Fleeing from barbarism
are you taking my husband?
My name is Bokul Rani Das. My husband Sunil
Chandra Das was a darwan (guard) at Jagannath
Hall of Dhaka University. Before going off
for duty at 8.p.m.on the night of March
25, he told me, "You go to sleep with
the kids." I had a son and a daughter.
The girl was two and half years old. The
boy was 18 months. At around midnight the
firing started. My husband returned home
an hour later and said, "Let's escape
and hide." I was numb.
The firing was still on.
So we decided to go to the Assembly Hall.
Ten minutes after we reached there, we found
the army entering the hall and starting
to search with torches. What could we do?
Where could we hide? Their father and others
would worship Saraswati Devi. The idol was
inside the hall. Many went and hid behind
that idol. But the Punjabis hunted them
down with torches in the darkness. My girl
was in his arms. He called out to me and
said, "Hold the child." Then they
took him away dragging him by his hands.
My daughter was left on
the floor. I asked, " Where are you
talking my husband? " They said, "We
are not taking your husband anywhere. We
will bring him back". They started
to move towards the door. I tried to get
close to them, but they kicked me down.
My daughter also started to cry along with
my son. Those who were with us in the Hall
picked me up from the floor.
The Punjabis then said,
"Nothing will happen to you. Come with
us." They were talking in Hindi. I
didn't speak Hindi. Others with us there
spoke that tongue. They took me near the
gates of the assembly hall and asked me
to sit down on a stool they brought. I said,
"Bring me my husband".
They said, "No, your husband can't
be brought back. We have taken your husband
away". Others later said, they had
taken him near the big tree and shot him
Our houses were torched,
we had nowhere to go. We all went to the
playing ground and sat there the whole night
as everything was in flames all around us.
When morning came, we saw that people were
being taken away to drag the corpses that
lay on the field. People were already pulling
them across the ground.
But I couldn't find my husband.
I sat on the field with my two children.
I saw that they had pulled all the dead
bodies and laid them on the ground in rows.
"You all sit down,
wear Sadarghat saris and shout 'Joy Bangla',"
-- this was what the army men said. But
nobody shouted the slogan. Then from a hole
in the wall they started to fire. When the
firing started, we all lay down on the ground.
I think I lost my senses. I have no memory
of what happened after that. But we stayed
there till the afternoon. Later those who
were still alive left the Jagannath Hall
and walked towards the Medical College leaving
the dead behind. Leaving my husband behind.
Bokul Rani Das.
Resident of Jagannath hall. Husband was
killed on the night of March 25, 1971. Interviewed
safe here. Nobody knows what will happen.
What has happened? “
"We had lived in Mohammadpur all our
life. We were refugees from India and obtained
an allotment in 1962. Our area had a few
Bengali families and the line was known
as Police line because some of the residents
were linked to the police. We were very
non-political because in 1946 our family
had suffered in the Calcutta riots. I had
lost my brother then. We didn't mix much
with the Biharis.
But the Biharis were very
agitated since the non-cooperation movement
of March 1971 began. They were sometimes
worried, sometimes angry. I think most people
thought that Bhutto would not allow Mujib
to take power and nobody knew what would
happen after that. But once non-cooperation
began many became scared. Suddenly many
realised that the Biharis lived in a place
surrounded by Bengalis and they didn't like
Actually, some meetings
were held to maintain peace amongst all
but as it always happens, there were elements
that were angry and the mood became more
and more sour. We didn't know what was happening.
The local Islamic astrologers made several
dire predictions about the future. It made
us more anxious.
On 25th night I came home
early because my garage wasn't busy and
my mechanics had gone home, one to old Dhaka
and another to Syedpur. They wanted to bring
back their families. When the firing started
we all thought that a riot had broken out.
I think some people were saying "Allahu
Akbar" very loudly. We hid in the room
behind the main one. We didn't know who
was attacking whom. But we slowly understood
that it was the army. Only the army had
so many guns.
