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   Volume 10 |Issue 13 | April 01, 2011 |


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Book Review

Stories of a Hapless Witness

Tamanna Khan

Fighting for Bangladesh- Remembrances of 1971
Ziauddin M Chowdhury
Published by: Xlibris Coporation

Being born in a free nation and reading history and fiction written on the Liberation War of Bangladesh, it is easier for young people like us to fancy ourselves as guerrilla soldiers ready to give our lives for our motherland. However, the reality of 1971 definitely was not so easy. Reading the first few articles of “Fighting for Bangladesh- Remembrances of 1971”, one may wonder why the young Ziauddin did not leave his post to take part in the war, like many others of his time. However, as the author, Ziauddin M Chowdhury, describes the uncertain days of March when Munshiganj still had not fallen in the hands of the military, one slowly begins to understand why this young officer chose to stay back.

Ziauddin, currently an official of World Bank and a regular contributor to dailies and monthly magazines of Dhaka, has assembled all the articles published so far on his personal experiences of the war in “Fighting for Bangladesh- Remembrances of 1971”. During the war, Ziauddin was a young man of 27, who had just joined the then Pakistan Civil Service and was posted as Sub-divisional Officer (SDO) in Munshiganj. He tells his harrowing tale of trying to carry out his duty under those superiors who bathed in the blood of his own kind.

In apt language and using small anecdotes, the author portrays the utter chaos that prevailed right after Dhaka fell captive under Operation Searchlight on March 25, 1971. What is different in Ziauddin's narration is his objectivity. He does not try to idolise any political party or its leaders, neither does he attempt to write down the role played by military or non-military people who took part in the war. In fact, Ziauddin's encounter with the freedom fighter remains distant. In the book it appears in silent prayer for their safety and in accounts of their valour that the author learned from others.

Fear for his life and his colleagues forced Ziauddin to remain a silent eye-witness of Pakistani military atrocities carried out right under his nose. However, whilst he mentions the name of the Pakistani officers who were involved in the meaningless killing of innocent civilians, in his book he refrains from mentioning the names of the Bengali collaborators who helped these officers in their heinous crimes. What we, the post-war generation, fail to understand is the reason behind such conservative approaches of those who witnessed the Liberation War.

One amusing part of the book is the way the author mocks at some actions by Pakistani military, which goes beyond absurdity. For instance, when Major Salam burns the clothes of an Awami League leader, labelled as “miscreant”, to punish him for his ideology. In modest words, the author also describes how he tried to help the Hindu communities of Munshiganj and later Manikganj, without raising too much suspicion among his Pakistani superiors. Yet at one point, he had to leave his post when his loyalty to Pakistan began to be questioned with the passage of time.

The last article in the book presents arguments in favour of the War Crime Tribunals. Here the author admits and regrets that many of those who never believed in Bangladesh and yet took full advantage of the war in 1971, collaborating with the Pakistani military forces and sometimes themselves committing heinous crimes for personal gains, will remain out of the reach of the trial. Yet he feels that “trial of even a few principals associated with these hateful acts will bring justice for the survivors of the fallen million”.

Reading “Fight for Bangladesh Remembrances of 1971”, one understands that not all wars are fought on the frontier. In guerrilla warfare like Bangladesh's, a vital role is played by the support of the millions who never hold a gun. Leaving aside the editing errors of the book, Ziauddin's personal account of the 1971 fills a tiny portion of the void that exists in writings on the Bangladesh's Liberation War in English.



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