Gruesome killing in Saidpur railway workshop

There was an exodus of refugees from Bihar and adjacent areas into East Pakistan from the beginning of 1947. Many of them settled in the north Bengal town of Saidpur. The local Bengalis gave all out support to help these refugees to settle there. But these refugees lived a secluded life showing indifference towards the Bengalis.

These refugees refused to participate and cooperate in any of the people's movement in this province from 1947 to 1971. They rather cooperated with the Pakistani military junta in their hateful acts against the Bengalis. The non-Bengalis of this area began providing all out support to the Pakistan military junta from the beginning of March 1971 and unleashed a reign of terror towards the Bengalis.

Syedpur railway worskshop boiler where people were thrown in. Photo: Col Sajjad

Since being inspired by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's speech on 7 March, 1971, the Bengalis of Saidpur began non-cooperation with the Pakistani administration in the area. The Bengali workers from Saidpur Railway Workshop abstained from work as a part of the ongoing movement. On the other hand, the non-Bengalis organized themselves and with the support of the military from the barracks began secretly training themselves with arms and ammunitions. Majority of the officers and workers in the Railway Workshop were non-Bengalis. They began intimidating the Bengali workers. The military provided these non-Bengalis with secret information about the existing situation in the country. Bengalis in this area populated mostly by non-Bengalis passed their days in trauma and agony.

The non-Bengalis surrounded the Bengalis in Saidpur on 23 March, 1971 and took them as hostage. Their lives were in grave danger. The incidents leading from this spread to nearby villages like wild fire. The atrocities carried out on the Bengalis reached the nearby villages through public address system.

Mahtab Beg was a political leader in Saidpur at that time. Mahtab led five thousand villagers carrying whatever tools they could master and marched towards Saidpur to rescue the confined Bengalis. The Pakistan army with their local non-Bengali cohorts assembled in the Sher-e-Bangla School near the entrance to the town to stop the advancing villagers. They began shooting at these villagers. Mahtab Beg was hit by a bullet in the lower abdomen and was gravely wounded. His fellow villager, Mohammad Ali from Shatnala Union was also hit by bullet and he died instantly. Mahtab Beg's son Mirza Salauddin Beg was also injured there. At that point the non-Bengalis attacked wounded Mahtab Beg with knives and killed him. They took away his body to Saidpur. Meanwhile, the Pakistani soldiers blew whistle directing the non-Bengalis to move out from there. The non-Bengalis beheaded Mahtab Beg and marched through the streets in the town with his head in jubilation, chanting that anyone opposing the Pakistanis would face the same consequence.

The atrocities by non-Bengalis further increased after 23 March, 1971. Since the Pakistan military unleashed 'Operation Searchlight' throughout East Pakistan on 25 March, the Bengalis in Saidpur began to live an uncertain life. They confined themselves at home.

On the evening of 26 March, 1971, the non-Bengalis announced over public address system for the last time that all Bengali officers and workers of the Railway Workshop must report for duty on 27 March morning or they would face dire consequences. The Pakistan army from the Saidpur Cantonment also made similar announcement. The Bengali officers and workers had no alternative but to go to the workshop on the morning on 27 March for the fear of their life.

M.A. Aziz, the Store and Accounts Officer of the Railway Workshop, was attacked and killed with sharp knives by non-Bengalis while entering the gate of the workshop. In addition to being a Store and Accounts Officer, he was also an LMF doctor. He used to treat poor people of the locality including non-Bengalis free of charge and was popular in the area. None could believe that a benevolent and kind hearted person like him could be killed so ruthlessly without any reason. Within minutes five more Bengali workers were killed in a similar manner inside the workshop gate.

Syedpur worskshop furnace where people were
thrown in.
Photo: Col Sajjad

The non-Bengalis increased their atrocities towards the Bengalis after this incident. Bengalis could not leave the town fearing that they would be killed on the way. Gruesome killings were carried out by the non-Bengalis on the Bengali workers and outsiders on 14, 15 and 16 April in 1971 inside the workshop. The killing continued for three days. It is known from witnesses that more than 350 people including officers, workers, and ordinary citizens from Saidpur and villagers from the area were brought to the workshop and brutally killed. The killers devised a cruel method to have so many killed. They threw the helpless people inside the three large boilers and furnaces in the workshop. These furnaces were used to melt iron in the workshop. People in the area could hear loud screams of Bengalis being dragged and thrown into the boilers and furnaces. They were left to their fate, slaughtered in hundreds, and none came to save them. As every part of the body was thrown into high temperature burners, no evidence of the death of these people remained. The leaders of this killer gang were non-Bengalis, namely Matin Hashmi, Mohammad Habbu, Mohammad Zahid and other non-Bengali workshop workers. These heartless killers were directly patronized by Pakistan army station in Saidpur Cantonment. They did not pay heed to the pleadings of all those Bengalis including those who had worked with them. It appeared to many that the killing was done for sport.

The names of 177 martyred persons are written on the Saidpur Railway Shaheed Minar. Most of these people were killed inside the workshop. However, the names and particulars of many of the people who were forcefully brought from the village and other areas and killed could not be known. They perished in the death machine of the extermination factory.

This gruesome killing and unprecedented crime committed on so many innocent people in those three days inside the killing center needs to be recorded in our history. A monument in memory of those killed inside the workshop should be set up if we wish to let our new generation know about the correct history of the sacrifices made by Bengalis in 1971 in Saidpur.

Written by Lt Col Sajjad.


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