I was very scared about
being left by myself. I had a cousin who
lived in New Colony and they had a car so
I thought we could escape with them. When
morning came I asked my wife to put her
gold jewels in the bag and start moving
towards Asad Avenue. It was not very far.
My daughter was away with my wife's sister
"Stop", I heard
a voice and stood still. It was just dawn
and the light was not yet full. We saw the
tires and tubes lying on the street and
the debris of resistance. We thought we
were going to be attacked.
Two men came towards us.
They were Biharis and I knew them. But in
that light they looked like ferocious strangers.
I was scared. They came very close to us.
I was wondering what would I do if they
tried to take my wife away. The man called
Kaleem said, " See what Joy Bangla
has done. Who will protect you now? My relatives
phoned me. They have killed many people,
many students. The army has taken charge
and now there will be no peace." He
was more morose than angry but his companion
Selim began to abuse Sheikh Mujib and blaming
him for everything. My wife started to weep.
We could hear people coming from behind.
I said nothing and taking God's name started
to move forward. When they began to shout
"Pakistan Zindabad", we ran for
We entered Zakir Hussain
Road and hid behind a trash bin. A while
later we started to walk fast towards New
Suddenly we saw another
family, a Bengali family walking towards
us. There faces were terrorised. "A
group of boys were stopping people and searching
them. We saw that and ran." The family
-- mother, wife, children began to run towards
some unknown direction. Suddenly we saw
our cousin hurrying on the road. He was
like a man without any blood. I have never
seen a blank face like that. He said, "It's
not safe here. Nobody knows what has happened,
what will happen." He sat down on the
road and began to cry.
Late Alfaz Hossain
Resident of Nazrul Islam Road, Mohammedpur.
Interviewed in 2000.
away, run away”
After the night of March 25 there was a
curfew. We didn't know what was going on.
We had never thought that the army would
attack us like that. We were under so much
shock that we could hardly speak. There
was no hunger only thirst and fear. Telephones
were out of order, I was very worried about
our relatives in different parts of Dhaka.
On March 27, curfew was lifted and some
people began to move. From the 26th morning
we saw the poor slum dwellers moving out
with whatever they had. But we were too
scared to make a move. Suddenly my brother-in-law
came panting and sweating. He had come from
Elephant Road. He had seen dead bodies of
the murgiwallahs at New market and had heard
of the attack on the University Halls. He
had come to warn us.
"Run away, run away",
he kept shouting. We made him sit down.
His family had already left, he said, for
his ancestral home in Keraniganj. My wife
started to cry and then the children joined.
I too was terrified as he described a city
that was fleeing from itself. I really don't
know how we did it but we decided to leave.
It can't have taken us more than fifteen
minutes before we had the handbags and some
cash with us. It was so strange that we
made sure that flag of Bangladesh was hidden
under the mattress. We didn't have the heart
to burn it.
As we took to the streets,
we didn't know where we were going but we
knew that we were leaving the city. We started
to walk holding our children's hand and
God's word on our lips. It was such a strange
sight. So many people were walking along
with us. Suddenly an army truck appeared
on the road and we began to run. We were
running from death, running from what had
A man we met as we rested
near Malibagh said everyone was going to
"The army can't cross
the river. Bengali army has taken position
there; it's safe there. " It seemed
to make sense to us all. We started to walk
towards the river. We knew we had to reach
the place before curfew was imposed again.
Jan Baksh Mollah
Interviewed in 2000
Courtesy: Interviews by
Afsan Chowdhury from his
BBC series on 1971-Liberation War.
1971: Freedom struggle abroad
In March 1971, the total
number of Bengalis living in the US, including
students, visitors, itinerants, employees
in the diplomatic missions, and international
agencies, could not have been more than
4,000. But despite their meager numerical
strength, the community rose to the occasion
and made a significant contribution to the
cause of the Liberation War.
