Due to sociocultural factors, women's involvement in the Liberation War of 1971 was mostly indirect. But when their pride and dignity were being desecrated repeatedly by Pakistani occupation forces, women in Char Gokunda village of Sadar upazila rose to the occasion and took part in an ambush on their oppressors.
Camped near the Teesta Railway Bridge -- gateway to Lalmonirhat and Kurigram districts, the Pakistan army had been terrorising Char Gokunda and surrounding villages by killing innocent civilians, torching houses and abducting Bangalee women including young girls.
The troops raided the villages at night and forcibly took women and girls to the camp where they raped and murdered their prey. Only a handful of the fortunate ones made it back home alive.
After tolerating months of excruciating persecution and anguish, the women of Char Gokunda decided to strike back on May 5, 1971.
According to a plan ironed out with their male counterparts, the women kept chilli powder at easily-accessible locations of their houses. As two Pakistani soldiers entered the village looking for prey, women in a group surrounded them and sprayed chilli powder into their eyes.
While they snatched firearms and live ammunition from the two, men of the village swooped in on the predators. Together, the villagers beat the soldiers to death.
Reminiscing on the past, villager Aklima Bewa, aged 69, said, "Though I can't recall the exact date of the incident, I remember it took place in an evening."
The ambush was jointly executed by about 18 to 20 women and girls, including her, with the help of men of the village, she went on saying, "While the two Pakistani soldiers were scouring the village for prey [young women and girls], we sprayed their faces with chilli powder all at the same time.
"As we started to beat up the two, the men of the village joined hands. The Pakis died on the spot," Aklima added.
Mahir Uddin, 70, was one of the male members of the village who took part in the ambush.
He said he and other villagers took the weapons from the intruders and later handed those over to the Bangalee members of the then East Pakistan Rifles, as the latter had been organising local youths to join the resistance.
"We buried the bodies in sands of the Teesta riverbed. Later the Pakistan army retaliated by torching our houses. All of us fled from the village and took refuge in safer locations. Many fled to India," Mahir Uddin also said.
Locals said the Pakistanis that day torched houses in neighbouring villages as well.
On December 8, two days after Lalmonirhat was liberated from Pakistani occupation, a large number of human skeletons, mostly of females, were unearthed from the bed of the Teesta, they added.