Vol. 5 Num 57 Fri. July 23, 2004  

An episode from history

I met Mr. Tajuddin for the first time at mid-day on March 29, 1971, when he stopped at Jhenidah on his way towards the border. He had arrived at the residence of Mr. JKMA Aziz, the then MNA of Jhenidah, a small sub-divisional township on the northwestern side of the then East Pakistan, already proclaimed independent Bangladesh by our great leader Sheikh Mujib, lying almost half-way between Jessore Cantonment and Kushtia District headquarters, where the marauding Pakistan army camped itself on March 26.

The fighting conglomerate at our encampment was formed by the local students, peasants, fishermen, officer, police, Ansars and Bengali members of EPR (now BDR) and the political leaders of southwestern region of Bangladesh who had decided to resist by all means, and to that effect an administrative unit was set up with Dr. Ashabul Haque, MNA of Chuadanga as the chief advisor and Major Abu Osman Chowdhury as the commander of Mukti Bahini southwestern command.

Mr. Aziz called me to his residence at about mid-day when he introduced me to two gentlemen. They had come all the way from Dhaka starting after midnight on March 25. On that fateful night Mr. Tajuddin had observed with his own eyes the burning of Dhaka under the cannons of Pakistani forces in the name of Operation Search Light, from the rooftop of a humble house in Mohammadpur where he was hiding on his way to an unknown destination, being told by Bangabandhu to leave him alone and wage war against the Pakistani junta.

The Pakistan army had used mortars, cannons, tanks and whatever other fire-power they had on the police lines, on the paramilitary headquarter at Pilkhana (the then EPR headquarter), Dhaka University students halls, teachers quarters, and any place they thought could organise resistance. So they didn't spare the bustees in Tejgaon nor the people of old Dhaka. Mr. Tajuddin was a witness to this holocaust and he was determined to destroy the invaders.

Therefore, with the first opportunity and between the darkness and light of dawn, he along with his comrade Barrister Amirul Islam, began a long journey across the country, starting from Mohammadpur on foot, by rickshaw, and on boat, having no rest and sometimes no food. In the process of this arduous journey he mingled with thousands of fleeing Bengalis whose destination was the same as his. In that long journey he remained incognito because at every juncture he could be arrested by the military network.

In this long journey he possibly had the first taste of rest at the house of Mr. Ashraf Ali Chowdhury, the MNA of Nawabganj. He had the good luck of riding a cart a certain distance from Faridpur to Kamarkhali. He was almost shot by friendly fire at Magura entry point where the Mukti Bahini had its monitoring check post, but was saved by one of the soldiers who identified him and brought him to the house of Mr. Sohrab Hosain at Magura. On midnight of the 28th, he had his first real bath, food, and sleep in peace. Because from the borders of Magura, as he learnt from Mr. Sohrab Hosain, the entire land space all the way up to the border was free and under the control of the Mukti Bahini. Sohrab's wife prepared food by herself that midnight and entertained him. This Mr. Tajuddin fondly remembered when he met me in Jhenidah on the 29th.

When I reached the residence of Mr. Aziz, the first thing Mr. Tajuddin wanted to know was the situation obtaining in the area and whether the route to India was safe. I told him that we had taken control of the entire area from Goalanda to Meherpur and from the north of Jessore Cantonment to the outskirts of Kushtia town, and that the road all the way up to the border was under our control and totally free. I also informed him "Under the leadership of Major Osman we are here contemplating an attack on the Pakistani forces in Kushtia district headquarters and the people of Kushtia are with us."

I informed him that Dr. Ashabul Haque and Barrister Badal Rashid in Chuadanga, Shohiuddin at Meherpur, Raja Mia at Kushtia, and Rawshan Ali at Jessore were already in the forefront, fighting and organising war against the Pakistanis at the grassroots level, and that Nurul Kader Khan, the DC of Pabna, had also established contact with us. Having seen all the calamities, destruction, burning, death, injury, and helpless flight of millions towards unknown destiny, leaving all their possessions behind, I could visualise that our story and act of valiance enhanced his spirits and courage. He at once got rid of his feeling of despair and disillusionment caused by the upsetting events since 25th night, and asked me to arrange for his safe disposal to the Indian border. Before I started going into that I asked him: "Where is Bangabandhu?"

"He is with us and leading our struggle," was all he said on the issue and urged me to continue finding ways to take them across the border incognito. I expressed my eagerness to do so without any problem, and after making the necessary preparations, put them in the back seat of my soft top Toyota jeep and drew the curtains so that nobody could see them.

