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


Fearless female fighters

Manisha Gangopadhyay

When Shirin Banu joined the Liberation War of 1971, she disguised herself as a man. That was the only way she could take part and being woman did not stop her. Alamtaj Begum Chhobi was only 16 and though her mother was against her going to war and her community outcasted her, she still fought her way through those terrible days of 1971. Unlike Chobi, Farquan Begum's parents, freedom fighters of another war, trained her to fight. In her own word, "Fighting for freedom is in my blood."

Each freedom fighter joined the war efforts through political affiliations which acted as launch pads and support groups in the cause for freedom and independence. But they did not discontinue their struggle for humanity after the war was over. They continued to work for women's rights, environmental causes, peace.

It is unfortunate that those who fought the war were pretty much forgotten, because they have incredible stories to tell. It's strange how those who did the most for Bangladesh received the least in return.

Alamtaj Begum Chhobi
In 1971, I was just 16 year old and an active part of the leftist party of Barisal. I was too young to know what it really meant to be a political activist. I did not know what would become of me, what people would say.

I first came in contact with the leftist movement when I was in class 9. I started absorbing ideas through my brothers, Humayan Kabir and Firoz Kabir, who were very active in the movement. They would have their fellow party friends over the house quite often and I would overhear what they were talking about as I served them tea. I read the leaflets they left lying around the house. Pretty soon I was helping them write the leaflets and paint walls with slogans using crushed coal for ink.

In those days women had to wear a 'ghomta' (a veil over their head). Things like romance and talking to boys were not done, at least not openly. Women did not have exposure to a lot of things. Nevertheless, when the time came to stand side-by-side with the men to defend the country, women stepped up to the cause.

No woman was forced to go or called to go. Everyone went on their own. What was the point of staying home? Either way we would be attacked at the hands of the Pakistani Army or by rajakars (Bengali collaborators).

My mother cried a lot when I left. She still cries for my brothers who died in the war.

When I joined, I met many courageous women Monika, Bithika Ray, Reba, Rekha, Nur Jahan. Some had been tortured, some had lost their houses to arson, some came with their husbands.

My first weapon was the 3-knot-3 rifle. We didn't have a whole lot of arms. Later I carried a light machine gun (LMG), the pistol and hand grenades. At first I was scared about joining the war. But then my courage built up and it has stayed with me. To this day, I have no fear of dying.

When the Liberation War began, Bengalis formed a togetherness for one cause that had ever existed before or will ever exist again. There was no difference between male and female. We often slept side by side across the floor, but at no point were we ever disrespected.

I wore a sari when I joined, then I started wearing a lungi. When that became too inconvenient and finally I moved on to wearing shirts with pants.

It was the practical thing to do. We had to go through rice paddy and khals (small lakes), wading knee-deep in water. Sometimes the water even came up to our shoulders.

We had to stay in the same clothes often for 4 or 5 days at a time without bathing or eating.

During the war I killed members of the Pakistani Army and rajakars. I used my guns and I used my bayonet. I gained a lot strength of mind during that time. That strength of mind is helped me through the bad times.

The first man I killed was a rajakar. I thought it was justified because he has betrayed and wronged people. The rajakars, who were Bengalis, would guide the Pakistani Army to houses that had young women or active freedom fighters. The Army tortured, raped and killed these people to set an example and send a message to the terrorised Bengali people on where they stood.

When victory was declared in December of 1971 it was the most joyous moment.

My return to home was a different story. People did not look highly on women who joined the war. And though not a single Pakistani Army officer had laid a hand on me during the war, rumours had gone around about the possibility that I was manhandled or worse. Two months after independence, my husband was lured out of our house by government officials, taken to Jhalokati and killed. I was three months pregnant.

After his death, I went to a relative's house in Dhaka because I knew I would not be accepted back home. She sent me back to my father's house. The community did not receive me well. My parents took me in, but I got cold treatment. I kept going back and forth between my in-laws house and my parent's house.

I knew I had to stand on my own. I took up odd jobs paying a monthly salary of taka 40. I sewed, I tutored until I was financially solvent. I used to cry a lot. I used to beat my daughter. I took my anger out on her. I have nothing to hide. Have I said anything that should bring me shame? This is just the bare truth.

What I faced after I returned from the war, it cannot be expressed in words. And it did not stop with family and community. Politics that was once a higher cause, became debased. Since independence, I have not continued politics. I have been earning a living and raising my family. I have learned a lot from life experience. My mission is to pass this knowledge to my daughters. The pain of hunger is a strong pain. The real war is not fighitng in the battle fields. It is what comes after the War.

I have led a very different life. I am happy about that. It has given me the opportunity to have many valuable life experiences.

If I could tell anything to today's young woman I would tell them to educate themselves, they have many opportunities we didn't. Learn to stand on your own.

Many people have asked me to join politics. But I didn't. I regretted making that decision at the time, but now I know I made the right decision. I have never asked anyone for anything. That may be why I did not receive recognition.

The interview I gave for BBC and German radio, my words in The Daily Star, these are my certificates. I do not need an inauthentic "official" certificate from the government. I may not be well-educated, but I know right from wrong.

Shirin Banu
I grew up in a political environment. My mother and father were both part of the Communist Party. In fact my mother was the 'Gono' Party's central member. My maternal uncles were also very political. My involvement was a long-term process - it didn't just start with the War. At the time the war started I was studying Bangla Honours at Edward College.

Women fought in different ways away from the forefront in the Liberation War. They somehow, almost miraculously tore down trees and laying them down on streets, barricading the Pakistani soldiers from moving forward. To Bengali freedom fighters they provided rice, shelter and information. Every house was a camp against the Pakistani Army.

