Pleas unheard, he suffers in silence
This year as Bangladesh celebrates its Golden Jubilee, Bangalee diasporas abroad, including in the UK, too are rejoicing while looking back at the country's independence movement. During the Liberation War of 1971, the UK Bangalee community played an important role by highlighting the atrocities taking place in Bangladesh, lobbying the British government and the international community, and raising funds for refugees and freedom fighters. Bangalee communities across the UK formed Action Committees in support of the liberation struggle. As concern grew for immediate family members and relatives left behind, meetings were held in towns and cities with a sizeable Bangalee population.
Despite demands from the UK-Bangalee diaspora and repeated requests to the Bangladesh High Commission in London, the Bangladesh government and the liberation war ministry, to date, the contribution of the British and Bangalee communities in the UK have not been documented. Though a few, including Justice Abu Sayeed Choudhury, special envoy of Mujibnagar government, writer Abdul Matin, community historian Yousuf Chowdhury, Swadhinata Trust, Central London Youth Development, community historian Faruque Ahmed, Sheikh Abdul Mannan of Steering Committee, Channel S and the Bangladesh Welfare Association, have attempted to document the history of the contribution of the Bangalee diaspora community.
A recent announcement by the liberation war ministry published on June 20, 2021 in the daily Samakal that only 12 UK activists from 1971 will be gazetted as freedom fighters to receive full benefits has shocked and offended many who had taken an active part in the Bangladesh movement here in the UK. A number of protest meetings both online and in person have taken place.
It is said that the money raised by the Bangalee community in the UK provided the foreign reserve required to operate Bangladesh Bank and Bangladesh Airlines. The total money raised from the UK was £412,083, of which £378,871 was handed over to the Bangladesh government, according to the book "Bengal Politics in Britain" by Faruque Ahmed.
There were claims of misappropriation of funds but these were subsequently cleared by the Director of Public Prosecution and the British Board of Trade.
Unfortunately, one person who worked for the London Action Committee fell victim to such a false claim. He is Gouranga Saha Roy.
He described his contribution in his own words: "While our freedom fighters were fighting the enemies in the homeland, our mission here was to win international support and solidarity. To this end we took to the streets of London and other major cities, we organised rallies, lobbied the members of the Houses of Parliament, and visited foreign embassies, universities, trade unions, news media and other influential institutions. We published newspapers and other materials and mobilised public opinion for our cause. We continued with this campaign strategy throughout the entire 10 months of the war. In the end we succeeded, our motherland, Bangladesh, was born. I was so proud to have been associated with this epic struggle of independence."
However, following the end of the war, he found that the Bangladesh High Commission in London in their post-war audit report on fund-raising, incorrectly named him as one amongst many who did not return all the contribution collected.
Gouranga Saha returned all six receipt books allocated to him as a fundraiser, with the counterfoils and the monies collected to the London Action Committee. Unfortunately, the London Action Committee returned five books from Gouranga Saha Roy to the Bangladesh High Commission, with one book unaccounted for. A couple of weekly newspapers, one in London and one in Bangladesh, picked up this story. Both papers surprisingly picked up only his name out of 32, published in the report. They did not mention any of the others on the same list and more missing books. One person allegedly lost 17 books, one committee lost 27 books, and they did not feature in either of the papers. All in all, 153 receipt books were unaccounted for.
On being aware of this, Gouranga Saha immediately took up the matter with the Bangladesh High Commission and Gaus Khan, the Chairman of the London Action Committee. They acknowledged he did indeed return the book described in the report as missing. He received signed letters, one from MAL Matin, director of Audit and Accounts at the High Commission and one from Gaus Khan, to confirm this. However, the High Commission would not remove his name from the list until the London Action Committee returned the missing book, which it failed to do. Investigations conducted by Britain's Director of Public Prosecution and the British Board of Trade confirmed that all allegations of financial misconduct as reported in the audit report were groundless and found no evidence of corruption. The High Commission should have rectified their records to reflect the findings, but they did not. As a result, Gouranga Saha's name remained on the list despite his intervention.
He continued communicating with the High Commission for another two years but failed to clear his name. Finally, he wrote the last letter on August 22, 1974 to the high commissioner to help clear his name. No reply was received. After that, his job and family commitments took him away from London and with that, he stopped pursuing the case, as it seemed an impossible task.
Asked about the issue, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said he could not recall the details of what happened then but he acknowledged that freedom fighters like Gouranga Saha Roy should not have suffered from the feelings of bitterness.
"It's an old issue … but we will look into it if we get any written note," he told The Daily Star.
Contacted, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said he has no idea about the matter. "If he [Gouranga] files a complaint, we will look into it," he said.
Gouranga Saha Roy, now nearly 80 years old, feels bitter and hurt looking back at that period.
In 1971, his family back in Bangladesh went through a living hell. Under cover of darkness, the extended family members of his elderly parents, his wife and his younger sisters, made perilous journeys through many villages, rivers, mountains, walking barefoot on miles of rugged terrain, day and night, often without food, water and sleep ending up in a refugee camp across the border in India.
Today in the UK, he has a family of three sons, daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Unable to clear his name obviously affects them and their children's future. This stain on his character has the potential to reverberate through generations to come unless something is done to rectify this mistake. Due to an administrative hiccup, his name appeared on a list, but he has not been able to clear his name despite repeated calls. It's high time on the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence that his name is removed, and he is acknowledged for his contribution towards his motherland.
In 1971, many Bangalees like Gouranga Saha Roy in the UK played a vital role in lobbying the world community for the freedom of Bangladesh. Though small, there was a sizeable Bangalee community in London, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester and other cities in the UK.
In addition to the work of Action Committees, activists of the Bangladesh Women's Association handed in letters to different MPs in the House of Commons to support the Independence Movement of Bangladesh. They wrote to various world leaders and attended the annual conferences of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party raising awareness among political leaders about the genocide in Bangladesh. They raised funds and relief and organised some of the largest women gatherings in the UK.
These are some of the anecdotes of the movement in the UK and of course, there are still many facts yet to be revealed.