Valentine’s Day is the unavoidable anniversary, a reminder that never fails to annoy with its constantly increasing demands year-over-year. An imaginary cupid in his very real loincloth is the mischievous spectre on the day. A different ghost haunts Zuccotti Park and its smaller siblings sprinkled across the Western hemisphere.
Its special day is the melancholic Occuversary on the 17th day of the ninth month. While this year will see the third occurrence of this day of mourning, Bangladesh has decided to celebrate an anniversary of a similar kind for the first time on February 5.
Ganajagaran Mancha, that great symbol of a people’s movement that delights and disappoints, enthrals and enrages, and all the while divides where it should unite, is a year old.
Shahbagh gave reason to hope, as did the Occupy movement. Unlike its predecessor, the former’s hope breathed briefly before it got embroiled in the very mess it sought to resolve, it promised to rise up against.
It has been called a Bangladeshi Spring by seasoned commentators and misguided politicians. Lest they forget, the Arab Spring was a rejection of autocracy, brought about by people who sacrificed everything just to see their hope flicker in a brief moment.
Such bold claims should not be made by those in power, who undoubtedly seek to remain so in perpetuity. The lamentable comparisons with the Occupy movement, more apt, provide reasons to hope as well as lose it.
Despite people taking action during the reign of a perceivably moderate president, Zuccotti Park was never going to be endorsed by a Republican party swinging further right. The public support from President Obama was the day it died in terms of tangible achievements.
The president shored up support that would ensure re-election. The occupation was quietly ushered away by the subsequent withdrawal of the government’s support to bring an end to the spectacle that was a nuisance to the ruling class. The movement had to find a home in the minds of the populace.
The success stemming from this could be greater than the failure of its flaccid end, should it ever come to pass. Similarly, Shahbagh was birthed because of the compromising and politicking of a perceivably moderate government, as a necessary stand against the ruling class.
The opposition at the time was never going to lend their support to it because of its detestable, flawed principles. There was only one side that could offer the brave orphans shelter and reap a political benefit. As Occupy proved, doing so not only prevents Spring from threatening to arrive, it also dilutes the real message and sets a new agenda that ultimately leads the movement away from the people and towards mockery and doom.
Amidst the melee exists the futile debate about war crimes and the tribunal. The only significant thing about these is that trials of this nature are never fair, and are always about holding those who have committed unspeakable crimes to account, rather than giving them the humane treatment that they did not afford their victims.
The creatures on trial are guilty going in, regardless of the war and country in question. In the case of Bangladesh, these trials have not been fair for the 38 years it took to set them up, and the 42 years it took to begin concluding them.
For those four decades, a deadly cocktail of domestic and world politics, ill-conceived diplomacy, organisations with unholy agendas, and ill-intentioned lobbying saw the ruling class repeatedly fail to bring anyone to justice. It has been a carefully choreographed dance of systematic heel-dragging, endemic compromising on and sacrificing of principles, and corruption of morals that has become symptomatic of a wholly broken system.
If the Ganajagaran Mancha is to live up to its sobriquet, its spirit – a denunciation of politicking by leaders of all political parties and a rejection of the political process that ignores the rule of law and separation of powers – needs to haunt the conscience and thought of Bangladesh and its children, present and future.
This can only happen if that spirit is revived, nurtured, and proliferated. If this miracle of bringing the dead back to life does not happen, the cries for justice for the everyman and an end to oppression by the ruling class will be forgotten.
All that will remain are unwanted memories of jubilation when a man was sentenced to death, and cake being distributed when he was hanged. The temporary cotton anniversary will never be worth its weight in gold.