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     Volume 7 Issue 2 | January 11, 2008 |

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Human Rights

The Tragedy of Indifference

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

The monument commemorating the victims of the January 6, 1972 mine blast at the Maharaja Girizanath High School in Dinajpur.

Up until recently, I was under the impression that Bangladesh's liberation movement in 1971 was something that all the citizens of our nation took pride in. I believed that our nation was strong and unique, because of what our people endured. I thought that our freedom fighters and martyrs would always be respected as people who gave their life for the betterment of our nation. These days, unfortunately, I am sad to say that I was mistaken.

The power of collective memory is said to be strong enough to move mountains. The memory of the Holocaust, for example, is still sharply embedded into many Jewish minds, even though some of them are too young to have actually experienced it, or even know anyone who has. Despite that, they recognise what the Nazis did to their people and they take pride in the strength and valour shown by their people during that terrible time.

In the case of Bangladesh, sadly, the memory of the liberation war and the genocide inflicted on the people by the Pak Army and their collaborators is fading more and more every day. We see proof in this from the way the collaborators of 1971 are still able to roam freely in Bangladesh, without having to answer for their actions. To add insult to injury, one of them, just a few months ago, even had the nerve to publicly deny that there were ever any war crimes, claiming that the war in 1971 was a 'civil war.' Outrageously, he said it on T.V., because this man, ironically enough, is actually an influential person. The fact that he was allowed to make such a comment especially after what our people suffered thanks to the collaborators helping out the Pak Army, speaks volumes about how complacent the people in our country are.

To be fair, the people of Bangladesh did protest against such a grossly erroneous statement, and thus started a movement for the war criminals to be brought to justice. But the ultimate question on everybody's mind is, why did it take so long for this to happen. It is 2008 now, we are embarking on our 37th year of liberation. It has been long enough for the memory to grow dull in peoples' minds, but not, apparently long enough to round up all the collaborators of 1971 and punish them.

There is more pressure now to further the process of trying and punishing those who are guilty of being traitors and therefore, causing the many freedom fighters of this country their lives, but it is a shame that it had to come to this -- that a man can openly refute a historical event and that is when the people of Bangladesh finally realise that enough is enough.

According to an article in the Daily Star called Dinajpur 'Mine Blast Tragedy' Day Today, January 6 marks the anniversary of a tragic loss of over a hundred lives. In 1972 after the war was over, the freedom fighters of Sectors 6 and 7 of EBR set up a transit camp, under the supervision and leadership of Captain Shariar, at the Maharaja Girizanath High School ground to round up the soldiers from the areas of Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh and Joypurhat. Captain Shariar and the men in the transit camp set out to find various hidden explosives and ammunition that were left by the Pak Army. Unfortunately, one of the landmines accidentally went off as they were loading all the explosives in a truck and caused a huge explosion killing hundreds of freedom fighters and civilians.

What makes it all the more disturbing is that not many people know about or commemorate this particular incident. These freedom fighters survived the actual war but were never able to live their dream -- the dream of an independent nation for which they fought with their own blood and sweat. Their story is even more tragic in some ways than those who were martyred in 1971, because they were almost there, they almost made it; they were so close to freedom and just at the last minute, when they were able to regain hope and revel in the elation of liberation, this unfortunate accident occurred and they were never able to see the 'fruit' of their labours.

Our people, like most other nations, have had their share of suffering. Sadly, however, is that the lifespan of the memory of 1971 is getting shorter and shorter. Many people think that remembering the past will breed negativity and hatred, thereby making it even harder to move on in the long run. After all, they say, why not forgive and forget and let bygones be bygones? But this demand for war criminals to be punished is not about forgiving or not forgiving. It is about the fact that every individual has to be answerable for his actions. It is about seeking justice for the thousands of victims who perished because of the treachery of people from their own community. In addition one has to realise that remembering what our forefathers have gone through does not necessarily mean being negative and morbid. There are many positive lessons that we can learn from the past. We know that our country was worth dying for, we know that people believed in our nation, we know that these martyrs had faith in us, the generations to come, to follow through and continue their legacy for a new and independent Bangladesh.

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