The liberation war affairs ministry has once again lowered the minimum age for being recognised as a freedom fighter.
The ministry yesterday issued a gazette notification fixing the minimum age at 12-and-a-half years, down from 13, to be eligible for earning the status of a freedom fighter.
Under the revised age limit, people who were aged at least 12-and-a-half years on November 30, 1971 will be eligible for applying for the status.
The decision to reduce the age limit was made at the 50th meeting of Jatiya Muktijoddha Council (JMC) on October 19 last year. This is the third time the minimum age limit has been revised.
Sources said Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq at the meeting opposed the proposal of lowering the age limit, but the decision was reached under pressure from an influential minister and a former Awami League state minister.
The two argued that schoolteachers used to fix the birth dates of most of the village people. In the students' registration records, the teachers showed an age lower than their actual age. That is why people from villages are actually younger than their age stated on certificates.
The government has so far changed the definition of freedom fighters 10 times and their list six times since the country's independence in 1971. A scrutiny of the war heroes' list is now underway.
The liberation war affairs ministry on June 19 last year issued a gazette fixing 13 years as the minimum age for being recognised as a freedom fighter. The ministry at that time revised the date of counting the minimum age to November 30, 1971 from March 26, 1971.
Talking to The Daily Star, Mozammel Huq said he opposed the proposal of lowering the minimum age as bringing repeated changes to it is not decent.
“I changed my decision later after hearing strong arguments from across the country. Besides, a number of freedom fighters were also left out of the list due to the minimum age limit issue.”
The minister categorically said the change has not been made to recognise any non-freedom fighter as a freedom fighter.
Ministry sources said it has so far received over 1,000 applications demanding revision in the minimum age limit.
In 2014, the minimum age limit was fixed at 15 years. The decision drew strong criticism from different quarters as questions were raised about the freedom fighter status of 13-year-old Shahidul Islam Lalu, 14-year-old Taramon Bibi and Abu Salak.
A member of Kaderia Bahini in Tangail, Lalu was the youngest freedom fighter to have received Bir Pratik award.
A JMC meeting in 2015 decided that those who were at least 13 years old on March 26, 1971 would be listed as freedom fighters. Later, the age limit was changed re-fixing the counting date from November 30, 1971 instead of March 26.
There are some 2.32 lakh enlisted freedom fighters in the country now, up from 1.98 lakh in 2002 as per a gazette published by the then BNP-Jamaat government.
Besides, the ministry is now scrutinising around 1.33 lakh applications for getting listed as freedom fighters.
At present, 1.84 lakh freedom fighters draw a monthly allowance of Tk 10,000 each. Their children and grandchildren have a 30 percent quota in government jobs and special quotas in public schools, colleges and universities.