1971: Witness to an early resistance
On 27 March 1971, my entire family and I had left Dhaka for safe shelter in a village named Noagaon, located 15 miles from Demra River. One had to get down at a bus station named Purinda on the Dhaka-Narshingdi Road and take a two-mile walk eastward to reach the village. Those days it used to be a quiet village, almost pristine, by the side of a winding dirt road, with tall trees of every description on all sides. Birds of myriad plumes chirped on tree tops to the amazement of the city-bred like us. There used to be two narrow canals on the road to Noagaon with two rickety bamboo bridges over them that swayed side to side dangerously, sending shivers down our spine every time we tried to cross them.
As the two-mile journey from Purinda almost took half an hour for us, we felt quite safe there after leaving Dhaka where death and despair still hung in the air. The quietude of the village greatly helped to calm our tensed nerves.
Soon after our arrival, we started to pay more attention to the nuances of adjusting to the village life as we had no idea when normalcy would return and we would be able to go back to Dhaka. Every morning we woke up listening to the singing of the birds that we never heard before and enjoyed the fresh air that blew across. But on April 4, we heard no birds singing. There was an eerie stillness all around. Waking up we could hear the rumbling of machine in the distance. Then we heard people outside our house talking excitedly about something. I rushed out of my room and saw a group of villagers running towards the edge of the village, nearer to the Narshingdi road. I joined them. Soon we came to a mango orchard on the edge of the village and stood looking at the road. It was only two miles away and between that mango orchard and the Dhaka-Narshingdi road there was nothing but an open field where farmers cultivated rice during the season. We had a clear view of what was happening there and the source of that rumbling of machine was finally noticed. We saw a long convoy of military vehicles - troop carriers, field guns and jeeps - going towards Narshingdi. We could also see hundreds of troops going on foot walking alongside the vehicles.
We were standing at a strategic position from where we had a wide-angle view spanning about 7-8 miles on our left and right. We sat on the grass underneath a huge mango tree and watched the proceeding with nail-biting tension and intense apprehension. When the tail of the convoy was at least five miles from Purinda Bazaar on our left, the jeep in the front and a pickup behind it, with about a dozen Pakistani soldiers in it, reached Pachdona Bazaar, which was on our right. There is a bend before that bazaar and all vehicles had to slow down to negotiate the bend. There were thick bamboo trees on both sides at that place which prevented sun from shining with all its brightness. As the jeep and the pickup crossed the bend, a small group of Bangali fighters opened fire on them. The loud sound of gunfire traversed through the tranquil atmosphere and made us jump to our feet. The sound was that of a burst of light machine gun fire that came from the right side, the direction of Pachdona, about three miles from where we were standing, but because of the vast empty paddy field it seemed to us as if the firing took place right inside our village. We saw all soldiers inside the troop carriers and those on foot fall flat on their chest and went on the defensive with rifles cocked and ready. There was a lot of shouting and running to and fro by some of them, possibly taking orders from the seniors. We heard more bursts of machine gun fire and some rifle shots from Pachdona direction. The Pakistani forces also started to fire back and the battle went on intermittently for quite some time.
The organized guerrilla warfare was to begin many months later hence the Pakistanis were taken by surprise at such an ambush by men with machine guns and Chinese rifles in such a remote area. Their local guides also had no inkling of any armed group of fighters of the resistance hiding in the area.
Meanwhile, amidst the deafening sound of gunfire, terrified villagers who lived near Pachdona and Purinda bazaar started to flee in all directions. We saw dozens of men, women and children running towards our village with panic writ large on their faces. They found shelter in various houses.
After about fifteen minutes the sound of the light machine gun fire seemed to be coming from a distance and we surmised that the freedom fighters had gone deeper inside the villages and would soon disappear. But the Pakistanis kept firing randomly at any and everything that moved around the place from their position as they had no clear idea of the topography of the area. They fired on the thatched houses visible in the distance which resulted in the deaths of some villagers. When finally convinced that the 'enemy' had retreated Pakistanis ordered the convoy to resume its forward march to reach Narshingdi town and set up a strong base there. But this time the speed of the march of the convoy was slower than before and we could see that soldiers kept their rifles on their sides in firing position and walk cautiously. It took about one hour for the last vehicle to cross Purinda bazaar and disappear beyond the Pachdona bend.
The next two days we saw army vehicles going up and down the road, often stopping at various bus stations to collect information. They threatened the people with dire consequences if anyone gave shelter to the “rebels”. As a result, people stopped using the Dhaka-Narshingdi road to travel to different destinations. They took the less used routes deep inside the villages and travelled on foot.
After about two weeks some of us gathered up enough courage to take a safe village route to go to the site of the battle at Pachdona. There we saw an army jeep and a pickup lying on their sides on the roadside where machine gun fire had hit them. The windshields were shattered and the metal body bore many bullet holes. Villagers who were caught unaware in their houses near the battle area had seen from their hiding places some Pakistani dead bodies being loaded on a troop carrier as soon as the Bangali fighters had retreated that day. Villagers also saw patches of blood both on the jeep and the pickup.
I came to learn later from various sources that some Bangali soldiers had escaped two nights before from the Gazipur Ordinance Factory with some arms and ammunition. It was they who came to know about the massive troop movement from Dhaka to Narshingdi and decided to attack. The details of the battle are recorded in some document chronicled by the Muktijuddho Jadughar (Liberation War Museum).
The writer is Special Supplements Editor,
The Daily Star.