A house which could have been a memorial or museum honouring women’s role in the independence movement against the British is occupied by the family of a local razakar.
This is the ancestral home of Leela Roy, widely known as Leela Nag, a social reformer and educator in colonial Bengal. She was the first female student of Dhaka University and a close associate of Netaji Shubhash Chandra Bose.
Such a house of historical significance has never received any recognition. Even worse, the family of Alauddin Chowdhury, who was allegedly involved in the Panchgaon genocide in 1971, has been occupying it for years.
According to researchers and local freedom fighters, Alauddin collaborated with the Pakistan occupation army in the Panchgaon genocide that left 59 Hindus slain on May 7, 1971.
Born on October 2, 1900, Leela Nag founded many social organisations, women’s associations and schools in colonial Bengal.
She had initially stayed back in the then East Pakistan after the Partition of India in 1947, wrote Shahnaz Nasreen in her book Nari Sahasika.
Facing continuous obstacles from the then Pakistani government to her social work, she finally left the country and settled in Kolkata, where she died on June 11, 1970.
According to Bijit Deb, general secretary of Leela Nag Smriti Parishad, Leela’s 4.39-acre homestead includes an old bungalow and a pond. Nearby is Kunjalata Government Primary School founded by Leela’s mother Kunjalata Nag in 1938.
Visiting the house in Panchgaon recently, this correspondent found the tally -roofed brick-walled bungalow in a bad condition.
Abdul Munim Chowdhury, son of Alauddin, said his family has been “living” here since 1965, after his father leased the property from the then Pakistan government.
They also built a house on the land.
“My father Alauddin Chowdhury leased the house for 45 years from the district administration,” he claimed, adding that his father, who died in 2013, had also applied for permanent lease.
Munim also claimed that the original dwellers of the house had migrated to India from the then East Pakistan during the 1947 Partition.
Afterwards, the house was turned into a union parishad office, he added.
Mahmudur Rahman Mamun, assistant commissioner of land in Rajnagar upazila, said Alauddin had leased the property in 1967 from the then Moulvibazar sub-divisional officer (SDO).
“In 1979, Alauddin again obtained lease from the then SDO. Because he did not pay any lease money, the government tried to evict him from that property,” Mahmudur told the Daily Star recently.
In 1988, Alauddin filed a lawsuit to establish his ownership over the land and the house but that was dismissed by the Moulvibazar court. The court again dismissed his appeal in 1990.
In 2000, Alauddin filed an appeal with the High Court. Since then, the government pleader of Moulvibazar district has been enquired twice about the progress of the case -- first by the HC in 2009 and again by the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in 2017 but nothing has happened yet, Mahmudur said.
Alauddin’s lawyer Khaled Ahmed told The Daily Star that on June 26, 2000, the High Court issued a rule asking why the judgments by the district court should not be dismissed.
Five hearings followed and during the last one on November 27, 2012, an injunction application was made to the High Court to ensure that the homestead is left as it is until the case is resolved, Khaled recounted.
The case has been pending since his client passed away in 2013, he added.
Contacted, Rajnagar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Ferdousi Akhter said the government could not renovate the house or construct a memorial at Leela’s ancestral property because of the legal issues.
“Once it is released from the High Court, some sort of establishment can be built by the upazila parishad,” she added.
Alauddin collaborated with the Pakistan army in the massacre of 59 Hindus on May 7, 1971, said Sajal Kumar Chakraborty, commander of upazila Muktijoddha unit command in Rajnagar, also a witness at the trial over the genocide.
Tapan Palit, assistant professor of history in Jagannath University and researcher of Panchgaon Gonohatya published by 1971: Genocide - Torture Archive and Museum in Khulna, said Alauddin first brought the Pakistan army to Panchgaon village in 1971.
Alauddin was a member of Panchgaon Union Peace Committee, formed to oppose the liberation of Bangladesh, said Hari Debnath, who investigated the Panchgaon genocide.
He was the number one accused in the case filed over the Panchgaon genocide in 1972 under Collaborator Order-1972.
He fled the area and later returned following the political changeover after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975.
Alauddin was also involved in abduction, confinement, torture, murder, looting and arson committed at Paschimbag village in Rajnagar upazila, he added.
“We have found evidence of his involvement in the crimes but did not mention his name in the charges as he died before the start of the investigation [in October 2014].”
The International Crimes Tribunal in July 2018 found involvement of four persons in the Panchgaon genocide and handed them death penalty. The four were given jail until death for the offence committed in Paschimbag village.
[Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary contributed to this report]