ecstasy of victory
nation again celebrates its day of emancipation,
marking the victory of an armed struggle
to freedom from more than two decades of
political and economic subjugation. The
background of the struggle is too well-known
and its defined or undefined goals have
been analysed for the umpteenth time to
bear any repetition. Glowing tributes have
been paid to heroes for sacrificing lives
or the significant contributions they made.
The philosophical basis of the struggle
and its victory has been eulogised, and
derailments, if any, lamented. This is how
it has been and will continue to be. Happily,
a grateful nation celebrates the most glorious
saga of its history written in blood, remembering
it to restrengthen a nationhood, so fondly
dreamt of, and finally achieved.
column is a humble attempt at recreating
some of the flavour of those moments of
victory -- immediately preceding or following
16th December, 1971. It recalls incidents
-- significant or small -- that form very
much a part of an unwritten history. This
endeavour is partly inspired by a streak
of fate which placed me, as a small bureaucrat,
close to the center-stage where this great
drama was being enacted and partly by my
abiding interest in the events as something
of a discerning observer. Both combined
to create a compelling urge in me to narrate,
to write -- as a part of my individual tribute
to the glory of the Day.
immediately preceding 16th December were
painfully agonising with information on
the war front trickling scantily down --
disturbing rumours floating all around.
Information regarding near and dear ones
being missing or traceless were depressing.
Broadcasts from Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra
were available to only those who had access
to them. Radio Pakistan or Dhaka Television
was abhorred. Recapitulating personal experiences,
in that context, become impelling.
abandoning my official residence at 67 Circuit
House with my paralysed father and my old
mother -- at moment's notice on the basis
of ominous tips -- with the entire house
left unlocked -- and trying to flee to my
ancestral home in Munshiganj just before
the curfew started -- were harrowing experiences.
The visit undertaken from Showa-righat in
a boat was aborted by the indiscriminate
firing by Pakistan Army which resulted in
my father being abandoned at the ancestral
house of Gazi Bhai and Mrs Fatima Malik
(Gazi Bhai is the present Chairman of Eastern
Bank Ltd) at Nolgola.
rushed back to our house to collect the
bare minimum and with the curfew dawning,
we had to seek refuge in the house of our
friend Shamsul Alam at Shantinagar because
there was not enough time for us to go to
Nolgola. We lost communication with Nolgola
since there was no telephone at that place.
We spent days gossiping about our fate and
the fate of the war itself. Indian jets
flying over, diving and bombing Dhaka were
the only solacing experience of those agonising
hours. We heard that Airport and Bangabhaban
were bombed which was strategically designed
to break the morale of the Pakistan Army.
those desperate hours of waiting and being
totally confined, the final hour arrived
as the news of Pakistan Army Surrender broke.
Crowds in thousands thronged the streets
in jubilation, welcoming columns of Indian
Tanks and Muktibahini entering Dhaka.
encircled Hotel Intercontinental where Governor
Malik and the top brass of Pakistan Army
were billeted under the care of International
Red Cross. Beyond all the jubilation one
could feel a deep sense of patriotism and
pride emanating from the look of every Bengali
-- sincere and spontaneous -- welcoming
a free sovereign nation. Huge newspaper
coverage of war heroes -- Bangabir Kader
Siddiqui with his beard, long hair and combat
outfit, host of other heroes like Col Shafiullah,
Col Khaled Mosharraf, Col Ziaur Rahman and
other not-too-celebrated heroes kept on
pouring inspiring those feelings of the
moment to newer heights. Pictures of the
surrender of General Niazi started appearing
to finally nail the expectation of those
who were still living in an elusive dream
for intervention by the Seventh Fleet of
Nixon -- Kissinger to resurrect Pakistan.
events -- small and big -- victory receptions,
seminars, experiential narratives of the
preceeding nine months were all dominated
by a pervasive and strong message of idealism
dedicated to the dream of building the new
nation up. It was a message of immeasurable
strength, resonating everywhere in every
one's voice, in all writings -- all pervasive.
message sometimes lacked details, a little
hazy, not too articulate -- but clear in
its inner content of building a prosperous
Bangladesh under the leadership of Bangabandhu
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In my humble judgment,
this outpouring of idealism -- honest, sincere
and spontaneous -- was the most glorious
and precious experience of post-liberation
Bangladesh. This needed to be sustained
and the relative failure or success of that
endeavour will remain a puzzling question
to any student of Bangladesh's political
return to Bangabhaban, the potential seat
of subsequent national dramas. The entire
staff of Bangabhaban jubilantly welcoming
me with a sigh of relief, I take command
of the house because I was the only officer
available to perform that historic act.
