Story of a patriot

Ishtiaq Aziz Ulfat

He was the first born, the coveted one, he was the sunshine of my parents, the special one in the family. And special he was. He was over six feet tall, lanky yet handsome. He was naturally charming and full of life. He always left behind a little of himself in which ever path he walked, whomever he came across. I guess, that is why even thirty three years after his death his friends and everyone who used to know him speak of him so fondly, taking pride in their acquaintance with him. It is as if they still derive some nobleness, some modesty by knowing, by being associated with this gallant, noble yet gentle human being.

This was Abu Moyeen Mohammad Ashfaqus Samad. A long name indeed which is why his friends had affectionately cut it down to Ashfi. Though his nick name was Nishrat, my parents had a special name for their special son; they lovingly called him Tani. We younger siblings according to custom called him Bhaiya. But by whatever name he was called it didn't matter. All loved him. It is indeed very difficult to accept his death, especially an untimely death. He was just 21, gone from us forever.

Lt Ashfaqus Samad has been laid to rest close to where he had breathed his last, in Joymonirhat in Rangpur district, having been killed in a frontal battle against the occupation Pakistani Army in the Liberation War of '71. The only solace is that he laid down his life to liberate his motherland, that he died in free territory and that he breathed free air before he died. He was brave and he died young.

The Pakistani Army's brutal assault on the unarmed people of Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan) coincided with the end of his honours final of DU. His subject was statistics and he was awaiting a reply from MIT in Chicago where he was seeking admission. But who knew then that he had been chosen for a bigger and better task, to serve his nation, to die for it and thus live forever. Who could ask for more?

The night of 25th March in 1971
On the fateful night of the 25th of March we were standing around the traffic circle in front of The Daily Ittefaq office. The street was full of people, and everybody in a state of tense apprehension, full of energy, but did not know what to do. We first saw two flares shooting up at the sky around 10 pm. The first one going up around the Gulistan area and the other one above the Rajarbagh police line. Even after all these years I can clearly picture the "fireworks", as if some thing that was happening just last night. The light from the flares lighting up the dark sky some how signaling the end of an era and the beginning of another -- the end of Pakistan (as it was) and the beginning of Bangladesh. I say this today in retrospect because at that moment we really could not anticipate the magnitude of destruction and horror that the Pakistan Army had let loose on the innocent people of Bangladesh on that fateful night.

We heard the sounds of gunfire a few minutes after seeing the flares, but the tanks actually rolled in around midnight. They took their position by the same traffic circle where we were standing a little while ago and fired the first shells targeting the Ittefaq office. The shellings shook our house. Very soon the newspaper office was ablaze and the flame went sky high. Our house being only a 100 yards away started getting the heat. The iron bars on the windows started to get hot and we kept pouring water on them fearing that the wooden window shutters might catch fire at any moment. Most of the employees of the press had crossed over to our house and went to safety through the back, except the ill-fated ones who took the direct hits. The fires and shootings raged on for about two hours after which things started quieting down, except occasional gunshot sounds. Even then we were so scared that we all huddled together all night long on the ground floor in a narrow space under the staircase. The next morning we crossed over the wall to see the damage next door. It was the first of the many horrendous sights that I would witness over the next few months till liberation. There were about a dozen bodies, scattered all over the machine room of the press, most of them burnt beyond recognition.

We were all confined to our house, glued to the radio till the next morning, when curfew was lifted for a couple of hours. In spite of my mother shouting at us not to leave the house we strayed out. Having gone just about 500 yards from our house I came across a scene which really changed my whole attitude towards life -- a small boy aged about ten had tried to crawl under a gate, probably when he had found the gate too high to cross over. The marauding Pakistani army had shot him dead as he had just put his head through the gap under the gate and there he was lying in a dried up pool of blood. This was when I realised that it was all over, that we were no longer Pakistan and that we were a new nation and we must now fight for our liberation and fight for a free Bangladesh. My friends and I continued to move about and went to Shakari Bazar into old town, where we saw that most of the houses were burnt, looted and marked with bullets. In one of the houses we saw another heart rendering scene; two bodies clinging together burnt to the bone as if making a statement saying, "together -- even in death". From here we went on to Jagannath Hall at Dhaka University where a huge number of students had been killed and the bodies were littered all over. On the field next to it we saw the hastily made mass graves of the ill-fated who were lined up, shot and killed; their hair, clothes and limbs still showing through the grass. (This killing was later shown on TV after liberation as it had been taped by some amateur photographer)

Bhaiya left home for the first time on 27 March, 1971. At that moment it was only he who knew that he was going to return shortly. On April 4, Bhaiya and three of his close friends made their way back into Dhaka. They had brought back with them six 303 rifles, 25 grenades and several hundred rounds of ammunition. They had done this at a time when most others were either making their way out of Dhaka to safety or were thinking about it. He had done this act when it was unthinkable. Yes, Bhaiya and his friends were the first guerillas to have taken up arms against the Pakistani Army in Dhaka City. Bhaiya's other friends were Shahidullah Khan Badal, Masud Omar known more to his friends as Masud Pong, and Badiul Alam Bodi who was later picked up by the barbarian Pak army and was tortured to death.

