For the cause of independence | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 30, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 30, 2012

For the cause of independence

Roles played by 3 foreign friends during Liberation War

David Weisbrod, Lear Levin and Nora Shariff

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The 1971 war was long and painful. Final victory came through the ultimate sacrifice of lakhs of Bangalee men and women. But sacrifices were made too by some braveheart foreigners who risked their lives for the cause of Bangladesh's independence.
The Daily Star on Tuesday talked to three such Bangladesh's friends who came to Dhaka to receive state accolades for their role in the Liberation War.
Of them, Barrister Nora Shariff of Ireland had campaigned actively to gain support in favour of Bangabandhu's six-point demand and Lear Levin of USA risked his life to capture video footage of Pakistani brutality. Levin later made a film, "Joy Bangla," on the Pakistan occupation army's atrocities. David Weisbrod, another US citizen, along with other dignitaries put pressure on the then US administration to stop food and military assistance to Pakistan.

At the time of the war, Nora Shariff was a student of law at London College. Nora, then just 27, was well informed about Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's programmes against the then Pakistani autocratic regime.
“There were a good number of Bangladeshi students at London College where I was also studying. On the college campus, Bangladeshi students used to discuss among themselves the 1969 mass upsurge issue centring on the six-point demand made by Bangabandhu,” Nora said.
“Out of curiosity one day I joined their discussion and set my mind to working in favour of Bangladesh's repressed people.”
Young Nora then wholeheartedly supported the cause of the Bangladeshi people's ultimate movement towards freedom.
She helped the Bangalee students in writing documents and reports in English and she herself translated Bangabandhu's six-point demand in English, typed those and circulated them to different communities, she said.
She also launched a campaign to make the rest of the world aware of the Bangladeshi people's fight for independence.
Before and during the nine-month war that was declared by Bangabandhu on March 26, 1971, Nora played a significant role in forming opinion among parliament members of the UK in favour of Bangladesh's struggle for liberty.
Lear Levin took his life in his hands to capture the video of the displaced, distressed people of Bangladesh caused by the barbaric attack of the Pakistan occupation forces since March 25, 1971.
However, before the Pakistani army's invasion, he and his camera crew had taken photos travelling across the country.
“After the Pakistani army's crackdown, I wanted to inform the world community about the atrocities of the occupation army. And to do so, I decided to make a documentary film titled Joy Bangla. My aim was to make a comparison between the post and pre war situation in this land,” he said.
“Places that were covered with green trees and structures were seen barren after the Pakistan army's invasion.”
Braving bullets, he captured in his camera some rare incidents of the occupation army's heinous torture and bloodshed in the then East Pakistan.
Levin completed his film in 1972 by which time Bangladesh won freedom, but he could not hand over the film to the Bangabandhu government due to personal reasons.
“But no one expressed interest in the documentary after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975,” he said.
“I was so happy that Bangladeshi film maker late Tareque Masud and his wife made a film Muktir Gaan where they used a major portion of my documentary.”
David Weisbrod launched a campaign to exert pressure on the then US senate and the administration to cut military and food assistance to Pakistan during the war.
Along with a group of doctors, engineers, academics and other dignitaries, both Bangladeshi expatriates and US citizens, he staged demonstrations in the US against his government's policy over Bangladesh's Liberation War.
A student in 1971, Weisbrod and his group convinced some senators and congressmen to change their stance.
“In our campaign, we showed people about the atrocities and barbaric activities of the Pakistani occupation army on the Bangladeshi people,” he said, adding, “We got a huge response from people of all walks of life in the USA in favour of Bangladesh's struggle for liberation.”
“Our campaign earned the US people's tremendous feelings for the war ravaged people,” he said.
The interviews were taken by Rashidul Hasan.

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