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


A boy's memory of the war - 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


Indelible memories

Mustafa Zaman

The celebration, joy and glory of independence aside, 16 Dece-mber stands for many other emotional feelings for many Bangalis. Few months into the war, Dhakaities ceased to buy fishes from bazaars. It continued even after December 16, "as we didn't want to buy fishes that were thought to have been pecking at corpses. Hilsas were avoided altogether, as Hilsas are the ones that most likely to nibble at corpses," remembers Moham-mad Ali, who was a boy of class six in 1971.

Even for the homebound Muktijoddhas, Ali adds, things were not necessarily any better. Other than the sporadic fighting that claimed lives on the very day Bangladesh became an independent state, there was an incident of boat capsize on the river Buriganga on the night of December 16 that claimed 17 lives. These were "freedom fighters" who at the end of the war were just few minutes away from their homes.

However, for Aminul Islam, December 16 was an assurance of freedom. The two remained incarcerated in Dhaka Central Jail since May 12 and before they stepped out of that rat hole of a place they harboured little hope of coming out of it alive. They were among the first contingent of Muktijoddhas who were arrested during the war and sent to jail while awaiting trial.

War for Aminul Isalam means a flurry of memories marked by the battle to stay alive in custody and months of confinement in the Dhaka Central Jail. He along with his brother was the first few among the group of youngsters who had jumped into the bandwagon of Freedom Fighters. They were young and hot-blooded, ready to sacrifice their lives for their motherland. Aminul was only in his teens.

By April 1971, there were sporadic attacks on the dispersing Pakistani army in Tangail and Mymensing. The two brothers with their band of 30 to 35 friends had joined in the fight for freedom with whatever training they received on Bangladeshi soil. For their gallantry, they soon became known, and they were referred to as "two brothers" among the families that had relatives fighting against the Pak army in their native hometown, Mymensing. But in an unfortunate turn of event both ended up in the custody of the occupying army into the early days of fighting.

"On April 24, both of us found ourselves within the range of the Pak army machine gun. The predicament was such that we could either surrender or fire our three-knot-three rifles aiming at the enemy and die in the process," remembers Aminul.

Ambushed by the army Aminul and his brother Nurul Amin had no other option but to surrender. "It was my brother's cool head that saved our lives. He threatened me, told me he himself would shoot me if I opened fire," Aminul remembers how his brother's insistence led to the surrender.

The date of their surrender coincided with the fall of Mymensing to the re-enforced Pak army. From Mymensing Cantonment, where they were severely beaten and tortured, the two brothers were sent off to Dhaka Cantonment. "My brother had a suave look and was in khaki, and he was suspected of being a jawan of the mutinous Bengal regiment. But we kept telling them that we were students who were given arms and ammunitions by a teacher, a figure I concocted," Aminul adds.

Aminul spoke Urdu well, and that helped. But a young Major, saved their lives. He took pity on them and helped gain them the status of "prisoners of war" and sent them to the Dhaka Central Jail.

Before this, in Mymensing, where the Pak army was fuelling in rage as they kept receiving casualties, the brothers were saved as a young boy, a son of an officer they killed, recognised them. "The boy recognised my brother. Before our arrest, we were involved in an operation at Mymensing Cantonment. The attack killed around eighty of the Pak army. My brother saved the family of a slain officer, and one of the two boys, the elder, was given bread as he was hungry," Aminul draws on his memory. "The boy recognised my brother in custody, he kept telling the Pak officers, 'This man fed me bread.' This had a life saving effect."

Most of the wounds that they received were on the day when the news of two Bangalis being caught spread and the dispersing Pak army returned to the cantonment from the railway station to clobber the two young "specimen of the enemy". "That was the day we thought we would die. But we survived that onslaught as well as the torture that followed," recalls Aminul.

During those days, the Pak army was desperate for information. They kept squeezing the lives out of the brothers for clues to the Muktibahini and their actions. The brothers were considered detainees from whom valuable facts were to be gathered, and this made the Pakistanis keep the two alive.

On the 16th, for the two recently freed brothers, after the release, going back to their hometown was an epic journey of sorts.

