Grameenphone, in association with Prothom Alo, recently undertook an initiative to collect letters of the days of the Liberation War. Here at Star Lifestyle we undertook a similar, independent attempt. The following treatise is a result of our efforts. Based on the possession of a collector who desires to remain anonymous, we present to you letters not of 1971, but soon after (1972-73), each unique in nature revealing the atrocities of War and how humanity ceases to exist in times of turbulence. It is not the story of the letters, but the story of those who penned them in dire times.
Letters have, since ancient times, formed a significant mode of verbal communication. Written in paper, neatly folded in envelopes and conveyed through the postman, letters carry a social significance as they reveal the fabric of society at any given time. Their importance lies not only to philatelists but also researchers of various fields.
Soon after liberation, possibly sometime in February 1972, a special cell started functioning under the direct supervision of Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibar Rahman to document information on martyred, wounded and missing individuals of the War of 1971. Letters started pouring in, and from the surviving evidence, the total number of mails received was in the line of hundreds of thousands. Initially, a prescribed form was printed and distributed- to be filled and returned to the Prime Minister's Secretariat.
This proved impractical as due to the overwhelming response from the people the forms soon ran out.
It is uncertain as to what actually happened to these letters. No formal listing of martyred wounded and missing people was issued by the government. It is believed that these historical documents were preserved for a time and then eventually destroyed as per regulations. However, a significant number of the envelopes that contained these letters have survived at the hands of philatelists. Collectors, home and abroad cherish these envelopes as they are all addressed to Sheikh Mujibar Rahman.
Study of these covers reveals a curiosity, although few in number but bearing considerable historical importance. Letters are written in paper and the envelope is only a means of conveying the missive to distances. However, these 'curious letters' were actually written on the envelopes and not on pages inside.
Collectors have termed them 'descriptive covers of the martyred, wounded and missing individuals', some simply call them 'torture descriptions'.
The reason for such practice remains open to speculation. The reason possibly lies in the fabric of contemporary Bangladeshi society. Illiteracy was, as it still is, rampant in the then East Pakistan. Unlettered and naïve, individuals writing to the Prime Minister of the country believed that their letter will remain unseen and to ensure outright attention, their words were put on the envelopes themselves.
The descriptions, most often than not were brief, stating only facts. Yet in those few words, human emotions surrounding the loss of a dear one overflowed. In one descriptive cover dated 17 April 1972, Mukul Rani Pal of Barisal wrote-
12th Boishakh, four days after the attack of the Pak army on Patuakhali, the barbarous soldiers attacked number four Laukabi union. And mercilessly killed my husband Mukundonath Pal at his own home.
A great majority of the covers were penned by Hindus, spread across the country. This testifies to the fact that the barbarous onslaught that took place throughout the nine months was most severe on the minorities.
Name of wounded person- Bimola Bala Deb…Pak Fauz ignited our house, killed my husband and wounded me with bayonet…(excerpts)
Sri Mrinal Kanti Nath wrote on 8 March 73- I, on last August visited my maternal uncle at Boalkhali thana. Local Rajakar and hanadar force together shot me. Presently my right hand is paralysed. I cannot use it for work…
Along with the minorities, people who actively supported the Awami League came under the direct onslaught. People who provided active support to the Muktifauz were also targeted.
On a cover dated 11 March 1972, a writer who provides no name or address, pens the case of one Rashid.
“Abdur Rashid was a labour. (While) travelling to his home village he was picked by the Pak forces from Jhalakhathi and as he voted for Awami League he was shot.”
In another unnamed cover posted from Amirabad, Barisal we get information on helpers of the freedom fighters and the fate they often encountered.
Nine months earlier in Ishwardi under Pabna Zilla (he) was involved in aiding the Muktibahini. There is no trace of him ever since.
The Pakistan forces caused one of the ugliest genocides in history. Mass murder took place along with individual killing of people throughout the nine months. 'Descriptive covers' are not silent on the issue.
Last 10 august 1971 Pak Fauz came to our village, surrounded our houses and killed people indiscriminately. For the above-mentioned reason the people are martyred.
On a letter from Comilla, a peson writes: On Baru village under Debidar Thana 11 were dead. Among them one is missing and 10 are dead. Among the dead seven are guerrillas and four are farmers.
The Rajakars and the collaborators not only killed innocent civilians but also spread widespread panic through their marauding actions. People not only lost their dear ones but were also financially paralysed:
This is my plea that I, applicant, am Sri Janeshchondra Nath Biswas, my son Sriman Abinash Chandra Biswas was on first Bhadra Sunday shot dead by Pak attackers and my shop was plundered and looted and set abaze…(excerpt).
Quite naturally, the people who made the supreme sacrifice are honoured and respected but those who were wounded during the nine-month war often go unmentioned. Countless freedom fighters were injured, as were civilians who succumbed to injuries due to torture by the Pakistanis and their collaborators.
This (last) Ashin my son Shanti Bhushan Mojumdar was captured by Rajakars; hurt, bruised and bones broken and sent to the Noakhali jail. After being imprisoned for three months he was released on 8/12/71…(excerpts).
Hiralal Karmokar wrote: 25 Boiskhak while all our family members were fleeing to neighbouring India on Jessore CNB road we were caught by Rajakars who looted our belongings and took away my son. He has not returned ever since.
Living in a time when there is mass outcry for trying the war criminals of 1971, these covers provide crucial evidence of the carnage cause by the Pakistani forces and their local collaborators. These covers may not be admissible in the court of law, but through their small yet effective words they touch our consciousness.
The 'descriptive covers' were sent for statistical purposes. They are possibly doing more than what they were meant for. Preserved in the albums of philatelists they are crying for justice and calling towards all humanity. They are living histories of a time of turbulence and a chronicle of cataclysm.
The compilation of letters of the Liberation War titled "Ekatturer Chithi" will be released on 27 March 2009 and will be available from Prothoma Publication at Aziz Supermarket (Ground Floor). The price is Tk 250.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed