Vol. 4 Num 200 Tue. December 16, 2003  

Victory Day
The contribution of Sandwip to the struggle for freedom

Sandwip, off the western coast of Chittagong, about 12 kilometre from the mainland across Sandwip channel, is a legendarily pretty island, of about 258 square miles.

As an island of glorious tradition and antiquity, Sandwip has produced not only a great many sailors and sea-men, but also fearless fighters and revolutionaries.

Raja Dilal, a forgotten king of Sandwip, who was a heroic personality of the 17th century, fought for freedom until his death, overcome by the tremendous odds arranged against him by the Mughals.

Since Dilal had inborn courage, intelligence and ambition, he, a cowboy king, welded his land together with the iron hand of power and unity. By and by, he become uncrowned king of Sandwip Island. This legendary archer robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. This is why he is called Robin Hood of the East.

Sandwipians are thus descendants of heroes almost from time immemorial. Oh! to think over the palmy days of Sandwip. We have to remember Raja Dilal, Fateh Khan, Manik Chand and Abu Torab who put up a gallant fight against aggression.

The bravery and valour of Dilal did not culminate in his death. After a hundred years, Abu Torab, great-grandson of Chand Khan, son-in-law of Dilal, once again rose in rebellion. It was in 1767 that a fierce battle took place between Abu Torab and Captain Nollekins of the East India Company, in which Abu Torab displayed exhibited astonishing heroism and excellence in battle. It was thus that Abu Torab kept up the glory of his forefathers.

The history of Sandwip thus is the history of immortal heroes. Even in the Balkan wars, many sturdy young men hailing from Sandwip ran away from home to fight for the Turks. (that is for Islam). This speaks volumes for the fact that Sandwipians are known for bravery, valour of spirit and elevation of mind.

It is said that, the past has given birth to the present, and the present will give birth to the future.

Sandwip produced the revolutionary leader Comrade Muzaffar Ahmed who was imprisoned many a time during British rule and who a great influence on no less an outstanding personality than rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, who himself admitted his indebtedness to this doyen of a political thinker.

Lalmohan Sen, who was one of the valiant fighters in the Chittagong Armoury raid, the protagonist of which was Master Da Surja Sen, was a worthy son of Sandwip. While studying in a normal school of the town, Lalmohan Sen, only 21 years old, went to his native island, broke into the safe of his uncle and returned to the band of revolutionary patriots to make a gift to the revolutionary funds. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and transportation to the Andaman Island penal colony. He was set free from Dhaka jail in 1946, but eventually fell victim to a communal riot.

Many a son of our soil of Sandwip has attained martyrdom, many have been wounded or disabled.

Jashimuddin, an intermediate student of Chittagong College, of which this writer is an alumnus, was uncompromising, fearless and tenacious. He was arrested from Sandwip on May 10, 1971, imprisoned in Chittagong only to be released later on. But he again repaired to the war front. Then he was captured by the occupation army on December 10. He sacrificed himself at the altar of freedom.

During the Liberation War, the Pakistani occupation army sailed across the sea in gun-boats in the middle of the year and carried on their persecution and torture upon the innocent islanders for a number of days. Zahed Hossain, a lawyer by profession and supporter of the Awami League was arrested and brutally murdered on the historic Kargill Bridge of Sandwip. The Pakistani army killed quite a number of defenceless, unarmed men and women in the vicinity of Sandwip town. But the cowardly barbaric hordes were frightened and in constant apprehension of approaching cyclones and calamity. Thus they left Sandwip, bag and baggage, in no time. The people of Sandwip heaved a sight of relief. Afterwards, Sandwip became a safe haven for the shelterless coming from the Chittagong mainland in the dead of night, running the risk of life, in search of safety to escape the wrath and brutality of Yahya's guns. Sandwip, a land of twelve saints, was thus an abode of peace and refuge for some time during the Liberation War.

Let us have a peep into the momentous role played by a group of intellectuals and writers of Sandwip at the critical juncture of the Bangali Nation in 1971.

It was after the crack-down of March 25, which is called the blackest night, when humanity was in agony in Bangladesh, when the hounds of Yahya Khan were let loose on the unsuspecting and unarmed people of Bangladesh to set at naught, their democratic rights and to wipe out the very vestiges of a Bengali Nation. Thus our War of Liberation began.

