• Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What I saw and heard in Dhaka

Ahmed Sofa
Photo: kishore parekh
Photo: kishore parekh

The whole country waited with bated breath as its eyes were fixed upon the talks between President Yahya Khan and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman held talks with Yahya Khan for no fewer than 11 days. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto - the Head of West Pakistan People's Party and former Foreign Minister of the Dictator Ayub Khan along with other West Pakistani political leaders also joined the talks. They have also separately met and talked with Mr. Mujibur Rahman in more than one occasion.
The newspapers were often carrying optimistic reports. Like people around the country, we were expecting President Yahya to convene National Assembly session on 25th of March. Initially the session was scheduled to be held on March 03. It was President Yahya who called it off in a radio speech. People did not get a whiff of any underplot at work. They put their good faith in the process: Yahya Khan went on to hold the elections, people cast their votes for Awami League. That Awami League could still be kept out of power was beyond their imagination. But on March 25, something happened of which even witnesses cannot bear an adequate account.  
From early in the morning one thing came to our notice: a certain calmness caught hold of all the processions – still coming out one after another like sea waves. People in the streets thronged at the shops to listen to radio broadcasts. Since 7:00 AM, news was aired on the radio twice or thrice, without saying a word about the outcome of the negotiations. The processions seemed to slacken a little. In some processions people were still singing in chorus, 'Amar Shona-r Bangla, Ami Tomay Bhalobashi'. People's senses suddenly grew sharper. They were trying to fathom something looking at each other's face.
After 4:00 in the afternoon, everything around the city quieted down. No one had any idea what was going to happen. People of Dhaka city had been carrying out peaceful non-cooperation movement in a lawful manner. They were anxious to learn the outcome of their movement carried on for such a length of time. But there was no way to satisfy their query.  Around the evening, news spread that plainclothes army men shot to death 2 innocent passers-by near Pak Motors and 3 more near Tejgaon-Farmgate. Some believed the news, some did not.
It had only been a few days since the military carried out massacres each of which could easily be matched up to a Jalianwalabagh. To take an example we could mention the case of Joydevpur at the outskirts of Dhaka, where armed troops opened fire on ordinary civilians and killed scores. Similar massacres were repeated in Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi and other areas with different scales of casualties. In his March 7 Speech, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also drew reference to the atrocities committed by the military. Still, the people of Dhaka could not believe that plainclothes military men could gun down innocent civilians. The reason of their incredulity lied in the notion that: after so many days of negotiation, some meaningful result must come out.
Around 9:00 pm the rumor spread out that the military would crack down any moment. The whole city was in commotion. People began cutting down trees on the roads. They began rolling in broken trucks, push-carts, discarded drums from faraway places. In the dark of the night thousands were working. In no time, chest-high barricades were mounted in each intersection and road crossing. Entire Dhaka became a barricaded city. After setting up sufficiently strong barricades the fatigued people were resting at the waysides, waiting to see what would come next.
By then it was almost 1:00 AM. In a short while, the military set upon the city. The military came out in droves, and dislodged the barricades. The military jeeps began speeding around in the streets. The tanks were shelling, the cannons were roaring, the mortars were firing - in a deafening thunder. Firebombs were blowing up in 'drum drum' noise and fire was flaring out in gushes. The thump of cannons, mortars, rifles were assaulting the ears, and one could not even take a look at the scene. The whole sky of Dhaka lit up reddened with the countless gunshots. The bullets crackled in a quick beat. Now and then the thunderous sound of tank shells were sending shivers across the nooks and crannies of the metropolis. Bullets were whizzing to and fro across the sky. Doors-closed, lights-off, the people were passing a terrible night. There was no way one could check what happened to others. Before hitting the streets, the military pulled the plug on the telephone station. One could not even open the door to enquire the fate of one's neighbors, bullets would fly in hissing.
The night passed like that. The day dawned. In the light of the dawn we looked at the city. It was unrecognizable: houses destroyed, walls riddled with bullets, smokes filling up the sky. The houses hurled at with firebombs last night are still in flames.
At seven in the morning people were allowed to go out in the streets. At first, no one dared to step out. No one was in a frame of mind to lend credence to the Army's announcement. Yet as the day progressed people flocked out in the streets; so did we. When we saw the condition of the city, our eyes were filled with tears. It was as if thousands of wild beasts assaulted, bit, mangled, and mutilated the city with their teeth and claws. The slender green leaves of the Eucalyptus trees of the city had turned brown in the heat of the fire. The streets were littered with innumerable cartridges of machinegun bullets. My house was in Topkhana Road. By the time I passed by Baitul Mukarram, two corpses already came to my sight.
A little after, as I reached before Gulistan Cinema Hall, the scene struck me dumb. Dozens of human bodies were lying all over the place – put to sleep forever. Coat of blood thickened over the street. The hawkers, coolies, workers, beggars – male or female – went to sleep at night on the street as usual: none of them survived the carnage.
We headed towards University. On our way, we had to see scores of corpses. One shot in the head, another in the back. One bullet entered making a small hole in the skull of a person and smashed open a large chunk of the cranium drawing out a bit of the brain. We came near the Railway Hospital. A very sad spectacle awaited us: a mother was shot below her left breast; her child was still alive. We seemed to be passing across the nation's grave. In front of the Dhaka Hall, the body of an old man lay face down: one or two tufts of his long beard flapping in the wind. His eyes still seemed to move a little. Across him, two men in each other's arms lay dead– eyes still as dead fish. Looking at them, a question pops up in the mind even at this sad hour: were they brothers?
Walking by the old university building, we crossed the medical college and came before the Shahid Minar. We found that they have shelled off the top of the monument, but could not have yet managed to pull it down altogether. Right across the street, along the university wall, the canvas on which our patriotic artists portrayed with their brushes the successive periods of oppression by the Pakistani rulers was so violently ripped with bullet that it looked like banana leaves torn asunder by a storm.
Just a few steps ahead, we heard loud cries. From the university quarters opposite to nurse hostel crying is coming out nonstop.  Assistant librarian of Bangla Academy shouted across the message that not a single male resident in this block was left alive. We went inside. We found that Statistics Professor Dr. Muniruzzaman was murdered. Driver of Professor Jytoirmoy Guhathakurta of English Department told us that Dr.