I find the infrastructure in disarray, Indian
bombing damaging a part of the building
badly and the furniture all broken. My first
act was to visit the deserted office of
General Forman Ali at the ground floor,
the nerve-centre of many sinister initiatives.
I found the room littered with papers, shredded
and burnt. After intensive search for a
few hours, I recovered some documents of
strategic and historic importance. I immediately
called the then Home Secretary Mr Khaleq
and sent all the papers to him with the
discreet attention they deserved.
trying to set the Bangabhaban in order,
I was summoned on the afternoon of 20th
December for a meeting at the Home Secretary's
Office at the Secretariat. The meeting was
attended by Late Mr Nurul Qader Khan, beloved
Jhilu Bhai, Awami League leaders Late Mr
Gazi Golam Mostafa and Mr Moizuddin.
was told that the Mujib Nagar Cabinet was
to arrive at 11 am next day and Bangabhaban
must be made ready to accommodate the entire
cabinet. I was perplexed, bewildered --
not knowing what to do on such a short notice.
Mr A Hye, SDO, Dhaka Sadar South, a person
of boundless energy came to my rescue. He
suggested we might call Mr. Sattar, the
owner of Purbani Hotel and seek his assistance.
I did and Mr Sattar graciously responded.
no money, not a penny, arrangements for
lunch, dinner, breakfast, were made by the
Staff for 200 people -- thanks to the cooperation
of the entire Thataribazar establishment
providing food and other items on credit
-- gracefully and voluntarily extended for
almost a month. The slogan in the Bazar
was -- our government must be fed and supported
at all cost. Small individuals inspired
by the spirit of 16th December, each contributing
his part only made this possible.
the overwhelming task of administering a
new nation with policy level structures
still located in Rawalpindi was a huge challenge.
There was no central bank, no ministry of
foreign affairs to attend to international
obligations which were of critical importance,
no agency to conduct economic relations
with potential foreign donors -- all were
conspicuously absent. The foreign minister's
office was set up at one corner of my own
office in Bangabhaban with a table fixed
for Mr Abdus Samad Azad; the Central Bank
Act was drafted, and a cabinet meeting would
be held almost everyday with vital matters
coming before it. In those difficult times,
the contribution made by Mr Ruhul Quddus,
Mr Khandaker Asaduzzaman, Mr Taufiq Imam
should be remembered with gratitude.
political scene was dominated by the absence
of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the
anxiety over his absence continuously providing
a destabilising factor. Both Acting President
Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Mr
Tajuddin demonstrated admirable statesmanlike
qualities and political acumen in handling
what was an extr-emely difficult situation.
While they provided the leadership, host
of other government officials at every level
and all professional groups worked tirelessly
imbued with and inspired by the noble goals
of building a new nation.
have travelled a long way as a nation --
with triumphs and disappointments. The march
is yet to be over; clearly and most certainly
we need the spirit of the 16th to take us
to greater glories.
of a diplomat
M Rezaul Karim
boy came running, huffing and puffing, and
placed some tabloid newspapers on my table.
He looked up at me proudly, as if he had
returned home after a victorious battle.
It was, nevertheless, the Victory Day, the
long-awaited 16 December,1971. The marauding
Pakistani troops surrendered unconditionally
at Dhaka, thereby heralding the birth of
a new sovereign independent state of Bangladesh.
were at 24 Notting Hill Gate, the seat of
the unofficial Bangladesh Mission in London.
This was set up formally on 27 August 1971
by the gracious courtesy of a kindly gentleman,
Donald Chesworth of the War on Want, on
his premises at a nominal rent. The British
government closed its eyes to our activities
about the liberation movement on condition
that we did not permanently fly the flag
of Bangladesh on the building till Her Majesty's
government accorded recognition to Bangladesh
as a sovereign, independent nation.
