A walk through history - Dhaka University, 1971 - | The Daily Star

The University of Dhaka became closely associated with the formation of Bengali nationalism soon after the creation of Pakistan. It started in 1948 when the students of Dhaka University defied Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Father of Pakistan, and his imposition of Urdu, a language spoken by a minority in West Pakistan, as Pakistan's state language—culminating in the 1952 Language Movement. This movement sowed the seeds for the liberation of Bangladesh. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Dhaka University was at the forefront of the movement for democracy. The movement shifted from cultural autonomy towards economic and political independence, which ultimately led to the creation of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971. The emergence of Bengali nationalism in the pre-independence era was marked by the struggles of the students and teachers of the university, brought about by the oppressive Pakistani ruling elites. Perhaps, for this reason, the University of Dhaka became a target of the Pakistan military during the Liberation War.

The University of Dhaka lost eminent teachers, academics, students, and employees during the nine-month long Liberation War. The Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS) at University of Dhaka plans to introduce the "Walking Museum: 1971 Genocide Pathways in the University of Dhaka" to pay homage to those brave souls who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Bangladesh and also to make the future generations—including academics and researchers—aware of the 1971 genocide at the University of Dhaka.


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Bot tola

Bot tola

The historic Bot tola (the Banyan Tree) located in front of the Arts Building, University of Dhaka, was the meeting place of protesting students in the 1960s. This place was the epicentre of mass uprisings against the Ayub Khan regime, the then President of Pakistan. The location also witnessed the first national flag of Bangladesh being hoisted by ASM Abdur Rab, the then Vice President (VP) of Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (DUCSU) on March 2, 1971. The event was important because it was rare, never before witnessed in history—the students of a university hoisting a first-ever national flag. The enraged Pakistani military feared and hated this place so much that they uprooted the historic tree in 1971 during the Liberation War. Later, on his visit to independent Bangladesh on February 14, 1972, US Senator Edward Kennedy strongly condemned the Pakistani atrocities against the Bengalis and planted the tree that stands in the spot today. Over the years, the small banyan seedlings have grown into a giant milestone in the history of independence for Bangladesh.

Kala Bhaban Gate

Kala Bhaban Gate

The faculty of Arts in Dhaka University was opened in 1921. Since then, it has stood witness to student protests, the mass uprising against the Ayub regime, and the 1971 Liberation War. The Arts faculty building was initially located in the area adjacent to Dhaka Medical College. It shifted to the Nilkhet area of Dhaka University in the mid-1960s. Soon, the building became a hub for those fighting for the restoration of democracy. In 1969, this place became the centre for the anti-Ayub movement. Aparajeyo Bangla (Unvanquished Bengal) stands in front of the building—one of the most famous sculptures built to remember the Liberation War. It was later joined by another monument erected to honour the teachers, students, and university staff killed by the Pakistan Army during the war.

Smriti Chiranton (Memory Eternal)

Smriti Chiranton (Memory Eternal)

‘Memory Eternal’, popularly known as Smriti Chirantan, is one of the most famous monuments on the premises of Dhaka University, erected in March 1995. A 150-year-old rain tree, also a silent witness to history, has kept the monument under its shade for decades.

Located in front of the residence of the university vice chancellor’s residence, the monument started being built back in 1987, and since then, has undergone a series of renovations, the most recent one in 2015. Significant events of Bangladeshi history are etched magnificently in the clay terracotta frames on its wall. It stands as a hub for those curious to learn about the brutality inflicted upon the students, teachers, and staff of Dhaka University in 1971. Architects Abdul Mohaimen and Moshiuddin were first given the responsibility to design the memorial. Later, eminent artist Rafiqun Nabi and Abu Syed Talukdar joined the team for its extended beautification. The monument is designed with 14 columns of granite slabs, different shapes and sizes. Names of 195 Liberation War martyrs is engraved upon the inner side of each wall, while murals on outer side portray the landmark events that led to the independence of Bangladesh. The specifics of these events, however, still elude us today, as the Pakistan army burnt down essential official documents belonging to the university during the war.

