Protesters rally in Shahbagh against attacks on anti-rape march

Members of progressive student groups have descended on Dhaka's Shahbagh square to protest against the attack on the anti-rape 'long march' in Feni while demanding the resignation of Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan.

Leaders and activists of various socio-cultural organisations, including Chhatra Union, Samajtantrik Chhatra Front and Chhatra Federation, began demonstrating under the banner of 'Bangladesh Against Rape and Injustice' around 12:30 pm on Wednesday.

It brought traffic at the key junction to a standstill, adding to the woes of commuters.

The left-leaning student groups have been holding various programmes in front of the Shahbagh National Museum from Oct 5 in protest at a recent string of rapes and sexual violence against women across the country.

As part of the campaign, they later launched a 'long march' from Dhaka to Noakhali on Oct 16-17 to raise mass cultural awareness about rape and sexual abuse.

But the protesters came under attack in Feni as a group of assailants assaulted them with sticks and brickbats as they were boarding buses to go to Noakhali after a rally on Oct 17. At least 30 people were hurt in the attack, according to the protesters.

They alleged that leaders and activists of the local Awami League, Jubo League and Chhatra League units carried out the attack, with police doing little to get in their way.

In protest against the incident, the progressive students' alliance announced a blockade of highways nationwide on Wednesday. They later took out a protest march to Kataban before taking position at the Shahbagh intersection.

Rashed Shahriar, general secretary of Samajtantrik Chhatra Front (BSD-Marxist), said, "We have been protesting in Shahbagh since October 5 to press home our nine-point list of demands. As part of this, we wanted to conduct a peaceful long march from Dhaka to Noakhali to create a mass awakening against rape and oppression."

"Ordinary people spontaneously took part in the long march programme. But the leaders and activists of Awami League, Jubo League and Chhatra League carried out vicious attacks on our programme and the police played a silent role while it was happening. We strongly condemn this incident and demand the perpetrators are identified and given exemplary punishment."