Bengali community living in the US in 1971
was a small one, but they all came together
to press their demands before a global audience
at the crucial time of the national freedom
movement in 1971. The Bangladesh League
of America (BLA) spearheaded the Liberation
War effort in the US. It played a prominent
role in voicing the Bangladeshi case, and
acted as a kind of guide, coordinator, and
leader among the Bengali community living
in the US in the early phase of the Liberation
War. Moreover, some Bengalis already settled
or working in the US moved to India to help
the Bangladeshi Government in Exile and
participate in the war effort directly.
On March 12, the BLA held
a rally in front of the UN headquarters
in New York appealing to the world for the
right of self-determination for the Bengalis
of East Pakistan. They had the uncanny sense
of an impending disaster and appealed for
prevention of genocide in Bangladesh.
On March 23, pro-liberation
activists, primarily the Bengali employees
of the Pakistan Embassy, assembled at the
residence of Enayet Karim, Deputy Chief
of Mission, unfurled the new Bangladeshi
flag, sang the future national anthem, and
formed a committee to plan a course of action.
On March 29, a big rally
was held in Washington in which Bengalis
from all over the US participated. The rally
was a great success. At the end of the rally
nearly 70 participants gathered at the residence
of AMA Muhith, erstwhile economic counselor
to the Pakistan Embassy, to talk about the
future course of action. It was agreed that
Bangladesh associations should be set up.
Support groups of Americans and other nationals
were also to be sponsored to help the struggle
with both moral and financial backing, and
the US Congress and the administration and
national and local media were to be mobilized
to support the struggle in every possible
On April 1, Senators Harris
and Kennedy made the first of the many statements
in favor of Bangladesh that the US Congress
would hear throughout the year, and on April
15, Senators Case and Mondale moved a resolution
to cut off military aid to Pakistan.
April 26, Mahmood Ali, Vice Consul in the
Pakistan Mission in New York, was the first
diplomat in the US to transfer allegiance.
On May 6, the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee unanimously passed the
Case-Mondale resolution on stopping military
aid or sales to Pakistan, and on May 24,
Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury arrived in
New York as Bangladesh's envoy to the UN.
On May 28, Ustad Ali Akber
Khan gave a recital at Berkeley to raise
funds for Bangladesh.
The month of June saw the
Bangladesh Defense League assume the role
of umbrella organization in the US, and
both Friends of East Bengal in Philadelphia
and the Bangladesh Information Center in
Washington started functioning on a formal
On June 10, Senators Church
and Saxbe moved an amendment to the Foreign
Assistance bill of 1972 to suspend aid to
On June 13, a huge demonstration
was organized jointly in New York by the
BLA, Committee of Indian Associations, and
American Friends of Bangladesh (AFB).
June 22, there was consternation when the
New York Times published the story
of the shipment of US arms to Pakistan after
the State Department had indicated that
all military shipments had been stopped.
The information was authentic as it came
from Solaiman in the Pakistan Embassy and
was passed on to Bangladesh Information
Center by Enayet Rahim. On June 26, the
national convention of all Bangladesh Leagues
in US was held in New York and attended
by about 500 delegates.
July witnessed many dramatic
developments such as the Friends of East
Bengal picketing the Pakistani ship 'Padma'
in Baltimore on July 11.
August 1, George Harrison's historic Concert
for Bangla Desh was held in New York. On
August 3, the House debated the Foreign
Assistance Bill and approved the Gallagher
Amendment for denial of aid to Pakistan.
The next day, all Bengali
diplomats in the US transferred allegiance
to Bangladesh, and on August 5, the Bangladesh
Mission in the US was established under
the leadership of MR Siddiqui.
Muhith and SAMS Kibria appeared on national
television to express the demand for independent
Bangladesh. On 26 August 26, Senator Kennedy
held a press conference in Washington describing
his visit to Bengali refugee camps and accused
the US administration of complicity in genocide.
