Sunday, February 24, 2013

Projonmo Chottor and Social Media

Social media in general, and Facebook in particular, were crucial in shaping how citizens, especially young generation of Bangladesh, have made individual decisions about participating in protests against the war criminals. The protest at the Shahbagh Square in Dhaka is a remarkable show of an independent, spontaneous, non-partisan movement erupting out of pain silently carried by the people of Bangladesh for decades. It is an admirable non-violent, tenacious, proud and confident protest in the real term. The protest has been partially organised online and echoes across social media.

Only 100 people took the initiative to gather and form a human chain on February 05, 2013 at Shahbagh demanding capital punishment of Jamaat-e-Islami Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah shortly after the International Crimes Tribunal-2 sentenced him to lifetime imprisonment for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971. The activists, along with many more people from blogs and social networking sites, rejected the verdict and started protesting it. Rest is history.

In addition to demanding capital punishment for Quader Mollah and every war criminal, people are also demanding a permanent ban on religious politics in Bangladesh, specifying Jamaat-e-Islami.

Can Facebook win a revolution? The power of social media has been a hotly debated topic after the Arab Spring that brought about regime change in many Arab countries. The 2009 Green Revolution in Iran may have been the first modern political insurrection to be chronicled on Twitter, but it did not bring down a government. Egypt's Tahrir Square protest movement did just that. Some previous research has analysed the use of social media at a more general level throughout the Arab world in early 2011, but the exact nature of the relationship between social networks and revolution is still being examined.

Now, here in Bangladesh, a new revolution is taking place just in front of our eyes. As Bangladeshis, we are always emotional. If hurt emotionally, we never keep silent, we roar. 2013 is just the same.

Shahbagh Square protests, which have spread throughout the country, garnered the interest and attention of a worldwide audience largely due to digital and social media. The spread of information, via online media, is said to link protesters to a wider public. This coupled with the attention of the world media have made the domestic events a global matter. The place is full of people from all classes and professions. The social networking sites played a significant role in initiating the movement like Arab spring which toppled several autocratic rulers in the Middle East. Many in the social networking sites termed the Shahbagh intersection as 'Shahbagh Square' comparing it with 'Tahrir Square' of Egypt, the centre point of Egyptian revolution that ousted autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The administrator of Bloger and Online Activist Network writes, "Now we are in a war. The war is to free the country from Razakars. Hope, another revolution will take place today. This revolution will be another history for the country. You, online activists and the young generation are the heroes of the history." They invited all to join hands with the protesters at Shahbagh intersection, now known as 'Projanma Chottor'.

Roton is a rickshaw-puller who lives from hand to mouth. I asked him to go to Shahbagh Square from Khilgaon. Surprisingly he agreed and offered to carry me without charging any fare. I wanted to know from him the reason; and he replied, "Mama, Fashi Chai, heidar lega jaitachen. Amra jaite na parleo apnago kamey aite partachi, etai amgo lega onek." [Uncle, you guys are working for the highest possible punishment of the war criminals. We can not afford to go as we have to pull rickshaw for earning our day's bread. But if we can be of any help to you that will be our best contentment.]

Hundreds of thousand packets of food have been supplied by different individuals and organisations, winter clothes for the protestors have been supplied by the general mass, and even people who live outside Dhaka i.e. Comilla, Jessore, Chittagong are supplying daily necessities. If you combine all these things, you will find a united Bangladesh. Joy Bangla [Victory to Bengal], the slogan that inspired the freedom-fighters in the war field in 1971, has once again boosted the synergy of the young guns in 2013.

The slogan is being pronounced

carrying the same appeal that our freedom-fighters did.

Sujit Roy, an expatriate writes, "Wish I could join you now....will fly back soon!"

A Facebook user remarks, "Thousands of protesters packed into Shahbagh Square …..It's almost flooded by the people of all walks of life…the one demand - death penalty for all the war criminals including Quader Mollah........Sabash Bangalee."

The mass protests in Shahbagh Square and in several other cities have made the crowd realise that if the youth roar, then anything is possible. Waving Bangladesh's red and green flags, crowds of protesters marched towards Shahbagh Square in the afternoon on February 05. By the evening, the place was thronged with a crowd that appeared to be more than 100,000. The ultimate example of how strong the online communication is or could be--is Bangladesh 2013.

As vehicles for organising and expressing dissent, the Internet and social media such as Twitter and Facebook have already proven significant tools in Projonmo Chottor protests and uprisings. The Tahrir Square protests were set in a media context that had been developing in Egypt over several years. Others provide accounts of the growth of digitally augmented activism in Egypt. The Internet in Egypt was quickly utilised for dissent by liberals, minorities, religious groups, and others opposed to the Mubarak regime. The online political sphere emerged first in the form of blogs and personal sites, later in Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. While the Internet was not censored in general in Egypt, some bloggers were targeted and jailed, often for long periods. Social media provided space and tools for the formation and the expansion of networks. Social media functioned to broker connections between previously disconnected groups, to spread shared grievances beyond the small community of leaders, and to globalise the reach and appeal of the regional movement for the change.

The revolution of Shahbagh Square, which is at present popular as Projonmo Chottor, will be cherished by generations. 

This article has published at The Financial Express. 

Please click on the below link if you want to have a glimpse of it.

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