Love in the days of war | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 26, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:28 AM, March 26, 2020

Love in the days of war

"Why can't I become a freedom fighter? I, too, took training. If we die, we will die together," Rama Das had saidto her fiancé in 1971.

Rama is one of the few women who did not bid farewell to her beloved and wait for his victorious return from the war, as depicted in most movies and literature.

Rather, she herself joined the war for her motherland and was reunited with her betrothed, Parthasarathi Das, coincidentally.  

Forty-nine years later, the 74-year-old freedom fighter reflected on those tumultuous days of the war. 

"We got engaged a couple of months before the war started. Our wedding date was set for the month of Boishakh," she remembered.

In March 1971, Rama was a Master's student at Dhaka University's Bangla department.

"I used to attend meetings and processions on the university campus during the early weeks of March as I was waiting for the Master's final viva exam," she said.

She described how those political activities later inspired her to join the war.

However, her father brought her home to Jhalakathi when the exam date became uncertain after March 7.

Following the crackdown on March 25, Jhalakathi too became unsafe. Roma's family then took shelter at her uncle's house in Swarupkathi (now Nesarabad).

"In Swarupkathi, we used to spend most of the time of the day hiding in the dense guava grove, where one had to reach by boat," she said.

During that time, Rama received arms training from Captain (retd) Mahafuz Alam Beg at a camp he had set up at Kuriana Arya Sommilini School in Pirojpur district.

"About seven to eight women took training there along with men," she recalled. But soon the refuge of the grove was lost.

Local razakars, on the Pakistani army's order, started to burn parts of the grove, making it difficult for people to hide there.

Rama, along with her family, then escaped to West Bengal crossing the border through Bagdha and took shelter at her uncle's house in Tollygunge.

However, she could not stand her life as a refugee at someone else's mercy.

"I did not like when they [people of West Bengal] would sometimes make fun of us. They named an eye infection 'Joy Bangla' because many of the refugees contracted the disease," said Rama, recalling how offended she felt.

"I started thinking that it is better to join the war rather than living like this [as a refugee]." She said the programmes aired on the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendro also inspired her.

As Rama shared her thoughts with an aunt, she took her near the border area in Hasnabad, West Bengal.

"When we got off a bus, I saw Captain Beg. He was on a motorbike running some errands there," she reminisced.

"He was surprised to see me and informed me that Parthasarathi was there too at the headquarters of sector nine," Rama said. The ecstasy in her voice could still be heard after 49 years. 

"At that time, I did not know that Parthasarathi had joined the war because we did not have any communication with each other since leaving the country," she explained.

Rama told Captain Beg that she too wished to join the war. He took her to sector commander Major MA Jalil, who was looking to form a women's unit in sector-9 Taki camp.

"Major Jalil made me the leader of the unit. Initially, there were only six to seven women in the group and we used to live on a two-storied well-guarded building, away from the men's camp. Only the Major and trainers could visit us," she said.

In addition to receiving training on guerrilla warfare, including espionage, she and the other female freedom fighters had to visit the refugee camps to recruit more members, talk to journalists, and broadcast speeches about the camp's activities on Swadhin Bangla Betar.

"Major Jalil eventually wanted to turn the female unit into a suicide squad," she claimed.

Soon the number of the group members increased to 47, she said, adding how they would convince parents and encourage young women to fight for the country.

"Parthasarathi, who had a close relationship with Major Jalil, would sometimes obtain permission to visit me at the camp for only an hour," she remembered.

During his first visit, he requested Rama to go back. "He was against it [Rama's decision to join the war]," she said.

He tried to persuade her to go back to her relative's house and marry someone else, noting that he had vowed to sacrifice his life for the country.

But Rama argued that she too has taken the same vow. "Driven by the passion of youth, I refused to heed his advice," she said.

Asked if she wasworried about her fiancé, who fought at the frontiers, she said Parthasarathi never shared any information of his activities with her.

"But once he went on an operation and there was no news from his group for about three days. When I heard about it, I started crying," she narrated.

Rama broke down so much that when Parthasarathi returned, Major Jalil decided to keep him at the sector headquarters instead of sending him to the war frontiers.

Although being worried about her fiancé's life, Rama did risk hers to enter occupied Bangladesh in disguise to reconnoitre the area occupied by the Pakistan army.

"I would put on a burkha and go out on the street pretending to shop for essentials. Meanwhile, I would take note on the whereabouts of the Pakistan army," she reminisced.

Porimal Chandra Ghosh, a freedom fighter at Sector-9, had accompanied Rama's unit during a number of such missions.

"Disguised as a beggar, I went to Satkhira with Rama and others several times to reconnoitre," he remembered.

Sub-sector commander Captain (retd) Mahafuz Alam Beg said, "The main responsibility of the female unit was to collect information from inside Bangladesh. They travelled all the way to Jashore and Satkhira at least four to five times and brought information."

Freedom fighter Bithika Rani was in this group. She was also a hero and participated in a number of operations, he added.

Rama and Parthasarathi's love story took a positive turn as the country, they fought for, became liberated on December 16, 1971. They tied the knot two days later by exchanging garlands at Kolkata's Kalighat.

Rama retired from a girls' high school at Jhalakati and the couple now lives with their son in Old Dhaka.

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