Shahbag activists seek help of state, civil society

After the recent loss of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League in four states in Bangladesh, in the first election in the country since the protests at Shahbag Square in Dhaka, Shahbag activists said they were going to the grassroots level to help their movement regain momentum.

In a discussion jointly organised by Kolkata Indo-Bangladesh Cultural Centre and, activists said India in general and West Bengal in particular should play their part to help the movement continue.

"India has always fought terror and in this case too, we would expect the Indian government to formulate its policies in a fashion that would foster a secular development in Bangladesh," said Khaledur Rahman Shakil, one of the leading activists of the Shahbag movement.

He said the civil society has to come forward in dealing with this fundamentalism that the country was facing at the moment and the civil society needed to play its part in terms of generating awareness against the growing strength of the anti-Shahbag forces.

"We demand death penalty for the war prisoners and a ban on Jamaat-e-Islam."

Others said that India, too, should live up to the expectation. "The Indian government would not play the part of an ideal neighbourhood and if any other country, especially China does, it will do everything it can to stop the initiative," said journalist Subir Bhowmik, who was a part of the discussion.

Educationist Pabitra Sarkar said Muslim fundamentalists in West Bengal have joined hands in support of the anti-Shahbag movement and that politicians were trying to reap benefits out of it. "We need to stand beside Shahbag by ensuring the Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism does not gain momentum," he said.

He also criticised the West Bengal state government's policies which he said were aimed at retaining its vote bank. "The state government was using religion to their gain. They were not ready to propagate secularism because that might hurt the sentiments of a section of people belonging to a particular religion," Sarkar said and criticised Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's "mannerisms" at Muslim gatherings as "a ploy to appease the Muslim voters".

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