Riaz Osmani

December 6, 2018

We experienced economic development and improvements to standards of living from the Awami League beyond expectations during the last ten years. To aid in this process, we saw unprecedented investment in infrastructure and the transport sector. There has been marked positive changes in the country’s social indicators and the rate of absolute poverty. Bangladesh can now truly look forward to a bright future when it comes to her economy. Information Technology has transformed the way the new generation views the world and their own lives. And the biggest single contribution of this government was to rid the country of the original sin of the war criminals of Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971, by conducting their trial and taking steps to cancel the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami (home of those war criminals who aided the Pakistani army in the butchering and rape of Bengalis) as a political party.

One can be forgiven for thinking that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s victory in the upcoming elections (at the end of this month) is all but certain. Are Bangladeshis that ungrateful? But while the sycophants of the party will be reminding everyone of the above true narrative before the elections, they will be carefully avoiding the facts below as well. Let’s take a closer look at them.

1) After coming to power following the Parliamentary elections in 2008, the Awami League unfairly harassed and dismantled Professor Yunus of the Grameen Bank and ruined the political party’s relations with the country’s civil society. This also damaged Bangladesh’s international reputation. We heard all kinds of justifications for this at that time. We wish to hear no more.

2) From the ashes of the Shahbag uprising that saw the country rally behind the trials of the war criminals of 1971, rose up a fundamentalist Islamic religious entity called Hefazat-e-Islam that started campaigning for various “Islamic” systems within the country, e.g. complete separation of men and women in the public sphere and killing of all atheists. Instead of breaking their teeth as was done to Jamaat, Sheikh Hasina became afraid of them and throughout her remaining tenure in office, nurtured them by performing the Bengali proverbial of “feeding them milk and bananas”. As a result of this and as expected, Hefazat started to want more i.e. wanted to lie down if asked to sit and wanted to dine if asked to sleep.

3) As a follow up to item 1, first came the Prime Minister’s acquiescence to them when the latter demanded the removal of the beautiful sari-clad statue of Lady Justice from the courtyard of the Supreme Court in Dhaka. According to Hefazat’s medieval thoughts, the erecting of the statue represented idolatry which is forbidden in Islam. This incorrect interpretation notwithstanding, when strong protests were made through various channels against the PM’s accommodation of these thugs, we kept hearing from all the sycophants: “Have faith in the country’s matriarch”! After that, we saw the erasure of secularist creed from the early Bangla text books in the country. Previously the first character of the Bangla alphabet (‘Au’) stood for ‘Aujogor’ meaning the python snake. Currently the same character stands for ‘Aujoo’ which means pre-prayer (namaaz or salaat) ablution (wash). Writings of some well-known Hindu Bengali authors that we read as young students, has been removed from those books.

4) Degrees from Qawmi madrasas have been given equivalent recognition to that of any modern education system but bowing to Hefazat’s demand, Sheikh Hasina was unable to bring the Qawmi education system under the auspices of the government and was equally unable to begin modernising that system to make it fit for the twenty-first century.

5) It is apparent from items 2 to 4 that Sheikh Hasina has changed the face of Awami League that people used to know as the torch bearers of secularism. She has not uttered the word “secularism” within the last two and a half years, and she has willingly forsaken one of the pillars of an independent Bangladesh.

6) As a precursor to item 5, the Prime Minister retained Islam as the State Religion in the country’s constitution when she found the much needed opportunity to reform it upon coming to power in 2008. Prior to the opportunist meddling of military generals Zia-ur-Rahman and Ershad (during the 70s and 80s), Bangladesh had no state religion and the constitution truly represented a secular ethos. But Sheikh Hasina decided to play politics with the Muslim sentiment of many of the voters by retaining the state religion at the time of reforming the constitution, forgetting that having a state religion automatically deems people of other faiths and none (atheists, agnostics, freethinkers etc.) to be second class citizens.

7) As a reflection of this mentality on behalf of the government, we found its role during the following incidents absolutely disgusting. Those incidents include the serial assassination by violent Islamic terrorists, during Awami League’s tenure, of freethinkers, atheist bloggers, famous writers like Avijit Roy, LGBT activists like Xulhaz and Tonoy, some cultural figures hailing from the ‘Lalon’ and ‘Baul’ creed, and some religious leaders belonging to the Hindu, Christian and Buddhist faith. Much to our dismay, we repeated heard at that time from the Home Minister that those were “isolated incidents”. The Prime Minister tried to avoid responsibility by shifting it on to the opposition political party and blaming the victims themselves for their fate, for writing against Islam in the first place. The terrorist murderers were indeed further encouraged by this stance of the government.