Socially, women could not just join the war by showing up in a sari. I went in men's clothespants and shirts. I was 21 year old, lean and thin. Nobody could identify me as a woman. Only a couple of my close associates knew.

Pakshi Bridge in Pabna is where I saw my first armed conflict. I was in the forefront at the first phase of the war. There were 28 of us in my military camp. Almost all of them died. Sometimes people who were right next to me were killed.

What I saw as we moved forward was the remains of massacre after massacre. Lots of corpses on the streets. The group often had to split up, we were often separated for long periods of time from those we knew through the struggle. When we advanced from Pabna to Pakshi Bridge in Kushtia, I found myself among a group of strangers. When I did come across familiar people and we inquired about people who were missing I would get answers like "He died in the juddho."

When I first saw a Pakistani soldier, I was disgusted. Our rights, our votes, we should have had our Prime Minister, but they denied these things to us and instead turned on us.

The freedom struggle was the work of a lot of anger about that, which is what gave us the inspiration to fight.

There were some difficulties as a woman. In order to hide my identity, I would not bathe for days. Sometimes, I would go 10-15 days with bathing. A cousin who knew my identity, would explain to the others in the pond that I didn't know how to swim. When I had to go to the toilet, I had to wait until night.

The Pabna District Comm-issioner, Nurul Kader Khan knew there was a woman among the group, but he couldn't identify me even when I was standing right in front of our group as he addressed us. Once a foreign journalist who found out their was a woman in our regimen, asked to see me. Mr Khan asked our group where I was. He was shocked when someone responded pointing to me, "She's here." The journalist took a picture of me with a gun, which brought me a lot of recognition. The Statement of India, wrote a piece about me titled, "A Shy Girl with a Gun." But I actually fought only for a short time with arms. There were so many others, Taraman Bibi, Runa Das, Bithika Biswas who fought with me. But they didn't get published at the time.

I was in Pabna till April. I carried a 3-knot 3-Rifle, a 2-2 bolt these were weapons our Pabna DC collected from the police to distribute to people. We didn't have many arms. We used what we had. I started off using a large fish 'boti' (knife to cut fish) for a long time. When we ran out of ammunition we had to retreat further and further. We eventually went to India for support and to request for more weaponry. In India, they didn't give weapons to us at first.

There was a training camp for women. Sajedur Chowdhury was in charge of the women's training camp in India. I was in the first batch, which had 234 women. We organised ourselves and motivated the people of India to support the Bangladeshi cause. The Communist Parties of the two countries had a strong link.

I provided nursing and military training to some of the women in the camp. Though I thought I would eventually return to Bangladesh to fight in the war, I did not end up returning for the rest of the year. My first day back in Bangladesh was first of the new year, 1972.

When the war was over, we thought all of our dreams would come true. All of our dreams did not materialise. Our secular constitution was replaced with an Islamic constitution, we did not get freedom of religion, freedom from hunger, freedom from discrimination.

There is a long history and politics behind the war. A lot of misinformation has been produced since 1971 and now it is creeping into our children's history books. That is why it so important for me and others who were part of history to tell our stories.

Farquan Begum
The Liberation War of 1971 didn't just begin overnight. It took long years of mobilising people towards the cause of gaining an independent nation. It took time to motivate people, educate people on their rights, and prepare people for this kind of movement. My family and I had been involved in this process leading up to the war.

Fighting for independence was in my blood. My mother was a "Bhasha Shohinik" (activist in Language Movement of 52). Before that, my parents and maternal uncles were active in the struggle for independence of India from the British. The Brits called them "terrorists".

I had been involved with Chatra League for years. The West Pakistan governance created a disparity between the two Pakistans, they cheated us. We realised we had to stand on our own, we had to survive, we had to protect ourselves.

Bengalis are generally a peace-loving people. But when the Pakistani's unleashed such unbridled, inhumane atrocities, we as a people became furious.

When the war started, I helped establish camps for those who lost their homes. Among the displaced in the camps, we selected the young, strong ones to fight in the war. We collected arms and provided arms training.

We also collected funds for food, shelter, medicine and establishing nursing centers for the wounded. I was the leader of the Women's Guerilla Squad in Agartala. I trained women to fight and use arms. We used our friends and relatives who were on duty in the Pakistani Army to help us free the captured.

Because of all my activities, I always carried a Chinese pistol. When I was with the others, fighting on the streets, I carried grenades.

During this terrible time, I saw villages set on fire, burning in the wake of the Pakistan's infiltration. The corpses we saw along our path saddened me and fuelled the fires to fight against injustice.

Sometimes we didn't eat for days, we walked miles, sometimes eating fruits on our way.

I did not face too much trouble joining the cause of war as a women. Actually, I was trained from childhood to do this. Besides, I went to a coed school and came from a broadminded family.

We all went through lots of trouble, but we did it for love of our nation. In the name of "Desh Prem" people can do anything.

After Muktijuddho, I did not associate with any political party because the country was free. The political party was just a vehicle to get there. Instead, I put my energies into social work, humanist activities, working for the poor. I write and I have actively called on the government to recognize freedom fighters.

When we were fighting, we had a dream that all our people would be able to eat and enjoy fundamental rights. However, big powers have a role to play, they make the rules, preventing us from realising those dreams.

We, the smaller countries must demand that the big powers play fairly.

Right now, I am 'hanging' in between jobs. I was a Deputy Director and Senior Assistant at different levels of a ministry. But because of my associations before the war, sometimes we get shafted by different governments. Those who fought for the cause of war all were involved in political parties, it was for a greater cause. But now we are being punished for that.


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