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My reminiscences of the Bangladesh War

Particularly, during the regimes of Ziaur Rehman and Hussain Mohammed Ershad , who succeeded him after Rehman was assinated on May 30, 1981,the parochial and fundamentalist elements in Bangladesh, former East Pakistan, had made some parts of it into a breeding ground for fundamentalist activity; spewing venom and communal disharmony. Communal hatred was fanned by bigots. Paradoxically, it was Ziaur Rehman, who had first declared Independence of Bangla Desh on March 27,1971 from the Kalurghat radio station in Chittagong ! Mujibur Rehman had been whisked away to a prison in Rawalpindi around midnight of March 25 that year . Ziaur Rehman , subsequently, formed the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which is the bête noir of the Awami League!. His prodigy, Hussain Mohammed Ershad , on January 1, 1986 formed the “Jatiya (peoples) Party”, also as a break-away from the Awami League. But it appears to be a spent- force. Communal elements and fundamentalist demagogues ; fanatic Islamists, hold sway nowadays. They cannot be simply wished away by taking an ostrich like stance or wearing rose tinted glasses by the powers- that-be !

But this was not always so. In 1905 when Lord Curzon wanted to partition Bengal on grounds of plebiscite, Hindus and Muslims fought along-side each other so fiercely that this policy of divide-and-rule of the British was kept on hold… until 1947, when Lord Mountbatten succeeded in the task.

Through the years after that, egged on by their Pakistani masters, the Bengali people of East Pakistan were forced to continue with their relentless crusade against India, even though the vast majority were against such indoctrination and pogroms.

But in 1971, the people rose up in arms against the tyrants who had looted their domain and spirit. For a while, there was euphoria when the new Nation,’ Bangla Desh’, was ushered in. But this jubilation was short lived. Greed and personal interests; blatant, unabashed sycophancy and nepotism held sway, and the country plunged into political and economic chaos, with extremists taking over the reins of Government. Under Prime Minister H .M Irshad, not only were hundreds of young boys and girls from the ‘Mukti Bahini,’ murdered out of hand or sentenced to death on trumped up charges,, but in a complete reversal of events, akin to biting the hand that fed him, Irshad brought into his Government and judiciary, many persons who had colluded with the Pakistan Army during their savage and brutal oppression of the people. The Awami League, now headed by Sheikh Haseena (Wazed), daughter of its founder, Mujibur Rehaman, who was assinated along with most of his family members on August 15,1975, had swept the pools in 2008 in this floods and poverty ravaged country. Sheikh Haseena escaped as she was abroad on that fateful day. Her husband.

M.A Wazed Mian passed away in 2009, the same year when she was appointed as the 10th Prime Minister of Bangla Desh.. She is reportedly quite moderate, and has a soft spot for India, without the sacrifice of more than ten thousand of whose sons, Bangla Desh would have been an aborted foetus ! Narendra Modi, our Prime Minister, who I . personally, unabashedly, admire and support, recently was in Dhaka for the 50th Year celebrations of the 1971 liberation war.

Now well into middle-age, I frequently bask in nostalgia. Fifty years seems a long time ago. I was twenty- three then. Yet, my memories are quite clear. I was reading at the Sydenham College of Commerce & Economics in Bombay. To say that the days of my youth were full of adventure – misadventure is more appropriate – would be a gross under-statement!

Midway through my studies, I took off for the Philippines. Those were very violent times in South East Asia, with the Vietnam war raging on. Ferdinand Marcos was mowing down his opponents; swatting them out like flies, in their hundreds; thousands. After a wonderfully chaotic year in the Philippines , where I met a cross -section of people, from bar dancers, homosexuals (bakhlas) to politicians , I returned to India via Cambodia, just as the Viet -Nam war spilled into that beautiful country. Just as the Khmer Rouge and U.S. troops between them massacred its gentle people. Genocide. Napalm bombs were the order of the day. It was devastating. Outrageous. But so terrifyingly real. A whole generation of the U.S. youth were also permanently physically or mentally rendered disabled. The lucky ones died.

