[Mashuqur Rahman, USA.]
“Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world.” — Archimedes, 220 BC.
On November 10, 1987 a young Bangladeshi man named Nur Hossain was shot and killed by the forces of Bangladesh’s part-time poet and full time dictator General Hossain Mohammad Ershad. On that day Nur Hossain had joined thousands of other Bangladeshis in protesting the dictator’s rule. The protesters demanded a return to democracy. Nur Hossain stood out amongst the protesters. He had the Bengali words “Sairachar nipat jak” painted in bright white letters on his bare chest, and the words “Ganatantra mukti pak” painted on his back. “Down with autocracy” on his chest; “Let there be democracy” on his back. He died for those demands and became a martyr for the democracy movement in Bangladesh.
Today, two decades after his death, we remember and honor him.
The dictator Ershad did not fall that day. Instead he talked tough:
President H. M. Ershad, declaring he would no longer tolerate anti-Government riots, vowed today that arsonists and looters would be shot on sight. ”So far I have not used any of my weapons,” President Ershad told foreign reporters in an interview after four days of sporadic unrest in this capital and other cities. ”I can be tough. Everyone in this country is asking me to be really tough. We are not going to tolerate any more of this nonsense.”
But Nur Hossain’s death had galvanized the people of Bangladesh. The long march to democracy had begun.
A little over five years before Nur Hossain was murdered, General Ershad seized power in a coup in Bangladesh and declared he would “end corruption in public life.”:
The nation’s new military ruler announced today that special courts would be set up to punish all guilty of corruption, with the power to impose heavy prison terms or even the death penalty.
Lieut. Gen. Hussain Mohammed Ershad, the army chief of staff, who seized power Wednesday to ”end corruption in public life,” issued martial-law regulations that said those facing prosecution could include former presidents, former Government ministers and members of the defense and police forces.
The regulations announced by the general as part of his drive to root out what he called the ”cancer” of official corruption said the courts would punish those found guilty of engaging in criminal misconduct.
The general said Wednesday that strikes, political meetings and processions would be banned, and today it was announced that the ban would apply to the parade that had been scheduled for tomorrow to mark the 11th anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh, the former East Pakistan.
General Ershad launched his “anti-corruption” drive and banned political activity so that he could remove the “cancer” of public corruption. Ershad promised to restore democracy within two years. He also declared that he had the support of the United States:
The army general who Wednesday imposed martial law in Bangladesh said tonight that he hoped democracy could be restored within two years and that political activity might be permitted again in six months.
This country’s new chief martial law administrator, Lieut. Gen. H.M. Ershad, said also that the United States had changed its stand since Wednesday, when the State Department said it regretted the coup. ”They changed their attitude later on,” General Ershad said without elaborating.
At a news conference tonight for foreign reporters he again said the coup had been in response to insufferable political corruption, bickering, lawlessness and ”confusion in the minds of the people.”
He said the mostly Western aid donors that have helped keep Bangladesh afloat since the famine of the mid-1970’s ”will understand the situation” and continue the aid.
The General was right about the United States.
The General survived in power a little over three years after Nur Hossain’s death. At the end of November 1990, as the pro-democracy movement flared all around him, General Ershad’s forces once again fired upon pro-democracy demonstrators. This time they killed 50 Bangladeshi citizens. To retain his grip on power, the dictator again declared a state of emergency. But to no avail. Less then one week later the dictator was forced to resign.
About three months later, in February of 1991, the people of Bangladesh went to the polls to elect their next prime minister in a free and fair democratic election. General Ershad, the man on whose orders Nur Hossain was murdered, was charged and convicted of corruption and other related crimes and sent to prison.
Now, two decades after Nur Hossain paid with his life for a democracy he envisioned, Bangladesh is once again under a General’s grip. The story is the same. The new General, Moeen U Ahmed, is also fighting “corruption”. The new administration in Washington supports him. Meanwhile the democracy that Nur Hossain earned with his blood lies beneath the boot of another usurper.
Sairachar nipat jak! Ganatantra mukti pak!
Mashuqur Rahman [http://www.docstrangelove.com] is one of the highest read Bangladeshi-American bloggers. Critically acclaimed for his incisive analysis on Bangladesh, US foreign policy and dedicated advocacy of human rights.