattar’ has never said anything about any other issues eating into the marrow of the nation as if the hanging of half a dozen war criminals would solve all other problems. This is very strange and forebodes a catastrophic situation lurking ahead. In fact the two warring ladies have brought the country to the verge of a failed one. Many are apprehensive of the situation like that of a few Mid-East countries in great turmoil.

  2. I applaud S. Ali’s analysis. No one is talking about it lest they become embroiled in controversies. The media played a very strange role by twisting words and putting all the blame on the already destabilized opposition party. So did the trade associations and others. The Shahbagh Jagoron seems to be interested in destroying a political party and their financial apparatus and also interfering in the judicial process of already controversial ICT. They think ICT should listen to their demands. They cannot fathom the depth of malaise within our nation. Or are they avoiding it for their convenience? Perhaps they are getting all this attention and help from the ruling party and are an extension of their political arm. Shahbagh did not bring anything good to the nation. Rather they placed the country in a precarious quandary. They were so well organized; it is almost like a storybook precision. Children were brought into the square by the ruling party obedient teachers and professors. It is so easy to do that, calling it a revolution is an insult to human intelligence.

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