Photo courtesy: Dr. Nuzhat Choudhury
A few hours before the birth of the new nation, on the evening of December 15, 1971, a microbus covered in mud, drove up to the front of our house. They took my father Dr. Abdul Alim Chaudhury away. On December 18, we found his lifeless body lying in a pool of blood in the Rayer Bazaar brickfield along with hundreds of other leading intellectuals of the day.
Dr. Abdul Alim Chaudhury was an eminent ophthalmologist, a politically active leader of his community. Trained in UK, he came back to serve his country. He was not only a leading ophthalmologist but also leader of the doctor community. Even though he was born into a zaminder family, he dreamt of a classless society where rights of all human beings would be upheld. He was deeply involved in the language movement in 1952 when he was a student leader at Dhaka Medical College. In 1954, he was taken into custody by the then Pakistan Government on the anniversary of the language movement for his political activities. Later in life, he served as the Secretary General of the Ophthalmological Society of East Pakistan and Secretary General of the Ophthalmological Society of Pakistan.
Dr. Abdul Alim Chaudhury was a multitalented personality who was active not only in the political and professional arenas but also in cultural movements. As a student, he was sub-editor at the Dainik Ittefaq and the Dainik Millat. From his third year in medical college he edited a monthly literary paper Jatrik. He was also the editor of another literary paper Khap Chhara. While studying in UK, he helped found the London based Bangla academy.
He was deeply involved in our freedom struggle. His chamber became an underground meeting place for political leaders and his clinic provided shelter and treatment for injured freedom fighters. He collected money and medicine for the freedom fighters and supplied them to their secret hideouts. He was told about the danger looming over his life but he preferred to stay in the country, saying that if everyone left the country, who would be there to work from within the country. On December 15, just a few hours before the dawn of our independence day, he was taken from his home and killed, along with other intellectuals.
Why were these brilliant people killed? They were not fighters with arms. But they had something more powerful than that. They had ideology, vision, brain and dedication. Ideology that led the way towards the freedom fight. Vision, brain and dedication that could have built a great nation. How could the enemies of our country tolerate the prospect of such a brilliant future for us? Near the end of our war of independence, the Pakistani army and their collaborators, the Razakars, the Al Badrs and the Al Shams realised that they were losing the war. In a final attempt to destroy the nation, under a meticulously planned blue print, they methodically picked up the most accomplished members of the society, leaders of different professional arena, the most progressive visionaries, the leading intellectuals, from their homes and tortured and brutally murdered them. And thus our enemies have successfully managed to cripple our nation forever. I therefore think that the intellectual killing was not only a crime against individuals, but a crime against the whole nation. How can such a big crime go unpunished? I also believe that if we minutely look at the intellectual killings, we will be able to unmask the real faces and motives of many war criminals that are still poisoning our political arena. And, maybe, if we are lucky and successful, through this process of trial of these war criminals we might be able to prevent future blood baths in the country that at the moment we are surely heading towards.
Overriding all personal pain, our despair stems in large part from what happened afterwards in the free country. The personal pain and loss becomes insignificant compared to the despair we feel when we see the condition of the country. This is not what our fathers died for. In every field we see worthless people leading the way. Therefore the country is going nowhere, actually going in the wrong direction. Then, more than ever, we feel the void left by the death of these brilliant people. If we saw that everybody upheld the ideologies that our fathers believed in, if everybody showed their gratitude and respect to the families of the martyrs, to the memories of the dead, to the freedom fighters or Birangonas, our pain would not be so acute. But we were fated to see the exact opposite. We saw the rise of fundamentalism. We saw unworthy people become leaders, some of whom were war criminals. The war criminals never apologised, they were never made to answer for their crimes. Rather, the state patronised their rise to power. I grew up seeing my father's killer sitting in the national assembly. The man responsible for my father's death, the so-called 'moulana' Mannan was made a state minister by President Zia and then a full minister by President Ershad. Look at the parliament today -- a number of known razakars are sitting there. They are somebody else's father's killers. Have you ever thought how it makes us feel? Our political leaders have allowed our sacred flag to be flown in the car of known war criminals. Who gains from this political compromise? I would like to tell those political leaders that maybe for the time being you gain a prime minister's chair. But look at Afghanistan for a moment and think for a second. In the long run, you and I both lose. Compromising political people are helping the whole country lose.