Thakurta had been shot in his shoulder. His wife Srimati Bashanti Guhathakurta was also injured. We went to see them. Students took Dr. Thakurta to hospital, where after two days of suffering without any treatment – the kind, hearty professor would pass away. Someone said the Economics Professor has been shot. No one knew what happened to Dr. Mafizullah Kabir. Dr. Innas Ali – the internationally renowned Physics Professor – had also been shot. No one could tell whether he was still alive.
Coming out of the university quarter so smeared with the blood of revered professors, I went to the gate of the residence of Dr. Govinda Chandra Dev – Professor of Philosophy and an acclaimed philosopher. I saw many people had gathered there. It was a situation in which we could not even cry our hearts out. With tears swelling in their eyes, the students recounted how the humanist professor was ruthlessly slain by the brutes. Last night, the barbarous wolves had been indiscriminately butchering the innocent students of Jagannath hall with machineguns. When Dr. Dev came to know of it, he immediately set off from his house and went straight into the hall. He earnestly pleaded to the troops: 'Son, Please do not kill my innocent students. If you need to kill, rather kill me'. The troops killed him right off. Then they went to his house and killed all who were inside. They even disappeared the dead body of Dr. Dev. I could not help fleering with a bitter heart: the soldiers of Yahya Khan want to cover up their crimes by burying the corpses away from sight! In silence, I stood at the sight of the departed soul – that great life, that extraordinary demise.  News came again – there was no news but of death – the seven young teachers who lived in the bachelors' mess of Dhaka Hall had all been slain.
Leaving Dr. Dev's house, I came to Jagannath Hall. Close to the gate I met a student I knew. He broke into wild tears. Drawing me by my hand, he pointed at the rows of corpses lying in the field. Many corpses were said to have been hurriedly interred into the ground. As for students who were inside the halls, the army combed from room to room and shot each and everyone to death, and the corpses are lying dead just like that.  The young students that had been mercilessly slaughtered were – only one day ago –chanting slogans with grand energy, matching their steps briskly in the processions, and with mighty hope and shivering hands flying the red-green flag of independence bearing the map of Bangla. Out of them would be born the fearless statesman, the brilliant scientist and the passionate artist of the future. My time was short. I had to get back within one and a half hour. I had to see so many burnt corpses – of friends and people that I loved, cherished, respected. But where was the time to stop for awhile and shed a few tears for them?
Military van stood before the Salimullah Hall. The troops were patrolling the streets. I could hear the ugly thud of their boots. I could not get a chance to go inside to see who lost lives and who survived. Through the windows at the south end of the hall one could see that fire was still smoldering in each room. The walls were randomly spattered with bullets. How many were killed in this hall could not be known. Even the corpses could not be removed for many days.
Leaving behind this macabre site, I walked 60/70 gauges and stopped by the cafeteria before the Iqbal Hall. I found that armed troops cordoned off the hall from three sides; so going forward was out of question. It was not hard to imagine what catastrophe befell this hall last night. It was students of this hall who through assiduous toil and selfless sacrifice built up and organized the movement from scratches; it was these students who first took down the Pakistani flag to raise the Bangladeshi flag. Since 1952, it was the patriotic students of this hall who took direct part in boldly resisting each of the premeditated attacks by West Pakistan. In every movement, this Iqbal hall added drive, energy, and courage. It was these students who took the initiative to remove the name of Iqbal – the visionary of Pakistan – and rename the hall as Sergeant Zahurul Haq Hall. Sergeant Zahurul Haq was one of the accused in the Agartala case that the Ayub government fabricated. In 1969, the Pakistani troops killed Zahurul in prison. It is rather conceivable that the troops had added spite against this hall. Adding to that, many of the influential student leaders used to lodge in this hall. One could easily imagine that the attack in this case was particularly vicious and brutal. We cannot tell how many and who were killed.
