As I See It Column
September 17, 2011
M. Serajul Islam
The protest by one section of the civil society at the Central Shahid Minar on Eid day has drawn flak from another of its section. A number of eminent citizens from the field of culture and literature who have strong connections with the ruling party have issued a statement objecting to the use of the Shahid Minar to stage a political problem on a religious festival.
There are interesting issues in the conflict on the use of the Shahid Minar. Among those who staged the protest, there are many who have lost a member of the family to the madness in the roads. There are some in this group who are known to have links to the ruling party or have benefitted from it but now no longer in favour. In other words, there was no reason to suspect that the opposition was in any way behind the protest.
Another issue is the substance of statement given by members of the civil society against the protest. They said that the protest has compromised Shahid Minar’s standing as an icon of non-communalism because it was held on a religious day. This argument has been dismissed by those who protested at Shahid Minar. They said they have no political motive although they have not commented on the issue that holding the protest on Eid day compromised the Shahid Minar’s status as an icon of non-communalism.
On the issue of using Shahid Minar for political purposes, I am not sure what the civil society group that gave the statement objected to. If I know the history of the Shahid Minar correctly, it has been used ever since the first one was built soon after February 21, 1952, for no other purpose but political. It was the symbol of our struggle in the entire decade of Ayub Khan’s dictatorship. In that period, we in the then East Pakistan, built a Shahid Minar in almost each of our educational institutions all over the country from where the students and the people joined hand and fought for political rights.
In 1971, the Shahid Minar was the rallying point for our movement against the Pakistani genocide and for achieving our independence. In the Bangladesh era, we have drawn inspiration from the Shahid Minar for fighting military dictatorships. It is true that the Shahid Minar was visualized as a memorial for those who laid down their lives in 1952 for our mother tongue. However, over the years, people seldom gathered at the Shahid Minar for the sake of Bangla (that was granted the right as a national language of Pakistan soon after lives were sacrificed to achieve it) but for political rights.
Therefore the statement of the pro-AL civil society leaders has caused confusion among those who feel sympathetic to the protest. One issue is clear here. Those who protested are not seeking political objectives. They want the attention of the Government against the horrendous state of our highways that are killing innocent travelers and pinpoint responsibility in the Government for the state of affairs. Their demand for seeking resignation of two Ministers has in fact support among the people across the political divide.
Those objecting the use of the Shahid Minar are in fact injecting politics into the sincere efforts of people who have suffered the ultimate tragedy involving close family members. Their known connections to the ruling party suggest that they have a political motive which is to save the party they support from embarrassment or political threat, lest the protest gathers the strength to become a movement.
I am afraid I could not follow the connection of a protest on Eid day with communalism! Is this group suggesting that the protest became communal simply because the protesters gathered at the Shahid Minar, the icon of non-communalism, on Eid Day? What if the protest would have been held on some other day? I am afraid the group totally misunderstood the sentiments of the protesters who chose to give up celebrating Eid to highlight an issue that brought the nation together.
In any case, the controversy over the use of the Shahid Minar in a way hints at the weakness of our society and politics because even sincere efforts such as the one over which the protesters gathered at the Shahid Minar has have opposed. I have full sympathy for those who are expressing their frustrations and sentiments over the wanton murders on our highways. Unfortunately, such efforts may not bring the desired results because the solution to the problem they are seeking lies in politics of the country that is going from bad to worse. A Government pro-active to people’s sentiments would have done something with the Ministers who have meanwhile withered the storm and are as strong as they were before the storm started.
Therefore, one objective of those who protested at the Shahid Minar has already been doomed. As for their demand to make our highways free of the murderers who ply the roads with impunity, that too is doomed because the politics we have in the country will sustain it. There is too much money going to the pockets of those upon whom we have given the responsibility to assure our safety on the highways to place their greed for money over our lives. It is politics that sustains this greed and politicians are as much a part of this nexus and those who work for our safety.
Therefore, those who gathered at the Shahid Minar should focus on improving the quality of our politics that is going from bad to worse. The civil society of which they are a part has a significant role in this respect. Nevertheless, this is an effort that would require a civil society united over party lines. Sadly, the way the protesters have been accused of compromising the con-communal character of the Shahid Minar because they gathered there on an Eid day does not hold out any promise. The civil society is as much divided on the politics of the country as politics itself.
The civil society group protesting the murders on our highways should nevertheless do the following. They should work to expose the nexus of corruption that sustains the evil on our highways; create pressure on the Government to deal urgently with the ridiculous number of fake drivers; create public opinion so that laws are enacted to deal with deaths due to reckless driving as murder so that the perpetrators are treated as common criminals; and expose the role of the law enforcing agencies in the nexus that directly contributes towards the deaths on our highways.
It is a tall order. None the less these are the areas where efforts must be made for saving the lives of many thousands like you and I who use the highways who are literally on the death row because of the Government’s inability and unwillingness to deal with the murderers on our highways.
As for those who have protested the protesters, they should consider whether they have extended their views on non-communalism beyond limits.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.