Bhaiya and his friends had acquired these arms from Kishoreganj where Major Shafiullah had positioned himself with 2nd Bengal. Badal Bhai had established contact with Lt. Helal Murshed, and their trust further cemented when Col Zaman (later on Commander of Sector 6) had found his way there. Major Khaled Musharraf with his 4th Bengal were heading north towards Akhaura from B'baria, and Lt Mahbub also arrived in Kishoreganj to establish contact with the other fragmented resistance forces. Later on Shafiullah, Khaled and Zia and others were to congregate at Teliapara is Sylhet at a tea estate where the first training camp for the FFs was to be established.

Bhaiya's group of four having arrived in Dhaka around dusk chose to halt for the night at our house. We had no clue of what they were up to, but they had to take my father into confidence, and my father, a man born with raw courage always stood by his children and encouraged them in all their naughty but bold and creative acts. They smuggled the arms to our roof only to be shifted to another friend's house in Dhanmondi the next day, this friend being Tawhid Samad and another recruit of that moment was their friend Wasek. But it didn't take them very long to realise that they could do little with their new found arsenal. Bhaiya and his friends decided to go up north and join with the resistance forces there. Only Bodi Bhai stayed back.

In the meantime my second brother Tawfiq had also left home to join the resistance struggle at Roumari in Rangpur where he had some friends. I also left home with a couple of friends on the 18th of April, and after about two weeks on the road we managed to reach Agartala, from where we eventually ended up at Matinagar, Sonamura, the first training camp for Freedom Fighters at that Sector, which was later on moved to Melaghar. Here we took crash courses on small arms and explosives from Capt Haider. We were amongst the first batches of trained guerillas who initiated sabotage operations in Comilla and Dhaka. Later on in Dhaka we joined up with the same group which Badal Bhai and Bhaiya had organised before their departure from here. We worked with this cell and organised and recruited many more Freedom Fighters who undertook many small and big operations in the city.

Bhaiya had come home to Dhaka for the last time in early June and that was the last time that his near and dear ones saw him. Soon after his return to camp he was selected for training as a commissioned officer where he successfully completed his training and was sent to liberate areas in the northern part of Bangladesh. He was now Lt Asfaqus Samad with his own company to lead. He and his company liberated many areas of Bangladesh till they reached a place called Raiganj, forty kilometres north-west of Kurigram. The Pakistan Army had set up a strategic stronghold there. If they could be routed from this bastion the occupation army's next line of defence would recede to Kurigram. Lt Samad and his fellow officers were planning to launch an attack on this stronghold when he received orders transferring him to Sector Headquarters. His reaction was typical of him. He sent a message through courier that he would report to duty in a few days time. He did not want to miss the big assault. After all he and his colleague Lt Abdullah had been planning it.

The date of the assault was fixed for Nov 19, 1971. Ironical as it may seem, it was the same day that his parents, being haunted by Pakistan army due to their son's involvement in the freedom struggle had left Dhaka for sanctuary, either in a liberated area or in India, where they had also hoped to meet their beloved son. While Lt Samad's parents embarked on this perilous trip towards the west, Samad himself was sitting in a bunker way up north preparing his line of attack on the Pakistanis.

The occupation Army's position was strong indeed. Over the bridge on the river Dudhkumar they had placed six medium machine guns. Across the river they held fortified positions in several buildings where there were at least three more heavy machine guns with them. The enemy had a good sight over the plain area on the west of the river.

The Mukti Bahini and the allied forces decided to launch a five company strong attack -- two of the companies were of the Mukti Bahini commanded by Lt Samad, one was a Rajput company commanded by Major Opel of the allied army and two companies were of the Border Security Force. They would advance in the dark of the night, dig in their positions on the bank of the river and take on the enemy.

The advance was smooth. Digging in was about to begin. Then there was an explosion. A mine had exploded somewhere near the position of the Rajput company. The occupation hordes opened up with every thing they had.

Lt Samad's reaction, who was in one flank, was instantaneous. He ordered his troops to retreat a few hundred yards and take cover. He then ordered his faithful JCO to leave his wireless set behind and go back to join his troops. He himself would call in artillery support. He would not budge from his own position. Realising the danger his JCO did not want to leave his Commander.

