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     Volume 9 Issue 13| March 26, 2010|

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The Liberation War Museum celebrated its 15th anniversary on March 22 and marches on with a commitment to making the proposed Museum building a reality.

A Citizens' Effort

Akku Chowdhury

The Liberation War Museum (LWM) began its journey on March 22, 1996 when Orchi the granddaughter of a martyred intellectual Professor Rashid lit the eternal flame. Then the national flag was hoisted by the Deputy Chief of the Liberation Forces AVM A.K.Khundkar BU while hundreds of people sang the national anthem. There was a sudden downpour of early monsoon rain but nothing could stop the flame or the hoisting of the red and green flag -- the symbol of our freedom. It seemed the rain drops were the tears of the martyrs crying out with joy as the nation paid homage to them with a house of conscience.

The Museum was the brainchild of eight individuals who had no background in the study of museums, history or anthropology. These friends got together back in 1994 at a time when the history of Bangladesh and its struggle for freedom was being flaunted and shamelessly distorted. It was a time when people asking for the trial and punishment of war criminals were subjected to all sorts of harassment including a legal charge slapped on them for being 'anti state' elements. It was a time when the history books were being written for schools that avoided the heroic part of our liberation forces or the barbarism of the perpetrators of the Genocide, the Pakistan Military and their local collaborators. It even went to the extent that the name of India, who had not only sheltered over 10 million refuges but gave aid to the freedom fighters by means of shelter, training and arms, were erased. A generation grew up in Bangladesh not knowing the true history of the birth of the nation. Under this backdrop the Liberation War Memorial Trust was formed in June 1994 with a vision to collect and disseminate the information related to the liberation struggle. They believed the true history of the nation would inspire the new generation with the spirit of freedom to move the nation forward.

Students outside Dhaka visiting the mobile museum.

Amongst various agendas of the board, one of them was to build a museum that would house artifacts, objects and documents depicting the struggle and agony of the people to carve out a nation. One of the objectives was to present to the new generation facts from that period without making any interpretations and of course, distortions. It was not the agenda of this group to write the history but collect, preserve and display valid documents and vivid accounts of what happened during the liberation struggle of Bangladesh. It's for the next generation to interpret and write an objective history (if that is possible at all). This was a Herculean job of course, a fact which was always in the minds of the initiators. But they knew and believed they were just the catalysts, that once they appealed to the people in general the help in all forms would come forth to build the Museum. It turned out to be exactly so because freedom fighters, members of the martyred families, younger generation and people from all strata came with documents, objective recollections and most importantly funds and volunteering for various activities. It was the beginning of the making of a 'Citizens' Museum'.

Prime Project: Building a new Museum is now the primary
project for the LWM

In 2008, the LWM was allotted a 2.5 bigha land in Agargaon to the Museum Trust. A full-fledged museum with proper facilities and modern amenities will be built there. An open jury competition from architects was called from where the best design by young architect couple Farzan and Tanjim were selected. Funding is sought from all the well-wishers of the museum for the construction project. Any person or group can donate Taka 10,000 and buy a brick and have their names placed in the wall of donors. The Muktijuddho Smriti Trust (MST) also welcomes corporate/individual donors.

Anyone can contribute to the financing by becoming a:
Patron: Donation of Taka 50 lakhs.
Sponsor member: Corporate/individual donors contributing over Taka 15 lakhs.
Charter Member: Individuals contributing over Taka 3 lakhs.
The NBR has approved all donations to the museum will be Tax Deductable.

The donations can be made at any branches of the BRAC Bank or Janata Bank in an account dedicated for the Muktijuddho Jadughar Nirman or contact the Museum at 5 Segun Bagicha or call 955 9091-2 any day except Sunday.

It is hoped the construction will begin by the middle of this year and within three years the new Museum building will be inaugurated and the LWM will be housed there. As it claims to be a 'Citizen's Museum' it is appropriate that all the citizens of Bangladesh and the world contribute generously to build this Museum of Conscience for the world to see both the misdeeds and bravery of human beings.

