Demra massacre in Pabna: Victim families want recognition of martyrs | The Daily Star
05:14 PM, May 14, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:17 PM, May 14, 2021

Demra massacre in Pabna: Victim families want recognition of martyrs

It was the evening of May 14, 1971. Residents of Demra village were busy completing their daily works and traders of Demra haat (rural market) were closing their shops. Suddenly, Pakistani occupation forces cordoned off Demra village and opened fire on unarmed people.

The villagers started running in fear but could not find any way to escape. Pakistan army and their local collaborators carried out an overnight massacre in the Demra village and adjoining Rupshi and Baushgari villages.

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They perpetrated genocide and looted almost every house of the villages. Hundreds of houses were burnt to ashes. Nearly 300 to 400 people were buried by the Pakistan army in a mass grave in Rupshi village.

On the fateful night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani army officially launched its campaign of genocide in erstwhile East Pakistan. But people of Demra village under Pabna's Faridpur upazila -- about 40 km away from Pabna town -- were somewhat safe. Many people from Pabna town and surrounding areas took shelter in the remote Demra village with a sizeable Hindu population. However, the safe haven did not last long due to the sudden attack by Pakistan army on May 14.

Demra massacre was the biggest in Pabna district during the Liberation War in 1971. The bloodshed left more than 800 people, including over 300 Hindu residents, dead. Most of the deceased were unarmed people who could not put up any resistance against the Pakistani forces.

The sheer brutality of the massacre shocks the people of Demra village even today and families of the victims still carry those painful memories. The victims of Demra village are not yet recognised as martyrs. Their families have been demanding the recognition ever since.

Talking to this correspondent, Ratan Kumar Nondi, an elderly man of Demra village, said most of the Hindu houses came under attack during the massacre.  

"The Pakistani occupation forces killed my father Monindranath Nondi right before my eyes. I managed to save myself, climbing up a tree," said Ratan.

"The occupation army set the house of Roy family (then a rich Hindu family) on fire. Two brothers burnt alive in the house," said Ratan, also eye witness of the incident.

Md Shah Alam, another resident of Demra village, told this correspondent that many people took shelter at the Roy family house. No one from the Roy family survived the massacre, he said. After many years, villagers recovered two skulls from the house.

More than 800 people, including over 300 hundred from Hindu families, were martyred in Demra massacre, he added.

"My father Jagadish Kundu was a clothes trader of Demra haat (market). When the Pakistan army broke into Hindu houses, my father and my uncle Jatish Kundu tried to resist them. I, along with my family members, went out of home for a safe shelter," said Ashok Kundu, son of Jagadish.

Ashok said they later found the body of his father near the Baushgari road. "I along with my mother returned home but found nothing in the house after the attack.

"We -- my mother and younger brother -- took shelter beside a canal in Rupshi area. We heard the cries of a baby early in the morning. When we found the baby, we realised it was my cousin who was crying for food next to my uncle's body," Ashok said.

"We could not organise funerals for my father and uncle. They were buried in a mass grave in Rupshi-Baushgari with several hundred martyrs," he said.

Ashok Kundu further said the country is observing 50 years of independence but the families of Demra massacre victims have been crying for their recognition as martyrs.

The government is yet to officially recognise the 800 people killed in Demra village as martyrs of 1971, he said with a sigh of discontent.

Abdul Hai, a villager of Demra Chorpara, said after his father Khorshed Prang, uncle Khobir Prang and cousin Eusuf Ali were killed during the massacre, they were buried in a single grave in their house.  

A memorial was built on the mass graveyard -- where over 300 people were buried -- in 2009 while a monument was built in Demra bus stand area in 2011 for commemorating the martyrs, he said.

The construction of a permanent memorial is underway in Demra area, said Abdul Hai.

Like them, many family members voiced disappointment over the lapses in preparing the list of martyrs after so many years.

Talking to this correspondent, Kabir Mahamud, deputy commissioner of Pabna, said the memorials have been built there to keep the memory of the massacre victims alive but the martyrs' list depends on proper study of the incident.

"Due to the lack of detailed study of the massacre, names of most victims are yet to be available. If there is a proper study and details about the martyrs, it will be easier to enroll their names into martyrs' list." the DC said.

The government is working to make a list of the names of the martyrs and give due respect to the martyrs, said DC Kabir Mahamud, adding that researchers as well as the government should come forward for this.

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