A policeman beats a Jamaat-e-Islami supporter during clashes in Dhaka on Thursday. (Reuters)
Dhaka, Feb. 28: A tribunal in Bangladesh today sentenced a Jamaat-e-Islami leader to death by hanging after finding him guilty of killing 50 people in 1971.
A square in Dhaka celebrated the verdict in the hope that it will bring closure for Pirojpur, the district 200km from here, where “Delu Dalal” murdered, looted and pillaged for Pakistani forces 42 years ago.
But even as youths in Dhaka’s Shahbag Square watched the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi speak from large screens on which documentaries of the 1971 war were being projected, 32 people, including three policemen, were killed in violence across the country, during a Jamaat-sponsored strike to protest the trial of alleged war criminals.
Delwar Hossein Sayedee — also notorious as “Delu Rajakar” — is known across the country and among Bangladeshi communities overseas for his fierce oratory and hardline politics that propped him up as an MP from 1996 to 2008.
Sayedee is the third Jamaat leader to be pronounced guilty and the second to be sentenced to death. The “International Criminal Tribunal” set up by the Hasina Wajed government, has sentenced Abul Kalam Azad (aka Bacchhu) to death in absentia, as he is absconding, and Abdul Quader Mollah, found guilty of being involved in the killing of more than 300 people in 1971, to life imprisonment.
The verdicts come as a resurgent Bangladeshi youths get aggressively secularist in the face of threats from the Jamaat in a movement that the Awami League and its allies wink at and the Opposition Bangladesh National Party stays away from. “This (the atrocities of ‘71) would never have happened if the world community had woken up when India was trying to draw their attention to what has been happening,” Indira Gandhi spoke this evening from a screen in front of the Dhaka University’s Fine Arts’ Faculty where crowds had gathered to watch the documentary, 1971: A History of the Liberation War.
Just across, in Projonmo Chottor (New Generation Square) — one of the many names given to the main crossroad in central Dhaka — a slogan resonated: “Ekattore’r hathiyaar, gorjey uthuk aar ek baar” (Let the weapon of the 1971 Liberation War thunder again).
On Dhaka streets, the people are seeking a resolution with a fiery past but are unsure where to go and how to move on. Even the crudity — by the standards of many western countries — of demanding the death penalty for war criminals is debated and rationalised. But the slogans in Bengali could barely get more evocative even if their lyricism is somewhat lost in translation.
No sooner had Yahya Khan, the late Pakistani martial law administrator, finished speaking from the same screen, a group of youths ran across the gathering waving the red-sun-on-green background Bangladeshi flag shouting: “Tomar amaar thikana — Padma, Meghna, Jamuna” (our home is the land of the Padma, Meghna, Jamuna rivers). Their call was to all Bangladeshis to rise above religious and sectarian differences.
But the slogan that has been born out of political realism today in the face of an angry Jamaat that is accusing the demonstrators of being “atheists and blasphemers” is: “Jaati dhormo jaar, jaar, Bangladesh shobaar” (Religion is personal, Bangladesh belongs to everyone).
In stall after stall set up at the square, former fighters of the liberation war narrate Sayedee’s story. Nasiruddin Yusuf, now the president of the cultural outfit, Sammilito Sanskritik Jot, says Pirojpur has found some closure today.
In 1971, Delu Rajakar was known as Delwar Hossein Shikdar in Pirojpur. He was arrested in August 2009, a year after the Awami League government came to power on the promise that it will bring war criminals to book, after Manik Poshari filed a case against him and four others. A former guerrilla, and “deputy commander” of Zianogor Upazila Sangshad, also filed a case.
Delwar was charged with collaborating with a Pakistani army Captain Ejaz and established vigilante gangs.
In May and June 1971, Delwar was charged to have led the vigilantes and Pakistani Army units into the houses of liberation warriors in Tengrakhali village, tied the men to coconut trees before shooting them, ravished the women before handing them over to Pakistani troops. His victims were both Muslim and Hindu.
He absconded after the war ended on December 16, 1971, but years later emerged with a changed name and a reputation for being a quack who sold aphrodisiac potions that he was reported to have concocted while treating people with venereal diseases.
His defence argued in the trial leading to today’s sentencing that he is not the same Delwar Hossein Shikdar of Pirojpur. Today’s preacher with the hennaed hair is a godman who has won respect in Bangladesh and has even travelled to give sermons in London, the defence counsel argued.
There were 28 witnesses for the prosecution and 16 for the defence during the depositions before Judge A.T.M. Fazle Kabir, heading a bench of three, pointed to him in court this afternoon and said: “We know him. He is a Maulana... we are not holding a trial of a Maulana or a Jamaat leader. We are here to sentence Sayedee who was known as Delu Rajakar in 1971... He will be hanged by the neck till he is dead.”