Students join hands to salvage history
"It came as a shock to us when we first found out that our college ground was used as a killing field during the Liberation War," said M Zahiruddin, a 2nd year BSS student of Mirpur Bangla College.
"When we visited the Jalladkhana memorial, we saw the name of our college in the list of killing fields engraved on a marble plaque there. We were really overwhelmed to realise that many Bangalees breathed their last on our college ground," he added.
This revelation inspired Zahir and his classmates do something worthwhile -- they formed a committee tasked with digging out more information about the forgotten killing field and mass grave of Bangla College.
Rather than wasting time by just hanging out with friends, these enlightened youngsters decided to make the best use of it by engaging themselves in salvaging the history and the remains of the nation's martyrs who are resting in peace underneath the college ground.
The pack of young researchers tracked down an issue of an old newspaper, the daily Purbodesh, in which existence of a killing field inside the Bangla College compound was mentioned.
The January 8, 1972 issue of the newspaper, stored in the National Archives in Agargaon, published a report on finding human remains, skeletons and pieces of clothes in the back of the college where many families gathered with the hope to identify remains of their missing loved ones.
The students also located a book that narrates the existence of a killing field inside the collage boundary. Sukumar Roy in his book 'Ekattorer Badhyabhumi O Gano Kabor' mentioned about the killing field on pages 23, 170 and 172.
"There are large fields in the front and back of the college. We have very little clue about the exact location of the killing spot or the mass grave. That's what we are working on to find out now," said Zahir.
"We want to resurrect the memories of the martyrs from oblivion and pay the respect they deserve by building a memorial on the college ground," he added.
The students of the college have hung a banner near the college entrance requesting information from eyewitnesses about the killing field or the mass grave. They have also opened up a book to record all the eyewitness accounts.
Established in 1962, the first campus of Bangla College was located at Bakshibazar in old Dhaka. The college was relocated in 1965 to its present 19-acre (57 bighas) campus at Mirpur.
The Bangla College students in their effort to pinpoint the exact location of the killing field or the mass burial site on this huge piece of land also contacted local freedom fighters for their account of the history.
Aga Khan Mintu, a distinguished war veteran from the Mirpur area, could only give a vague recollection of the history to the students.
The college had only one academic building surrounded by vast open fields and trees with barbed wire fencing all around. The campus was closed during the war and was used as a camp of the 'Biharis', said Aga Khan.
After the war was over, human remains were found at many locations at Mirpur including on the Bangla College campus, the freedom fighter went on saying that more buildings were added on the campus in course of time, occupying the open spaces around the college.
"After all these years, it's hard to pinpoint the exact location [of the killing field]. As a nation, we are not very keen on preserving the history. Somewhere down the line during all the construction work, the mass graves as well as the history were buried," Aga Khan lamented.
Around 15,000 students are currently enrolled at Bangla College that has a large playground in front of the academic buildings and in the back, it has a pond and a small backyard.
Sabina Yasmin, a 1st year student of Bangla Department at the college, said, "It's heard to believe that the same lawn we sat on, roved about or walked by in the past year has a hidden story to tell. It now feels weird when I walk over this green field."
Zahir's classmate Sirajul Islam Mukul said, "I now feel uncomfortable every time I walk by this lawn thinking that I might step on the bodies of martyrs who sacrificed their lives for our nation."
Mofidul Haque, a trustee of Liberation War Museum, said, "The young generation taking the time to learn more about their history and searching for a very important piece of evidence is really a wonderful sign."
"They have the most powerful weapons -- the passion and the spirit, which can help them achieve the unattainable. The liberation war museum will be there next to them during their journey," he added.