Bearing witness to atrocities | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 10, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:57 AM, April 10, 2021

Bearing witness to atrocities

Genocide-torture museum in Khulna strives to preserve history of 1971 Liberation War

"Very often I visit this museum to go back in time, looking at evidence of the Liberation War and reminiscing the days of freedom fighters," said Bidhan Golder, a freedom fighter and native of Khulna's Batiaghata upazila. "I had a good relationship with Madhab Chandra's family. When I come here, I can feel his soul."

Madhab Chandra was a fellow villager of Bidhan. In May 1972, Madhab, Sourav Golder and 23 more from the village were brutally killed in Batiaghata's Badamtala massacre, Bidhan said. Their blood-stained clothes bear witness to that day. Madhav had some money in his pocket, which were stained with blood, becoming a reminder of the moment bullets pierced his body. His family donated all these items to the museum.

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The "1971: Genocide-Torture Archive and Museum" in Khulna city has collected and archived evidence of the bloodbath this country witnessed throughout nine months of the Liberation War.

During a visit, a black telephone was seen in a gallery on the museum's second floor. The phone used to be at Kabir Manzil, the house of Humayun Kabir, one of the Liberation War organisers, and the house was the headquarters of Mujib's forces in Khulna. The phone number "4926" was used to communicate news, instructions and tactics needed in the war. Kabir's son Sohail Akter handed the phone over to the museum in 2017.

Three sons of Sekandar Ali Serniabat were martyred in 1971. In 1975, Bangabandhu gave Serniabat a cheque worth Tk 3,000 from the PM's Relief Fund, but the father did not withdraw it, keeping it as the last memory of the martyred children. A certificate of gratitude and cheque worth Tk 2,000 was also sent by Bangabandhu to the son of martyr Jatindralal Roy.

All the cheques and certificates are well-preserved and displayed inside glass boxes at the museum.

Rare memorabilia and images of genocide and torture are displayed at the museum, including 9,000 photographs and 30 oil paintings in 10 galleries, as well as some 9,400 books on the war. Over 250 audio-visual CDs are also enriching the collection.

Historian Prof Muntassir Mamoon inaugurated the museum on May 17, 2014 at a rented house at Moilapota. The museum shifted to its own 21-decimal land, on a two-storey house in 2015. The new premises opened to visitors on March 26, 2016. It then shifted to a temporary premise at Sonadanga, while a new six-storey building is being built on their designated land.

The archive has recorded over 11,356 spots where killings took place, 654 mass-killing grounds, 846 mass graves and 958 torture cells in 28 districts, said Rokonuzzaman Bablu, deputy curator of the museum.

"On average, 20-25 visitors, mostly students, would visit the archive, but now, it has come down to 10-15 due to the pandemic," he added.

The museum is the first of its kind not only in Bangladesh but also in South Asia. It's fitting that it was opened in Khulna, which witnessed some of the worst atrocities in 1971 -- including the Chuknagar mass killings, said Prof Mamoon, also chairperson of its trustee board. "The museum's aim is to educate people about the genocide committed by the Pakistan army in association with their local collaborators."

Under the museum, two post-graduate certificate courses on the Liberation War and genocide are conducted every year. The museum has organised six "Martyrs Memorial" lectures, and five national and four international seminars.  It runs through a trust, and in 2017, a "Research Center on Genocide-Torture and Liberation War" was set up under it.

Shankar Kumar Mallick, one of the trustee board's 11 members, said this is the first genocide museum in South Asia. Genocide is an important aspect of the Liberation War, because the war started with genocide. The issue of that genocide has largely been ignored in discussions. PM Sheikh Hasina and the cultural minister are playing key roles to run the museum, said Mallick.

The museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm, except Mondays. On Fridays, it remains open from 3pm to 7pm. The entrance fee to the museum is Tk 5.

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