In September, the Bangladeshis
organized demonstrations in front of the
conference hall where the World Bank was
meeting, and on September 30, the third
sub-committee hearing on the refugee crisis
was held with eminent people giving testimony.
In October several demonstrations
and campaigns took place. On October 1,
the Bangladeshi Delegation to the UN General
Assembly held a press conference in New
York, and on the 16th began a 5 day publicity
campaign in Washington in favor of Bangladesh.
A ten-day demonstration was held in Lafayette
Park in front of the White House from October
On October 21, world-famous
musician Ustad Ravi Shankar gave a concert
in Iowa City for Bangladesh freedom movement,
and a week later, Joan Baez gave a concert
in Ann Arbour, Michigan to promote the Bangladesh
On November 3, a nation-wide
Fast to Save the People was organized in
many educational institutions. The next
day, Indian leader Indira Gandhi landed
in Washington, and met with President Nixon,
Congressional leaders and Bangladesh Mission
On November 5, Senator Harris
proposed an emergency meeting of the Security
Council to resolve the Bangladesh crisis.
On November 8, arms shipments to Pakistan
were finally stopped, and two days later,
the Senate finally passed the Saxbe-Church
On November 26, NBC broadcast
a two-hour program on Bangladesh which only
marshaled more support for the cause. PBS
organized a nationally televised program
on Bangladesh called Advocate. The Pakistani
case was supported by Congressman Peter
Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Ambassador
Benjamin Ohlert of Pepsi-Cola (who was once
ambassador to Pakistan) and a video interview
of ZA Bhutto. Rehman Sobhan and John Stonehouse,
a British MP advocated the Bangladeshi case,
and Acting Ambassador MK Rasgotra explained
the Indian position.
On December 3, the criticism
of India by the US Administration turned
bitter as the Liberation War turned into
a sub-continental war. The next day, Senator
Harris resubmitted his resolution for a
special Security Council initiative for
resolving the crisis and seven important
senators from both parties supported him.
once again came out with a cover story captioned
"Conflict in Asia: India versus Pakistan"
and simultaneously Newsweek made
its cover story "India Attacks: The
Battle for Bengal."
On December 9, Congressman
McCloskey asked for the recognition of Bangladesh
and Congressman Helstosky moved a resolution
for granting recognition to Bangladesh.
it became obvious that Bangladesh would
be liberated soon, Kissinger continued to
try his best to get the Chinese involved
in the war. Nixon and Kissinger delayed
the surrender of Pakistani forces by five
days and even went to the extent of threatening
to move the nuclear vessel Enterprise towards
the Bay of Bengal. While the US administration
made every effort to save Pakistan, the
US Congress and the media displayed neutrality
by supporting the birth of Bangladesh.
During 1971, the small Bangladeshi
community living in the US performed a significant
role in moulding public opinion in favor
of the Liberation War. Their activities
were focused primarily on organizing the
community into groups with the goal of working
collectively to raise funds to contribute
to refugee relief efforts and to supply
equipment to the Bangladesh Government in
Exile; collecting and disseminating information
to Americans; engaging in lobbying campaigns
with policy-makers like the members of Congress,
other American establishments, and international
agencies; providing support for the creation
of a national coordinating committee for
developing a concerted plan; and organizing
and participating in demonstrations and
rallies. Many well wishing Americans also
actively participated in all of the above
staunch and timely support for the cause
of Bangladesh, therefore, came from a wide
spectrum of people, from academicians and
dock-workers, from members of Congress and
activists, from media and musicians, from
poets and performers. Their advocacy certainly
went a long way to creating a favorable
popular demand, strong enough to force the
US administration to ease their anti-Bangladesh
stance over time. The Bengali community
living in the US in 1971 and some humanist
Americans can certainly claim a share of
the credit for the ultimate success of the
The author is Associate Professor in the
Department of Political Science, University