Their freedom predates few crucial developments in the month of December 1971. "Niazi declared war on India on December 2, and as the Indian army moved along with the Muktibahini towards Dhaka, Mymensingh fell on December 10," Aminul notes. They, the incarcerated freedom fighters, came to know of it through a sympathetic Bihari constable at the Central Jail. "This constable had brought the news to us, he said, 'your country will soon be freed,'" Aminul recalls. He and his brother were among the two and a half thousand fighters who were kept in the Central Jail.

"There were Baluch soldiers, a lot of them, who had refused to fight the Bangalis in the war and for that they later landed in jail. They were brought in on the pretext of fighting the Indians. When on the battlefield they confronted an enemy who recites Koranic verses before dying, they refused to fight," Aminul provides a glimpse of his experience. He built a rapport with Baluchis who shared with him the tale of "oppressive Punjabis foisting their language and rules on people of different race and culture."

"There were two Indian BSF jawans captured from the battlefield and it is these two by the name of Kripan Sing and Manda Thapa that the Indian army came to fetch at 8.30 in the morning of December 16. They left the door open for us to get out," Aminul reconstructs the event that led to their freedom.

After that it was another long haul, "From the Central Jail to the Medical College Hospital, the roads were teeming with relatives of the missing Freedom Fighters who went to war. Many stopped us as we walked toward Shahbagh to describe their missing sons or brothers in the hope to find them".

In the Suhrwardy Uddyan the Pak army was surrendering, and past that at Farmgate, Aminul and his brother had to halt "as fighting continued in the cantonment area, where there were army personnel who did not yet decide to surrender."

The two brothers were determined to return home as soon as possible. "Avoiding the crossfire-zone, we went to seek help from the Awami League (AL) office at Mohakhali. As no one knew what had happened to us, many thought we had died long ago. At AL office some even suspected my brother of being a Pak soldier in disguise, as his feature was akin to the Punjabis," Aminul remembers. But, soon the confusion was cleared and arrangements were made for the two to travel up to Joydevpur on a ramshackle truck. "From that place on we had to walk till Mouchawk of Tangail. At Joydevpur we witnessed the ongoing battle between the Indian and Pak forces and again my brother was questioned, this time by the Indian army, for having a Punjabi look," recalls Aminul.

They reached Mymensingh at eight in the morning, December 17. "There was an inmate name Farid whom we left behind in Dhaka, our first task was to inform his parents about his release," Aminul reflects.

When he and his brother returned to their own hometown where they were least expected, there was an outburst of collective passion. "A throng of people came to wail, as they all thought we had died. My father and mother were speechless. Mother, whom I forced to leave town for the village at the onset of the war, had cried through the war for her two sons," Aminul emotionally recalls.

The brothers' return made their Muktijoddha friends frenzied with joy. As they came to visit, one of them said, "We considered you to be the casualty of the war, a sacrifice we had to make to gain freedom."

Tales of the tortured

Many women who participated actively in the 1971 war were arrested and kept in camps experiencing inhuman conditions. Rape, torture and in many cases death was common in those camps. We tell the stories of two women participants who were subjected extreme nature of abuse and brutality. To protect the privacy of these women, we have changed their identities.

Adila Begum
When the Pakistan army cracked down in Dhaka we were angry but not scared. We belonged to a family of politicians and our eldest brother was a Chhatra League leader in the Comilla city. He came home a few nights after that and told our family to prepare to fight in the resistance army. He said that the army had already moved close along the Gumti river. There were 19 of us from the same bari and we began to train to fight alongside our brothers.

The first fight took place in Burichong thana and we suffered heavy casualties. Our weapons were not good enough to fight the Pakistan army guns. Some of us were cut off from the main group and we ran to hide through the swampy area. We found some derelict huts that night and stayed in them. Three days later we skirted the area and tried to return home but found that the army had attacked our home. I later learned that my brother and two of my cousins were killed. I finally made it after almost a month moving from place to place with my younger brother and cousin along with some other refugees.

Till the middle of April, life was relatively simple, but things got worse when the local leaders began to talk about raising "village defenders." Actually the idea was not bad because the defenders -- who were later called razakars -- were local people and we knew them all. They were the poor villagers who had no work so this new job made them better off. They didn't bother us, but once the Pakistan army declared prizes for catching Muktis, these razakars became greedy and started to demand money from us, threatening to tell the Pakistan army if we did not pay.