It saddens me to see that, for petty political gain, even political parties who claim to be founded by freedom fighters are creating confusion and opposition to the trial of war criminals. How can it be that a few vocal war criminals in a party can silence the voices of many freedom fighters in the party? Is the greed of practical life so powerful that it can force people to betray the blood of dead comrades they fought with? I cannot understand how anybody who lives in Bangladesh, calls it their motherland, can oppose the trial of war criminals who worked against the formation of that motherland.
Trial of a criminal, justice for a crime committed is natural basic human rights. They took my father from his home, brutally tortured and murdered him. It was a crime and I want justice. There are even people ignorant enough to say that it has been so long and that an event of such distant past should be left alone. The answer to that lies in the question itself. Specifically because it has been so late, the country owes it to us to organise this trial on an emergency basis. Justice delayed is justice denied. We have been deprived of our right to justice long enough. Also, it might be a distant past for most of you but for me, my sister, my mother and other victims of war, it is part of our every moment's existence.
Photo courtesy: Dr. Nuzhat Choudhury
To create confusion, it is frequently said that this trial would divide the nation. I would like to humbly ask whether we were ever united as a nation except for those glorious nine months of '71. That sense of commitment is where we need to return to be united again. For that reason the war criminals need to be tried. The war criminals and their evil politics have always been a wedge between brothers and have always managed to divide the nation. If we can remove these bad elements we can finally unite and by solving unresolved issues we can move forward. If you have a rotten tooth that is beyond repair, you should extract it. Only then can you live in peace. Avoiding the pain or using painkillers will only temporarily minimise the issue. And lead you to a very severe crisis in the future. Likewise, if we do not try these criminals today, someday in the near future we might have to shed blood again to preserve our ideology and country. Those that are opposing the trial might be surprised to find their son slaughtered by these reactionary extremists. Just look at Afghanistan and remember the Taliban did not only kill the communists but also butchered the Mujahideens.
If anyone tries to paint this trial as a political witch hunt, I would like to tell them that if you are not a witch no one can hunt you, isn't it? So, if you are not a war criminal you have nothing to worry about. If you are, you should be tried. If someone in your political party is, let him be tried. Do not betray your own motherland for petty political gain. Do not compromise on this issue. How can you compromise with your brother's killers, your sister's rapist? Be true to your country..
From 1971 to 2010 -- 39 years. We have been waiting for so long. Waiting for the fulfillment of a simple basic human right -- the right to justice. Right to see the killers of our fathers to be brought to justice. Somewhere in the horizon we can now see a ray of light that, maybe, before they die, our mothers will see the war criminals tried and punished. But experience with our political system has taught us otherwise. I do not trust anyone. Most of all I do not trust our fate; that we should be so lucky to see the killers of our fathers punished. Somehow I fear somewhere, someone will ruin this process of bringing war criminals to justice. I am constantly afraid that someone will come up and ask us to be practical and realise that these criminals have become too powerful to be punished and that there are too many powerful forces behind them. I am constantly worried that something will go wrong and we will again be as disappointed as we were after Ghulam Azam was granted citizenship. I am afraid it is all too good to be true.
If this process fails or is destroyed, I want to let you all know that we will rise up again and fight till our last breath for justice. We are used to deathblows. Like a Phoenix we will rise up again and again from the ashes. If not us the next generation of progressive forces will demand justice for their forefathers who laid down their lives and gave them their country.
History is a fair judge. I believe that history will place everybody in the exact place that they deserve. I believe that in the distant future when all involved persons are gone, there will be no confusion about who was right or wrong. Criminals will be called criminals. We will prevail because we have truth on our side.
My father used to take my mother to the Shaheed Minar every 21st February. He used to say that the martyrs are the lucky ones. All would die someday. How many are lucky enough to have such a glorious death? I feel proud that I am the daughter of such a man. I am proud of the man that my father was, the life he lived, the ideology he believed in and struggled for, the respect he earned in his short life. With his death he became part of the country's history and left us with a legacy of pride and honour.
This country was born out of great sacrifices by millions of people. Now it is time for the people of Bangladesh to acknowledge their dues to them and unite in demanding the trial of war criminals.
Dr. Nuzhat Choudhury, daughter of Martyred Intellectual Dr. Abdul Alim Chaudhury, is Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
This article was previously published in December 2010