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Students stand with Bangladesh

Marisa Iati | Friday, February 22, 2013

Approximately 16 Notre Dame students from Bangladesh are standing in solidarity with their nation from more than 8,000 miles away. 

Protests broke out across Bangladesh on Feb. 5 after Abdul Kader Mullah, the leader of the country’s largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, received a sentence of life in prison for crimes committed during the war for liberation from Pakistan in 1971, according to Time Magazine. Jamaat-e-Islami members collaborated with Pakistan to perpetrate widespread rape, mass killings and a push against intellectuals, also according to Time.

Graduate student Tahsin Ahmed said many Bangladeshis thought the life sentence was not sufficiently severe.

“People thought that if somebody is given [a] life sentence for doing this sort of crime, then other crimes, like normal murders and other rapes, they don’t have justification for giving … capital punishment,” Ahmed said. “Their goal was to protest against that.”

Ahmed said Mullah should receive the death penalty because not only did he help plan Jamaat-e-Islami’s crimes, but he also participated in them. 

“If someone who is actually involved in a crime is not given the capital punishment, what will happen to the other people [who only planned the crimes]?” Ahmed said. 

Graduate student Rumana Reaz Arifin agreed a life sentence was inadequate.

“It has been preplanned, it has been organized, it has been cold-blooded and it has been executed,” Arifin said. “It’s not just a murder. It’s a genocide.”

Ashraf Khan, also a graduate student, said although Mullah’s sentencing instigated the nationwide protests, the focus has expanded to calling for justice for all people accused of war crimes in 1971.

Ahmed said the movement is “very nonpolitical and nonviolent.”

Forms of protest have included a candle vigil on Valentine’s Day, flying the national flag, singing the national anthem in schools and observing silence for three minutes nationwide, Arifin said. She said many protests occur in Shahbagh Square in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, but they are taking place in cities across the South Asian nation. 

“If you think about [the fact that] the whole country is raising their voice or showing their protest for one single thing, then it’s really a mass upheaval,” Arifin said. 

To express support for the activists, the Notre Dame students from Bangladesh held a symbolic protest Feb. 8 in front of Main Building. Ahmed said the group arranged candles in the shape of the Bengali numerals for “71″ to express respect for the people murdered in 1971.

“It shows we are with them,” Ahmed said. “We gathered in front of the Dome. We all get together and show our protest with posters, both in our own language and English to show that we want … capital punishment [for the war criminals].”

Bangladeshi students at other American universities are also expressing protest, Ahmed said. 

Arifin said the Notre Dame students from Bangladesh wanted the University community to know about the situation in their country, especially because the Congregation of Holy Cross runs Notre Dame College in Dhaka. She said the group could create an informational exhibition if community members were interested in learning more.

“If somebody wants to know more, then we can show more,” Arifin said. “We can tell them about the history.”