I then walked out of the university area. Passing by the Eden Women's College, I went through Azimpur Colony heading towards Pilkhana. I did not ask anyone about the fate of the female students who resided in the dormitory of Eden College, lest I would have to hear something dreadful. In two days, I had to hear that terrible news – and I felt sick to my stomach.
In any case, we went to EPR Pilkhana Headquarters. In normal days it would be filled with EPR men in their uniforms. Today no one was here. Only Pakistan military men with their eagle eyes were standing scattered bearing machineguns. Around 2,500 EPR members used to live in this camp. I longed to know what happened to them. But I could not ask the question to anyone. A betel leaf seller whispered into my ears: only one survived out of 2,500. I did not verify the figure. It would not be unlikely if four or five or more – not one – survived. At night, when everyone was asleep, the Pakistani Army killed the guards and then bombarded all to death.
It had been long since our senses turned numb. People were rushing to get out of the city and escape to the villages. It was an incredibly heartbreaking sight. One could not feel how saddening the situation was if one had not seen it.  We were just looking on – as if ghosts possessed us. Someone said last night the police men of Rajarbagh Police Line fought almost half night long. The Military – unable to cope with the police men – finally brought in the tanks. With tank shells, they dispersed the police. At last the police men were compelled to retreat and flee. It was said that out of the 1,000 police men of Rajarbagh, only around a hundred could survive – the rest being mercilessly butchered by the barbarous military.
I found the same gruesome sight in Rajarbagh Police Line. Walls of the white buildings were riddled with bullets. The water cannon were abandoned there. The tin shed barrack at the eastern corner was reduced to ashes. The green leaves of the coconut and Devdaru trees at the wayside were burnt by half in the fire. The men of Pakistani Army had set up rigorous check posts, blocking people's passage through the road in the Police Line. I was surprised not to see a single dead body in the massive heap of wreckage. The local inhabitants said, in late night the military men filled many vehicles with corpses and carried them away.
As I was coming back, news came that in one night the Pakistani military burnt down everything of the English daily 'The People' and influential Bangla daily 'Ittefaq'. I came to learn of the death of a hawker of Ittefaq who I knew.
I heard another story – also a death story – but an exceptional one. Lieutenant Colonel Muazzam used to live in a flat in Elephant Road. He came back to his wife and children after almost 27 days. He was also an accused in the false Agartala Conspiracy case along with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was well known to all Bangladeshis for his valor and courage. At night, the troops entered his house and dragged him downstairs. They told him, 'if you want to be alive, we give you two conditions. If you accept, you live, if not, you die'. They told him that he would have to say, 'Long live President Yahya Khan, Long Live Pakistan'. He spat at the face of the Pakistani major in deep disgust and said, 'it is too late. I shall not wish long life to either Pakistan or Yahya'. Five machineguns then opened fire and the lifeless body of Muazzam fell down. The troops tied the corpse of Muazzam with ropes to their vehicle and started driving forth. Thus they killed a hero of Bangla and did not spare his dead body from defilement.
When I was back home, not even two minutes were left. In every crossing, troops took position. Not a single person was out in the streets. Only military lorries were patrolling the roads. The boots of the troops were thudding on the streets. I was waiting up restlessly. The whole city was covered in grey smoke. One could not open the eyes. Wherever one looks, flames were raging ablaze. Everyone was confined to house.  There was no way to check up on others. As the sun was about to set, fear was gripping my heart. One could not trust the night. If they repeat tonight what they had done last night? Just before the evening, five tanks passed by Topkhana Road with a deafening thunder. Cannons were fit above the tanks each crewed with a fearsome man – not as terrifying as the brown-uniformed military men though.
In any case, in the end the evening lapsed into night. Countless stars appeared in the sky. Fresh sound of firing could be heard. The sky was yet again red with bullet fire. I could hear the machinegun shooting, the rifle bullets whizzing around. Sometimes I could hear a 'boom boom' sound – it was shelling from tanks. They were hurling firebombs here and there: fire lashed out and the homes went up in flames. They were shooting even more furiously than the previous night. On March 23, the flag of independent

