Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islam is a legitimate political force having representation in all parliaments since the country’s independence in 1971. Its student wing, Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir is the country’s largest and most organized student organization that has impressive presence in college and university campuses. However, all in Bangladesh will agree that Jamaat-Shibir’s political path has been extraordinary, as they have to face more opposition than other political forces do in the country. Their way is hard and strewn with thorns.
Jamaat’s error of judgment and its stance on a united Pakistan during Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971 has remained a bugbear for them, and both Jamaat and Shibir are still paying the price for that. Ironically, America – the sole superpower in today’s world – also supported a united Pakistan in 1971. This commonality between Jamaat and America does not seem to pay off for Jamaat. Ironically, while Jamaat is penalized, the USA is regarded very high in Bangladesh politics.
The Americans have remained largely indifferent and apathetic to the prejudice against Jamaat and to the persecution of its affiliates at the hands of its arch-rival Awami League on the question of the 1971 war. Although Shibir was born in 1977 and its affiliates are post-1971 generation, it also has to carry the stigma because of its ideological linkage with its parent organization. However, despite stiff and widespread opposition, the growth of Jamaat-Shibir in Bangladesh politics has been spectacular. One hurdle Jamaat-Shibir people encounter on a daily basis is the hostile media representation they receive, especially in the domestic newspapers.
When it comes to reporting Jamaat-Shibir related news, most print and electronic media outlets seem to be united in lampooning and maligning these two organizations. One possible reason for this hostile media representation of these two organizations is their opposition to Indian hegemonic interests in Bangladesh. Rumour has it that except for those in few news outlets, like a number of university professors and columnists, people of the entire media industry in Bangladesh are on a monthly payroll of the High Commission in Dhaka of a neighbouring country. We may not verify this clandestine financial lure offered by that particular High Commission, but we may smell the outcome of such an enticement. In this regard, the everyday blatant misrepresentation of Jamaat-Shibir in the media in Bangladesh is worth analyzing. From dozens of anti-Jamaat-Shibir newspapers, considering the scope of this article, I pick one English daily – the Daily Star – as a case study. I will look into few Daily Star reportages involving Jamaat-Shibir.
Some recent Daily Star headlines on Jamaat-Shibir read: “Jamaat banks on aggression” (31 Jan 2013), “Resisting Jamaat, Shibir urged”(31 Jan 2013),”Jamaat remains violent” (30 Jan 2013), “Jamaat, Shibir strike terror” (29 Jan 2013), “Jamaat-Shibir strikes terror in Motijheel, 3 districts” (28 Jan 2013), “Take Jamaat to task for mayhem” (Editorial, 30 Jan 2013), “Shibir Flexes Muscle Again” (29 Jan 2013), “Go tough: PM spurs law enforcers on Jamaat-Shibir violence” (29 Jan 2013). These news stories involving Jamaat-Shibir are unambiguously intended to caricature these two organizations. These headlines are obviously designed to create a horrendous impression in people’s mind about Jamaat-Shibir people.
What the Daily Star and similar media outlets have failed to consider is the outrageous extent of repression that Jamaat-Shibir people have undergone over the years, especially since the incumbent government came to power in Bangladesh in early 2009. It is bewildering to see how the Daily Star seems to have turned a blind eye to the habitual hostility and belligerence the Awami government, its party forces and the police have wreaked on Jamaat-Shibir affiliates. I mention below some facts on the police and Awami brutality for the last few years on Jamaat-Shibir people.
Immediately after the current Sheikh Hasina government came to power, members of Awami League’s student wing, Chhatra League, forcefully ousted thousands of Shibir students from their college and university dormitories. Shibir students had been living peacefully in their lawfully-allotted seats. Chhatra League ruffians drove them away and, in most cases, rent those seats to outsiders and illegal occupants with the complicity of authority. This is one way for them to earn illegal money.
Thousands of Shibir students have not been able to attend classes and many of them when went to campus were beaten, some extremely severely. Some Shibir students tried their best to retain their studentship by maintaining communications with their teachers and tutors. Some managed to enter examination halls to sit for final exams. But, upon information, Chhatra League cadres intruded exam halls and mercilessly beat up Shibir students, while invigilators were helpless onlookers.
Like most Bangladeshi students, those involved in Shibir hail from the rural area and many of them are extremely poor. After being expelled from college and university dormitories, many Shibir students could not afford to hire private houses to live and to continue their studies. Those who managed to live in messes in the surrounding areas of their colleges and universities were eventually raided by the police and attacked by Chhatra League.
In the job market, Shibir has become a byword for discrimination. After completing their formal studies, Shibir students face serious prejudice when they want to enter the job market. With Awami League in power, public service jobs are practically prohibited for them. If a job applicant can be identified as a former Shibir affiliate, it is enough for him to be disqualified. Such discrimination has thus far received tacit legitimacy and general acceptance among the employers. If a Shibir candidate is more competent than his competitors and if the employer wants to recruit him on the basis of merit, in all likelihood, the employer will be branded as razakar. An objective research on the recruitment process of public universities in Bangladesh will undoubtedly verify and vindicate this observation and will point to the enormity of discrimination against Shibir students in the job market.