In the last 14 years the Museum has not only become a symbol of our freedom struggle but a solace for the families who suffered so much and never found a shoulder to lean on. After visiting the galleries one can sit in the courtyard and contemplate what has happened and where we are going. It is hoped the Museum can connect an observer with contemporary issues with those of past to make them become involved in a dialogue.

As part of disseminating the history the Museum has taken up various innovative programmes that have made it a pro-active and popular institution.

The Outreach programme begun in 1997, was to bring in students from various schools and colleges to see the Museum. The programme is designed keeping in mind the time span of concentration by the young minds for such a visit. The participants are also encouraged to indulge in a dialogue to connect history with contemporary issues.

The Freedom Festival is held once every year, since 1998, with the participants of the 'Out- reach' programme. Freedom fighters are also present to talk to them. This is to reaffirm the bond between the young participants of Outreach and the Museum as a continuous process of learning and motivating them to spread the knowledge of history that the Museum attempted to disseminate to them. It's a fun filled day of music and dance performed mostly by the participating school students. Every year over 10,000 students join this festival of freedom.

Reach Out/Mobile Museum: In August 2001 a mobile museum was launched to travel all over Bangladesh. The big yellow bus was custom built with shelves and display cabinets to hold artifacts and objects from the liberation war. We also mounted some photographs and documents to bring to life a glimpse of what can be viewed at the larger museum in Dhaka. It was also equipped with audio-video equipment and a generator to show the documentaries in the remote areas. The mobile museum travels to assigned schools and colleges as per prior appointments and gives a presentation to the students and the local community.

The Museum is also a founder of the “International Coalition of Sites of Conscience”. The coalition brings together historic site museums in many parts of the world, at many stages of development, presenting and interpreting a wide variety of historic issues, events and people.

The coalition holds in common the belief that it is the obligation of historic sites to assist the public in drawing connections between history of our sites and its contemporary implications. We view stimulating dialogue on pressing social issues promoting humanitarian and democratic values as a primary issue. Along with the LWM other founder members are Lowers East Side Tenement Museum (USA), Slave Museum (Senegal), Pamatnik Terezen (Czech Republic), District Six (South Africa), The Workhouse (UK), National Park Services (USA), Gulag Museum (Russia) and the To Remember (Argentina).

Outreach programme: Students watching a documentary on Liberation War.

In July 1999, the LWM began excavating a mass grave of a 1971 massacre unearthed while construction work of a mosque in Muslim Bazar in Mirpur Section 12. The administration, media, local people supported the LWM and a youth body called Ekaturrer Smriti Parishad extended all kinds of assistance. The then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina once aware of the precarious work approved the Army to extend full support for the excavation as an 'aid of civil administration'. It was hoped a monument and street naming for the Martyrs of this massacre would be undertaken to remember those who sacrificed their lives for the motherland. Although no such action has been taken yet we hope before we celebrate this auspicious day next year this will be done.

After the Muslim Bazar excavation the Jalladkhan a (Slaughter House) located also in Mirpur (Section 10 Block D) was thus selected for immediate excavation and exhuming of remains of the 1971 Martyrs. The Bangladesh Army's 46 Brigade 7 Field Regiment Artillery and 43 Engineer Company assisted the LWM in this Herculean task. The excavation began on November 15, 1999. The exhuming ended on November 23. with the recovery of 70 skulls and 5392 various human bones. Most of the skulls revealed signs of being severed from the rest of the body with a sharp weapon and some bore marks of being struck by heavy weapons and one had a bullet hole shot from close range. Other bones also showed signs of being hit by a heavy weapon. LWM has transformed this site into a memorial park where people can come to seek peace from a site which once brought so much sadness and hatred.

It is most important that the truth should be revealed and what happened in 1971 needs to be known not to look backward but for the nation to move forward. Like a phoenix we can be born out of the ashes and fly to higher ground. But we must clear the ashes. Let us join together and clear the debris that has been thrown over the bodies of hundreds and thousands of Bangalis in 1971. Only then we shall know ourselves.

(Akku Chowdhury was the Founder Director and is a Trustee along with Aly Zaker, Dr. Sarwar Ali, Asaduzzaman Noor, Rabiul Hossain, Mofidul Hoque, Tariq Ali and Sara Zaker of the LWM).


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