Dhaka University Teacher's Club

Dhaka University Teacher's Club

The culture, traditions, and leisure activities of Dhaka University’s teachers and officials are centred around the historic Teacher’s Club, which started its journey at the same time as the academic and administrative commencement of the university. It started on a small scale, but with the advent of time, it expanded and played a significant role in creating a bond among DU’s teachers. This place, too, witnessed the atrocities of the Pakistani Army in 1971. On the night of March 25, 1971, Pakistan armed forces brutally killed four employees who worked as service staff at the Dhaka University Teacher’s Club—Abdul Majid, Ali Hossain, Sirajul Haque, and Sohrab Hossain. A memorial was erected in front of the main building of the Teacher’s Club to remember the martyrs.

Shahid Sergeant Zahurul Haque Hall

Shahid Sergeant Zahurul Haque Hall

Sergeant Zahurul Haque Hall, formerly known as Iqbal Hall, was founded in 1957. This hall was a meeting place for the leaders and activists of the student movement in the 1960s. It was named after Sergeant Zahurul Haque, a sergeant of the Pakistan Air force who was killed in Dhaka Central Jail when he was under trial during the anti-Ayub movement in 1969. He was one of the 35 accused persons in the Agartala Conspiracy case. The Pakistani ruling elite always felt a certain resentment towards the students of this hall, given its pivotal role during the mass uprising against the Ayub regime. On the night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army conducted one of the most heinous genocides in the history of the world inside Dhaka University; Zahurul Haque Hall was one of their primary targets. The horrors of that night are indescribable, paralleling scenes of slaughter you might expect to see in a war movie. The place, once resonant with students’ voices, their chanting slogans and protests against various political issues, was plunged suddenly into a deep silence. Their voices were replaced by gunshots and the pained groan of wounded students trapped inside the hall as if inside a nightmare. London-based The Times reported a large number of corpses lying on the field in front of Zahurul Haque Hall after March 25. Chishti Helalur Rahman, an eminent student leader, was killed at that time, along with many other students.

Nilkhet

Nilkhet

Nilkhet is one of the most famous places in Dhaka city, particularly for book lovers. The area is surrounded by Dhaka University on the east, Mirpur Road and New Market on the west, and Elephant Road on the north. The name Nilkhet (indigo field) harkens back to the British colonial rule when indigo plants were cultivated in the location. History suggests that before 1847, there was no human habitation in the Nilkhet area. Things started to change when the British forced the local people to cultivate indigo plants here. The British East India Company built at least 37 administrative buildings named ‘Neel Kuthi’ to administer Indigo farmers. In 1961, after the British left India, a slum was constructed in the Nilkhet area, which was known as Nilkhet slum. In 1974, after Bangladesh became independent, the slums were replaced by the present-day book market. Like many other places in Dhaka city, the Nilkhet slum, too, witnessed the atrocities of the Pakistani Army on the night of March 25, 1971. The Pakistani Army attacked the slum immediately after storming Zahurul Haque Hall. Some students and Bengali police officers from the Nilkhet barracks tried to resist the attack, but they could not survive long against the Pakistani Army’s modern weapons. The Army set the slum on fire and shot the slum dwellers, mainly fourth-grade employees of Dhaka University who were trying to escape the attack. Although many people witnessed the killing of unarmed Bengalis in the Nilkhet slum area that night. No memorial has been built here to recall the massacre.

Fuller Road Teachers’ Quarters

Fuller Road Teachers’ Quarters

The short and winding Fuller Road, located inside Dhaka University campus, is perhaps one of the most beautiful roads of Dhaka city. Calm, clean, quiet, and shaded by large trees, it has witnessed many historical events since the British colonial rule. Yet it looks like it was built just a few days ago. Fuller Road was named after Bampfylde Fuller, the first Lieutenant-Governor of the province of East Bengal and Assam. He initiated the plantation of sprawling rain trees across the Dhaka University campus. Perhaps, the road was named after him to remember his indirect contribution to the beautification of the area, which later became a part of Dhaka University.