Head of Mission was the late Justice Abu
Sayeed Chowdhury, who had been designated
as the Special Overseas Representative of
Bangladesh by the Mujibnagar government
and was authorised to lead and guide the
liberation movement all over the world outside
India. We already had full-fledged diplomatic
Missions in India. Justice Chowdhury, whose
Deputy I was, was then away to New York
donning his other hat as the leader of the
unofficial delegation to the United Nations.
As a matter of fact, most part of the months
of October, November and December he was
away to New York lobbying hard at the UN
and during his absence the responsibility
of working as the Acting Head of our Mission
in London was entrusted upon me.
with my colleagues and compatriots, we were
waiting eagerly to learn about the details
of the glory our valiant freedom fighters
and comrade-in- arms from across the borders.
We sent some volunteers to the Fleet Street,
the media centre of London, to bring us
copies of special supplements of newspapers
even before those hit news stands. That
explained the mark of the proud satisfaction
with which the young man handed over the
supplements to me. Before I could thank
him adequately, everyone swooped on the
publications. As they were reading, some
loudly, their brown faces turned browner
could not even prevent shedding tears of
joy, unparalleled and unbounded joy. Meanwhile,
streams of compatriots from all around the
city of London came rushing into the Mission.
Many of them brought sweets, many restaurateurs
brought food, and all of them distributed
those among themselves and consumed happily.
People were laughing, hugging each other
and were beside themselves with joy. Everyone
had the unmixed pleasure and immense satisfaction
at the end of the genocide on their people
and raised hands in prayer to the Almighty
in gratitude. It was an all- pervasive scene
of happiness, an experience of one's lifetime
and hard to describe in words.
the formal entry of India into the war,
we knew that our victory was assured. It
was then merely a matter of time. But the
time seemed long and all Bangladeshis living
abroad started becoming impatient and apprehensive.
Finally, the news of the surrender of Pakistani
troops in Dhaka and the emergence of Bangladesh
as an independent nation on the map of the
world came as an unprecedented bliss. We
heaved a sigh of relief and were happy to
realise that we now could go back home and
be with our kith and kin and friends again.
situation of Bangladeshi diplomats and officials
in Pakistani Missions abroad was somewhat
different from that of normal Bangladeshi
expatriates living abroad. Whereas the latter
could easily and unobtrusively join the
Bangladesh movement and go to any length
in anti- Pakistani propaganda without harming
their vocation or employment, this was not
so in case of Bangladeshi diplomats and
officials living abroad. Strong surveillance
used to be carried on them by the Pakistani
passports were taken away and names and
addresses in Pakistan of their parents and
close relations taken for possible future
reprisal. Any indication of indulgence in
anti-Pakistani activities would normally
make the authorities send the suspected
officials back to (West) Pakistan for dismissal
or face dire consequences. Those of us who
had severed all connections with the Pakistani
regime and publicly expressed allegiance
to the Mujibnagar government had to evade
machinations of the Pakistan authorities
to send us back to Pakistan.
were then resigned to the fate of a political
émigré or refugee and to remain
prepared never to return home again. Over
and above that, unlike other expatriates,
it was not easy for a former diplomat to
get a job to sustain himself.
boy's memory of the war
the memory of a time of which I'm not expected
to remember. It's a tale of a time, I learnt
much later in life, when Bangladesh was
making lead headlines in the world media.
It's a tale of a glory to be remembered
for the generations to come. It's a tale
of a failure when citizens got divided over
the country's independence.
was nineteen seventy-one and I was a five-year-old
boy, just promoted to class one from the
was a late spring day and I saw my father
going out, with a shovel in his hand, to
prevent the enemy from advancing towards
the little town of Jhenidah. Our family
lived in the cadet-college campus one-and-a-half
miles north of Jhenidah town since my father
was a teacher there. The news came that
Pakistani army were approaching from the
eastern side of the college. I didn't know
why. It was quite easy for them to attack
from the south from Jessore cantonment.
hour later, he came back, his clothes wet.