Bengal had been hoisted in every house. The army was shooting at every house aiming at those flags. The night also passed. Dawn broke. Golden sunbeam brightened the world.
I again came down in the streets at seven in the morning. At first I went to Bangla Academy. With their cannon shells, they crushed to pieces the national institution made of the blood of the martyrs of the 1952 Bangla Language Movement. They burnt the papers and files of the culture department to ashes. They pulled down almost 8 gauze of wall in the third floor. The cannon shells weighed at 16.3 kg each.
The Ramna Kalibari is just before Bangla Academy. The two Kali temples were about 150 feet apart. At least 1,000 people lived in each of the Kalibari compounds. Judging from the crowd that would show up every morning at the pond for taking bath, one would not have a hard time estimating the number of residents there. One could not get close; from a distance I could see that the houses looking little as dovecotes were burnt to ashes.
The solitary temple was standing upright with its spire reaching out to the sky. The stone temple bore marks of shelling. The idols had been crushed to pieces. The question naturally came to mind: so many people, where would they go? The troops were all around. Yet someone whispered into my ear: at first the troops poured petrol and set fire to the houses. As the children, the aged, the youth, the men, and the women tried to run out of the inferno – the troops mowed them down. So many people of the two temples facing such an awful ending! The whole Ramna area was replete with the stench of burning. It was hard to breathe: one felt like vomiting one's entrails out.
I did not stop for a moment to reflect why we were walking and witnessing all these. We could not resist looking on – as if we were addicted to it.
We went back to the base of Shahid Minar. At night they had razed down the whole Minar by shelling. A deep sigh came out from my heart. It was here that in 1952 Barkat, Salam, Rafik, Jabbar were killed by gunfire of Muslim League regime.  This Minar was erected on the blood they sacrificed; this Minar is the symbol of the hopes and aspirations, the joy and grief of Bengali nation. In every single movement against Western colonial exploitation, our political activists and leaders took oath before this Minar. Through the last two months, everyday there was a meeting here. The worker came; the peasant came, came the student, so did the different political parties. The painters held exhibitions, the popular theater activists held dramas, the singers held a weeklong musical program. Poets and writers recited poems and stories. The Army had crushed this great place of convergence of the Bengali nation.
One could not keep standing at one place. Millions of people came down in the streets like birds that had lost their nests. The sense of anxiety was marked in everyone's visage. No one knew where to go. People could not even afford to express sympathy for one another. I began walking through the crowd. After walking almost a mile, we came to Nayabazar. The whole Bazar had been pulled to ground. The electricity cables were all torn. Scores of tin of the large Arats and godowns were scattered around. All night long the Pak Army had set fire to houses and fired with their guns. Who would count how many lost their lives?