On each side of Fuller Road, there are three residential areas for the teachers and staff of Dhaka University. On December 14, 1971, just before the independence of Bangladesh, with the help of Bengali collaborators like Razakars, Al Badr, and Al-Shams, the Pakistani Army stormed these quarters and brutally killed many teachers and staff. If you enter the university staff quarters from either the left or right side of the road, you can find the graves of the intellectuals or plaques honouring them. Three monuments have been built to commemorate the sacrifice of these martyrs. The sculptures and plaques are not only testaments to the atrocities of the Pakistani Army and their collaborators, but also to the supreme sacrifice of the university’s teachers and staff.

British Council Building

British Council Building

British Council Bangladesh, the local branch of the British Council, is one of the pioneers in providing English and British education in Bangladesh. Founded in 1934 in London, the organisation commenced its journey in East Pakistan, present-day Bangladesh, in 1951. Located in the beautiful Fuller Road inside Dhaka University, British Council soon became a treasure trove for book lovers, especially for Dhaka University students. The reach of the collection of the British Council library at that time was incomparable, since there were very few other places in Dhaka that could boast such a world of books. Since then, alongside learning to read and speak English well, the British Council has also taught visitors to make books a part of everyday life. The library has always helped its members connect with global knowledge. Recently, the British Council has introduced stricter policies in terms of access to the library for everyone due to security issues.

The Pakistani Army did not spare this institution on the night of March 25, 1971. They killed at least eight East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) police officers guarding the British Council premises. Then, the Army positioned mortars there to bombard the Zahurul Haque Hall. In July 2017, to express its sincere gratitude to the eight brave guards, British Council unveiled a memorial on its premises.

Salimullah Muslim Hall

Salimullah Muslim Hall

During the 19th and early 20th century, the Muslim population of British India, especially those living in the eastern part of Bengal, were deprived of higher education. After the partition of Bengal in 1905, the Muslims anticipated that the British authorities would take significant steps to ensure quality education for them. However, the proclamation of the Partition of Bengal shattered their dreams. To reduce the frustration of the Muslims, the British Government formed the ‘Nathan Committee’, which recommended a hall-based university in Dhaka. Finally, in 1921, the University of Dhaka started its journey with only three halls. Salimullah Muslim Hall was one of them. The current building of the hall was inaugurated in August 1931. Named after Nawab Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur, an eminent Muslim landlord, the hall started functioning with 75 residential students. The beautiful architecture marks its place not only in Bengal’s academic history, but also its heritage and culture. The two-storey Salimullah Hall faces south, and the four wings of the building surround a rectangular courtyard, while a covered walkway bisects its northern and southern sides. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army attacked Salimulluah Muslim Hall along with other residential halls of Dhaka University. They searched every room and dragged innocent students out of the building before shooting them dead. At least 12 students were killed by the Pakistani Army that night. The army then vandalised and set the dormitory ablaze. Many other unidentified bodies were discovered later from different parts of Salimullah Muslim Hall.

Isha Khan Road Residential Area

Isha Khan Road Residential Area

By December 1971, during the last stages of the Liberation War, the Pakistani Army had realised that they would losing the war soon. Sensing imminent defeat, the top generals of the Pakistani Army, along with the Bengali collaborators such as Razakar, Al- Badr and Al-Shams, decided to eliminate the intellectuals who supported the independence movement of Bangladesh. Many prominent teachers’ names were included in that list. Many of the Dhaka University teachers were staying in the Isha Kha Road Teachers Quarters at the time, which is adjacent to Dhaka University. Just two days before the independence of Bangladesh, on December 14, 1971, the Pakistan Army and their local collaborators stormed the quarters located on Isha Kha Road. The notorious killing squad Al-Badr, in particular, abducted eminent teachers of Dhaka University like Munir Chowdhury, Rashidul Hasan, and Anwar Pasha —the author of Rifle, Roti, Aurat, the first novel based on the Liberation War— and Santosh Chandra Bhattacharya from the Isha Kha Road residential area. Later, the bodies of some of the teachers were discovered in the Mirpur area of Dhaka city.

