Tell it as it was -- Afsan Chowdhury


Bir Farid: The only son of a mother - Shamsul Hossain


Journey to victory - Major Genral Shafiullah spoke to Kaushik Sankar Das

'I would rather die than sign any false statement' - An interview with 'Weekly Bichitra'

'I would rather die than sign any false statement' - Arnold Zeitlin


A terrifying victory day -- Shamsher Chowdhury


'Our past has become unpredicatable' - Major General Moin-ul Hussain Choudhury speaks


Streets of Dhaka on 16 December - Nilufar Begum


The ecstasy of victory -- Nurul Islam Anu


Through the eyes
of a diplomat - MM Rezaul Karim


A boy's memory of the war - Ekram Kabir


Fall of 'Dacca'- Siddiq Salik


Towards nation's prosperity -- Ashraf
Al Deen


The story of six brothers -- Akbar Hossain


As I look back -- A
M M Shawkat Ali


on Kalachara -- Lieutenant
General M Harun-Ar-Rashid, BP


assemblages -- Major
Qamrul Hassan Bhuiyan


memories -- Mustafa Zaman


of the tortured


Fearless Female Fighters -- Manisha


Following the path of freedom -- Fayza Huq


Passion for independence -- Novera Deepita


Depicting the actual massacre -- Afsar Ahmed


Missing links of history- Brigadier General M. Sakhawat Hussain


Looking the past in the eye - Habibul Haque Khondker


Tell it as it was

Afsan Chowdhury

A group of us have spent the last two years trying to put together a collection of narratives, interviews and chronologies on the history of 1971 prefaced by simple introductions. They are a collection of facts that could be gathered from various sources including first hand renderings. Sometime next year we hope to publish it as a book.

But it hasn't been easy overcoming lack of time, resources, people and organisation but this was expected. The most difficult enemy has been our own minds. It isn't easy to seek factual shores in a sea of partisan memories and nationalist imaginations.

Our problem is ourselves, the history that we insist we experienced. This pre-emptor has led to such severe self-censorship that we probably no longer can say with clarity and confidence what really happened in 1971.

When I was with the Muktijuddher Dolil Patra Prokolpo between 1978 and 1984, I was told by some that our work should "uphold the noblest intentions of history, even if that means ignoring certain facts". We were expected to serve the nation through history, not serve history. We didn't listen but this approach is at the root of many conflicts and a dispute that has made research on 1971 history itself controversial.

We know that most look for endorsement of the collective nationalist assumptions and contemporary political positions in 1971 history. As we are biased towards facts, we know our work will probably displease everyone.

So what should we do? Why do we go on?

Of the several reasons, one is this sense of last opportunity. I myself was barely 18 years old in 1971 but have left fifty well behind now. So many of the witnesses are either dead or missing or living with defunct memories. If there are very few disinterested talkers around, there are even fewer disinterested listeners left. There may not be another chance to do this task.

To construct this half heard history fogged by time and other blemishes the most dependable source, we found are those who have no stake in recording history, nothing to gain or lose from this exercise. They are probably the starving widow, the impoverished peasant, the small timer. The unknown coward, sometimes the unknown hero, always running, occasionally fighting back, sheltering, hunting, the surviving ordinary human being who has the least sense of history.

He is sometimes bad, sometimes good but always honest about his past because the past gives him nothing. He knows history never keeps promises. So it liberates him from the task of using history to build nations or fortunes. Nation building passed him by so he is free to speak as he has no stake in the future of the same either.

Just as a man facing death has no stake in life anymore.

One of the best interviews I have done was that of India's Defence Secretary in 1971, Mr. K.B. Lal. Three years back he was in his eighties, very ailing but still so formidable that Indian stalwarts in power didn't have the courage to call him up to get an appointment for me. I was left with a telephone number and a warning that he didn't take kindly to prying souls. His family told me that he had agreed to talk for just 30 minutes.

We met on Deepavali day. He offered me spice tea, shooed away his visitors and sitting in his wheelchair, mumbled slowly, answering questions with such fierce intellect and wit that I was bowled over with admiration for men who have administered India to its present state.

The family was gathered around to hear him speak but I had reached my time limit. I was very reluctantly about to end, when he said with irritation, "What's the matter with you? Have you run out of curiosity? I am giving real answers to real questions." We went on.

He spoke with candour and clinical precision demolishing all sentimentality about the nature and progress of the war and its attendant politics. And it was real because it seemed to me that K.B. Lal had nothing to gain from that interview. His family said afterwards that he had never spoken this way even to them about 1971. I have never found any cause to doubt a sentence and I think his strength lay in his knowledge that they were his very final years.

This liberation is necessary for telling it like it was. Mr. Lal had nothing to gain and the poor has none either. In our work we have collected the narratives not just from the mega players whom we always hear but from the voices we never do. The day labourer, the landless peasant, the farmer, the village housewife, the vendor, the University night guard, the dead scavenger's wife, the woman who hurled grenades as a girl in 1971 and is still looking for a job, the female hospital darwan in the Upazila health centre punished for sitting down in front of the doctor today who in 1971 was captured from the battlefield still armed, the women who still searches for her son's severed head to be buried with the rest of the body, the soldier confessing his fears and his courage..

