Dhaka Sunday December 16, 2012

Requiem for the Falcon

Lt. Col. (retd.) Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir Bir Protik

On 18 October 2012, Ekkas arrived in Dhaka. The first thing Balamdini Ekka asked me was if they would be able to visit Gangasagar for a prayer where her husband was martyred during the Liberation War. I assured her that the authorities had made plans for the visit. She made a request to me if I could accompany her during the visit. Throughout the ceremony for honouring the foreign nationals who had made great contribution in our liberation war, whenever she saw me, she repeated the same request. Time was fixed by the authorities for her, her son Vincent Ekka along with Col. Ashok Tara Vir Chakra and his wife to visit Gangasagar on 22 October at 7 o'clock in the morning. Incidentally Col. Ashok Tara also had taken part in the battle of Gangasagar as a Company Commander.

Lance Naik Albert Ekka of Indian Army was posthumously awarded the highest military honour Param Vir Chakra for his gallantry in the Bangladesh liberation war. Ekka was a man of humble means, born in the village of Jari in the district of Gumla in Jharkhand. He was a member of the Oraon tribe, meaning falcon. He was a soldier of the traditional 14 Guard Regiment of Indian Army.

As part of my research, I wanted to know more about Ekka and his family and had visited them in their village. During my discussion the elderly widow, Balamdini had said she always wanted to visit Gangasagar to say prayers in the place of her husband's death but her own poverty would never make that possible. Living on the five acres of land given to her family by the government, which is now on litigation, she makes ends meet with the monthly pension. Vincent's auto-rickshaw is out-of-order. She felt she would never be able to visit Gangasagar for the desired prayer. I could only assure her it would be my honour to put in maximum effort to arrange for her visit to Gangasagar so that she could perform a requiem for her departed husband.


After I returned to Dhaka, I thought to myself that Albert Ekka who had fought and died for a cause greater than his own was also a father and a husband, and while the memory of his sacrifice has dimmed with the passage of time, his absence is still felt every day and grieved by the ones who loved him the most. I could still hear Balamdini weeping bitterly and saying, “I wish I could go to Gangasagar to say prayers for him.” Her sorrow was something which did not evaporate with time.

Forty one years have passed since Ekka's death, yet so few of us know of him and others like him. Death in the line of their duty brought blessedness to them. For their untimely deaths, each of their families has asked for so little. I thought I should undertake this task with humility, urgency and a profound sense of honour and gratitude for a human who has sacrificed his life for my country. It is our duty as a nation to honour Albert Ekka and also ensure that his wife, Balamdini, is able to visit Gangasagar for saying her much desired prayers.

As a member of the national committee for honouring foreign nationals who had made outstanding contribution to our liberation war, I submitted the citation on Albert Ekka and recommended to the committee that he should be given the “Friends of Liberation War Honour”. I also requested the committee that if my recommendation was accepted, Ekka's wife Balamdini and son Vincent should be invited to Bangladesh to receive the honour. I also recommended an arrangement should be made for their visit to Gangasagar. My recommendations were accepted by the committee and the cabinet.

Throughout the five hours journey to Gangasagar, Brahmanbaria, Balamdini was saying silent prayers. At 12 o'clock we reached Gangasagar, the brutal battle site in 1971 where Ekka's blood mingled with the mud. Stepping out from the vehicle, Balamdini touched my hand and said, “Please take me to the place where he died.” I took her and Vincent to the place where Albert had fallen dead. There she bent and started her long silent prayers with trembling hands; she was crying. The crowd started growing fast and the prayer lasted for long. After the prayer we boarded the vehicle and all the way back she did not utter a single word.

Next morning, before leaving Bangladesh, she looked cheerful and happy. She told me that deep down in her heart she had the desire to go to Gangasagar for a prayer and God finally gave her the opportunity. She thanked everyone around for giving her that comfort.

The sacrifice of Ekka, his unflinching sense of ultimate duty, will always be a glorious part of the history of our independence and I was happy to be of some service to his family.

Bangladesh is the result of selfless sacrifice of many Ekkas. Let them not be ignored or forgotten. Time is now; time is always to remember such heroes.

The writer, a retired army officer and himself a gallantry award holder freedom fighter, is a liberation war researcher.