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,"
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
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.
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."
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
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,"
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
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."
of the tortured
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
nightmare of being a woman in a camp has
imprisoned me ever since then.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Afsan Chowdhury from his forthcoming book
on the Liberation War.