Central Shaheed Minar and Amtala

Central Shaheed Minar and Amtala

Central Shaheed Minar is a national monument comprising four columns, located in the Dhaka University area to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives during the Bengali Language Movement on February 21, 1952—a date that UNESCO declared as the International Mother Language Day in 1999. On this day, Bengalis became the only nation in history to sacrifice their lives for the recognition of their mother language. Sculptor Hamidur Rahman, in collaboration with Novera Ahmed, designed and built the Shaheed Minar in 1963. Since then, it has been a congregation centre for people during all kinds of national events. During Operation Searchlight in March 1971, the Pakistani Army completely demolished this monument. It was rebuilt after the independence of Bangladesh. The members of the Razakar and Al-Badr squad renamed Shaheed Minar as a mosque during the Liberation War. Central Shaheed Minar, indeed, epitomises the efforts to represent the glorious past of Bangladeshi nationalism.

Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall

Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall

Established in 1940, Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall is one of the oldest residential halls of Dhaka University. The hall commenced its journey with approximately 363 students. It is comprised of three parts —the Main building, the South building, and an extension of the South building. The eminent Bengali linguist Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah was the first provost of the hall. Its library is well equipped with wide selection of books, open for both resident and non-resident students. There is also a Muktamancha (open space) in the hall for students to perform cultural activities. The building is named after A.K. Fazlul Huq—the first prime minister of Bengal. Born in Jhalokati District in Barisal Division, he was popularly known as Sher-e-Bangla (Tiger of Bengal). Fazlul Huq played an active role in establishing Dhaka University and worked for the educational advancement of the Muslims of Bengal. The history of Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall is also marked by the brutality of the Pakistani Army in 1971. The Pakistani Army killed at least seven of its students during the Liberation War. To remember the martyred students, a monument was built on the eastern side of the pond near the hall, better known as the Shahidullah Hall pond.

Jagannath Hall

Jagannath Hall

Jagannath hall, established in 1921, is one of the three oldest residential halls of Dhaka University, and was witness to many historical events in Bangladesh. It is mainly a residence for minority students like Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and others. Professor Naresh Chandra Sengupta was appointed as the first provost of the hall. Kisorilal Roy Chowdhury was an eminent zamindar (landlord) of Baliati in Tangail. He established Jagannath College, and later built Jagannath Hall of Dhaka University, naming it after his father Jagannath Saha. Since Jagannath Hall was the residence of minority students, mainly Hindus, the Pakistani Army fell upon them with particular ferocity. On March 25 and 26, the Pakistani Army conducted one of the most horrifying genocides in Jagannath Hall, where they killed hundreds of unarmed students, teachers, and staff. It is difficult to describe the heinous rampage of murder and torture inflicted by the Pakistani Army upon the sleeping students of Jagannath Hall. They did not even spare some of the renowned teachers of Dhaka University for their pro-independence beliefs. In the teachers’ quarter of this hall, they brutally killed the hall provost Dr. Jyotirmay Guhathakurta, Dr. G.C Dev and Dr. Muniruzzaman. Professor Nurrullah, a teacher of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, secretly captured the video of the gruesome killing of the students at Jagannath Hall from the safe confines of his quarter. The video, which is still available on YouTube, shows people being lined up and then shot dead, one by one, by the Pakistani Army. After the independence of Bangladesh, a mass grave inside the hall was discovered, and a memorial consisting of the name of martyrs was built there later.

Shamsun Nahar Hall

Shamsun Nahar Hall

Shamsun Nahar Hall is one of the prominent residential halls for the female students of Dhaka University. The hall was named after eminent writer and educationist Shamsunnahar Mahmud, a teacher of Bangla at Lady Brabourne College, Kolkata. During her stay in Kolkata, Kazi Nazrul Islam, the national poet of Bangladesh, inspired her to start writing. She later became secretary to the Nikhil Bangla Muslim Mahila Samity (All Bengal Muslim Women’s Society) for some time and also played an active role in the establishment of The Centre for the Rehabilitation of Disabled Children in 1964. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army attacked the residential halls of Dhaka University. Although the attack on Shamsun Nahar Hall came later, the people of that area eventually also became victims of the Pakistani Army’s brutality. On that night, several Pakistani Army convoys entered the hall area, and after some time, they fired indiscriminately at the residential areas adjacent to the hall. During the liberation war that followed, Shamsun Nahar Hall served as the residence for the service staff of Ruqayyah Hall, which also housed female students. The Pakistani Army killed at least 33 people, most of whom were university staff. Heaps of dead bodies, including that of women and children, were seen in the narrow lane between Shamsun Nahar Hall and Ruqayyah Hall. Many of them were later buried in nearby areas. A memorial was built in front of the hall gate to remember the martyrs.

