Cheers of “Joy Bangla” filled the air as hundreds of Bangladeshi Canadians gathered in Toronto’s east end in a tightly-packed community centre on Monday.
They were not just celebrating the independence of their home country, but the execution of a war criminal in Bangladesh last week, 42 years after his crimes.
Better known as the “Butcher of Mirpur” for the rapes and massacres he committed, Abdul Quader Molla was a leader of thousands of Islamist paramilitaries known as “Razakars” (volunteer corps).
They worked hand-in-hand with the Pakistan army that was carrying out a systematic genocide of the Bengali people in the dark days of 1971.
Molla’s sentence was appealed a number of times to the Supreme Court, up until the last minute, but Bangladesh’s highest judicial authority rejected them all, stating the guilt of Molla was beyond doubt.
One woman’s testimony is said to have sealed the fate of Molla.
On Mar. 26, 1971, as the sun set on Dhaka, the Pakistan Army fanned out across the country in a killing spree aided by its civilian allies from the Jamaat-e Islami and other non-Bengali “Razakars”.
These vigilantes were given the task of ethnically cleansing entire neighbourhoods of Bengali supporters of the country’s independence.
That evening, Molla and several of his Islamist thugs broke into the residence of a tailor, Hazrat Ali Laskar, in the city’s Mirpur neighbourhood.
As Ali begged for mercy, he was shot dead while his pregnant wife and two daughters, aged seven and nine, were raped and slaughtered.
Momena Begum, who was hiding under a bed, witnessed this carnage.
She was eventually discovered by the hoodlums, who pulled her out and stripped her naked.
She was raped by Molla and his men until she fell unconscious.
They took her for dead, but she survived to tell the tale to the war crimes tribunal four decades later.
As she identified Molla as her family’s murderer and her rapist, he stood smiling in the dock.
Despite the overwhelming evidence against Molla, Islamists around the world came out in droves to defend the convicted man and plead his case.
The Turkish prime minister called Bangladesh’s leader, Sheikh Hasina, at the last minute and tried to twist her arm, but the strong-willed Hasina did not wilt.
Then it was the turn of Pakistan’s parliament, which passed a resolution claiming Molla was a friend of Pakistan.
But to Bangladeshi Canadians, the execution of Molla was justice delayed, but not denied.
“Better late than never,” said Fuad Chowdhury, a Toronto filmmaker who had witnessed the 1971 carnage.
Another Bangladeshi-Canadian, sociology professor Roksana Nazneen, told me, “After 42 years, justice has finally been served. I understand some people do not support the death penalty, but it is still a punishment in Bangladesh’s law, and crimes against humanity deserve the toughest sanctions that exist.
BDST: 1418 HRS, DEC 18, 2013