DECEMBER 30 marks the first anniversary of the 11th national election that was termed as severely fraught with fraudulence and a deeply tainted episode in the electoral politics of Bangladesh. Left Democratic Alliance organised a protest march towards the prime minister’s office to mark the first anniversary of the controversial general election. Law enforcers launched attacks on the protesters which left more than 50 people injured. Drawing from his experience, Saikat Arif reflects on the incident and the current state of democracy in Bangladesh
THE condition of democracy in Bangladeshi is in crisis. In the last few years, the condition is worsening. From educational institutes to any organisation, government and non-government, people who are close to the ruling party are at the top of the hierarchy.
University of Dhaka, also known as the birth place of democratic resistance, is currently going through a severe crisis situation. The real crisis is exposed to the public, when the vice president of the Dhaka University Central Student Union Nurul Haque Nur is assaulted in front of his office at the campus. Later, a case of attempt to murder was launched against him, the victim, in connection to this.
Public university students are being tortured in residential halls in name of ragging and guest-room culture. Public universities of Bangladesh have a strong relationship with democratic resistance and that legacy is being hampered because scopes of freedom of expression in these institutes are increasingly shrinking.
We have seen attempts from different quarters of the government to dictate what the DUCSU VP says to the press and public. Even senior politician and former DUCSU VP Tofail Ahmed said, ‘Nur should be cautious about what he says, he should not offer his opinion on everything’. This is a serious concern for a number of reasons.
We have experienced in different phase of our history that paradigm-shifts in national politics is often started through student politics. Assaults and tortures of students in different campuses are done with a view to control the students’ political opinion and that is been reflected on our national politics as well.
In such crisis of democracy, student politics and resistance are no longer showing us any hope of light. Moreover, people’s vote to right, a basic concept of democracy in Bangladesh, is damaged. The ruling party Bangladesh Awami League is holding the power with muscle. The proof is last two national elections — January 5, 2014 and December 30, 2018.
In the 2014 national polls, the major opposition party along with many other political parties did not participate in the elections. In the 2018 polls, even if it was participatory to some extent though without level-playing field, the ruling party retained the office by vote rigging.
December 30, 2019, Monday marked the first year of December 30 national elections which was marred with vote rigging and irregularities. To mark that day, Left Democratic Alliance announced a march with black-flag towards the office of the prime minister. As a concerned citizen I participated in that march to practice my democratic rights.
Since the morning, different political organisations started to gather in front of the National Press Club. Protesters gathered with placards, banners, festoons with strong political messages and slogans. The programme started with a number of leaders giving their speeches. Among them, Ganosamhati Andolan chief coordinator Zonayed Saki delivered an energy-filled speech.
‘This government has turned into the greatest threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh. If they remain in power, people will lose their dignity, their rights and their lives. So, forming cumulative protests against them are duty of every citizen’ Saki said during his speech.
His speech inspired me a lot as we started our march towards the PM office. The first obstacle we faced was in front of the Kadam Fountain, adjacent to the press club. A huge number of police were deployed who placed road barricades. They formed human-shield in front of us but we were determined to march. So we started marching over the police human-shield. A scuffle started and police had no other way but let us march.
Our next police barricade was in front of the ministry of fisheries and livestock which had even larger number of polices. In determination, we broke this barricade too and started our march. However, without any provocation, right then and there, law enforcers charged baton on the protesters. The entire national saw the violence that was perpetrated on the protesters who were practicing their democratic rights.
At least fifty activists of Left Democratic Alliance were left seriously wounded. Zonayed Saki also sustained serious injuries. I was also injured in that baton charge. This was not the first time, for me, to sustain police baton charge, because of my political involvements. However, I have found out a basic difference in police action. Previously, police usually aimed at lower parts of the body to minimise the injury it might inflict, however, this time, they directly aimed at the upper part of the body which might bring fatal injury to some.
As a result, most of the injured activists had wounds in their heads. I knew someone who had to take twelve stitches for her injuries. I saw another one with serious stitching on the head. A number of injured had to undergo city-scan at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital following the assaults. A number of wounded activists are still undergoing treatment.
It was the penultimate day of the year and like all the other nations, Bangladesh was also preparing to embrace another year. The new year, 2020, is important for Bangladesh from different perspectives. After this year, in 2021, Bangladesh will be celebrating the jubilee of independence. 2020 marks the 100th birth anniversary of the first president of Bangladesh and a major architect of the liberation war, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was lovingly given the title of Bangabandhu.
Now, a pillar of our independence, democracy, is at risk. When Bangladesh is at an important phase, democracy is going through severe crisis. At the end of 2019, police brutality on Left Democratic Alliance protests and Awami League Activist’s assault on a programme in Sylhet protesting the attacks on Dhaka is giving hints to something new.
2020 will be a year full of incidents. The major duty of every citizen should be restoring democracy at any cost and dispelling autocratic tendency from power quarters. Let this year be the year when autocracy is uprooted.
Saikat Arif is convener of Dhaka metropolitan unit and central committee member of Bangladesh Students Federation
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