Respect for February 1983 student uprising martyrs

TODAY is Resistance Day against Autocracy. Hundreds of students under the leadership of some 14 student groups brought out a procession from Dhaka University demanding the scrapping of recommendations of an anti-people education commission this day in 1983. However, the then HM Ershad-led military regime responded with police firing, leaving at least two dead and hundreds more injured. Although the commission recommendations were eventually withdrawn, the movement spread all over, inspiring all democratic and progressive student organisations to build up a united resistance against the regime and the Central Students Action Committee was born. The supreme sacrifice of the two students also encouraged all political parties, including the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to engage in a long bloody struggle for democracy coming close to each others, which ended in the overthrow of the military regime in 1990. Overall, the 1983 student uprising marked the beginning of the almost nine-year anti-autocracy movement and February 14 remains to be in important day in Bangladesh’s political history. During the movement, the students emphasised a uniform schooling affordable for all, apart from ridding the country of autocracy once and for all. More importantly, all political parties, especially the two major ones that have ruled the country by turn since the overthrow of the military dictator, agreed to implement the demands once they were in power. What came about, regrettably, however, is disappointing. While successive governments have ignored most of the demands of the movement that paved the way for going to power, all of them have behaved autocratically with the political opponents. What is more disappointing is that families of the mid-February 1983 martyrs still cry for justice. The same is true when it comes to families who lost their near and dear ones in subsequent movements against Ershad. There are, of course, little reasons for surprise at the situation if one takes into account the manner in which Ershad has politically been rehabilitated ever since 1991. In a manifestation of its sheer political opportunism, the Awami League, while it was in opposition, made alliance with the Jatiya Party led by him. It also used Ershad’s help to form government and, in the process, spared him and his colleagues of legal punishment they deserved for the nine years of misdeeds. The BNP also had a few months of opportunistic hobnobbing with Ershad’s party in an attempt to return to power. The worse happened in 2014 when the League and the JP machinated a farcical election with all political parties boycotting it to jointly enjoy power. As a result, some JP leaders now hold ministerial positions in the cabinet while Ershad himself is a special envoy of the prime minister with the status of a full minister.  It is true that the BNP government put Ershad into jail during its regime. But it is also true that all this was intended for anything but ensuring justice for those who lost lives at the hand of the fallen dictator. It is time that the student bodies of the day remembered the martyrs of February 14 and strengthen the student movement for democracy, on the one hand, and effectively oppose political opportunism, on the other.