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Bangladeshi Women Join Shahbag Protests in Remarkable Numbers

It is not only Bangladeshi men who are occupying the capital city Dhaka's Shahbag intersection demanding capital punishment for war criminals.

The protests have seen extraordinary participation by women. Students, working professionals, and mothers accompanied by their young children have all lent their voice to the Shahbag protests, a movement spearheaded by bloggers and online activists which is seeking the death penalty for those who committed crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

An estimated 200,000 to 3 million people were killed by the Pakistani army and approximately 250,000 women were raped during the war. Local political and religious militia groups such as RazakarAl Badr, and Al-Shams, many of whom were also members of the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami, aided Pakistani soldiers in killing, particularly targeting Hindus.

The International Crimes Tribunal was formed 42 years after the war to bring perpetrators of these terrible wartime crimes to justice. The tribunal's first verdicts were handed down against Abul Kalam Azad, known as “Bachchu Razakar”, who was sentenced to death late last month, and Abdul Quader Mollah, known as “Butcher” to the Bengalis in the outskirts of Dhaka, who was sentenced to life in prison for murder, rape, torture, and other crimes.

People have taken to the streets demanding that Mollah and other war criminals be put to death, fearing that if they are imprisoned, they may be released after a regime change.

The engagement of women and children in these protests is remarkable. Mahabub Bhuiyan [bn] wrote on Somewherein blog:

মায়ের কোলে কিংবা বাবার হাত ধরে চলে আসছে শিশুরাও। গৃহবধূরাও আজ রাজপথে নেমে গেছেন। বৃদ্ধ-বৃদ্ধারা এই তারুণ্যেও মিছিলে পা ফেলছেন যৌবনের বীর্যে বলীয়ান হয়ে।

Children came in their mother's lap or holding the hand of their father. Many housewives are seen on the streets. Senior citizens also walked with youth for the cause.

Pavel Mohitul Alam [bn] wrote on Facebook about how some female college students have shown solidarity with the protests:

ভিকারুননিসার একদল মেয়ে এসেছিলো আজ সংহতি প্রকাশ করতে। তাদের মধ্যে কারো কারো আবার পরীক্ষা। পরীক্ষার পড়ার জন্য আন্দোলন কিংবা আন্দোলনের জন্য পড়া– কোনোটাই বাদ দেয়নি তারা। প্রজন্ম চত্বরেই তারা বসে পড়ে বই-খাতা নিয়ে। চলে পড়াশোনা, সেই সংগে চলে শ্লোগানও।

Some students of Viqarunnisa College came to show solidarity. Some of them had exams imminent. They did not let any one go, they engaged in sit-in protest and opened their book to study. They studied and shouted slogans intermittently.

Writer and journalist Abu Hasan Shahriar [bn] shared in a Facebook status his experience visiting the Shahbag protests on the second day:

রাত তখন দেড়টার বেশি। এক কিশোরীকে দেখলাম, মায়ের হাত ধরে প্রজন্ম চত্বরের দিকে এগিয়ে আসছে। মাইক থেকে ‘কাদের মোল্লার ফাঁসি চাই’ স্লোগান ভেসে আসতেই কিশোরীটি সমবেত জনতার সঙ্গে গলা মিলিয়ে বলছে– ‘ফাঁসি চাই ফাঁসি চাই’।

It was 1:30 at night. I saw a young girl walking towards the square holding her mother's hand. There were slogans from the speaker, “We want capital punishment for Kader Mollah”, and the girl would join in, “we want.. we want..”

Below are some photographs of women and children who joined the protests. The images are from International Crime Strategy Forum's album “‘Shahbag Square’ Uprising: Justice for the Victims of '71” and have been used with permission.

Writer and Blogger Monika Rashid [bn] had never shouted a protest slogan until the Shahbag protests. She wrote about the experience in a Facebook status:

আমি কখনো মিছিলে গিয়ে স্লোগান দিয়েছি বলে মনে পড়ে না! কিন্তু শাহবাগ চত্তরের এই উত্তাল সময়ে চীৎকার করে স্লোগান দিতে কী যে অসাধারণ আনন্দ, তা বুঝিয়ে বলার ক্ষমতা রাখিনা। আজ আবার যাবো, স্লোগানও দেব

I don't remember shouting a slogan, ever. But I cannot express what fun it is in this crucial moment in Shahbag. I will come again today and shout slogans.

Blogger Lina Fardows [bn] also wanted to come to Shahbag to join the candlelight procession:

আজ রাত ১০টার পর শাহবাগ থাকবো। :) মোমের আলোয় পুড়িয়ে ফেলতে চাই ব্যর্থ প্রাণের আবর্জনা…

Tonight I will come to Shahbag after 10PM. :) I want to burn away all of life's ills with a candle flame.

