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On the day of 5th and 6th May of 2013, protestors in Dhaka experienced the worst incidence of brutality and violence since the independence of Bangladesh. The Govt. press note describes the death of 11 people only; however, the exact death toll has not been found yet. The names and details of 61 who lost their lives have been compiled by rights organizations to date, Economist assumes death of 37, but the claims range from  hundreds and even thousands.

Hefajat-E-Islam, a non political religious organization of Bangladesh declared a manifesto of ’13 points demand’ to the government including introduction of Blasphemy Law, and strong punishment against comments (especially blogs) that hurt religious sentiment. After a month long series programs including Long Marches and Public Meetings all over the country, they declared the Blockade of the capital on 5 May, 2013.

As a result,  around half million (5, 00,000) activists and general supporters of Hefajat crowded around the Shapla Square of Motihjeel, Dhaka (which is the heart of downtown). At some places, they got involved in violent clashes with Police, Security Forces and other oppositions, but the worst was yet to come.

shapla
Events climaxed in the early hours of Monday 6th, when a reported 10,000 police and paramilitary units surrounded tens of thousands sit-in protesters in Shapla Square. Motijheel, and fired into unarmed crowds with live ammunition. Verified footage and corroborated witness accounts point to horrific levels of violence used by government forces and ruling party supporters.
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Interestingly, a number of cases were lodged against the leaders and activists of Hefazat by the Poice, but none of them are in process of investigation or any other progress. At the same time, the people who suffered most, lost lives and families, are largely ignored by the patrons of the movement itself. Its more like they have been used for a purpose, and now their importance is over to both the parties. Stories and rumors of ‘settlements’ are also running free. Although extreme pressure from the Govt. in different dimensions may have caused the host Hefajot and other counterparts of the movement to keep silent, the ‘ineligibility’ and ‘worthlessness’ of the poor victims in our modern society may be the reason behind the overwhelming silence by the major opposition political parties (without some political rhetoric and stunts), human rights organizations as well as a major portion of the urban society, liberals and conservatives alike. This creates a social taboo around these issues, which actually creates extreme pressure underneath and opens some possibilities for the opportunist groups, who try to manipulate some frustrated and short-sighted people to get involved in acts of extremism in the name of Islam.

Role Played by the ‘Human Rights Industry’

British policy magazine Ceasefire has provided a very interesting insight on how the global actors and defenders of Human rights played their role. The excerpt is given below –

“In the business of human rights, there are worthy and unworthy victims. The worthy are deemed by the interests of donors and professional activists in any given situation. In Bangladesh, the performance of the sector and its practices are unaccountable in any meaningful sense, least of all to victims deemed unworthy of attention.

Global players in the sector like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as the donors that fund their long term monitoring projects rely on local partners for information.  Such gatekeepers are human and carry prejudices, competitiveness and consequent limitations. For example, the government’s performers of the year were Sultana Kamal’s Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), who took a good 10 days to publish a mealy mouthed condemnation of the victims.

The first substantive and official document came from Odhikar, a local competitor to ASK, on 10th June. It was largely ignored until the government failed to wrestle the victims list from them and arrested their secretary during the Eid period in August for ‘fabricating information’. This prompted an immediate US State Department intervention which made no mention of Odhikar’s documentation of the massacre. As indentured students of US diplomacy in these War on Terror times, we are reminded to reflect on the fact that this same department had just recently been training the Dhaka Metropolitan Police on tactical management of special events. With this additional exposure the pro government media quickly waxed lyrical over issues of Odhikar’s ‘faulty methodology’, as the police began leaking information, allegedly seized from the organisation, to the press.

Odhikar has since been nominated for a number of awards by international partners in the human rights industry, but has failed to intervene further and publicly on the issue of this massacre, despite their leadership’s growing international stature. Interestingly, their recent Gwangju Award connects what happened at Motijheel with the Gwangju Massacre of 18th May 1980 in South Korea, in which the western-backed military dictatorship of the time brutally repressed an anti-regime uprising.”

This insight from Ceasefire precisely gives an idea on to why no one cares about the massacre or vandalism (whatever we call it). Nevertheless, the Fact-Finding report of Odhikar is worth looking –
It is too naive to assume at this point that this massacre of May 5 led us, or at least pushed the country on the brink of extremism outburst, the way some bloggers are been killed and being attacked lately. Yet, those who are orchestrating the actions, are clearly getting benefits from the emotional outrage and anger (and lack of knowledge too) running around the society, which was first seen on the days of turmoil in early 2013. The way the movement developed, sustained and finally, forcefully dealt with – all of these left a deep wound in the sociopolitical structure of the country, and the sufferings are not over yet.

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