He marched forward to rescue the besieged | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 26, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 26, 2012

He marched forward to rescue the besieged

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Mahtab Beg
Photo:quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir

Mahtab Beg was the Chairman of No.2 Satnola Union, adjacent to Ranir Bandor and Champakoli areas near Syedpur town. He was a popular and benevolent leader. During 1965 India-Pakistan War he was a Company Commander of the Rangpur Ansar Battalion. During the war he performed his duties devotedly and so the local Army Commander had presented him a revolver.
On March 23, 1971, the Bengalis in Syedpur town raised the flag of Bangladesh in their own houses like in other places of the country to demonstrate solidarity with the ongoing democratic movement. Simultaneously, the non-Bengali population of Syedpur raised the Pakistani flag on that day.
The majority population of Syedpur was non-Bengalis who were collaborating with Pakistan army stationed in Syedpur Cantonment. For raising Bangladeshi flag in Syedpur, the army and non-Bengali population became very hostile on the Bengali population of the town. They interned the Bengalis within the town area and established check post and refused to allow the Bengalis to leave the town. From March 23, the roads were being patrolled by the Pakistan army accompanied by non-Bengalis armed with fire arms. It was very clear that the Pakistan army from Syedpur Cantonment were providing fire arms to the non-Bengalis to conduct oppression on the Bengalis. Bengalis in the town were feeling insecure and were apprehending attack on them any time. They could not dare to come out of their houses.
This information of the precarious situation spread like wild fire to the nearby villages. From the loudspeakers of the mosques announcements were made to help the Bengalis of Syedpur and the danger they were in. Having heard about the prevailing situation, on 23 March evening, the villagers from the villages around Syedpur gathered in the house of Mahtab Beg and discussed with him a plan as to how to save the Bengalis of Syedpur. They were all rallying around Mahtab Beg who was a trusted and brave leader, capable of giving them guidance and leadership at the time of crisis.
In the same evening Mahtab Beg sent a number of young villagers to go near Syedpur town and find out the actual situation of the town and the condition of the Bengalis interned there. The young men conducted their reconnaissance and returned to Mahtab Beg. They reported that the Bengalis in Syedpur were in a desperate situation and if they were not immediately rescued, they would be massacred.
Mahtab Beg spent the whole night thinking on a course of action to be taken to save the suffering people. He made up his mind. In the early morning of 24 March, there was a bigger crowd near the house of Mahtab Beg. Mahtab Beg told the crowd that they could not allow the Bengalis in Syedpur to be butchered. The time had come to take a decision and if time is lost, the Bengalis in Syedpur would be killed in mass. He told the villagers to collect whatever they could lay their hands on and march to Syedpur town along with him to rescue the Bengalis. He reminded the cheering crowd on the March 7 directives of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that they must be prepared to face the enemy with what ever they had.
Around 10:00 in the morning, Mahtab Beg led about ten thousand villagers to Syedpur town. He had with him the revolver which was gifted to him by the Pakistan army earlier. Beside him was his 28-year old son, Rashed Beg with a .22 rifle and another son Salahuddin Beg. In total the Bengalis could manage only 35 fire arms and rest of the people had sticks, bows and arrows, spears, etc. Around 11:00 a.m. the crowd reached near the bridge on Khargaria River adjacent to the western side of Syedpur town. Near the bridge Mahtab Beg found that Pakistan army and their non-Bengali collaborators had taken up position on the road leading to Syedpur. The crowd saw that the non-Bengalis had mobilized in thousands near the Sher-e-Bangla School with fire arms and they were blasting explosives to create panic among the villagers. Being unnerved, Mahtab Beg advanced with his followers. Immediately the non-Bengalis opened fire. Mahtab Beg with his advance party took position in the abandoned brick field nearby and tried to resist the enemy with the small number of weapons available with them. At one stage, a burst of rounds hit Mahtab Beg in his stomach. It could be understood that the enemy were using automatic weapons and Mahtab Beg was targeted by them. Salahuddin Beg tried to reach his father and bring him to safety but a group of twenty non-Bengalis were firing and advancing towards Mahtab Beg. Salahuddin Beg was severely wounded by enemy bullets hitting his thigh and chest. Due to intense fire, none could reach Mahtab Beg. By this time Mahtab Beg was martyred. The non-Bengalis carried the dead body of Mahtab Beg to the town. The villagers retreated having lost their leader.
What the non-Bengalis did after carrying the dead body of Mahtab Beg is beyond human comprehension. First, they severed his head from the body and started dancing and celebrating like animals. Then they paraded the streets of Syedpur with his head tied to a long stick and announcing through loudspeaker drawing attention of the Bengalis that if anyone disobeyed Pakistan army and non-Bengalis, they would face the similar consequences. These animals in human form did not have the slightest respect for a dead human body.
Mahtab Beg had taken a bold and decisive step to save suffering people. In the process he sacrificed his life. He understood that if the interned people of Syedpur were not rescued, they would be massacred. His fear came true as after 25 March the massacre on the total Bengali population started. Such massacre has few parallel in history. Bengalis were killed in the Railway Workshop area, Railway Colony, Golahat area, Syedpur Airport area, Tatia Jute Press area and all over the town. There is no exact account on how many Bengalis were killed in Syedpur but it is said that thousands of Bengalis were killed in Syedpur town.
Mahtab Beg, a rural Bangladeshi, is a fine example of a brave political leader who stood beside his people in the time of need. He set a high standard of leadership quality and patriotism. He fell but did not yield. His name is etched in the memory of the local people but is not recorded in the pages of history. It is a story of a fine leader and a hero who did not abandon his people to their fate but moved to rescue them.
Time is now; time is always to honor such heroes.

The writer is a Freedom Fighter.

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