Shiv Bari Temple

Shiv Bari Temple

The Shiv Bari Temple, also known as Buro Shib Dham, is one of the oldest and most fascinating temples in Dhaka city. It is located in the Shaheed Minar Road inside Dhaka University. Although the exact history of the temple is unknown, it is believed that the temple was built during the regime of Mughal emperor Jahangir. It has gone through several transitions at different points of time. King Bijay Chand Mahtab of Bardhaman district of West Bengal built the present structure of the temple. The Pakistani Army demolished the temple in 1971 during the Liberation War. On the night of March 25, 1971, soon after attacking Jagannath Hall, the West Pakistan Army targeted this Hindu monastery adjacent to the hall area. First, they surrounded the temple, and then they entered the temple premises and indiscriminately opened fire on the sleeping priests.

Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS), CARRAS Building

Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS), CARRAS Building

Being an epicentre of genocide, Dhaka University has sacrificed a lot for the cause of democracy and emancipation, witnessing one of the most despicable mass killings during the 1971 war. In light of this history, the university authorities, with active support from the teachers and students, embarked upon the noble task of establishing a Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS) within the campus premises. Located just beside the famous Teacher-Student Centre (TSC), the Centre for Genocide Studies was inaugurated on March 25, 2012. It is currently housed in the Center for Advanced Research in the Arts and Social Sciences (CARASS) building.

The Centre is intimately linked with the history of liberation. A graveyard of one of the martyrs is located adjacent to the building. From the beginning, the Centre has maintained its reputation as a non-profitable, non-political research-based academic institution of professionals, researchers, planners, policymakers, and academics. CGS has declared a mandate to perform four sets of activities. Firstly, through extensive research, the Centre aims to collect ‘life stories’ of victims as well as of perpetrators of the Bangladesh genocide. Secondly, the Centre seeks to educate students about genocide and mass violence through different courses. Thirdly, they to offer a ‘genocide tour’ inside the University for the public with student-volunteers as tour guides. Finally, they plan to house a genocide museum and archive, which could attract a large number of people from within the country and beyond by collecting relics of genocide, and printed and visual materials of all kinds, including posters, photos, and pamphlets, relating to genocide and mass violence.

Ramna Kali Mandir (Ramna Temple)

Ramna Kali Mandir (Ramna Temple)

Ramna Temple, popularly known as Ramna Kali Mandir, is one of the most famous temples of Dhaka city, dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Devotees believe that the temple was initially built a thousand years ago, although there is no evidence to substantiate this claim. It was reconstructed during the Mughal era in the early 17th century and then again in the early 20th century under the patronage of Rani Bilashmoni Devi, a wife of Rajendra Narayan, the king of Cooch Behar, West Bengal. One of the most popular destinations for Hindu devotees, Ramna Temple is located in Suhrawardy Udyan, formerly known as the Race Course. Before 1971, the temple had a tall sikhara (tower), which was destroyed by the Pakistani Army. Long before the beginning of Operation Searchlight on March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army were furious at the Hindu communities of East Pakistan. Well informed of the legacy of Ramna Kali Mandir, they wasted no time in attacking this centuries-old temple. On the morning of March 26, the Pakistani Army encircled the temple to make sure that none of the persons staying inside could escape. They entered the premises and started killing the innocent priests and devotees. A pile of bodies, charred and machine-gunned, was seen inside the temple after two or three days. It is estimated that more than 100 people were killed in the Ramna Temple massacre, of which many were burnt alive. But the atrocities were not limited to murdering Hindu devotees. The Pakistani Army also razed the temple to the ground. Not a single intact brick was visible at the site after it had been bulldozed. Not only Hindu believers, but even their culture and heritage had been wiped clean from the spot. A memorial in front of the newly erected temple lists the names of the martyrs who lost their lives in the 1971 genocide. After 48 years of independence, Ramna Temple still carries the memory of the genocide committed on its premises.