The Bengali Nation has not yet overcome the shock of the sudden massacre campaign of the blackest night. With the widening flow of refugees taking shelter in Indian refugee camps to find minimum safety, the entire Bangladesh moved a step nearer to blood-bath.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The whole nation was plunged into the deep sea of grief and frustration. A pall of gloom descended upon earth at daybreak of March 26. At that very moment an English handbill of proclamation of independence by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was received by Kazi Hosna Ara Begum, a programme announcer of Chittagong Radio who gave it to Belal Mohammad, the staff scriptwriter for Chittagong Radio. Abul Kashem Sandwip, Vice Principal of Chittagong Fatiq Sari College was present there as well. They established contact with Chittagong Radio authorities to gain support in favour of installing a Revolutionary Radio Centre.

It was Belal Mohammad (hailing from Sandwip) who for the first time envisaged the introduction of a Revolutionary Radio Centre. Abul Kashem Sandwip along with his other companions rushed to the Kalurghat Transmitter. It was at 7:40 on March 26, 1971, that millions of Bengalis listened with rapt attention to the very first programme of the Revolutionary Radio Centre. (Biplobi Swadin Bangla Betar Kendra). It was the Bengali translation of the declaration of independence by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman presented by Abul Kashem Sandwip.

No sooner had the Bengali people risen in arms against the Pakistani persecution and oppression than came afloat the voice of Abul Kashem Sandwip -- lasting about five minutes -- it was a clarion call to resist and repulse the Pakistani occupation army with might and main. Many Bengalis could not refrain from shedding tears of joy, relief and pride at that auspicious moment. Bengalis stood up again with self-confidence, courage of conviction and sturdy optimism.

Finding no other alternative left to them, the revolutionary young men carried a one kilowatt transmitter to a free-region to continue their programmes for a number of days.

It was at Mujib Nagar on May 25 that 50 kilowatt medium-wave Swadin Bangla Betar Kendra came into operation amidst earnest enthusiasm. It is a fact that during the War of Liberation in 1971, Swadin Bangla Betar Kendra worked as the second front.

It was because of the contribution of a limited number of writers, informers, poets and artists that this laudable venture was able to keep up the morale of the whole nation. Amongst them are the names of Mohammad Shah Bangali (a folk-singer), Belal Mohammad (first organiser and planner), Abul Kashem Sandwip (first proclaimer) and Shamsul Huda Chowdhury who was the programme organiser of Rajshahi Radio before the Liberation War, and who managed to cross the Indian border and afterwards worked as one of the enthusiastic workers of Swadin Bangla Betar Kendra. He tendered yeoman's service to the nation.

Belal Mohammad and Abul Kashem Sandwip regularly contributed not only to the Swadin Bangla Betar Kendra, but also to the papers and bulletins published from Mujib Nagar. The freedom loving people of Sandwip take pride in them as compatriots and fellow countrymen.

Mohammad Shah Bangali is an honoured name for another reason. His unique contribution to the moulding of public opinion at the time of the general election of 1970 is an undeniable fact.

Mohammad Shah Bangali was the constant associate and ardent follower of Sheikh Mujib during the campaign for the general election wherever he went, from Teknaf to Tetulia. This popular folk-singer used to sing folk-songs prior to the public address of political leaders at the mammoth gatherings. Thus this famous singer evoked wide appreciation and applause through the length and breath of the nation.

His songs and melodies, as a matter of fact, paved the way for winning over the hearts of the audience just like a farmer prepares his field before sowing the seeds.

Thus, we see that the history of Sandwip from past to the present is replete with outstanding examples of supreme sacrifices and deeds of valour in the struggle against colonial power to attain freedom.

There is not a shadow of doubt about it that Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra will be ever remembered by the future generation for its glorious role in the annals of the freedom movement. It was when the barbaric hordes of the descendants of Nadir and Chengis Khan indulged in massacre, genocide and destruction to try to break the backbone and morale of the Bengali Nation that the organisers and initiators of Swadin Bangla Betar Kendra, consisting of writers and artists who were passing their awful days in exile, came forward and infused vitality into the hearts of freedom fighters all over the country.

They kindled the flames of patriotism and freedom in the hearts of broken-hearted Bengalis at home and abroad. They enkindled sparks of hope in the breasts of millions at the hour of trials and tribulations, storm and stress.

Let us pay humble homage and tribute to those fearless freedom fighters who laid down their lives so that we can keep our heads held high. They say, we the Bengalis are the self-forgetful nation.

At this sad hour of crucial crisis -- social, political, cultural, and moral -- it is incumbent on us all to gird up our loins and take a fresh vow to turn over a new leaf and put the spirit of the Liberation War to profitable use.

Abul Kalam Elias is a former college principal and Research Fellow, Bangla Academy.