Banker and blogger Nazmus Nupur [bn] came to Shahbag in the hopes of creating a Bangladesh free of the religious militia Razakar for her child. She also raised her voice and wrote on Facebook:

সারাদিন গলা ফাটিয়ে শ্লোগান দেয়ার সময় একবারো গলা কাঁপেনি, মনে হয়নি জীবনে প্রথম গলা ফাটাচ্ছি। ৭১-এ বাপ মা পথে নেমেছে, আজ আমরা নামলাম, জয় আমাদের হবেই। আমার সন্তানকে আমি রাজাকার মুক্ত বাংলাদেশ দিতে চাই। জয় বাংলা।

Shouting slogans all day didn't crack my voice. It did not seem like I am doing it for the first time. In 1971, my parents came to the streets, today we came, victory will be ours. I want to give my child a Razakar-free Bangladesh. Joy Bangla.

Facebook user Zeenat Zoardar Ripa [bn] wrote:

কোন এক সময়ে, নিজের সন্তানকে নিয়ে শাহবাগের রাস্তা দিয়ে যখন যাব তখন বলতে পারব- এই পথে নেমেছিলো তোর মা। রাজাকারের ফাঁসির দাবিতে।

One day I will come with my child to Shahbag and will tell him or her – this is the street where your mother protested, demanding capital punishment for Razakars.

In Shahbag, many girls have led youth protests, one of them being Lucky Akter. Her powerful slogans have mesmerized the crowd, but cohorts of the Islamist party Jamaat-Shibir, to which the war criminals belong, are spreading ill things about her on Facebook. She wrote in a Facebook [bn] status:

যারা আমাদের নামে কুৎসা রটনা করেছেন। তাদের উদ্দেশ্যে বলছি, দেখুন আমরা যারা রাজপথে নেমেছি তারা কোন ধর্মের বিপক্ষে নই। তাই মাদ্রাসার ছাত্ররাও এই আন্দোলনে অংশ নিচ্ছে। ধর্ম যার যার, রাষ্ট্র সবার। জামাত শিবিরের ধর্ম ব্যাবসার রাজনীতি আইন করে বন্ধ করতে হবে।

Those who are speaking ill about me, please listen. We have taken the street not to protest against any religion. Even Madrassa students are joining the protests. Religions are for individuals, but the state is for everybody. We have to shut down Jamaat-Shibir's politics of religion.

Ekramul Haque Emon saluted the women protesters in Shahbag:

শাহবাগে সপরিবারে যারা যোগ দিয়েছেন তাদের লক্ষ কোটি স্যালুট, স্যালুট ওইসব অবুঝ শিশুদের যারা ভালভাবে ‘মা’ উচ্চারণ শেখার আগেই ‘তুই রাজাকার তুই রাজাকার‘ কিংবা ‘ফাঁসী চাই, ফাঁসী চাই’ গর্জনে নিজের কান তাতাল দিয়ে গেঁথে নিচ্ছে। স্যালুট সেইসব নারীদের, যারা দিনভর অফিসের কাজ ও সাংসারিক ঝামেলা মিটিয়ে রাতে যোগ দিচ্ছেন। আপনাদের প্রাণবন্ত উপস্থিতি ও চিৎকার আমাদের শক্তি ও সাহস তরান্বিত করছে প্রতিনিয়ত।

Those who joined in the Shahbag protests, I salute them a thousand times. I salute those children who are shouting slogans with their mother. I salute those women who are working in the office all day and going to the protests in the evening after taking care of the family. Your presence and eloquence have increased our strength and courage.


  • […] is unique for Bangladesh on two important fronts. First is the prevalence and visibility of women, who are among the core organisers. Unlike in many public spaces in Bangladesh, women have been […]

  • […] students, wives, working professionals, activists, and mothers with their children all gave their voice to the Shahbag […]

  • reasonupholder

    A neutral account of the Shahbag Protest in Bangladesh, 2013

    The ”’Shahbag Protest of 2013 in Bangladesh”’ is a gathering of
    some thousand protesters in the Shahbag area of the capital city of
    Dhaka, Bangladesh, that began on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 in Dhaka,
    Bangladesh, with the demand of capital punishment for Abdul Quader
    Mollah and the other accused war criminals of the 1971 Liberation War of
    Bangladesh, in general, but due to confusion regarding leadership (even
    though the ruling party, Awami League, claims the protest as their own,
    many have joined the protest who don’t support any particular political
    party and are unaware of the complicated legal and/or constitutional
    provisions and procedures involved), the specific demands of the
    protesters and how to achieve them are not yet clear and is a popular
    topic in the media, the talk shows and the academia.

    Legal Issues

    It is not a protest about bringing the accused to trial but a demand
    for some specific punishment. It still remains to be clarified as to how
    it is that the protesters want the government to influence the verdict
    of a court, how it is that a court can be bound by some pre-decided
    non-judicial verdict, or whether being accused itself is a sufficient
    criterion for guilt. The government has promised to start fresh trials
    with provisions for death penalty of the accused this time, but this
    gave rise to further concerns among the intellectual circles of
    Bangladesh as to why the initial trial was not conducted under such
    provisions. A second trial would conflict with the basic principle of
    law that a person cannot be tried twice for the same offense. For some, a
    more viable option that is left is for the prosecution to appeal to
    superior courts, and wait for the judges there to take the sentiment of
    the protesters into account. Nevertheless, even that would be a matter
    of time, and many are finding it difficult to ascertain as to what could
    immediately be offered to the ongoing protests.