Meanwhile the situation had become precarious. The Mukti Bahini companies as well as those of the allied forces were finding it difficult even to take cover. Firing from the enemy was intense. Lt Samad took his second and last decision. He shifted his position a little and moved his own medium machine gun with him. Then he opened up with his weapon to give cover to his troops. The enemy immediately concentrated all its fire on the young soldier. The unequal fight lasted for twenty minutes, but valuable twenty minutes in which time the Mukti Bahini troops had reached safety. Suddenly after those breath taking twenty minutes the soldiers on the liberation army could not see any more spitting of fire from Lt Samad's machine gun.

The faithful JCO made a daring trip back to his commander's position. There he found the commander lying motionless. A bullet had pierced through his forehead. But there was no sign of agony on his face. He was lying in peace. Only his fingers were clenched, those long thin fingers which people say is a mark of artistic inclination, those fingers which Lt Samad's father and mother so lovingly caressed and kissed even after he had grown up. Gone was the darling of Mr. Azizus Samad, a lion of a father, best friend to his children, who had suffered indescribable misery and torture in the hands of the Pakistan army who had come looking for his guerilla sons. Gone was the darling of Mrs. Sadeqa Samad a prize-winning teacher, a Fulbright Scholar, an Honorary Judge whose mission in life was to love other's children and educate them. Gone was a valiant freedom fighter. And as long as they lived never had a day gone by with out his mother shedding tears for her son, never had a moment gone by without his father gazing out of the window, may be thinking about his son, or may be wandering about him and wishing for death to embrace him at its earliest, so that he could join his beloved son his beloved Tani.

The soldiers who fought under Lt Samad's command loved him true and they fought a fierce battle to recover his body, in the process five of them laid down their lives. They also held their mission dear. They and the allied forces finally overran the occupation army position. In the battle Major Opel also laid down his life. The allies confirmed their friendship in a stream of blood. After the victory the soldiers performed the last rites of their fallen commander and comrades. Lt Samad and three of his comrades were laid to eternal rest in a Joymonirhat mosque compound with a 27 gun salute.

May be Lt Samad had an ordinary death in an ordinary Battle but ordinary he was not. Uncanny as it may sound, two statements on two different occasions still make me wonder about something extra ordinary about him. Once in a conversation with my mother he had said in a matter of fact way, "Amma, we are four brothers, can't you dedicate just one for a greater cause, for the Liberation of our Motherland?" Naturally he had not expected an answer from her. But little did we realize that he was speaking of himself in a surrealistic way, or did he?

Another time replying to a letter received from his friend Ruma, he wrote on the 3rd of Nov 1971, "It is nice to receive your lovely letter here at the battle front. Your letter reminds me in this bunker, amidst all these explosions that there is another world out there beyond this arena of death & destruction." He did not forget to make a point of the main purpose of his being out there at the front, fighting a war. And so without even realizing he patriotically wrote, "You should be glad to know that I am writing to you from a free territory of Bangladesh and I have to tell you that I never realized how sweet it is to smell and breathe free air in free Bangladesh." But at the end he did not forget the reality around him, and that death might be just round the corner which is so common fold in war. In the last paragraph he writes, "I liked your poem immensely. So, it seems that there will be a poem or an epitaph inscribed on our mass graves. I propose that you write it. And of course do not forget to leave a flower."

Souls like Ashfaqus Samad and thousands like him have sacrificed their lives so that we have a free land of our own, a land to develop or to destroy. Our land liberated by us, to be ruled by us, our destiny in our own hands.

Let us believe this "worst of times" we are in, shall pass too and a new generation will be born. And they will see to it that all crisis is over come, that all challenges are met with bravery, just as our generation did in 1971. Yes, patriots will again be born -- if need be they will rise from the Ashes.
The writer was a Freedom Fighter in Sector-2.

Date -March 25, 1971

Target - Dhaka University

Fazlul Haque, a guard at Iqbal Hall (now Jahurul Haque Hall) describes the brutality of the Pakistani Army on the night of March 25, 1971:

At 8:00 PM, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) leader Sirajul Alam Khan came to the hall and requested us to leave the hall quickly as the Pakistani army might attack. He also directed us to make barricades on the roads. The students and staff began leaving the hall. At 10:00, I left the hall and went home after completing my duties. My home was just on the bank of the western part of the hall's pond.