I returned to Bombay and re-joined the Sydenham College, only to take a break again from my studies, to join in the liberation struggle for Bangla Desh ! Following Mujibur Rehman’s call for armed resistance to the people of then erstwhile East Pakistan at the Ramna Race Course in Dhaka on March 25,1971, the Pakistani . soldiers stationed in East Pakistan ,under orders of General Yahayaha Khan, then President of Pakistan and the Governor of East Bengal, General Tikka Khan, ruthlessly eliminated first the students and the intelligentsia in what they coined as “Operation Search-Light”. The students’ hostel, Jagganath Hall, at the Dhaka University came under immediate fire. Many were imprisoned and kept in horrendous conditions. Beaten, tortured and maimed by their own kith and kin. The “razakars”, who were largely Muslims from Bihar who had immigrated to East Pakistan after Independence, held control . They were mostly from the labour class or petty shop-keepers. Overnight, they became rich with ill-gotten spoils. They became extraordinarily powerful too with support from their Pakistan Army bosses. There were also the “Peace Committee” stooges propped up by the Pakistan Government. Reinforcements were rushed from Pakistan to quell the local populace of East Pakistan, who had declared independence and christened the new Nation as ‘ Bangla Desh’. The army bosses at Karachi could not in their wildest imagination believe that these puny, docile poetry-spouting, Bengalis, would dare to take on the might of among the toughest soldiers in the world. Like in Viet Nam, where the local people had taken on the mightiest armed force in the world: the United State of America, and before it France, the insuppressible spirit of the members of the “Chhatra Parishad” (Student Body), along with the “Ansars” (a peoples’ police, comprising of mainly rural folk and largely illiterate cadre) , gave their former alleys a run for their money! In this, they were helped initially by the valiant Border Security Force (BSF) of India, whose courage and dedication shaped the destiny of Bangla Desh and its people.

I arrived again in Calcutta from Bombay.— mainly with the intention of visiting the Refugee Camps dotting the Bangla Desh – West Bengal- Assam borders. I was staying at my uncle’s house at Jadhavpur. I landed up at Krishna Nagar .There I met some young men who had just crossed over from Kushtia. They had taken shelter in a mosque. Nizam , a leading pick-pocket, along with other jail inmates, had put up a fierce defence of Kushtia against the Pakistan army. Salel Ahmed (Ranju), Tipu and Shyamal Nag were also from Kushtia or Khulna. Shyamal Nag, a Hindu, was a college student too. His family had been all killed and he was prone to violent outbursts. With them I traveled on top of crammed buses and by foot to Karimpur, Betai, Shikarpur and many other places. I met several politicians too; Members of the National Assembly (MNA’s) and the like. They were in their element, I found, making hollow speeches while looting the poor refugees pouring in from across the border. They and their accomplices bought gold ornaments from the refugees at pittances. There were allegations also of their nexus with touts from G. B. Road in Delhi, Kamathipura in Bombay and Sonagachi in Calcutta, who bought nubile, young girls to stock their stables with. Sadly, even now it appears that Bangla Deshi and Nepali girls are most desired in the flesh trade not only in India but the UAE and elsewhere as well !

The refugee camps were a nightmare. Worse still was the Krishna Nagar Government Hospital. I met women who had been gang- raped by marauding “Razakars” (pro-Pakistani elements, largely of Bihari origin); their nipples or breasts sliced off; vaginas slit with razor blades or sharp instruments inserted in them. Children, eyes gouged out; limbs hacked off. What moved me then most, was a small boy of about ten years. His spine had been smashed with the butt of a rifle by a Pak soldier. He was doubled up. In agony. And alive.

I met some Mukti Jodhas (Freedom Fighters) in Calcutta. Most people I met, I knew by their first names or whatever they called themselves. I was, generally, known as “Dulal”, my pet name. We were brothers in a common cause! That was all that was necessary to know. The greeting coined by Mujibur Rehman , “JOI BANGLA !” was also our battle cry. I traveled to Assam, and there on towards Korigram with some of these youth. Tariq, Hussain, Mukul, Murad and Feroze. I was the only Hindu. The’ Mukti Fauj’ had been formed with the Chattra Parishad, Ansars and surviving members of the elite East Pakistan Rifles (EPS), most of whom had been eliminated by the Pak. soldiers. The three groups squabbled among themselves all the time. Our task was to visit some of the forward areas and assess the situation. We were to also try and bring these clashing factions together to fight a common enemy instead of one another. The Border Security Force

(BSF) personnel assisted these freedom fighters; lent them support in every way possible. They, subsequently, were responsible in forming, training and supporting the Mukti Bahani (which was earlier the Mukti Fauj), long before the Indian Army marched in to finally liberate Bangla Desh from Pakistan’s yoke. Our Border Security Force, to my mind, are the unsung heroes. They have kept a low profile, but they were responsible for initially training these mostly illiterate people into a force to be reckoned with.

I am happy to have contributed my mite to the liberation of Bangla Desh although albeit as among the ‘also-rans’ ! In fact, I am trying to locate my buddies at that time, if they are still alive. I would love to meet with them, regardless of the political hues they may now be sporting. That is, as long as they are not anti-India .To me, my country comes first, last and always. Under Prime Minister Hussain Mohamed Irshad and his mentor, Ziur Rehman, the political situation in Bangla Desh had, in the last three decades especially, become not only dangerously unstable, but down- right putrid .Religious fanatics hell-bent on violating all human rights and debasing the tenets of Islam , ruled the roost. Tolerance of any kind was at its lowest ebb. Corruption was at its pinnacle. The “hadith” of Prophet Mohammed, which I have tried to emulate all my life, although I am a Hindu, that” The best ‘jihad’ is to say a just word in the face of injustice and before a tyrannical authority”, has remained only on paper. “Jihad” actually means “struggle” The inner struggle we all have within, between the body and the mind; between good and evil forces. Yet, it is construed and twisted sadistically to be interpreted as “holy war”. No war, blood – shed and acts of terror can ever be holy!

