[FILE PHOTO] Prof. Veena Sikri speaking at the Department of Political Science, JMI; March 5, 2012 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel
[FILE PHOTO] Prof. Veena Sikri speaking at the Department of Political Science, JMI; March 5, 2012 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel

Former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Veena Sikri, Speaks on Shahbagh Uprising

The Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia organized a lecture on “The Shahbagh Uprising and its Implications for Bangladesh” at the Academy of International Studies on Monday, 18th March 2013. The lecture was delivered by Prof. Veena Sikri, a former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh.

[FILE PHOTO] Prof. Veena Sikri speaking at the Department of Political Science, JMI; March 5, 2012 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel
[FILE PHOTO] Prof. Veena Sikri speaking at the Department of Political Science, JMI; March 5, 2012 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel)

Prof. Sikri, who is a Ford Foundation endowed Chair of Bangladesh Studies Programme at the Academy shed elaborate light on the causes of the ongoing civil movement in Bangladesh and traced the origin of the present movement to the pre-Independence era and how the youth in Bangladesh have always been active. She said that the Mukti Bahini members, who proactively participated in the country’s independence from its western wing, were in the age group of 15-25, most of whom are in their 50s and 60s now. “The memory is still alive”, she said and added that all they want is “closure of history”.

The ongoing uprising that started at the Shahbagh square, she believed, is the result of their desire of closure of history of 1971 when Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami opposed their struggle for independence. She said that even the 1952 uprising was the culmination of the language and culture discourse that had created problem between East and West Pakistan.

The uprising that began on February 5, 2013, and later spread to other parts of Bangladesh, is about the demand for capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and others of the Jamaat convicted of crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

While it has significant implications for Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the Shahbagh Uprising, she said is an “apolitical, issue-based, non-partisan movement”. There are young people, some of whom were not even born in 1971. Putting things in context, she said how the youth in Bangladesh had played a very seminal role in its history. She said the demonstration was about history, but it was also about the future of Bangladesh.

She said that the Jamaat has a tendency to resort to violence to instill fear and get the support. She said that there were two crucial factors in the 1972 Constitution i.e. secularism as a pillar of Constitution and a ban on religion and politics as an article of Constitution

Although she did not rule out financial backing of some political parties for the movement which has stayed over six-seven weeks, she said, “It is mainly the youth who have made it successful”. It is “important to see that women are participating in it”. People are against the extremist agenda of the Jamaat whose members might be getting some ideological support from Pakistan’s Jamaat. She also said how the Bangladesh Nationalist Party had at certain junctures supported the Jamaat. The Bangladesh diaspora is very active and they too are opposed to Jamaat’s ideology whose constitution is not in-sync with the constitution of Bangladesh, said she.

On the question of commonalities between the Shahbagh uprising and the Tahrir squire movement, she said that the whole Arab spring and Egypt’s uprising was about fighting against authoritarian regimes whereas the Shahbagh uprising was an issue-based movement within a democracy.

About India’s relations with Bangladesh she said, “India has made lot of promises to Bangladesh but so far most of them have not been made.” She suggested that India needed to fulfill those promises.

Speaking about its fallout and implications for India, the professor said it is of non-violent nature and it was good that President Pranab Mukherjee, who enjoys great respect among the Bangladeshis, went there.

While language and culture issues were cited to be reasons for Partition of the erstwhile eastern wing of Pakistan, some participants also saw it as “the result of discontinued border” and hence the need to “understand the language of geography in politics”.

Prof. Shri Prakash, Prof. Sunanda Sen, Dr. G.M. Shah, Dr. Mohammad Sohrab, Dr. Mujib Alam, Dr. Aliva Mishra, research fellows and students attended the lecture and exchanged views.

About Manzar Imam

Manzar Imam (class of 2014) is a staff writer for Jamia Journal, and an M.Phil student in the MMAJ Academy of International Studies. He can be reached via email at: manzarkhalil [at] gmail.com

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