We know less about battles and bombs but know more about hunger and lost livelihoods and terror at the proximity of death, scarcity of rice and the price of molasses and the price of crossing a river to escape to India, the kind of stuff which nation builders or fresh patriotic generations can't easily borrow or would wish to read because they are so dull and no shiver of glory is ignited listening to them.

Most of these narrators have no interest in the past and to be honest no interest in Bangladesh and certainly not in the Awami League or the BNP. This makes them disdainful of the present too. They are just witnesses, reluctant ones, who have spoken because someone they trust stalked them for weeks, often months. We are grateful that we did. For once they should be recognised as what they really are: witnesses, no more, no less. It's their own history narrated by them with no purpose except to tell it as it was.

When will that be enough?

Bir Farid: The only son of a mother

Shamsul Hossain

Her two tottering feet cannot properly carry the burden of her own self, her vision has become blurred, she also hears everything feebly -- yet she had to move once in a month from the distant Dhalai village to the university campus. One young grandchild by her daughter used to accompany her often during this tedious journey for obtaining a cheque of one hundred and fifty taka only as allowance (the amount was later on enhanced) from the university accounts office. Her only son Muhammad Husain, was a Chainman of the Chittagong University engineering establishment, who gave his life in the turbulent confluence of the River Karnafully as a Naval Commando during the War of Liberation. The gallantry award of Birpratik was conferred upon him posthumous in recognition to his sacrifice.

Muhammad Husain was known as a naughty boy keen in organizing games and an apt football player. He couldn't concentrate in the classroom of nearby Katir Hat High School. Farid was his nickname. His father, depending on a small government job, was bearing the burden of the family. Ultimately Husain had to leave school and got a job of carrying and spreading the measuring chain. This young boy was enjoying his work in a rural setting where the University of Chittagong is located.

On March 1 of 1971, the declaration by President Yahya that the ensuing National Assembly session aroused the emotion of the apparently calm and quiet inhabitants of the Chittagong University campus too. In protest to an unjust act of the martial law government Muhammad Husain along with his colleagues immediately left their office. In an uncertain political situation the development work of the university came to a halt and Farid had no work. The dialogue with Yahya, the Racecourse Address of Bangabandhu, the crackdown of the Pakistan Army and the following waves of events were creating history and Farid of Dhalai along with the millions of Bangali youth were destined to be its valiant heroes by joining a new job the Liberation War.

Thirty-five young men of Dhalai-Farhadabad of Hathazari left their kith and kin for an unknown destination on 6 May 1971 and Muhammad Husain Farid was one of them. They reached Harina Camp after two days of hectic journey and were informed that commandos would be recruited for the naval operation. They all opted for it and most of them were short listed after a through check up of fitness for training at Palashi, the place of the historic war of Sirajuddaula and Clive on the bank of the Bhagirati river. They were lifted from Agartala by a Dakota plane for an air journey to Barrackpore from where they reached Palashi on a truck. The recruitment rule was that no only one son of a mother would be enlisted for the job, but Farid had hid his antecedents. Even his friend and compatriot Faruq did not know at that time that Farid was the only son of a mother.

The scheme for an integrated attack on all major sea and river ports of the then East Pakistan titled 'Operation Jackpot' was drawn and sixty commandos were briefed for action on the port of Chittagong. The first onslaught was very successful. The Pakistan occupation army did not remotely dream such an action from the side of the timid Bangalees, who were not sufficiently martial even to have a proper job in their rank. For a second operation on Chittagong harbour twenty-three commandos were selected, and Farid was included in this group also

They entered through Srinagar boarder and reached Chittagong town on 16 Septe-mber 1971 and observed that the occupation authority had drawn and executed a through security arrangement for protecting the port. Razakars and militias were deployed on the left bank of the river to keep surveillance and ward off miscreants. But the naval commandos had evaded all precautions of the occupation army under the disguise of ardent visitors to the locally famous shrine of Muhsin Auliya and crossed the river under their nose to reach village Gahira to target the ships at outer anchorage. Farid had fastened a 6 kg.heavy limpet mine on his chest and before plunging into the roaring water requested his leader-friend Faruq-i-Azam to read with him the kalima. It was a daring operation and Farid and his friends were wading back-stroke towards the target with cheers. Soon they faced an attack on their bare body from a concentration of shrimps in the whirling water of the confluence and four of them get lost in the sea. But the lifeless body of Muham-mad Husain Farid with a limpet mine on his chest came back from the sea into the river alone and it reached the pontoon of the Pakistan Navy at New Mooring only to take revenge.

The victory was achieved on the 16 December 1971, but Tambia Khatun lost her only son soon to become a popper. She died last year, nurturing all these days the memory of Farid Birpratik - her own flesh and blood. But the death of a hero's mother was not heralded by the tune of a bereaved bugle.

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