8) The way matters were progressing and the due to the lackadaisical and “not really our problem” attitude consistently shown by the government, it was only a matter of time before the barbaric attack on the upscale café in Gulshan in Dhaka took place. And it was only after the following immense international pressure that the administration conducted several specialized raids to capture and eliminate many a terrorist grouping (whose existence Sheikh Hasina vehemently denied up until then). Whereas had it not been for the previous damn care mentality of the government which included playing politics with the fate of freethinkers and atheists, the attack on the Gulshan café may not have taken place. And along with that would have been alive those Japanese engineers and some jewels of Bangladesh who were up in arms against the scourge of blind faith and the resultant social injustices.

9) We cannot expect justice from this government for the serial assassination by violent Islamic terrorists, during Awami League’s tenure, of freethinkers, atheist bloggers, famous writers like Avijit Roy, LGBT activists like Xulhaz and Tonoy, some cultural figures hailing from the ‘Lalon’ and ‘Baul’ creed, and some religious leaders belonging to the Hindu, Christian and Buddhist faith. This administration knows how to lock up all the leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) but do not possess the ability or even the willingness to capture and punish the assassins of Avijit Roy and Xulhaz-Tonoy.

10) This government has proven that the blame for various attacks on the country’s Hindu minority can no longer be singularly shifted on to the BNP-Jamaat alliance. It was members of the Awami League that were behind many such attacks during the current government’s tenure, across various parts of the country. AL has betrayed all minorities of the country.

11) It was only natural that the general people of the country would approve of the way the Awami League brutally suppressed the BNP-Jamaat alliance after witnessing the latter’s barbaric instigation of violence, damage and death during the elections of 2014. But the government failed to properly answer logical questions from foreign governments and human rights organizations. Those questions had to do with arrests without warrant, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killing. Such steps by the government were diametrically opposite to what can be expected from a civilized, democratic state based on rule of law.

12) We got to see the real face of the Awami League during the recent student movements for a) reforms in the quota system for government jobs and b) for safety in the road and transport sector. It was unthinkable the way the administration rounded on the defenseless students using the thuggish student wing of Awami League called Chhatra League, and the police. The initial reassurances given by the government regarding the quota demands were also false and misleading.

13) Despite severe objections from various quarters, the government through sheer forcefulness, passed the black law called Digital Security Act. We kept hearing “reassurances” that journalists have nothing to fear, freedom of speech has not been curtailed, etc. etc.. And yet, the government itself has admitted that many journalists have been wrongfully charged under the Act which was the more draconian version of the now defunct section 57 of the penal code. By passing this law without having taken any of the objections to heart, the government has proven again it has lost the moral authority to govern.

14) The government arrested Professor Shahidul Alam by wrongfully applying this Digital Security Act. Those who watched the Professor’s interview in English with Aljazeera TV will know instantly that he did indeed speak against the current government, but he did not say anything against the country that could tantamount to treason. His various Facebook posts did not indicate such either. And at the point he obtained bail from the courts after a protracted legal battle, the concerned Judge(s) maintained that there was NO congruence between the FIR filed by the police and the actual statements made by the Professor during the TV interview. Does this incident not prove that the current Bangladeshi government led by the Awami League has become big headed, stubborn, arrogant and simultaneously possessing a thin skin? What are we to do with big roads and bridges if our voices are taken away from us at the same time? The least I say about the damage to the country’s reputation due to the international condemnation of this arrest, the better.

15) This government has turned Bangladesh’s judiciary into a laughing stock. After the country’s Supreme Court led by former Chief Justice Sinha gave a verdict against the government, various tricks were used to force Mr. Sinha out of the country. We heard of all kinds of allegations of corruption against the said Chief Justice. It must be said that truth behind such allegations may have been hard to find, had the Supreme Court at that time ruled in favour of the government.

This is a picture of the Awami League rule over the last ten years. There is no secularism in Bangladesh and the voices of Hefazat medieval thugs are getting louder and louder. The country’s administrative and social organs are increasingly bending towards communalism and sectarianism. There is no freedom of speech for journalists, freethinkers and atheists. All such freedoms are awarded to Hefazat and sycophants of Awami League instead. Along with this, there is no security for religious minorities, i.e. those belonging to the Hindu, Buddhist and Christian faiths. And while the LGBTQIA people had no rights to begin with, Sheikh Hasina has made sure that such rights will be near impossible to attain in the future. She did this beautifully by nurturing Hefazat.

We need to save our relatively prosperous yet blind nation through the upcoming Parliamentary elections. The alternative to Awami League, i.e. the Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front) is hardly something for easy digesting. But we have seen what happens when a political party stays in power for too long. I am hoping for a change of government knowing the inherent risks that may come with such a change. And should the next government fail the country during its tenure, I will wish for their demise fair and square. This is the only way to ensure a country’s democratic progression and its long term development.


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