Cover of the book where the article first appeared.
Cover of the book where the article first appeared.

We had to see the most horrible sight as we came near Nawabpur crossing. Tejgaon is around 8 to 10 miles away from Kamalapur Rail Station. On both sides of the railway for the last 23 years homeless poor people of rural Bengal had taken shelter. Some of them would pull Rickshaws, some worked as coolies, and some lived as peddlers. Since the last noon, the army began methodically burning down the entire slum. Not a single hut was left intact. In the piled ashes we could see a few ghastly skulls. The stench was seeping out all over the place. I received the news there that army was shelling Demra Narayanganj and such industrial zones day in and day out. Dragging out the Bengali officers and their families, the troops bayoneted them to death.
There must be an end to seeing and hearing. But the fresh sights of cruelty would hurt the eyes nevertheless. It was hard to take one's eyes off the sight of the corpses lying haphazardly over the street. New deaths, new reports of destruction hit the ears hard. Yet one could not afford to turn a deaf ear to all these. The time was out of joint. The Pakistani army was destroying all that the Bengali nation had for pride, pleasure, and desire. What would we live on with?
A man got down from a Rickshaw and said that last night they burnt down the whole Shantinagar Bazar. Oh, all they could do was burning; all the Pak Army excelled in was killing. Even in this hour of tragedy, I felt an itch: if only we had weapons in our hand at this moment! We would leap headlong into the war with the determination to kill or get killed. How long could one endure passively witnessing the massacre of one's own folk? The time for being outside was nearing end. Curfew would resume shortly. Even if anyone ventured to peek through the window, the military would pointedly shoot at the person. I came back home – tired and exhausted.
Military jeeps were running around in the streets. They were shooting around at random. Shooting all through the night, they succeeded to pick off our national flags. The empty posts shorn of the flags stood atop the roofs of every house. During the short break in-between the curfews, half of the people had left the city in a hurried outpour. Terror had spread around the city like plague. It was already late. Evening would set in shortly. In the dark of the night, the Pakistani army would hunt down the people of Bangladesh, burn down houses, and abduct women. The way the troops had acted in the last two days proved beyond doubt that no human attribute whatsoever was to be found in them.
Strange! These brutes feared sunlight! It was under the shrouds of darkness that they would set about doing the most heinous, brutal deeds. Just before sunset, the military announced on mike: take down the national flags. At the Islamic Academy beside Baitul Mukarram, a sturdy doorman of the Academy went on roof and the moment he stretched his hand to take the flag down, a volley of bullets hit him. He fell down reeling. Spurts of red blood covered the black street. The killing was a heart-rending sight.
In the evening, sporadic shooting went on. No less than four tanks returned from Narayanganj rolling along with a ghar-ghar noise. I could not close my eyes for a sleep. There was a burning sensation in my heart. The shooting would not stop. The sound of erratic machinegun firing, interspersed with that of Rifle shots. Probably the troops were going house to house in their killing spree. As the night deepened, the sound became more regular.
Going on the roof, I saw that the south-west corner of Dhaka city had become red with the fire blaze. They were setting fire tonight as well. I spent the night staring at the fire. Morning came. I found that the Bengali shops of Nawabpur were on fire. I heard that yesterday the non-Bengali residents had looted all the goods. The drawers and boxes – which would be filled with the dreams and hopes of Bengali traders – were now filled with ash and char. Everyone was talking about Sakharibazar. In that small alley the people of minority community used to live in a close, densely-housed locality. No other area of Dhaka has such a large Hindu neighborhood.
Even before entering the alley, I saw some sample of the carnage. Four people lay lifeless side by side in a room beside the Jagannath College. It was not possible to enter the alley. Charred, warped bodies lay dead all across the alley. The Pak military had burnt every single house. They entered every house and killed everyone inside. Not a single soul was spared. Children, the aged, women – all faced the savage wrath of Pak military. Someone said that in Chandan Shur's house there are 31 corpses. Shur was an influential and wealthy man. During the last election, when Khwaja Khairuddin – the Nawab bari scion and opponent of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – tried to draw him into his camp, Shur made some pointed, caustic remarks on Khairuddin's face. I heard people telling each other that it was Khwaja himself who ushered the troops into the house.
One could not render in words – unless one saw it – how torture, repression, killing, arson, and rape had reigned in Shakharibazar. I saw hundreds of burnt or half-burnt corpses. In normal times, the sight of one such corpse would be enough to kill both the appetite of my stomach and sleep in my eyes. Yet, I was walking along – pushing aside the corpses – while careful to stay