    Historical Context and Development of the Protest

    Abdul Quader Mollah was charged with abetting the Pakistani army and
    actively participating in the 1971 atrocities in Bangladesh. In 1973,
    he, along with others, was pardoned as part of a general amnesty issued
    by the Awami League government at that time, headed by Sheikh Mujibur
    Rahman due to legal complexities surrounding the issue regarding
    evidence and problems of retrospectivity. After forty years, the present
    Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina resumed the trial of some
    of the accused by setting up a special tribunal, naming it the
    International Crimes Tribunal, to win back the support of the public
    amidst massive dissatisfaction regarding Awami League rule since 2009.
    On February 5, 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh
    sentenced Mollah to life in prison after he was proved guilty in five
    out of the six charges against him. Within hours of the verdict, an
    online community, Blogger and Online Activists Network (BOAN), whose
    activity has been praised by the present government, successfully
    managed to publicize its event to protest the verdict, to be held at
    Shahbag, primarily with the help of the social networking site Facebook.
    Initially members of the Chhatra League, the student wing of Awami
    League started the protest, but soon was joined by many neutral people
    who wanted revenge for the 1971 war time activities of Jamaat e Islami,
    and also by passive, curious observers, or those who just wanted to be a
    part of an important event, never mind its agenda, after the mainstream
    media covered the protest at Shahbag nationwide through the TV
    channels, with statements such as “the nation is getting united in the
    manner of Tahrir Sqaure”. The protest has continued since then.

    Views About the Protest

    Opinions vary regarding motives, the method and the outcome of the
    protest. In Bangladesh, there are many who are supporting the protest
    strongly, many of whom are ordinary citizens, while many are also
    supporters of Awami League. Those who do not want the government to
    hijack the protest for their own purposes have tried to prevent
    government officials from speaking in the protest. But government
    supporters are also active and have physically injured a female
    protester for trying to prevent a government official to speak in the

    The second group of people are supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, who are
    openly denouncing the protest as a plot instigated by the ruling Awami
    League to neutralize political opponents and to divert anti-government
    sentiments before the coming of the next general elections. They are
    affirming their democratic right to participate in politics, which, many
    protesters believe, they do not have. They claim that the initial
    tribunal set up by Awami League was not fair enough, proven by the
    abduction of defense witnesses by law enforcers, and the sensitive
    information regarding the trial process leaked when a Skype conference
    of the chairman of the tribunal went public. They claim that their few
    central leaders have been accused retrospectively for crimes committed
    by many localized individuals during the 1971 wars. They also claim that
    the passing of the life sentence in the initial trial was intentional
    and influenced by the government, as a protest supporting government
    cause was what the government wanted most to achieve from it, which
    would eventually enable them to achieve not only the elimination of
    political opposition, but also to show public support for it, as well as
    to neutralize massive anti-government sentiments that arose during
    their rule since 2009. They claim that the breadth and scope of the
    protest are being highly exaggerated and publicized by elements of the
    government, and some have even threatened the government with civil war.

    A third group of people have appreciated the spirit of the protest,
    but believe that singling out only the capital punishment of the
    criminals of 1971 among hundreds of other issues bothering the country
    today would be an immature policy to adopt and would only benefit the
    cause of Awami League, when in reality the major cause of the crisis in
    Bangladesh today are the activities of the two political parties. They
    believe that all issues haunting the country should now be put together
    and the energy channeled towards a real change in national politics.

    International coverage

    Since 2009, under Awami League, Bangladesh has suffered some
    downturns in international relations, and it is yet to be seen how the
    international community reacts to the protest at Shahbag. Till date,
    international media has tried to cover the situation in Bangladesh and
    Shahbag through a more neutral perspective compared to local media.

    The text of this page is available for modification and reuse under
    the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported
    License and the GNU Free Documentation License (unversioned, with no
    invariant sections, front-cover texts, or back-cover texts).

  • […] students, wives, working professionals, activists, and mothers with their children all gave their voice to the Shahbag […]

  • us bengali

    pls protest againt share market looting , hall mark scam , padma bridge corruption

  • us bengali

    Dont try to save corrupt Bangladesh Awamileague

  • us bengali

    we need supreme judiciary unbiased

  • […] students, wives, working professionals, activists, and mothers with their children all gave their voice to the Shahbag […]

  • […] students, wives, working professionals, activists, and mothers with their children all gave their voice to the Shahbag […]

  • Alex Marphy

    It’s a government backed movement to protest the opposition parties of Bangladesh especially ‘Bangladesh Jamaate Islami’. All the protesters are the supporters and activists of the ruling party ‘Bangladesh Awamileague’ and its allying parties. The protesters are getting money, food, water,shelter, protection, patronisation and media coverage directly and indirectly by the government. It is like a drama staged by the ruling party and its allies. Its never a pro people movement and never a movement of overall people.

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