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Valentine’s Day overshadows anti-autocracy martyrs

  • Published at 01:27 pm February 14th, 2017
  • Last updated at 04:11 am February 15th, 2017
Valentine’s Day overshadows anti-autocracy martyrs
Ask anyone about February 14 and almost everyone will tell you, it's the Valentine's Day. But most of us are unaware of the deaths of at least 10 people, mostly students, during an anti-autocracy protest on this day in 1983 – barely a year after military dictator HM Ershad came to power. Over the years, the memory of the glorious student movement faded as Valentine's Day celebrations became more and more popular. Many allege that the Ershad-led government promoted the “celebration of love” to divert attention from the atrocity unleashed on the students on the day. Student leaders, who participated in the protests, blamed politicians for the situation. Political parties have time and again used Ershad's party to ride to power, they allege. Things seem a little different this year with many remembering the sacrifices of the students. Many vented their frustration on social media and have been sharing details of the 1983 protests along with photographs to aware others. Meanwhile, anti-Rampal activists staged demonstrations on Tuesday, on the 17th anniversary of the Sundarbans Day, in a show of love for the world's largest mangrove forest, which they allege is at stake due to planned coal power plants and other industrial units near the forest. On the other hand, radical Islamist groups who want Shariah Law in the country and are vocal against Mongol Shobhajatra on Pohela Boishakh have now been campaigning against the celebration of the Valentine's Day terming it anti-Islamic. The movement was the first large-scale student protest against Ershad’s autocracy. It is also remembered as the Day of Students’ Resistance against Autocracy. Then minister Majid Khan’s Education Policy proposed introduction of Arabic from grade I and English from grade II – a move seen as an attempt to use religion to consolidate autocratic rule. It also proposed increasing education expenses that would exclude the students who would fail to pay at least 50% of the expenditure. But protests erupted soon. Dhaka University’s political science department teacher Prof Nurul Amin Bepari, and a number of students, staff and journalists were injured when the police attacked on a procession on November 8. In protest, strikes were observed in all educational institutions across the country and DU declared closed. Students later declared protests on November 14, December 29 and January 11. But the government ordered introducing Arabic in all institutions from early 1983 and warned the leaders not to stage any protests on January 11. On February 14, the Chhatra Sangram Parishad called for a procession towards the Secretariat, rejecting an Education Policy by the then minister Majid Khan that was deemed as another version of an Aiyub Khan-era policy. Students of Jahangirnagar University also participated in the procession. Police barricaded the protesters near the High Court. As the students started a street rally there, police used water cannons, charged batons and opened fire on them indiscriminately. Joynal was the first person hit by bullets. Policemen stabbed him to death with bayonets. At least nine others were killed – the exact number might never be known. The government closed DU for an indefinite period and imposed curfew in Dhaka. But the protests spread across Dhaka and other districts during February 15-17. Dr Mushtaq Hossain, one of the leaders of the movement, said that they had only found Joynal's body. “They [the government] made sure we did not find Deepali Saha's body. Kanchan was shot dead in Chittagong on February 15. Many more went missing from Jatrabari and Motijheel. The exact figure of the dead could not be known,” he told Bangla Tribune. On February 14, Chhatra Sangram Parishad, the first politically-organised platform against the military junta, hit the streets forcing Ershad to drop the proposed education policy. Dhaka University teacher Prof Kaberi Gayen said that although the number of news media had increased, “corporate negligence” towards history of political resistance pushed to obscurity this movement, which is very significant after the Language Movement of 1952. Deepa, another former student leader from the '80s, told the Bangla Tribune that the students had succeeded in staging protests against Ershad when major political parties failed to do. “A vested quarter, under the direct patronisation of the dictator, introduced Valentine's Day in the country and tried their best to make it popular among the students, so that people do not remember the sacrifices of the students,” she said. Deepa recalled seeing many men, she dubbed “strange creatures,” standing by the road and distributing red roses at that time. Former JaSaD Chhatra League activist Akramul Haque said that the atrocities of the dictator had been swept under the rug as other political parties formed alliance with him to ride to power. Before being ousted on December 6, 1990, Ershad had amended the constitution to make Islam the state religion of Bangladesh, reportedly under the advice of the Aatroshir Pir (spiritual leader) Maulana Shah Sufi Hasmatullah. He was arrested on corruption charges but was later released. His party continues to play a major role in Bangladesh politics. He currently serves as a special envoy to the prime minister, though the party is in opposition in parliament.
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