out of the eyes of the killer hoard. It feels strange to recall the situation.  
At noon, I had been back to home. I had to see that under strict order of the military regime 'Pakistan Zindabad' and similar slogans were being posted on houses and shops. It would previously be hard to find a single Bengali shop in entire Dhaka with a signboard written in any language other than Bangla. People willingly affixed Bangla signboards; no one forced them to do so. But today they were being forced by bullets and bayonets to attach Urdu texts to their houses and shops. What could be more humiliating? The military destroyed much that we had, were they now at destroying even the alphabet we have?
Each new piece of news hit the mind like a cannon ball. It seemed all that I had learnt about life and people was rendered discredited. Killing, looting, arson, and rape became the new normal of the day. We turned into ghastly shadows. When we would meet any friend on the way we would shake hands and say, 'good bye and see you – brother – if we manage to stay alive'. It was as if we ceased to exist. Yet how we continued to be around – I could not fathom – nor can I fathom today. I lost all appetite. At a roadside shop I swallowed two slices of bread, drank some water and headed out to Sadarghat. In the footpaths corpses lay scattered. Large flies were buzzing around. Vultures cared not to devour the corpses of Bengali people; foxes and dogs cared not to take a sniff.
The Sadarghat would be abuzz with people everyday. From different districts of the province people would come to Dhaka or leave Dhaka for different districts. The incessant clamor of so many people would not subside even at the midnight. That Sadarghat was now empty, dead empty. One's heart would begin pounding when one looked at the jetties of IWTA. So many people, so many boats, launches, and so much hubbub: where had they all gone? Scores of hawkers would sit at both sides of the streets, and after finishing with day's sales they would fall into sleep on the same roads – what happened to those hawkers? Someone whispered into my ear: finished – all of them. They have burnt the big godown. The Pakistani military has stripped Dhaka bare.
Then I noticed something else. There was a shoe store at the intersection of Sadarghat and Islampur Road. A big store, it was called BIS. The military – after breaking it open – at first called in the non-Bengalis and had it looted for one round. Then they called some Bengalis and said: loot whatever is there. Those who did not want to loot were summarily done away with bayonet. Many others were forced to loot. The troops took pictures of this looting with their own cameramen. Then they mowed them down with machinegun. 20-25 corpses lay before the BIS shop alone for four-five days.  Same thing recurred in Islampur.

Photo: archive
Photo: archive

Next day I heard of the most atrocious massacre. When the barbarous military began their onslaught on the city at the dark of the night – as if attacking the quarters of the sleeping enemy – people fled in thousands the next day and took shelter at Jinzira Bazar. I heard reports of burning down the whole Jinzira Bazar and massacre of the people with cannon shelling. At the evening, the jeeps fitted with machine guns were amassed at one side of Sadarghat. Then they closed off the other three sides with wire – which they then electrified. At night, the troops crossed the river on boat and had the jeeps carried across as well. Aircrafts showed way to the jeeps with flash lights.  They at once began indiscriminate firing. In the large business hub at downtown Dhaka, the barrels of rifle and machinegun began firing death at the dark of night. None of those who took shelter there survived the massacre. Those who tried to flee through the rear were electrocuted. The Army killed at least 5,000 people in Jinzirabazar in one night. People at a considerable distance could not escape the long-range machineguns. Thus the army cleared Jinzirabazar in one night.
I heard that they burnt down the Daily Sangbad office of Bangsal road. I went there to see. They pulled down the entire building with shelling. Nothing was left. Someone pointed out: the body of Shaheed Saber. I looked: indeed, a mangled corpse lay there. Was he Shaheed Saber - the once-promising writer who had turned insane? The eyeglasses were still placed intact on his nose. It was not difficult to identify him. After becoming insane, Saber would stay in Sangbad office at night. He would go to Press Club twice to have his meals. His friends made such an arrangement for deranged Saber. The army demolished Press Club in the night of March 25. He must have starved the following day. And then he lost his life altogether at the hands of the barbarous troops.
Our life was in danger at Dhaka city. Every noise of jeep seemed to signal for us a fast approaching death. Every sound of shooting seemed to pierce my own chest. I was not shot, someone else was – but I could be shot – the question was when. I could not afford to sit still; I was always on the move. The following day, I went to Wari and heard that from Kalabagan, Farmgate and Tejgaon areas the military rounded up around 800 students to cantonment. I did not get any news what happened to their fate. The troops went in every house in those areas and asked the parents, how many sons do you have? How old are they? Where are they now? Hand them over to us, or we will burn everything down.
Scores of youths left Dhaka on foot in a rush without eating and sleeping. On their way those who ran up against any military unit were without ado slaughtered by machineguns. The Dhaka city was turning depopulated. Just as evening set in, one or other house would be set on fire. Gunshots could be heard somewhere. Car, cart, cycle, Rickshaw – nothing plied on the roads. Only the military jeeps would drive around reeking of petrol. Sometimes tanks passed by making a huge 'Ghar-Ghar' noise. Food disappeared from the bazaars. Everything was burnt down. The rice, flour, or wheat had all been looted away. The non-Bengalis from Mirpur and Muhammadpur were coming to lock the Bengali houses to establish possession on those.
Singling out the minority had not quite begun as yet. But it began without much delay. In day time, with the help of informants, the houses of Hindu inhabitants would be marked. At night, the troops would surround the houses and shoot the residents to death. All the ways out of the city were blocked. They had set up rigorous guard posts. I heard from witnesses that a boatman ferried two Hindu gentlemen across the river Buriganga. The troops came to know of this. They began looking for the boatman. The boatman transported two peddlers to this side of the river and again sailed off. The troops took heed and opened fire at the boatman. But the boatman saved life by going beyond the firing range. The troops then captured the two peddlers. They told them to dip into Buriganga. As they took dip, the troops fired at the water with machinegun. The lifeless corpses of the two peddlers buoyed up like dead fish.

