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OP-ED: Remembering what Jahanara Imam achieved

  • Published at 02:05 pm June 25th, 2020

What the celebrated writer and teacher did to forward the cause of justice

Jahanara Imam is perhaps known to the older and younger generations as the mother of martyred freedom fighter Shaif Imam Rumi. But she was and yet is renowned as an author and a writer. She was also a celebrated teacher.

However, all of her credentials shall look dim while we evaluate her role as the chairperson of the People’s Court. That court was constituted and held under the auspices of the National Coordination Committee for the Trial of the Killers and Collaborators of the 1971 war and the implementation of the spirit of the Liberation War.

For brevity’s sake, this was also called the National Coordination Committee or National Coordination Committee for the Trial of the Killers. The shorter name was adopted to facilitate its pronunciation and transmission to all. The National Coordination Committee was formed on Feb 11, 1992, with Shahid Janani Jahanara Imam as its convener and myself as its member secretary.

The initial members of this federated body were 49, which rose to 72 on the eve of the holding of the People’s Court. Jahanara Imam was also the convener of the Ekattorer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee, or the Committee for the Elimination of the Killers and Collaborators of 1971.

Since she was convener of both the committees, people found it convenient to pronounce it as Ghatok Nirmul Committee, and the opponents called it Ghadanik, which we rejected with disdain. But this disdainful name, knowingly or unknowingly, was accepted by almost all those who wrote, including Google and Wikipedia. An author of Scandinavian origin gave the name a wider circulation in his book A History of Bangladesh.

Wikipedia opted for the same name instead of calling the organization its proper name, ie the National Coordination Committee. Wikipedia uses the same nomenclature while identifying any person connected with Gono Adalot. In the process, people have started addressing a federation of 72 member organizations by the name of just a body in the federated body.

Now that Jahanara Imam is no longer with us, and has not been for the last 26 years, the People’s Court and the federation that initiated the trial of Ghulam Azam -- the ringleader of the killers and collaborators of 1971 -- should be put into true perspective to avoid the distortion of history, for which Bangladesh is highly disreputed.

The Coordination Committee had a steering committee consisting of Jahanara Imam; myself; Abdur Razzak MP, a freedom fighter and presidium member of the Awami League; the president of JSD, Kazi Aref Ahmed; Syed Hassan Imam, Nurul Islam Nahid, and Principal Abdul Ahad Choudhury.

Shahriar Kabir of Ghatak the Nirmul Committee held an ad hoc membership, but barricades created by two members of the city committee of the National Coordination Committee and one powerful member of the Ghatak Nirmul Committee, compelled him to exercise his full potential.

The National Coordination Committee established the People’s Court with Jahanara Imam as its chairperson on March 26, 1992.

The other members of the People’s Court were highly respectable members of the civil society, namely -- Advocate Gaziul Huq, Language Movement protester and freedom fighter; Lt Colonel Kazi Nuruzzaman and Lt Col Abu Osman Choudhury, sector commanders of the Liberation War; Professor Dr Ahmed Sharif, Dr Borhan Uddin Khan, Dr Anisuzzaman (also a freedom fighter and professor at Dhaka University), architect Mazharul Islam, Barrister Shafiq Ahmed, Professor Kabir Choudhury, Faiz Ahmed, Ali Zaker, Barrister Shawkat Ali Khan, Syed Shamsul Haq, Shahriar Kabir, Moulana Abdul Awal and Moulana Yahya, eminent activist Kalim Sharafi, Advocate ZI Khan Panna, Advocate Shamsuddin Babul, Advocate Umme Kulsum Rekha, adovcate Nazmul Islam, and Dr Mustaque Hossain.  

The court brought 10 different allegations against Ghulam Azam, Amir or head of the Jamaat-e-Islam, who helped in perpetuating killing, arson, rape, and looting during the Liberation War, and continued conspiracies against Bangladesh after the war. Ghulam Azam was also implicated for instigating the Muslim world and the UNO to withhold recognition of Bangladesh as a sovereign state.

The People’s Court found each of these allegations to be valid, which made him liable to receiving a death sentence. Since the People’s Court did not have the authority or legality to execute judgment, it was left to the government in power.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, with Khaleda Zia as its chairperson as well as the prime minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, instead of implementing the People’s Court’s decision, implicated 23 members of the court and the member secretary of National Coordination, myself, in a so-called sedition case.

The government in power, in addition, gave full citizenship to the heinous Ghulam Azam, which infuriated the whole nation. The Coordination Committee received the full support of the people of the country and the opposition group in the parliament, led by Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

She accorded all-out support right from the beginning and arranged wider participation on the day of the trial of Ghulam Azam.  

The movement continued as per the decisions of the National Coordination Committee, with the fullest support from Sheikh Hasina both inside and outside the parliament. Jahanara Imam left the world on June 26, 1994, without seeing any tangible result of the movement. 

But Sheikh Hasina, during her tenure as prime minister, brought necessary amendments to the International Crime Tribunal. The tribunals subsequently found as many as 52 persons guilty of crimes against humanity, and meted out either punishment for life or punishment by hanging to some of the ringleaders, including Ghulam Azam, Motiur Rahman Nizami, Abdul Kader Molla, Ali Ahsan Mujahid, Salahuddin Kader Choudhury, Abdul Alim, Delower Hossain Sayedee, etc.

Nobody in this country could ever dream that such criminals, of the highest holding in the country, could be brought to book. The only person who could materialize the decisions of the People’s Court and the findings of the National Fact-finding Commission is the undaunted daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib -- Sheikh Hasina.

We pay homage to Jahanara Imam and her colleagues, and salute Sheikh Hasina on this day of the departure of the former. 

Dr Abdul Mannan Choudhury is a Member Secretary of the National Coordination Committee.

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