Quran Day: A legacy of blood and impunity

The 11th of May every year is commemorated in Bangladesh every year as “Quran Day”. On the 11th of May, 1985, police forces, under the orders of magistrate Molla Wahiduzzaman, opened fire upon Quran loving protesters at Chapai Nawabganj in Bangladesh, killing 8 innocent people. Despite a huge wave of nationwide protests against this barbaric police action, Molla Wahiduzzaman was never brought to justice.

In September 2014, about 29 years after that heinous crime, the same Mollah Wahiduzzman came to the lime light for being part of a public scandal revolving around several public officials accused of being in possession of fake freedom fighter certificates, in effect falsely being holders of freedom fighter certificates without ever fighting in the Liberation War.

In 1985, on the 29th of March, two Hindu fundamentalists, Chandamal Chopra and Shital singh, filed a writ petition, now known as the Calcutta Quran Petition, in the Calcutta High Court under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution, requesting that all copies of the Quran in the original Arabic as well as in translations be forfeited forthwith to the Government in terms of Section 95 of the Cr.P.C.

In a book compiled and edited by Sita Ram Goel in July 1987 known as “The Calcutta Quran Petition”, details of the judicial process are given as follows,

The Writ Petition came up before Mrs. Justice Padma Khastgir on April 1, 1985.  She directed that the matter would appear in her list on April 8. There were, however, two postponements before the matter could appear on April 12.  On that date, the learned judge gave directions for filing of affidavit-in-opposition by the Respondent (State of West Bengal) by May 3, 1985, and affidavit-in-reply by the Petitioners by May 17, 1985.  The matter then stood adjourned to May 27, 1985.

The affidavit-in-reply was duly filed by the Government of West Bengal stating that as “the Holy Quran is is a Divine Book, no earthly power can sit upon judgment on it and no court of law has jurisdiction to adjudicate it” and that “from the time of the British Rule and since Independence, inspite of the Indian Penal Code being in existence, there had never been such an application in any Court in India”. But for reasons unknown, Justice Khastgir released the matter from her list on May 2. On May 7, the Advocate-General of West Bengal requested the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court to assign the matter to another bench.  Finally, on May 10, the Chief Justice chose Mr. Justice Bimal Chandra Basak for hearing the Writ Petition.

The writ mentioned that the Quran contained several verses or “ayats” leading to incitement of violence against polytheists and non-believers, due to which it strongly promoted communal disharmony.

Meanwhile, protests flared up throughout the region, both inside India and in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh, along with other places in the Muslim world. Muslims everywhere were united in their outrage against what was clearly perceived as desecration of the Holy Quran and an unwarranted attack upon the tenets of Islamic faith. Riots resulted in many places, after security forces used unjustifiable force against peaceful protesters. A particularly tragic incident occurred at Chapai Nawabganj in Bangladesh.

A documentary on Quran Day held every year on 11 May (below),

On the 11th of May, 1985, a mass protest gathering was called at the Eid congregation grounds at Chapai Nawabganj in protest of this unprecedented move by Hindu fanatics to ban the Holy Book, the Quran. On the day of the protest gathering, Maulana Hossain Ahmed, the convener of the mass protest committee, was summoned at 11 am in the morning to the office of the Superintendent of Police, and forced to give a written statement pledging the cancellation of the event. The administration then shortly began announcing through loudspeakers that the event had been cancelled; just a few hours before it was due to begin.

 However, the last minute drama, coupled with the announcements by the administration failed to stop the flow of passionate protesters who had travelled long distances to attend the protest gathering. The measures adopted by the administration did little to stop the flow of the protesters towards the protest venue. That was when the administration took drastic measures by declaring section 144 at the venue of protest. Sensing the onset of an impending tragedy, Mawlana Isarul Hoque, one of the organizers, asked the magistrate for permission to end the program in a short time with a brief session of “munajat” or supplication.

However, the then magistrate Molla Wahiduzzaman reacted sharply to the request, making harsh and degrading remarks against the protesters while reiterating that he would in no way allow them to hold any demonstration at the said venue. The uncompromising and harsh attitude of the magistrate angered many of the protesters, who immediately broke out in loud protest. That was when Molla Wahiduzzaman gave the police the order to fire into the crowds at will.

The first of the protesters to fall victim to live firing was Abdul Mateen, a student of standard 10 of Kashempur A.K. Fazlul Haq Higher secondary School, who was declared dead upon arrival at hospital by the doctors on duty. He hailed from Dariapur, Chowhodditola, Nawabganj.

A bulk of the victims of the police firing massacre were young students, including Abdul Mateen, Rashidul Hoq, Shish Mohammad, Shahbuddin and Mohammad Selim among others.

Rashidul Hoq was a standard 10 student of Namoshankarbati higher secondary school, and who hailed from Namoshankarbati, Chapainawabganj.

Shish Mohammad was a Standard 9 student of Nawabganj Alia madrassah who hailed from Shahbajpur, Kansat, Shibganj.

Mohammad Selim was a standard 8 student of Shankarbati Higher secondary school who hailed from Arambag, Rajarampur, Nawabganj.

The youngest and most tender of the students killed by police firing was little Shahabuddin, a standard 6 student of Haripur 1no. Higher secondary school, and who hailed from Rajarampur, Nawabganj.

Other than the 5 students who died that day, 3 more people from the protesters were also killed in the police massacre. They were Altafur Rahman (a farmer), Mokhtar Hossain (a rickshaw driver) and Nazrul Islam (a rail worker).

Apart from the 8 people killed, more than fifty protesters suffered serious injuries due to the police firing, creating a wave of outrage throughout the country and hurting religious sentiments of population. However, the man behind the massacre, Molla Wahiduzzaman, who was at the time the magistrate of Chapai Nawabganj, has not only enjoyed impunity, but now stands as the Chairman of the Privatization Commission.

Prior to his appointment as Chairman of the Privatization Committee with the rank of state minister, Molla Wahiduzzaman was former secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office. A legacy of being rewarded instead of investigated for his role in the massacre of 8 protesters on May 11, 1985, Molla Wahiduzzaman has held important administrative posts under successive governments. This was clear when government intervention in the fake freedom fighter certificate scandal in September 2014 ensured that the certificate of Molla Wahiduzzaman was decided not to be subject to cancellation, unlike many of the others, including Health Secretary Niaz Uddin Miah, former secretary of Liberation War Affairs, recently made OSD, AH Masud Siddiqui, Public Service Commission Secretary AKM Amir Hossain and, former joint Secretary of Ministry of Liberation War Affairs (OSD) Abdul Kasem Talukdar among 28 other persons. This was despite clear evidence by the Anti-Corruption Commission that Molla Wahiduzzaman possessed a fake freedom fighter certificate.

Though Molla Wahiduzzaman has enjoyed impunity from facing justice in spite of a continued call from the families of the victims in the massacre since the past 29 years, few have forgotten the tragic events of that day. In memory of the tragic event, 11 May each year is remembered in Bangladesh as “Quran Day”.

Sources:

1. Sheershanews, September 14, 2014 , “চাঁপাইনবাবগঞ্জের সেই মোল্লা ওয়াহিদুজ্জামান এখন ভুয়া মুক্তিযোদ্ধা”, Link: http://www.sheershanewsbd.com/2014/09/14/51469

2. Sita Ram Goel, “The Calcutta Quran Petition”, New Delhi, July 1986

Source: TalukderShaheb’s blogspot