Ahmed Sofa (June 30, 1943 – July 28, 2001)
Ahmed Sofa (June 30, 1943 – July 28, 2001)

I saw with my own eyes how the troops assailed on the Gauriya Math of Narinda. It was probably March 31. They cordoned the Math off since noon. Their henchmen began spreading the rumor that heavy weapon, ammunition and a powerful transmitter were found inside the Math. Did anyone believe this rumor? I guess not. Just after evening, the army began shelling aimed at the peak of the Math. But the stone temple was remarkably strong. Not a single splinter came off with all the shelling. Then they tried to set fire to it. Flames went up raging. Suddenly it began to rain and the fire was doused. Then rifle shots began to be heard. The following day, four or five lifeless bodies were seen lying.   
The repression took a communal turn. Non-Bengalis were directed to loot the property of the minority. The thugs of Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim League joined in with them. To further boost the looting campaign, marked criminals of Dhaka Central Jail were released.
But the general repression was not any less brutal. It was announced that government employees would be paid their salaries. They did pay the salaries. But just as the employees were leaving the compound with the salaries, they were robbed off the money near the office gate. Such incidents happened across all the offices of Dhaka. One could not even walk in the streets. Under the pretext of searching, they would rob people off wristwatches, rings, or money. It might sound like a fable, but these things happened in Dhaka at that time.
Dhaka city could not shelter its youth anymore. They would be shot at sight, or rounded up and carried away. The troops were probably tired of shooting. I would not get proper news where they were taken and what would be done to them. Rumors abounded. Some said near Narayanganj they were taken to an enclosed site near Shitalakhya and shot. Others said that syringe would be used to drain all the blood out of their body to kill them.  Within two or three days such exsanguinated bodies of youths were found in Kamlapur, Dhanmandi.
The troops – having done with burning, killing, and raping in the city – now headed off without delay to the villages. Everyday news was coming that in various places they were netting the people and slaughtering them indiscriminately. They were taking helpless young women to the barracks. It became impossible for us to stay in Dhaka. We left Dhaka.
As I was crossing Buriganga passing by the Shyampur Match factory, the young boatman drew my attention: 'Lo! There! So many corpses in the stream'! I looked and saw 10-12 bloated corpses were floating amid the water hyacinths. These were the people who raised the flag of independence. These were the ones who blew the trumpet of liberation war.

The writer was a famous critic, novelist and poet.
This article was first published in the book titled "Bangladesher Muktijuddha" in July 1971. The book was edited by Jyotindra Chattopadhya.
Translated by Tahmidal Zami. He is a researcher.

 

 

 

Published: 12:00 am Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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