The road to India was quite unmanageable as we had felled trees and cut trenches and blown up bridges to stop the advance of the Pakistani Army. We had to take many detours through the paddy fields and uneven ground and even through small streams. Our journey had a short interlude mid-way at Chuadanga circuit house where the southwestern command of the Mukti Bahini was headquartered and we were supposed to meet Major Osman and Meherpur SDO Taufique-e-elahi Chowdury.

When I reached the front of the headquarter, I got down and called and Taufique and Major Osman to come out and meet the two gentlemen who were inside my jeep. They exchanged views for some time, and Major Osman and Taufique explained the situation obtaining in the country and also their future plans, including the plan to attack Kushtia. Major Osman specially urged them to get support and help from India particularly with supply of arms and ammunitions to combat the Pakistan army. Mr. Tajuddin was very excited and assured us that he would do everything possible to help us get Indian support.

The broken journey resumed within half an hour and this time Taufique led the way towards the border. We negotiated through kutcha roads and paddy fields dried by the heat of summer, and at least once we had to cross one canal. The canal had no bridge and we had no time to turn back to find an alternative way. Taufique called out local people, who knew him as the local SDO and many people from the village came running to help. They put planks across the stream, and then using ropes to tie up loose ends, finally shifted the load by the sheer muscle of the many young men who extended their helping hand.

Our vehicles were lifted finally accompanied by chanting of slogans like Joy Bangla, Tikka na Hukka, Hukka Hukka, Akta Duita Khan Dharo, Shakal Bikal Nasta Karo, and similar slogans which every Bengali, fighting with arms or without, had on their lips. It was this courage and conviction of ordinary people that created our indomitable strength as a nation to wage a relentless war against the Pakistan army. I am sure it was this courage and fortitude that encouraged leaders like Mr. Tajuddin to fight out a long and arduous nine months of armed liberation struggle.

When we reached a place called Changkhali lying between the borders, we stopped under a big banyan tree surrounded by many smaller trees of all kinds, bushes, shrubs, and jungle. It was twilight time, getting darker by the advent of coming night. We stopped on a culvert in no man's land. The area was peaceful as no human habitation or movement of people could be found in the vicinity. Rather, the place was resounding with the sounds of nocturnal birds, snakes, and beasts, and was vibrating with the noise of the wind. It was a solitude which was deeply engrossing for the leaders who had only one thought in their mind, how to get the war going and how to organise the world in favour of the liberation war.

In spite of the situation as it was, we had to leave both of them and go towards the Indian outpost to meet our contacts. Halfway through, we encountered Captain Mahapatra of Indian BSF who was sent out by his commanding officer to escort the VIPs. Apparently, an SOS call sent by Tauwfique from Meherpur to his counterpart on the other side had been taken seriously. In fact, his call had alerted the Indian border post. In the meantime we had also learnt that the Indian government had alerted the entire border to receive all important political leaders of Bangladesh of the time, who might be seeking shelter, refuge, or assistance. They were fully aware of the fighting that erupted between the Bengalis and the Pakistanis since the night of March 25.

We returned where we had left Mr. Tajuddin and his companion, and being escorted by Captain Mahapatra, reached Indian BSF border post at around 7:30 in the evening. There we were received by the Commanding Officer of the sector and after brief introduction Mr. Tajuddin was given a makeshift guard of honour by the members of the BSF of India on behalf of Indian government. To us it was a moment of great pride and elation, a sense of unparalleled excitement. We felt that we were really the representatives of an independent state.

After the short formalities, we were given some refreshments. In my mind, the most urgent matter now was to receive arms and ammunitions because our mind was set for attacking the Pakistan army in Kushtia. So, I reminded Mr. Tajuddin to see if BSF could give us some firearms. On my request Mr. Tajuddin raised the issue to the commandant. He said in reply: "We have no clearance from central government to give arms and ammunitions to Mukti Bahini, so I shall have to send signal to the central government before giving you anything. However, I have some old arms of Czechoslovakian origin and some hand grenades, which I can part with, if you so desire."

We were hungry for arms and anything coming by was welcome. So, they delivered two LMGs and three dozen hand grenades. To my knowledge this was the first consignment of arms and ammunition we received from the Indians in our war efforts. Having received the arms in good grace, it was time to bid farewell. After exchange of good wishes we left Mr. Tajuddin in the care of the BSF, and they were whisked off to

Calcutta the same night, and their long journey leading to the war of liberation and its conclusion started.

The writer is a freedom fighter.