After a month we became so scared that my father sent my sister and me to Comilla town. We were going towards a relative's house when the army began to stop all rickshaws and check them. Suddenly two men were running through the street and the army fired at them. Both were hit. We became so scared that we also started to run and there was complete chaos. I fell down and hit my head. When I regained my senses, I realised I was being slapped by a Khansena. They dragged me and two others into a truck and we were taken to the military camp.

From the very first day they thought I was also a freedom fighter and beat me up. I don't know why they didn't kill me because they did everything else. There were several girls like me in the camp and we were regularly tortured. Then they thought that it was much better to let me cook and clean. I became their servant. They wouldn't let me wash or clean myself and I smelt foul. I cooked -- lal kumra and lau and bhat -- for other Bengalis. They ate chapati and I made tons of them. Even now, years later, I can't make chapatis, and seeing them makes me sick.

One day an officer came and without saying anything started to beat me up. Maybe being raped would have been better because hours later when I regained consciousness, I had found that I had lost so many of my teeth and my forehead was bleeding. The scars are still there. I later learnt his best friend had been killed in a fight. Next day I was dragged out and made to clean ditches and then prepare chapatis.

I taught myself one thing -- that was not to think of my family or what would happen the next day. If I did I would have gone mad. So slowly the faces faded from memory. I think it helped me survive.

When winter came, a Pakistani soldier told me that war was imminent. He also said that they would be gone soon and I would be free. The he did something strange. He searched me including my private parts looking for hidden gold. He must have been mad to think I still had gold with me after all this time.

But war did come and one day we heard them leave. Before they left they killed a few prisoners, but expecting this some of us hid outside. It was almost a full day before the Indians came, but we were so scared and stupid we didn't go out. Even the Indians didn't know we were there, a few of us. They freed us and gave us food. I first took a bath, cleaned my body properly of blood and dirt, and went home.

The nightmare of being a woman in a camp has imprisoned me ever since then.

Hanufa Khatun
We knew the Pakistan army would attack ordinary people. When the army crossed the river and slowly began to take over the towns, resistance began to give away and the partisans began to retreat. We were caught in a vicious circle. If we crossed the border, the Indian army might kill us for being Leftists, and if we stayed back the Pakistanis could kill us. But after a fight with the Pakistanis that we lost we retreated into the remote areas and hills. There we tended the wounded including my husband who had taken a bullet in his arm. When several others also became very ill and no medical help was found, I with another woman decided to go to the city to find a doctor. Just as we were entering the city, we were recognised by a group of collaborators who hated us for being women activists and grabbed us. My friend managed to run but they caught my sari and I couldn't escape.

Yet I was caught because these people hated my husband and his family. I was not political myself and I think I was caught because they couldn't get my husband. I had returned only to help heal my husband but they said I had fought in the resistance war.

The gang members, all of whom belonged to the Islamic parties, first raped me and then left me tied up. I thought I was going to die, but I didn't. It was so strange to feel that way, as if my body belonged to someone else, as if another person had been raped. I didn't feel a thing that day. It was next day that it began to hurt all over. Such pain that I screamed like a butchered animal and my captors came and beat be some more. I bled again and blanked out.

After two days, I was taken to a Pakistan army camp. My captors told the army that I had fought against them, but I was bleeding and I fell to the ground and fainted. I think the Pakistani officers didn't believe them and I was later surprised to find one of them beaten up too. I got my first meal -- some bread and water -- after that I realised that I was a prisoner.

I was made to do a lot of menial work, but nobody questioned me. I saw many local boys in the camp including some that had fought in the resistance. Sometimes in the evening, shots were fired. They said we were being killed.

One of the women in the camp was the wife of a college teacher who had been killed and knew me. Her husband was a teacher of Islamic studies. She herself could speak Arabic and Urdu. The Pakistanis soon found that out and used her to talk to the prisoners to find out if India was helping us or not. One day she read the Quran to them and after that there was an argument about whether it was right to keep her inside. Finally they decided to let her go and she said that she wouldn't leave without me. These soldiers didn't know anything about my husband's politics and the captors had been discredited so her words helped me. I was released.

When I reached home I found that my husband had died soon after my capture and so I left with my brother-in-law for India. We stayed as refugees and then through the party channel reached Kolkata. When I returned in January, my brother-in-law got into trouble again, and our family had to flee once more.

Courtesy Afsan Chowdhury from his forthcoming book on the Liberation War.


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