Vol. 5 Num 202 Fri. December 17, 2004  

Liberation War Memories
Priobhashini's agonising nine months

Talking about her ex-periences in 1971, sculptor Ferdousi Priyobhashini says, 'At that time I was going through a trauma in my personal life. It was the period when my husband had left me. There were a lot of brutalities in the juncture of Syedpur and Khalishpur, where I worked in a jute mill. As a telephone operator and receptionist, I was the only earning member of my family. I had many younger brothers and three young sons of my own.'

At that time she was not associated with social organisations. She was too inexperienced to know what was good for her. On March 25, 140 trucks passed by her house. Many houses had been torched down in her vicinity. In her presence 14 people were lined up and killed by brushfire. At that time even her mother became a burden. Nobody wanted to protect such a large group of refugees. Her present husband, Ahsanullah, who was then her friend, advised her to flee, but she didn't know where to escape. One day she put her mother and brothers on a rickshaw and gave her last Rs 10 to them.

She then went back to the mill where she had worked and there she found one of the officers who took her to a house to rest in. Then he physically assaulted her and told her that she would have to entertain Pakistan army officers. One of the men there helped her escape back to her mill. She had no change of clothes or even slippers on her feet. This man then helped her stay with someone at Babla. The young men in the neighbourhood joined her and they spent time singing, but this could not go on for long and she went back to the office that she worked in, as she knew this to be the only source of permanent refuge.

During this time Professor Bhuiyan, one of her father's colleagues, was killed by the Naxalites in front of her eyes and NSI regarded her as a suspect, somehow involved in the case. She was given a large house with AC and was kept under watch. She was there from May to December 1971. She was also in the Jessore Cantonment. In these places she was repeatedly assaulted. She tried to resist. In the meantime, her friend, Ahsanullah, today her husband, was a Moktijoddha.

Even when Independence came, Priyobhashini kept to herself. She had suffered quite a bit even in her parental home as her father had often been cruel to her mother and she had been compelled to shoulder responsibilities.

Today she is celebrated as a famous sculptor and has been chosen as the second Bangladeshi to be the "Hero" by the Reader's Digest Magazine for the December 2004 issue. In the article of the magazine, the Bangladeshi correspondent, Nadeem Qadir, honoured Priyobhashini for speaking out publicly in 1999 about her tormented days at the hands of the occupation Pakistan army in 1971. Priyobhashini, who sculpts driftwood and other castoffs to express her memories of 1971, has helped other women to come to grips with their own feelings.

A story of courage