Photo: Anisur Rahman
Recalling the past is shunned…hey get going, don't look back.. you are too emotional.. march forward…left right left…
I am always in an uncertain state of mind when asked to write about the martyrs of 1971. Especially those who have been picked up by the Al Badr and Pakistani army in those 9 months. So unwittingly imitate Alexander Bloc, the great Russian poet and recite or copy his style as he wrote 'The Twelve'. Writing is a therapy so I agree to wrench myself out of the muck of enforced oblivion.
Confess I must, there is this morbid side of me that gobbles in whatever whenever anyone speaks of 1971 experiences. We were literally refugees ourselves, cocking our ears for the sound of heavy machine gun every night as though that foretold the impending victory we ardently longed for. The news of explosions by the Freedom Fighters brought in delight and maintaining a diary was a sacred duty imitating Anne Frank putting on record our condition. This prelude is necessary because unless the situation is described, it is difficult to spell out the state of mind we were in, the exasperation on events that took place then, and as a school going adolescent the pain of witnessing helplessly, being unable to fathom why innocent intellectuals were being chosen to go to the gallows for the crime of loving their land of cultural diversity.
This part of this write up comprises fragments of my stray, sporadic encounter with history. As I sat by his side recording his interview of how his brother was picked up by the Al Badr I saw his hand shake. Dr Rasiduddin Professor Emirates of Bangabandhu Medical College and Hospital, a surgeon regarded for precision, Professor Giasuddin was his much loved brother. Giasuddin Sir as he was popularly known for the kind of reverence he enjoyed from his students as a teacher at the Dhaka University , he collected medicine and food and delivered those to the posts such as one being Begum Sufia kamal's house, from where the freedom fighters picked those up for their training outpost. I saw the same happen to Ferdousi Priyobhashini as she narrated her '71 experience of rape and abuse. As I listened to them speak my thoughts strayed away to post war days when each morning dawned with the news of the disappearances of intellectuals whose crime was that they had risked their lives to help the Freedom Fighters and were a bunch of liberals and progressives who wanted to see a Bangladesh free of regimental violence and exploitation of the Pakistani rulers. The ego laden rulers of Pakistan, considering themselves as the superior race treated Bengali's as the under dogs. They treated us like pariahs and sucked the best of us and left us devoid of our soul. So these stories of torture, rape, decapitation and finally abduction were not just one but many. Horrifying, heart wrenching and remorseful happenings that unrelated or said at low frequency waned off to oblivion.
Dr. Azharul Huq was a young doctor then, he had married 19 year old Salma who was far from the political turmoil that resulted into a loud cry for freedom. By then she was pregnant with her first child. As the agitation magnified she had a miscarriage. Probably the frenzy was too intense. On 25 March as Dhaka was burning, she was in the hospital recuperating from her physical condition. She heard the booming of canons and machine guns; screams of people under siege. Her husband was busy attending the injured those who could make it to the hospital somehow. The next day she heard her favourite brother-in-law, the famous Moazzem Hossain of Agartala Conspiracy Case, was shot dead after being dragged out of his house. Pakistani armies did not know his address then how did they come to know about his whereabouts? Who informed them where to find Meghna Guhathakurta's father Professor Jotirmoy Guhathakurta? He was shot in the dark in the landing of the stairwell along with other professor and their family. Something he had feared most, paralysis, was inevitable. On the 27th of March, he was taken to the hospital almost deserted, except for the wounded with a handful of doctors to attend. Two days with hardly regular medical attendant, he died having bled profusely.
Salma Haq had become a widow and had brought up his posthumous son was given an apartment to live in by the then government. She recalls wiping off angry tears, the throes of having to bring up her son. The joy of her motherhood was utopia. How does one feel when at bedtime the boy looking at the darkness before him asks his mother to marry again? I would at least have a father who would feed me well. His father was picked up by the al Badr, as a bloated bayonet charged body from beside the culvert connecting Kamlapur with Motijheel way back in November '71.
Many such stories haunt me and at times there is anguish and impatience when such memories of innumerous atrocities drip deep into a restless soul. Bappa Majumdar, the famous son of the Principal of the Music College Sree Barin and his wife Ila Majumdar lost their only daughter while the family was running from the inferno in the early part of the war. Ila would just extend her hand and say – she just let go off my hand never to return. Indeed Mitu as she was called was never found. There are other stories too. The infamous Akhtar Goonda along with Quader Molla in Mirpur and adjacent areas set off every day for head hunting of the Bengalies who had the record of being on the Liberation war side. Akhtar Goonda would cut the head off and roll it from one hand to another letting out a war cry –here is Mujib's point with great pleasure.
Too many stories to tell, Munier Chowdhury was picked up by the Al Badr and a witness who survived had narrated how he recognised him as he screamed while his fingers were chopped off. Have mercy that's all he had said. As this was being done the butcher said –write your famous essays on Rabindranath Tagore. This happened in the renowned Physical Training College. That was the last that anyone saw of them. Gradually they faded into the void of time no more than mere stories occasionally recalled on Martyr's Day.
The stories told are on record. Though repeated still those never fail to wet our eyes. Still the truth is that only measly fragments of the horrific events have been related here. The stories are too many to recall, most not known to the next generation of Bangladeshis. At the time it happened in 1971 the population had been 70million, about more than half of that generation are no more to relate the events any longer. In fact, today many know nothing as to what it was like then. Uncertainty ruled supreme. Death was at every door for those who believed in a dream called Bangladesh. Today Bangladesh is here to stay. Flourishing, prospering, earning and on its way to a prospective developed country, in a better state than its earlier condition under Pakistan of despondency today.
But the loss of our intellectuals - the best of the lot, bring in a pall of gloom as we see the crimes committed on the innocent millions are waved off by the generation next as a time to forget. Those who went to the gallows stand tall before us. They will only be revered by those of our generation who saw the crimes committed against humanity. We are the last generation and stand with undisclosed misery in our heart as we watch with wistful eyes the prospering nation being attacked by the obscurantists against those the valiant martyrs had fought so that we could start to write history on a clean slate.
The writer is an Activist, Journalist, Filmmaker.