He said the Pak army were firing machine
guns and his shovel was no match against
that kind of weapons. Fighting a regular
army with a shovel? "Go jump in the
lake," said members of the Mukti Fauz
who were actually resisting the army. My
father literally did that. He hid himself
under water of the canal that ran through
next day, when the air raid began, he said
we have to go to the college mosque because
the planes would not bomb the mosque. When
air raids stopped for a while, he sent my
mother to the mosque with a group of his
colleagues. He could have sent me and my
three-year-old brother along with them.
I don't why he didn't.
little later, he started for the mosque
holding our hands. It was a mile's walk.
Halfway to the mosque, the planes came back
but they didn't seem to have any intention
to bomb on the campus. But every time a
plane came overhead, our father ran to the
roadside ditch and made us lie down like
don't remember when and how we left the
mosque. The next day or probably the day
after we were back in our house, and I heard
my dad's colleague, Ghulam Gilani Nazr Murshid,
asking him to leave the campus.
there was no way one could escape through
the east, west or the south. For once, my
father thought of heading towards Chuadanga
where our village was located. He gave up
the idea when he learnt we would have to
pass by Jhenidah East Pakistan Rifles camp
which, by then, was taken by the Pakistani
army. He decided to head for Kushtia town
where my maternal relations lived.
was absolutely no transport on the road.
Four of us got on a rickshaw with one suitcase
and began our 28-mile journey towards Kushtia.
There was another family who were going
to Bheramara. I still wonder why these two
rickshaw-pullers agreed to take us.
traveling about eight miles, when we approached
a place called Garaganj, we saw many army
jeeps and trucks in the ditches. A little
further, there was a big ditch. If I remember
it properly, it was the size of half a cricket
pitch. My father said it was actually a
trap dug by the Mukti Bahini. This was how
they stopped the Pak convoys going to Kushtia,
my father described.
father and his colleague along with two
rickshaw-pullers carried the rickshaws over
the ditch to the other side. Then, we started
don't remember how long it took us to reach
Kushtia. But when we arrived there, it was
a ghost town. And when we got to the house
where my mother grew up, it was an empty,
burnt. For quite some time, my father didn't
know what to do; where to go. In about twenty
minutes while we were still wondering, my
chhoto mama [youngest among maternal uncles],
who had gone to war, arrived like a godsend.
The next thing I knew that we were on a
boat crossing the river Gorai going to Hatash
Haripur the village adjacent to Shilaidah.
they were the entire family of my Nana [maternal
grandfather] at his village house. After
coming through a ghost town, his house seemed
like a haat [village market] to me.
didn't understand much of war except for
Mukti Bahini rushing for shelter, occasional
arrival of the EPR personnel, and remote
sounds of gunshots and bombing. But I remember
my mother crying all the time when father
had to flee the village when razakars started
to hunt him down. There was also one occasion
when we had to evacuate Nana's house and
spend a night at place of man who was thief
from that, as children, we were quite happy,
since we were a big bunch with all the children
gathered in one house. Most of the time,
we played war games with wooden guns hand
grenades. Our bigger cousins would be the
sector commanders and Mukti Bahinis, making
us either Pak army or the razakars. Sands
and bushes by the bank of Garai were perfect
battleground for us.
in fact everyone, got scared when the Indian
army began air raid in early November. Everyone
was also very happy to see the Indian air
force in action. However, the elders started
to run helter-skelter they were frantically
looking for somebody who knew to draw the
map of Bangladesh, for they wanted to hoist
Bangladesh's flag so that Indian pilots
don't bomb that place. The only person who
knew how to draw the map was Nilu Apa daughter
of my boro mama [eldest among my maternal
uncles]. Nilu Apa drew the map on a yellow
cloth and one of my aunties stitched the
map as quickly as possible.
Nana got the tallest bamboo from one of
his gardens and lifted the flag on the roof
of his two-story house. Surprisingly, this
incident erased all marks of fear from the
face of our elders who we saw very tense
and terrified all through the war. And by
then, father had come back and my Nana hid
him inside a mosque for his safety. He also
came out from his hideout when he understood
that Bangladesh was winning the war.
were many things during of war that I didn't
understand. But one thing that was clear
to me, as my elders were saying, that we
were emerging as an independent country.