Islam, as its name denotes, is a religion of peace. But, it is truly alarming that fundamentalists, who have disgraced Islam by their intolerance, are now still running amok in Bangla Desh. They have also continued with their unholy, mindless crusade, in various parts of my beloved country, India, and elsewhere as well, bringing death and wanton destruction. Murderers perverts and ungrateful wretches ! Worse still, in their own home-land, like cannibals, these zealots are preying on their own people ; trying to destroy any semblance of sanity and good governance through brute force.

My paternal Uncle, late Dhirendra Nath Bhowmik, had a large house at Jadhavpur in Calcutta where he had hosted many Mukti Bahini boys and girls. He had unstintingly provided them with shelter and food. They ought not to ever forget his generosity. But, it seems that they have ! After their Independence, not one of those whom he had given refuge in their dire times had bothered to even contact him. Ingratitude, according to the Holy Koran, is the worst of all sins ! Our family, originally, hailed from Faridpur in Bangla Desh. My father, late Fanindra Nath Bhowmik, was a freedom fighter. His leader was Surjo Sen (Masterda) of Chittagong, who was brutally tortured before being hanged while unconscious by the British in 1930.

I would welcome meeting or contacting especially Tariq Huda. Montu, Hussain and Salim were brothers .Tariq was an Engineering student at the Dhaka University. He was dark and lean. Hussain had a large birth-mark on his right cheek .Reza Shahjehan, was a huge fellow back then. Mukul was a good singer. Apart from “Sonar Bangla” he sang a lot of Rabindra sangeet. But that was fifty years ago. They must all have changed … as have I also. Apart from gaining twenty kilos in weight, my hair – and mustache ,which I have grown just three months ago,– are grey ! Besides, they must all be in their seventies…..Time movies on. But memories remain .

The people of BanglaDesh must always remember that had it not been for our Indian Armed Forces, their Independence could never have been attained. The youths from the Indian Army who laid down their lives in a hostile   foreign land, were mostly lads just past their teens. More Indian Army officers also died not only in BanglaDesh but in other skirmishes, because our officers always lead from the front .Especially, under the dictatorship of President H.M. Ershad, in particular, those hostile to India were not only provided with bases from where to conduct their sorties, but also given arms training. Earlier, there was not a single industry in erstwhile East Pakistan. Even pins and matches had to be brought from West Pakistan. Now there is a booming international trade in ready- made garments. Also, in human trafficking !  The brothels not only of Daulatdia, the infamous red light district near Dhaka, but also brothels all over India are full of girls and women from BanglaDesh, lured by their paramours or sold by their own families, into the flesh trade. I find nearly every restaurant in India, including in Goa, having waiters and cooks who are from BanglaDesh, having slipped illegally across the border. ‘Ranjit  Saha’, if questioned closely especially in the ‘Bangal’ dialect which I speak, reveals that he is Rahim Mohammed Choudhry from Khulna !

While  it is  true that the birth pangs of BanglaDesh were indeed horrific, to put it mildly, they must never forget India’s support.

JAI HIND ! JOI BANGLA !

 I stumbled on the cobbled paths,
seeking for a release
from the endless years I had borne the cross
of hunger and disease.
My soul,
shrieking in the agony
of constant, stabbing pains;
shooting through the vacuum
in the cesspools in my brain.

The lamp is swiftly failing;
The day is getting dark.
The ashes of the Yesterdays
have lighted up the spark;.
touching off the fuse inside
the arsenal in my mind ;
ticking like a time-bomb
in the cobwebbed labyrinthine
alleys of false values ;
floods of neglected rage
sweeping down in anger
to win back my lost heritage.

With my back now to the wall,
with vacant eyes I stare
into the blazing eyes of death ;
there’s no mercy written there.
The fetus of my soul is dead
with years of continuing rape.
One nightmare has just ended,

but another’s taking shape !
Smoke from gutted mosques
and tanks tear down my dreams.
Where once the crystal waters flowed,
now blood flows down those streams ……
The’ still-born’ has now sprung to life,
to avenge those hungry years,
when the curfews chained my
freedom and the feudals drank my tears.

With bombs ravaging my mother’s lap
I make my final stand,
with a grenade in my tortured heart
and a machine-gun in my hand !!

By Amit Kumar Bhowmik

* AMIT KUMAR BHOWMIK is a lawyer.FREEDOM FIGHTER

NOTE: Written during the Bangladesh war (1971).To my colleagues, many of whom died in the battle fields. For Tariq Huda (of Chittagong), Hussain, Murad, Mukul (Kushtia) and thousands of others.

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