Sufia Kamal was confined to her residence in Dhanmondi during the whole nine months of Bangladesh's liberation war in 1971.
When news of the 'killings' of Sufia Kamal and Dr Nilima Ibrahim by Pak Army after the crack down on March 25, 1971 was broadcast on Akashbani, a radio station of the Indian state West Bengal, it drew criticism internationally and countries across the world put diplomatic pressure on the then Pakistani military government for clarification. The Pakistani government was forced to broadcast an interview of the poet on radio only to prove that Sufia Kamal was still alive.
In an interview with now defunct 'Weekly Bichitra' on December 7, 1991, Sufia Kamal recalled her memories of 1971.
We publish excerpts of that interview taken by Selim Omrao Khan.
Bichitra: How did you pass the nine months of house arrest during liberation war?
Sufia Kamal: I was confined in my house during the whole liberation war. Nobody was able to come to my house on 26, 27, 28th March due to military presence in front of my house. One night Pakistani army came to the residence of Wing Commander Hamidullah, which was close to my house. Immediately after I heard that Pakistani army arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and seized the belongings of his house.
At the beginning of April, I heard liberation war had started. I tried to gather news about the war in many ways. Pakistani army kept strong watch on my house by setting up a permanent camp in front of it. Everybody used to visit my house through the back door. Pakistani army started arresting people from the month of April. An unknown silence gripped the whole Dhaka city. Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir, now a professor of Dhaka University, came to my house through back door. He told me, "They (army) are torturing the women. Where can we keep them?" Though I couldn't go out but we tried to make arrangements to keep some girls in a safer place.
In May, Shahadat Chowdhuy, now editor of the 'Weekly Bichitra', Jewel and Rumi came to my house. Rumi used to call me mother. He hugged me and said, "Ma, I will go to the war." I told Rumi's mother Jahanara Imam that his son wanted to join the war. She replied, "Since he wants to, let him go."
In the month of May, many families around my house left Dhaka in search of a safer place. They gave me their ration cards and I collected food from shops with those cards. Prof. Giasuddin and Shahidullah Kaiser would come to my house through the back door and take the food for the freedom fighters.
Pakistani army continued their atrocities in the month of June. I made an arrangement to send Lulu and Tulu, my two daughters, to Agartola. I was not getting any information about them. One evening, a rickshaw puller came to my house and gave me a small letter. It said, "They have safely crossed the border". I was relieved.
I started going out from July. I would go to the hospital with food and medicine for the injured people. At that time there was an acute crisis of food and medicine in the hospital. I used to give those food and medicine to certain rickshaw pullers at Science Laboratory. They would take the food and medicine to the freedom fighters.
I was able to establish closer contact with the freedom fighters in August. As Pakistani army kept their strong watch on me, I would try to help the freedom fighters in different ways ignoring the risks.
Many freedom fighters were caught in the hand of Pakistani army in August. They arrested Shaheed Altaf Mahmud and some of his relative and artist Abul Barak Alvi. Shafi Imam Rumi, Masud Sadek Chullu and Jewel were also arrested. After four days Alvi was released from concentration camp and came to my house. He had marks of atrocious tortures all over his body. I became emotional and hugged Alvi tightly. But Altaf Mahmud, Jewel and Rumi never came back.
The rest of the three months I heard only the news of freedom fighters taking control of many parts. I spent the whole October in anxiety.
In the month of November We came to know that Al-Badar and Razakars were killing many people. Pakistani army increased their vigilant on my house. On November 15, I heard a sad news from Chittagong that Pakistani army killed Kahar Chowdhury, my son-in-law. They killed him because they were very angry with me.
At the beginning of December, I heard that many parts of the country were freed from the grip of Pakistani army. After hearing these news, I had mixed feelings. I was excited and at the same time filled with sorrow. We were getting freedom at the cost of bloodshed of so many people. On December 13, freedom fighters began to gather at my resident.
On December 15 Pakistani forces fled from many parts of the city and took shelter inside the cantonment. Pakistani army encircled the house of Shiekh Mujibur Rahman till the morning of December 16.
On December 16, Dr. Dora was shot dead while passing a house of Dhanmondi where Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana and Mujib's wife Fazilatunnesa were kept under house arrest for the nine months. I rushed to her house after hearing the news. After few hours we received information that Pakistani occupation forces would surrender at the then Racecourse Maidan at 3 pm. I was filled with emotions. Thousands of people took to the streets after hearing the news. Freedom fighters shot blank shots in the sky to celebrate the freedom.
Bichitra: What was the most memorable event in those months?
Sufia Kamal: On December 7, Shahidullah Kaiser came to my house. I asked him to leave immediately because there were rumours that Pakistani military was killing the intellectuals in Dhaka. They had prepared a list of intellectuals and other important persons. Shahidullah Kaiser said, "I would not leave Dhaka. If I leave Dhaka then who would work?" At that time Dr. Fazle Rabbi told me over the phone, "I heard that the Pakistani army will kill us and your name is also that list. Why are you not leaving Dhaka?" At that time Dhaka was a city of rumours. After few days I heard that many of my acquaintances were missing. I heard that Pakistani army and their collaborators picked up many noted persons including Shahidullah Kaiser, Munir Chowdhury and Dr. Fazle Rabbi from their houses. They cautioned me to leave Dhaka but they themselves did not leave and got caught. They proved their patriotism to their motherland by sacrificing their lives. All of them helped the freedom fighters during the liberation war in different ways by taking risks. And that's why they became the target of Pakistani army.
Bichitra: "In 1971 no massacre took place in Bangladesh." Some intellectuals in Dhaka signed a statement of the then Yahya government which contained the above title. How did you refrain from signing the statement?
Sufia Kamal: I could never sign a statement which was not true. Zillur Rahman, the then regional director of Radio East Pakistan, came to my house and forwarded a paper to me to sign. I got angry after reading the paper. I refused to sign it because it said that the Pakistani army committed no crime in the then East Pakistan. I got furious with Zillur Rahman and asked him how I could he expect me to sign something which was a lie. Zillur Rahman became angry too and said, "If you don't give your signature then it might create a problem both for you and your son-in-law Kahar Chowdhury." I told him that I didn't care for my life. I said, "I would rather die than put my signature on a false statement.”
Translated by Akbar Hussain
The article was originally printed in the Victory Day Supplement of The Daily Star on December 16, 2004