Earlier this week prominent Bangladeshi opposition politician Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury lost his appeal at the Bangladesh Supreme Court against the death penalty for convictions by the country's International Crimes Tribunals ( ICT). He has been in government detention since 2011, and the international press has detailed the torture he experienced at the hands and instruments of the British trained Rapid Action Battalion.
Hailing from a political family based in the port city of Chittagong, known as Islamabad in Mughal times, Chowdhury has served as an MP on 7 separate occasions and was a close adviser to the former BNP Prime Minister Khaleda Zia during her last stint in office. He was in his early twenties during the 1971 war year and according to his witnesses who made it through the tribunal's clumsy rigging, had been in West Pakistan for the duration of the period of the crimes for which he was convicted. The problem is that the Tribunal and the Supreme Court, with their characteristically warped view of the world, has refused to acknowledge his absence from the scene, as corroborated by many of his peers.
Given the maddening BS that we have been expected to swallow regarding people in 1971, BS thats resulted in the judicial murders of Abdul Quader Mollah and Muhammad Kamarazzaman, I think its high time to review the horror stories woven around Salahuddin Quader Choudhury in 1971 and unearth greater truths buried in the rubble of the Bangladesh Motanarrative.
A Roundly Criticised Show Trial
For years before the current Awami League regime came into power on the back of a diplomatic coup, I never thought that fair investigations, trials and resolutions would be possible. I felt that it was just an game of political emotional blackmail on account of the national liberation mythology. It is a real pity that such a lot of lives, reputations and human horsepower have been dissipated to produce such injustice, but it goes with the territory and didn't have to be inevitable, we(pl) made it this way.
Criticisms of the conduct and integrity of the tribunals have been made by many of humble and of privileged backgrounds. For example there is the independent review by Geoffrey Robertson QC , the Economist of London's coverage of the chairing judge's collusion with a partisan activist and Bangladesh's favourite son-in-law David Bergman long archive of the tribunal's proceedings. Just a fortnight after he was given his original death penalty, an Early Day Motion was tabled in the UK Parliament highlighting the lack of due process in his trial and that of the late Abdul Quader Mollah, who was executed a few months later. It was signed by 32 MPs including people like Jeremy Corybn, Peter Bottomley, Diane Abbot and Michael Meacher.
A distinct political lineage to Year Zero 71sterism
SQC, or SaKa as he is alternatively known, is one of Bangladeshi society's intriguing characters. He represents a genealogy of politics that predates the rise of the Awami League and has never really been scared to give them the finger. His symbolic capital and privilege are independent of Liberation 1971 events and the rise of Bengali Nationalism. That is not to say he is an angelic figure, he still commands immense power over his political enemies from behind a cell.
As a London resident with a Bangladesh facing eye or two, I remember his amazing political insults and his unsuccesful bid during the BNP-JI regime for Secretary General of the OIC, which was viscerally resisted by the Awami League, and deludedly promoted by the BNP at the time. In retrospect it is good that Prof Ehsanoglu won that election, as the pro Islam and pro Muslim Ummah social and intellectual currents in Turkey were and still are in a better place than in Bangladesh.
What I am becoming more interested in is the condemned man's father, Fazlul Quader Chowdhury. The political orphans of Bangladesh, need to take as many of these political bypass figures closer to our hearts for the sake of past mistakes and wider possibilities of the future
He was a political stalwart for 3 decades through more interesting times, who didn't switch allegiance to the Bangladesh cause and died in prison in 1973 under dubious circumstances. There is a slightly hagiographic website about him here.
He was elected General Secretary of the All-India Muslim Students Federation in 1939, and was with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, just before he left for that important mission to rid India of it's colonial yolk during (Colonial) World War 2. Netaji was to offer to relieve the Bengal Famine with food aid from Myanmar, an offer which was refused by the British colonial authority, who censored it. A war crime by any standards.
Interestingly, in 1942 when Fazlul Quader was arrested, one Mujibur Rahman, a rising Bengal Muslim Student League leader, organised a student strike in solidarity with him. Decades later it is said that Fazlul Quader, by then an established trade union and political leader, was to reject Mujibur Rahman's offer of his daughter Hasina's hand in marriage to his son Salahuddin.
I would like to invite people to flesh out this proposal story, because it lends extra humour to some of Salahudin's comments over the years, helps us to understand Hasina's insecurity and more importantly, reminds us that the political elite and cosmology that Bengali Nationalism and its kitsch culture machine has inflicted on us is not the End of History.
There were and there are much more expansive and nobler horizons.
What is to be done?
We do not know how this is going to pan out, but we should speak out against the injustice being dealt to SQC on a matter of principle, not to mention support the family and other people in such predicaments. We know how institutions in desh act with impunity and seek to destroy any who challenge their control and controllers. We also know how their family, NGO business and ideological networks assist them to tell the stories they want people to know about Bangladesh, and to be heard.
In this light, simply pointing out more accurate and reliable histories and principles of justice is where we should start.