Freedom fighters' age reduced to 13

Martyrs' families categorised for allowance

The Jatiya Muktijoddha Council (JMC) yesterday fixed 13 as the minimum age limit for being recognised as a freedom fighter.

Now, people who were 13 on November 30, 1971 -- instead of March 26, 1971 -- would be deemed eligible to apply for the status, sources said.

Although the age limit of freedom fighters has been kept at 13, the counting date has now been shifted to November from March.

The council also decided that only the family members of freedom fighters killed in action could ask for monthly allowances, not the ones killed in the acts of genocide.

The decisions were made at a meeting of the council held at its office in the city's Moghbazar with Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq in the chair.

The meeting also decided to distribute monthly allowances to martyred freedom fighters' families, distressed, and gallantry award-recipient freedom fighters from Bangladesh Muktijoddha Kalyan Trust.

Currently, family members and freedom fighters who were with the uniformed forces -- Bangladesh Army, Border Guard Bangladesh, and Police -- collect monthly allowances from their respective forces offices.

The Muktijoddha Kalyan Trust only distributes allowances to the families of civilian freedom fighters, that is, martyred, distressed, and gallantry award-recipients.

Sources in the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs said in October last year, the council decided that those who were at least 15 years old on March 26, 1971, could apply for obtaining the freedom fighter status.

The decision was met with large-scale criticism as the minimum age at 15 excluded many prominent freedom fighters, like Taramon Bibi, Abu Salek Bir Pratik, Shahidul Islam Lalu, and Jahiruddin Jalal (known as Bichchhu Jalal during the war), who were below 15 when they fought the war.

Revising the decision to address this issue, the council in July last year decided that people who were 13 on March 26, 1971, would be able to apply for the status of freedom fighters.

 A lot of people then asked the council and the ministry for reducing the age limit, as their age was not correctly mentioned in their school certificates.

Following their requests, the  issue was raised at yesterday's meeting.

Sources said the meeting divided the freedom fighter martyred into two categories -- martyrs killed in action and those martyred in          mass killings carried out by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators.

Minister Mozammel told The Daily Star yesterday that the meeting decided that only the family members of martyrs killed in action could ask for monthly allowances.

 Regarding the change in the war-time age of freedom fighters, he explained that it was very likely that many had participated in the war after March 26, 1971. Besides, many freedom fighters had incorrect birthdays in their school certificates.

The meeting also discussed about the scrutiny of the nearly 1.36 lakh pending requests for getting listed as freedom fighters.

There are some 2.12 lakh freedom fighters already listed. The number was 1.98 lakh in the 2002 gazette published during the BNP-Jamaat rule.

At present, freedom fighters, their children, and grandchildren enjoy 30 percent quota in government jobs. In addition, freedom fighters' children and grandchildren get special quotas in public schools, colleges, and universities.


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