Since this government came to power, Jamaat-Shibir people have been arrested from the street, from their homes and from their party offices. The police have sometimes stopped and searched buses and trains to identify and arrest Jamaat-Shibir people. Banks have been raided to arrest Jamaat-Shibir activists. The police have locked Jamaat’s and Shibir’s central offices for a very long time. Jamaat-Shibir leaders and activists cannot hold their usual meetings in their offices. When they try to organize party meetings in private houses, on a tip, the police go there and arrest them. In most cases, the police carry some extra weapons and place them in the hands of Jamaat-Shibir people only to parade them as possessors of illegal weapons. And then the anti-Jamaat-Shibir media write interesting news stories to present Jamaat-Shibir people as outlawed. Another common excuse the police use for arresting Jamaat-Shibir people from their meetings is that, they may have been planning anti-state activities!
Thus Jamaat-Shibir’s democratic right of holding demonstrations in the street or arranging party meetings in private facilities has been systematically and drastically curtailed. When Jamaat-Shibir people want to hold processions in the street, they have to do it abruptly and have to disperse before the police arrive to arrest them. For the fear of police raids, thousands of Jamaat-Shibir leaders and activists cannot sleep in their own houses. About a dozen topmost Jamaat leaders are in prison on false charges and the remaining topmost leaders are in hiding or on the run for fear of being arrested.And the torture in police custody on Jamaat-Shibir people once arrested is proverbial in today’s Bangladesh. In a society like Bangladesh, mistreatment of women carries an added affront. Female members of Jamaat and students of Islami Chhatri Sangstha (ICS [Islamic Female Student Organization]) linked with Jamaat-Shibir have also been subjected to maltreatment by the police and by the government forces. On 3 July 2009, the police arrested three ICS members from a madrasa in Pirojpur and took them to a police station without any credible charges whatsoever. They were later incarcerated unlawfully. On 17 Dec 2012 night, the police raided the central office of Islami Chhatri Sangstha and arrested twenty of them and their mentor! One of them was five-month pregnant. These women were paraded in the media and were later remanded. On 5 January 2013, Islamic women came to the National Press Club to attend a round-table meeting to protest police raid and repression on women of 17 Dec 2012 night. When they came out of the round-table meeting, the police arrested them in front of the Press Club gate. The Daily Star report on this police arrest reads: “Police detained at least 13 women from the Jatiya Press Club area suspecting them as members of pro-Jamaat-e-Islami female students’ body, IslamiChhatriSangstha, yesterday” (Daily Star, 6 Jan 2013). It is obvious that if the police suspect people as members of Jamaat-Shibir, it is enough justification for the former to arrest the latter.
After enduring police repression and Awami party forces’ attacks for four years, recently Jamaat-Shibir people have been shown dogged determination to remain in the street to exercise their democratic right of holding demonstrations. When the police arrive in the scene to stop and arrest them, clashes and street fighting become inevitable. Under such circumstances, the Daily Star and similar media outlets put the entire blame on Jamaat-Shibir people by publishing sensational news, which is nothing but a media terror on a disciplined and legitimate political force in Bangladesh. No one can every find an incident in the political history of Bangladesh that, people of Jamaat-Shibir have ever initiated or provoked any political violence in the street or in campuses. The Daily Star can take this challenge and show us that Jamaat-Shibir have ever incited any political violence in Bangladesh. In all cases, the police or the rival political forces attack Jamaat-Shibir rallies or precessions. When Jamaat-Shibir decide to fight back and engage in chase and counter-chase, the media portray them as violent.
Such media terrorism on Jamaat-Shibir has been there in Bangladesh since the birth of the country in 1971. After four decades of information of terrorism on Jamaat-Shibir, it is now crystal clear that such distortions of facts and disinformation about Jamaat-Shibir people have not been able to thwart the progress of this political force at all. The anti-Jamaat-Shibir media campaign has been palpably counterproductive, perhaps, for the following two reasons:
1. It has calcified the commitment of Jamaat-Shibir affiliates. When Jamaat-Shibir people have remained political victims of the successive regimes and scapegoats of political violence, such hostile media coverage simply increases their love of their party.
2. Those who observe Jamaat-Shibir people very closely and discover that they are anything but what the Daily Star says, grow an unshakable sympathy and respect for them. It is obvious that the Daily Star has chosen a strategy of doing temporary harm to Jamaat by spoiling its own image as a newspaper. It has failed to realize that, spreading disinformation is not the right way to defeat a political force. The reportage of Jamaat-Shibir issues has remained the Daily Star’s Achilles’ heel. The sooner it comes out of this blatant prejudice against Jamaat-Shibir is better for the newspaper and for the country.