Suhrawardy Udyan

Suhrawardy Udyan

After the Partition in 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in a famous speech at this site, declared that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan. The Bengalis started a mass movement in protest, and succeeded in having Bangla recognised as one of the state languages of Pakistan. On March 7, 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, delivered his historic speech at on the Suhrawardy Udyan—known as the Ramna Race Course in those days—in front of a gathering of thousands. Bangabandhu urged everyone to be prepared for the struggle for independence. It is also believed that he declared the Independence of Bangladesh on that day. “Ebar er shonghram, shwadhinotar shangram,” he declared. (“This time, the struggle is for our freedom. This time, the struggle is for our independence.”) The speech inspired indomitable Bengalis to fight against the well-equipped Pakistani Army and bring about the independence of Bangladesh.

An interesting fact about the Suhrawardy Udyan—it witnessed Bangladesh’s struggles both before liberation and after the birth of this nation. After a nine-month war, on December 16, 1971 at 4.31 PM, the Pakistani Army surrendered before the joint forces of the Indian Army and Bangladeshi freedom fighters, and the world saw the emergence of Bangladesh. After his return from jail in Pakistan on January 10, 1972, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave his maidan speech to independent Bangladesh at Suhrwardy Uddyan. Earlier, during British rule, this ground was famous for games, especially for horse racing—presumably the origin for its first name, the Race Course. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the place was named after Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, an eminent Bengali politician who also served as the fifth Prime Minister of Pakistan. In 2013, a spectacular monument named Swadhinata Stambha (Pillar of Independence) was inaugurated at Suhrawardy Udyan to commemorate the historical events that took place here.

Ruqayyah Hall

Ruqayyah Hall

Ruqayyah Hall is the first female student dormitory of Dhaka University, was established in 1956 with twelve female students. In 1964, it was named after Begum Ruqayyah, who dedicated her life to emancipate the women of this subcontinent. Professor Akther Imam of the Philosophy Department was the first provost of this hall. The hall was set ablaze on March 25, 1971. Herbert D Spivack was the US Consul General in Dhaka at the time. After the horrifying events of March 25, he sent a report to his government in which he mentioned the attack on Ruqayyah Hall. He stated that at least six female corpses were found in a room of the residence. Almost all of the bodies were found unclothed, with gagged mouths and bound hands. At least 45 employees of Ruqayyah Hall were killed by the Pakistani Army that night. The corpses were unceremoniously buried by the Army in front of the present-day Shamsun Nahar Hall gate.

Madhur Canteen

Madhur Canteen

Aditya Chandra Dey was a tea seller in Dhaka. He sold tea and snacks Dhaka University students. Since his house was located quite far away from Dhaka University, he decided to set up a tea stall in front of the Old Arts Faculty Building, currently Dhaka Medical College. In 1965, when the existing Arts Faculty building was built, his son Madhusudan Dey shifted the stall to the front of this new building, and soon it became a centre for the mass gathering and protests of students. The students started calling it Madhu Da’r Canteen (Madhu Da’s Canteen). Many student leaders, politicians, and poets spent time here together. Madhusudan Dey was sympathetic to the democratic- progressive student movement. Later, he was given a small land beside the canteen where he started to reside. The Pakistani Army were well aware of Madhu Da’s involvement in the pro-democracy movement. After the onslaught of atrocities on the black night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army, on the morning of March 26, stormed Madhusudan Dey’s house. They opened fire on him, along with his newly married son and daughter-in-law. Madhusudan Dey was alive for some time even after being wounded by the bullets. But due to heavy bleeding, Madhu Da, who was more than a canteen operator, embraced martyrdom. A statue of Madhusudan Dey stands in front of his canteen.


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