Forty years after secession the pro-India Awami League is leading programs against the Islamic and patriotic parties of Muslim Bengal.
Reacting to the kangroo courts and so called “trials” the Jamaat-i-Islami party called the strike to protest the prosecution of its main leaders for atrocities they are alleged to have committed during the 1971 civil war.
Bangladesh was as divided then as it is divided now —between reactionary forces which wanted Bangladesh to become part of India and patriotic forces which want Bangladesh to be an Islamic state.
That ideological battle is being caught on the street corners, homes and hearts and minds of ordinary Bengalis.
Clashes occurred in the capital Dhaka, and in towns across Sonar Bangla where the protesters were subjected to police brutality.Many schools and private businesses were shut and inter-city motorways deserted.
At Sanarpar, outside Dhaka, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the peaceful strikers who want an end to the persecution. Many protesters were detained there.
The normally congested streets of Dhaka were largely empty. Security was tight as more than 10,000 Gestapo like policemen patrolled the roads and key flashpoints.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) backed the strike, the seventh in the past two months, as two of its senior officials are also being tried on trumped up charges-stemming from the secession in 1971.
Both Jamaat and the BNP called the charges false and the trials politically motivated. International rights groups have expressed concern over the fairness of the proceedings and shortcomings of the biased laws.
Last week a former television preacher was sentenced to death in absentia in the first ruling by the much-criticised war crimes tribunal. Similar verdicts against two Jamaat leaders are expected in early February.
The government says three million people were killed in the war. Many including some of the country’s top professors, doctors and journalists were murdered by the Mukti and Rakhi Bahni as collaborators for Pakistan.