At midnight, the Pakistani Army began their attack on the hall. Tanks and jeeps entered the hall from the south-east gate and later more army came through the main gate. The hall came under a barrage of heavy mortar and machine-gun attack from near the pond in front and the police barracks behind it. Immediately, students and bearers from the hall and the Bengali policemen from the Nilkhet barracks tried to escape and seek refuge in the adjoining teachers and staff quarters.

The army set the Nilkhet slum on fire and in cold-blood machine-gunned the fleeing slum dwellers. Many managed to escape from the slum and also took shelter in the staff quarters. The army also set fire to the Palashi slum. The machine gun attack on the hall set student rooms ablaze. The hall, two slums, and a staff quarter building were burning. The army shot a flare lighting up the sky, and I saw about 1000 soldiers had taken position.

The sound of shells bursting and guns firing, the smoke and fire, the smell of gun-powder, and the stench of the burning corpses, all transformed the area into a fiery hell. The incessant firing from mortars, tanks, and machine-guns continued through the night. Huge gaping holes appeared in the hall and the adjoining residences of the bearers as a result of the shelling. On the morning of the 26th, the Pakistani killers began to go through the hall rooms and began their orgy of murder and looting.

The army searched all through the hall and killed at least seven students. The unfortunate students were ATM Zafor Alam, Jahangir Munir, Abul Kalam, Abu Taher Pathan, Saleh Ahmed, and Mohammad Ashraf Ali Khan. Shamshuddin, a night guard of the hall who was locked at the hall provost office, was burnt alive when the army threw petrol bombs inside the office.

Chisty Sah Helalur Rahman, the Dhaka University correspondent for the Daily Azad was shot in the early morning at the wall of the house tutors quarter, near the water pump. Abdul Jalil, food manager of the hall, was killed beside my house at the western part of the hall's pond. The water pump workers of the hall were also killed.

Having finished their slaughter at Iqbal Hall, the Pakistani army turned their attention to the residential buildings. They murdered DU teacher Professor Fazlur Rahman and two of his relatives on March 26. We came to the hall on March 27 after withdrawal of curfew. I saw nine dead bodies beside the road at the hall playground and seven bodies on the ground near the quarter of the house tutors. I have never seen brutality like that of the Pakistani army on March 25, 1971.

Abdus Sobhan, TV room caretaker of Iqbal Hall (now Jahurul Haque Hall) describes the carnage:

We were informed at about 8:00 that the Pakistani army might storm the hall. Hearing the news, almost all the staff and students left the hall, though many returned after a few hours. I could not go because I was on duty in the TV room.

When my duty ended at 10:00, I left the hall for safety with two colleges, Shamsu and Sattar. In the middle of the hall playground, we stopped and saw a number of jeeps and tanks carrying the Pakistani army were coming towards the hall through the road behind the Muslim Hall (Salimullah Hall) near the British Council.

Being intrigued, I stopped for a few seconds in the middle of the playground to observe. I came to the south-west part of the playground where there was a tamarind tree. Karim, a Bihari used to sleep under the tree. I took shelter in between two houses of hall staffs and caught sight of the Pakistani army coming towards the tree. The army roused Karim and talked to him.

Taking Karim with them, the army then moved to the south-eastern part of the pond and took shelter there. I heard a gunshot from the staff quarter. At midnight the hall came under a barrage of heavy mortar and machine-gun fire. The Army set the Palashi slum on fire. The heaped bodies of the dead from the slum were also set on fire near the Nilkhet rail gate petrol pump.

Some surviving students were taken to the Iqbal Hall kitchen where petrol was poured over them and they were burnt alive. The university correspondent of the Daily Azad was shot near the water pump in the early morning. So was bearer Shamshu. The water pump workers of the hall as well as the bearers were all brutally murdered by the Pakistanis.

I took shelter besides the houses of the staff. The Pakistani army continued firing till morning. They entered the hall at dawn. We then moved to the Home Economics College and took shelter on the second floor of a decayed building. I could hear the cracking sounds of bullets, the students and staffs' pleas for mercy, and the sound of the soldiers ransacking every room in the hall.

We could also hear the army dragging two or three persons, perhaps students, out from the hall. The army also dragged out another two or three persons behind the hall's canteen. After some time, we observed the army was out of sight, and began to return ,but approaching the hall we saw the army still there. We ran back to the Home Economics College. I was injured seriously in my head. Some of the people thought I had been shot. They took me away and gave me primary medical treatment.

After few hours we returned to the hall. Sattar, one of the hall staffs, in an emotion-choked voice, requested me to go with him to the provost office. He said that his father might be there. I went with Sattar and we found his father dead inside the office. We also found several dead bodies at the playground and two bodies at the roof of the Mosque and one student's body in his room.
As told to Hasan Jahid Tusher.

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