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."
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
mother cried a lot when I left. She still
cries for my brothers who died in the war.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
had to stay in the same clothes often for
4 or 5 days at a time without bathing or
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.
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.
victory was declared in December of 1971
it was the most joyous moment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
have led a very different life. I am happy
about that. It has given me the opportunity
to have many valuable life experiences.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
freedom struggle was the work of a lot of
anger about that, which is what gave us
the inspiration to fight.
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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
are generally a peace-loving people. But
when the Pakistani's unleashed such unbridled,
inhumane atrocities, we as a people became
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.
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.
of all my activities, I always carried a
Chinese pistol. When I was with the others,
fighting on the streets, I carried grenades.
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.
we didn't eat for days, we walked miles,
sometimes eating fruits on our way.
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
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.
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
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.
the smaller countries must demand that the
big powers play fairly.
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.